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Web exclusive: A conversation with Buddy Nielsen of Senses Fail

July 29, 2009
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SENSES FAIL frontman BUDDY NIELSEN is truly a rock journalist’s best friend. While other musicians might shy away from sensitive topics or stick to a set of politically correct and aggravatingly ambiguous answers, Nielsen has never been afraid to say exactly what’s on his mind. This became abundantly apparent when Senses Fail were on the Saints And Sinners Tour this past spring, when Nielsen regularly trashed onstage the screamo/crunk outfit Brokencyde-who just happened to be on the same tour. Senses Fail are currently spending their summer on the Smartpunk stage on the Vans Warped Tour, and web editor TIM KARAN couldn’t resist getting Nielsen’s perspective on Warped, considering that Brokencyde and Millionaires are on it.

How do you feel about this year’s Warped Tour?

The tour’s fine. It’s the same as it’s always been. There’s the same presence of bands like Bad Religion, NOFX, Bouncing Souls, Less Than Jake and a lot of other really good ska bands and other bands who get it or got it. But then there’s this other crowd that comes from a completely different place. They didn’t even grow up going to local shows, I don’t think. They didn’t even grow up in a music scene. They grew up in, I don’t know, almost an internet scene or went to club shows. So there’s sort of this disconnect between the two. You know, a band like Bouncing Souls have been around for 20 years and, ya know, they’ve seen so much and been through so much that they don’t have to give a shit about any of this. But for me, I think that a lot of our fans are still younger than us and there’s a lot of impressionable kids who grew up learning about music through MySpace and have no idea that people used to put on shows in their basements. I mean, basement shows still happen, but nowhere around any of this. They don’t know where this music scene came from and they don’t care where it came from. It doesn’t mean anything to them. Sometimes I’ll go and read the lyrics from some of these bands-like yesterday I read some of the lyrics by I Set My Friends On Fire and it’s void of anything meaningful. I don’t know how people make music that doesn’t mean anything to them. I don’t know why people even do it. I don’t know what the point of being in a band is if you don’t have something meaningful to say, whether it’s just your own regurgitation of stuff that you go through in your own life. For your band to be meaningless, I just don’t understand that, and I don’t understand why people are into it. It’s strange. It’s really weird. It’s hard for me not to say anything negative about those bands. I go onstage and I try not to say anything too negative, but I do say that there’s a difference between our band and some of those other bands on the tour. I know that at points, our band might get lumped into that whole thing, which is a good thing for us because it means that we’ve been fortunate enough to stay current in the music scene for whatever reason. And we try to stay current because if you lose sight of the younger kids coming into the music scene, you’re just gonna fade away. But I want those kids to watch us and know that it’s not the same as this band or that band. We’re not gonna say the same thing. I’m not gonna sign your boobs. I’m not gonna find it okay if you try to give me a kiss in line. I just don’t appreciate that. I don’t like that mentality that a lot of kids allow these bands to have, and that’s that they’re important-or at least more important than they really are. If you grew up going to local shows, you knew that the dude onstage is no better than you-he just plays in a band. But without that sort of close-knit community, you allow these people to be put up on pedestals and create this cliché rock and roll vibe. So this year’s tour is weird because you have bands who are the opposite of that cliché and then a ton of bands who buy right into it. Music was always fun to me because it was a place where I could go away from the mainstream. It was a place where I could be part of a community full of people who had something meaningful to say. All the activism and veganism is still around, which is good, but I don’t think it hits kids as hard. It’s just a tent that you can put up that’s purple and sell a thing that says, “I love boobies,” which is fine, but it’s not like, “What’s the message behind that?” My band doesn’t do a lot of activism, and it’s something I wish we did more of. But I think the tour is different, and the older you get as a band, the more disgruntled you get with the younger generation. I mean, that’s the way people were with us. I think that’s part of being in a band-that the older generation wants you to prove yourself, that you actually care about what you’re doing and that you’re willing to fight through the struggle of being in a band for more than five years. Because it’s hard to be in a band for more than five years. It’s really hard. And it’s even harder to be in a band for 10 years. So if you’re some band that just started in 2007, sorry, but most older bands are gonna be like, “I don’t know you. I don’t care.” It doesn’t even matter what music you play. Nobody is going to give you any real respect. And some of these bands don’t even care about respect. They don’t know who the Bouncing Souls are. They couldn’t give a shit. That’s the big difference between this tour that I did even just three years ago and this tour now. There’s a total generation gap.

I got into an argument with the kid from Sing It Loud or whatever. I said some bullshit about him onstage. He wanted to talk to me about it, but I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck about it. And someone said to me, “All the pop kids make fun of the punk kids,” and I was like, “What? The pop kids?” What the fuck is that? The pop kids? Who the fuck are the pop kids? Where the hell did that come from? But then I was like, “You know what? That makes perfect sense. That makes 110 percent sense now that I heard it from a pop kid who comes from this scene that the pop kids make fun of the punk kids. That sucks. But that’s the deal.

Are there any bands on the tour that you actually go out of your way to see?
Yeah, there’s been Westbound Train, Bayside and Alexisonfire because Dallas [Green] is such a good singer. He’s just awesome. And I’ll definitely watch the [Bouncing] Souls, Bad Religion and NOFX. But I don’t really watch a lot of the bands on the tour. All the bands that I like would never do Warped Tour. [Laughs.] Aside from that, all the bands that you would think I would go watch, I would go watch. [Laughs.]

Are you happy on the tour?

Yeah, it’s fun. I like it. You get to play before a bunch of different kids who’ve probably never seen you before. Some of these kids probably don’t even realize that these bands tour throughout the year and they don’t just do Warped Tour. Sometimes a kid will come up to me and say it’s their first time seeing us and I’ll be like, “Wow. That’s awesome. That’s good. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s why we’re here.” I’m happy, it’s just hard to keep your PMA up. It’s hard not to be a little bit bitter. It’s jealousy. Of course I’m jealous of these bands. I mean, we blew up pretty fast, too. But back then, that meant we were playing to like 100 kids. But a lot of these bands come together and within a year, a comparable amount of people like them. A lot of people who have been around for years might lump us into this whole other category. But I think that’s just because they never really took the time to pay attention to our band. A guy my age, like 25, might say, “I remember when they were 18 and put out that EP and they’re not the same,” but the thing is, “Sorry, I grew up.” I used to say ridiculous things onstage but it took older people in bands or in the scene to say, “You know what? That’s not cool. You shouldn’t say ‘whore’ onstage.” Little things like that. You know? You learn. That’s how you learn. But these kids in these bands, you point out something they say and they wanna have this heart-to-heart fuckin’ talk about it. They’re like, “Man, you know, we’re just trying to do our thing.” And I’m like, “I don’t want you to talk to me about this. Just because I said something onstage about how you’re band’s a joke, it’s like, I don’t care” It’s a joke. I don’t say it in a malicious way. If I really mean something, I’ll say that shit to you in person. I’ll get mean to you in person if need be. I won’t say it onstage. I don’t need to come off to a bunch of people like an angry, disgruntled, old man. I’ve seen bands do that. I’ve seen myself do that. I’ve seen YouTube videos of it, and it’s just not appealing. You don’t want to come off as some sort of dictator of what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s just that what I might think might be different from what you think.

So is it safe to say you’re sick of Brokencyde questions?

I don’t care because I’ve actually moved on from that. The thing that’s really funny is that a lot of these bands are so apologetic about what they do. It’s like, “Dude, it’s just that I’m in this band,” and I’m like, “Why are you even in a band if you don’t back what you do?” It obviously means nothing to you if you’re willing to go up and apologize to a guy who just doesn’t like you’re band. Then this same band will be like, “Man, I’m really a fan of your band.” That’s awesome, but at the same time, it’s kind of a bummer, because if you were really into the band and paid attention, to the shit I say, you should have a better understanding of where I’m coming from. I watched an old interview of myself when I was 19 just to see if I was as much of an idiot as some of these kids now, and I was actually pretty surprised to find out that I was pretty well-spoken and said a bunch of stuff that I still believe in. It’s good to find out that I wasn’t a complete pile when I was 19. Well, here and there I was. But Brokencyde, they believe that what they’re doing is awesome-which is insane, but you gotta give them credit for just being like, “Fuck that guy. We’re gonna do our thing. I’m not gonna go fuckin talk to him about it. He believes what he believes.” So that’s good. They shouldn’t care about what I think. But some of these bands will be like, “It’s just that I play in this band. I’m really sorry.” It’s like, “What are you sorry about?” Brokencyde’s whatever, man. Everyone knows it. In an interview, they said, “Buddy doesn’t like us because he’s punk.” I’m not punk. I like punk music. I’ve always been into punk music. I’ve always been into hardcore. But I’m not a punk. And apparently I don’t like them because I’m a punk.

Do you encounter them in the lunch line or waiting for showers?

Yeah, I see them all the time, and I don’t talk to them. I got nothing to say to them. I don’t hate them. I don’t want to fight them or anything like that. But I already made from of them every day onstage for two months, so really, how much more can you say? They do say that some incident happened that never happened, but whatever. They’re so stoned all the time that I don’t think they could ever really remember anyway.

You’re also tour managing the band on the tour. What brought that about?

Trying to make and save more money. I gotta pay rent and stuff now. People are getting married and have families and it’s like, if you can [tour manage] on your own and you’re self-sufficient, you can save money. Especially on this tour, you don’t need a tour manager. The one thing on Warped Tour that you don’t need, and is the most overrated thing is a tour manager. I mean, there’s nothing to be done. I mean really? What do you have to do? Wake up every morning and find out when the band are playing? You gotta be there for the set. You gotta come to do press-if you want. If you’re a grown-up in a band, you don’t really need your tour manager to walk you to the press tent. Then what else does a TM do? Get beer and water and ice? I mean, that’s it. There’s no settling, and that’s the toughest thing about tour managing. That, and dealing with a bunch of egotistical, whiny kids in a band who have no idea what they’re doing. But nobody in our band needs anything. Just find out what time we’re playing and make sure all the merch money is sorted and deal with the bus driver. And our bus driver is our age and a really good dude, so we don’t need anyone to help. If someone in your band on Warped Tour doesn’t mind working a little bit extra, it saves about $10,000.

Do you think kids have a false perception of how much money bands on this tour actually take home?

Definitely. I mean, some bands do make a lot. Some bands gross so much money and have no idea what to do with it, so they piss it away on a drum tech, a guitar tech, a sound guy, a tour manager, an assistant tour manager, two merch guys, and your overhead becomes so much that it doesn’t matter how much merch you’re grossing. Your overhead is always so high because you want to have this sort of crew and this sort of bus. Any band who are semi-successful should have the capability to make a good living-like $40,000 to $70,000 a year. That’s like a normal band salary for a band who aren’t selling $20,000 worth of merch on Warped Tour. But I bet those bands are probably making the same as a normal band when they should be making $150,000 a year because they throw it away on things that just aren’t necessary. Fortunately, we’re on a really good label who pay us our mechanical royalties, and that’s really helpful. That’s why record sales still mean something to us. It’s nice to be compensated for the amount of records you sell. But not every band are so lucky. I don’t care about money, but you need it. When I was 18, I used to say, “Fuck money,” but then I moved out of my parents’ house and realized, “Fuck, I gotta buy towels.” I mean, I work when I’m at home. I work at a law office.

How do you feel when you’re doing that?

Normal. It’s cool. I like it. But then I get bored of being normal, so I come out here and live in a fake, weird world. That’s especially the case with this tour. It’s just like, “Ahh!” all the time. It’s like New York City. This tour’s like being in New York City. Everyday somebody walks by you and you’re like, “Really? Are you fucking serious? That’s really your deal?”

Will we see you guys on this tour again?

Yeah, I love this tour. I think it’s funny. I have a good time on this tour because you get to be around so many different people. It’s overwhelming, but it’s still an experience. You get to be around so many of your friends at once. There are all these bands that you come up with or, ya know, played a show with four years ago that you get to spend two solid months with. That’s the best part–the show. alt

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