Four hours before Senses Fail take the stage at New Jersey’s Starland Ballroom on March 17, vocalist Buddy Nielsen is in the middle of painting one of his nails black. “I’m trying to wear what I would have worn back then,” he explains, focusing intently on getting the polish just right. He’s referring to the year 2002, when the band started performing their first-ever EP, From The Depths Of Dreams, on the local NJ circuit. As a St. Paddy’s Day treat, Senses Fail decided to play the EP in its entirety for this one time only, at this location only.
“Those songs have the most history here,” Nielsen says of his home state. “Everywhere else they’re whatever, but here it’s what the band were founded on, so people have a real recollection of those songs.”
For the rest of the world, Senses Fail really took off when their debut full-length, Let It Enfold You, took over the early 2000s screamo scene. For New Jersey fans on the ground floor, however, From The Depths Of Dreams was all but revolutionary. Talk to anyone in a local punk band, past or present, and they will remember watching or performing alongside Senses Fail at their nearest VFW hall or underground venue back in the day.
“Very clearly, I was responding to 9/11 and a friend’s death,” Nielsen says of his first EP. “How do I make sense of death when I’m 17 or 18, you know? It’s kind of difficult. When I really look back, most of the bands in that era weren’t talking about death or losing someone; they were more talking about girls.” At the same time that Nielsen revisits the very beginnings of Senses Fail, though, he contemplates what it means to come full circle to the present day and the band’s new record, If There Is Light, It Will Find You. The new album, released via Pure Noise Records just one month prior to this show, sees him grappling with the same topics of death and loss; the difference is, he grew up.
“I think we’re a better band than we were back then,” he says. “Two years ago I wanted to break the band up, and now here we are with a new record selling out Starland and Boston and New York and Los Angeles.” As he speaks, he makes small gestures with his hands, one of which has the small state of New Jersey inked into his skin. It serves as a reminder—the amount of success Senses Fail have had since their early days at home is not lost on him. “[Starland Ballroom] is the first place I ever saw a band play; MxPx in 1999 or 1998. So this is really special for me to be able to play a show here and look back almost 20 years. I was standing in the crowd and then I ended up playing shows here and being very successful. We haven’t sold out this room on new music in 13 or 14 years. I’m a little overwhelmed to be honest.”
With virtually the entire New Jersey punk scene coming to this sold-out event, it would be difficult to not feel that way. Despite more than 2,000 people coming to see Senses Fail play, however, it would prove to be an extremely intimate event, feeling more like one of those old local shows than just another tour date. From the beloved “Steven” all the way up to the brand new “Gold Jacket, Green Jacket…,” the whole room knew the words to every song. According to Nielsen, that’s something he will strive to work toward for as long as he can.
“I hope to do this until I’m very old,” he says. “At this point, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be the case. When you’ve made it this far—16 years—and you’re still putting out music people like, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be here for another 10 or 20 years.”