Editor's note: In its origins, the TASTE OF CHAOS tour was frequently deemed “Winter Warped” by both fans and organizers. The 2006 road show took place in the late winter and early spring, featuring lineups populated by some of the most diverse voices in the scene, including bands like My Chemical Romance, the Used, Underoath, Killswitch Engage, Deftones, Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold and 30 Seconds To Mars. For the next few weeks, we are going to go back in our time capsules to revisit some of the names that not only cemented TOC as a formidable adjunct to Warped Tour's summer mania, but as a festival of great merit curated on its own aesthetic terms.
As the reactivated TOC begins its next chapter with a touring lineup of Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday, Saosin and many others, we'll be starting this weekly special “Taste Of Tuesday,” where we'll look back at the bands participating at the point of their original zeitgeist. This week’s installment revisits the first AP cover appearance of Senses Fail (AP 199, Feb 2005), following the release of their highly regarded album, Let It Enfold You. At the time of the story, the band—led by the inimitable Buddy Nielsen—were kicking ass, taking names and doing a fair share of damage control. From awkward satellite radio interviews to riling up folks on Warped Tour, Senses Fail embodied a mindset best labelled “DGAF” while making sure they weren’t being used as a doormat.
Got A Lot Of Livin’ To Do
The members of SENSES FAIL haven’t even been on the planet for more than a quarter of a century, yet it seems that everyone—whether behind the scenes or in front of the stage—wants to put the band under the magnifying glass. Well, folks, these guys have news for all of you…
Story: J. Bennett // Photos: Anthony Saint James
“I guess mohawks are officially over,” Senses Fail singer Buddy Nielsen remarks as he cranes his neck toward a 10-story Sean John billboard featuring a freshly faux-hawked P. Diddy glowering over Times Square.
It’s about 12:30 on a brisk Wednesday afternoon, and AP is accompanying four-fifths of Senses Fail to an interview at MTV’s Satellite Radio station in the Viacom Building at 45th and Broadway. Nielsen (20), guitarist Dave Miller (20), bassist Mike Glita (22) and guitarist Garrett Zablocki (19) are present and accounted for. Drummer Dan Trapp (18) is at home, recovering from the flu.
Presumably, during their radio interview, the band members will rehash the convoluted tales surrounding their first full-length, Let It Enfold You, which spent over a year collecting dust while being tossed from label (Drive-Thru) to label (Geffen) to label (Vagrant) like a live hand grenade. Perhaps they’ll discuss the fact that Senses Fail’s debut EP for Drive-Thru, From The Depths Of Dreams, has sold—as of press time—somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 copies without the benefit of radio airplay. Maybe they’ll mention that Glita gave up a potential career as an Olympic skier to play music, or that Trapp dropped out of high school to do the same. Jeez, maybe the interviewer will even ask about Buddy’s mom, Lisa Brown, a former soap-opera star who also directed two Senses Fail videos. This is all basic softball-with-Larry King-type stuff—and for MTV, a best-case scenario. But hardly any of it comes up.
The Robotic Inquisition
In what is possibly the most tedious interview AP (and perhaps Senses Fail) has ever had to endure, a yuppified Stepford wife with a red ponytail and a heavy-set guy who looks like he’s just come from casual Friday on Madison Avenue pepper Zablocki, Glita and Nielsen with such penetrating questions as “So, how did you guys get together?” There are only three chairs on the other side of the control desk, so Miller opts out of the interview, and I’m relegated to warming my sweet rock ’n’ roll ass on the heater near the window. There’s a vinyl MTV Satellite Radio poster on the wall, adorned with the signatures of recent guests with sideways haircuts, like Franz Ferdinand, the Killers and Dogs Die In Hot Cars.
Some truly underwhelming facts the first interviewer manages to extract from her guests: Glita likes Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins and Jimmy Eat World; Nielsen prefers Jawbreaker, Jets To Brazil and Death Cab For Cutie. While one might think this information would be enough to blow just about any listener’s feeble mind, Zablocki practically short-circuits the interviewer’s mainframe by insisting he has no musical heroes (which is how the interviewer framed the question). A somewhat awkward silence ensues.
According to Nielsen—and much to the interviewer’s dismay—Let It Enfold You was recorded in the band’s home state of New Jersey at some kind of half-studio, half-titty-bar run by the Russian mob.
“Are you serious?” she simpers.
“Oh, yeah,” Nielsen enthuses, before explaining how one potential mobster took a shining to the band, fronted them large bags of shitty grass—and here he hesitates, checking with the host to make sure it’s cool to say “pot” on satellite radio. She politely informs him that he can say whatever he wants because, (beep), they can always go back and edit it out later.
Luckily for their hosts, Nielsen, Glita and Zablocki aren’t prone to excessive use of the so-called “seven dirty words.” At least not on a mundane radio show. At 1 in the afternoon. Without at least one drink in them.
When the interviewer broaches Obvious Question # 22 (“What does the title of the album mean?”), Nielsen rattles off his usual talking points on Charles Bukowski (the author of the poem “Let It Enfold You”), which include, “He was a drunk, womanizing, deadbeat lowlife. But I can really relate to his cynical view of the world. I’d like to think that most people are good, but they’re not. You can’t really trust people.”
The Warped Incident
It quickly becomes clear that Nielsen doesn’t really have an off switch. But unlike most people who talk too much, he’s refreshingly not boring most of the time. Nonetheless, as he runs his mouth about the “stereotypical, ignorant American,” or the fact that he was born in Mount Sinai Hospital in 1984, or how he feels it’s important to “have a connection with people who listen to your music,” even the host’s unblinking eyes start to glaze over, and I figure it’s only a matter of time before some severe-looking technician in a white lab coat comes in to re-moisten her pupils, à la A Clockwork Orange.
Glita and Zablocki, meanwhile, are completely unfazed—it’s probably safe to assume they’ve heard all this before, maybe in a van somewhere between Bergen County, New Jersey and Tacoma, Washington, two years ago. Nielsen does make a few salient points, however, though it’s doubtful any of them registers with the interview drones.
“Nobody talked about Phish on the radio,” Buddy posits. “But 70,000 people went to see them on a regular basis.” When asked about a potential return to the Vans Warped Tour (Obvious Question #31), Nielsen doesn’t want to assume too much. “I don’t want the Warped Tour people to get mad,” he says.
What Nielsen means is that he doesn’t want the Warped Tour people to get mad again.
And while it’s entirely possible that folks who work on the Warped Tour are prone to getting mad—push any babysitter’s patience too far, and they’ll eventually snap; put that babysitter on duty for three months straight every year for 10 years, and it’ll happen a lot faster—Senses Fail weren’t exactly out to toe the prevailing punk-scene line this past summer.
“I don’t know if it’s that people are looking for you to suck up to them,” Glita says, “but whether I meet Metallica or Bob from down the street, I’m gonna treat them the same way. I might appreciate somebody for something they’ve done, but I’m not gonna hold anyone higher than anyone else.”
The story—as told to AP at the Vagrant office later that day—goes like this: One sluggish Warped afternoon, Senses Fail and My Chemical Romance were scheduled to play a post-show kickball game against Taking Back Sunday and Thursday. Senses Fail and My Chemical Romance—who shared a tour bus last summer—got rip-roaring drunk before the game. (“I think Garrett was the only sober one on the whole team,” Miller says.) Miller was wearing a white T-shirt. Someone else had a Sharpie. A few quick scribbles later, Miller’s shirt proclaimed what is essentially an indisputable fact: “Girls Have Pussies.”
“It also had a big dick drawn on the side, with jizz coming out of it,” Miller notes.
“I guess that upset people,” Nielsen says, refusing to name names.
“The guy who started the fight—the tour manager for another band—was just drunk and looking for a reason to fight,” Zablocki explains.
“It got totally blown out of proportion,” Nielsen says. “I don’t even think people were really offended. It was just that guy at the time. He was drunk or whatever, and it was forgotten the next day. But you throw that in with all the other shit that’s been said about us, and mix that in with the fact that we’re all young—and that everybody thinks that three years haven’t gone by and that we’re not 20 and 21, and it’s like, ‘Who do these guys think they are?’”
The answer, it seems, is not that far from the truth: People think Senses Fail are a bunch of 20-year-old band dudes. And some of those people have nothing better to do than stir the turd.
“Nobody wants to hear how well a band is doing,” Zablocki points out. “They wanna hear the dirt. I know I wanna hear the dirt on people—it’s more interesting.”
The message-board insanity has gotten so unruly that Zablocki doesn’t even like to talk to people at shows anymore. “I try not to, because rumors can be started from that,” he says. “They frustrate the hell out of you, because you can’t believe some of the things that people believe.”
The Senses Fail Rumor Checklist
1. Dave has a glass eye.
This is the best one we’ve heard in a while. Sadly, it’s not true—although AP will spend the better part of two days trying to convince Miller to go on the record confirming it anyway.
2. Buddy got a girl pregnant on Warped Tour, so Senses Fail got booted off halfway through the tour.
Three cheers for the future Karl Rove who came up with this gem, but it’s “totally not true,” according to Nielsen. “We only did half the tour because that’s what we were offered.”
3. Buddy’s dad is a drug dealer in Florida.
Again, not true. “I don’t know where they got that one from,” Nielsen says. (His dad was in a band called the Criminals, though—not to mention a cast member on The Guiding Light.)
4. Buddy likes to snort cocaine and beat his girlfriend (although not necessarily in that order).
We really, really wish this were true. Not because we want anyone to get hurt, but because it makes for amazing articles—the kind where Courtney Love leaves threatening messages on your answering machine and then shows up at your house with a bloody tampon and a sharpened high-heeled shoe. But according to Nielsen, it’s a total lie: “I’ve never snorted cocaine in my life, ever. And I would never beat my girlfriend.”
5. Dave is the new singer for Further Seems Forever.
Whoever started this one should go back to telling on people for cutting class.
6. The members of Senses Fail are all dating porn stars.
Do we even have to dignify this one with a rebuttal? Well, yeah—we kind of do. But again, this article would be a lot better if this rumor had any validity. For the record, Nielsen would probably not kick Krystal Steal out of bed.
7. Dan is (still) 15 years old. What are you, a moron?
“We’re from the East Coast, and there’re lots of offensive people here. If you bump into someone on the street, you can tell them to fuck off, and everything’s fine. It’s a different mentality, and that gets us in trouble sometimes. I mean, ‘Girls Have Pussies’? Well, they do!”
Firearms And Culture Clashes
At the Hard Rock Café on 7th and Broadway—possibly the least rock ’n’ roll place in all of Manhattan—Dan Trapp is showing me his NRA card. He’s feeling much better than yesterday, it seems, as he wolfs down a questionable-looking chicken sandwich and a pile of wilted French fries.
“Apparently, the government thinks I’m an NRA member,” he says. “I’ve gotten numerous documents in the mail from the government and the North American Hunting Club.” You’d think Trapp would have to pay dues to maintain this kind of database fraud, but not so. “I didn’t pay shit,” he says. “Someone probably just put my name on a list. But I carry the card around because I like showing it off when it comes up. I’ve never hunted in my life; I’m not a gun owner; I’ve never even shot a real gun before.”
All the anxious gun talk gets Nielsen and Miller worked up. “Dave’s apartment is like that movie Suburbia,” Nielsen says. Miller immediately launches into a story about some dude getting pistol-whipped on the guitarist’s front lawn during a party. The details are fuzzy, but it ends with cops and blood, but no arrests. Another one about somebody getting his or her ass stomped in Miller’s living room for calling Blink-182 a metal band quickly follows it. But it’s exactly this kind of thing—along with homemade T-shirts on Warped Tour—that gives people the wrong idea about Senses Fail.
“People take our actions—or the actions of people around us—and try to relate it to how the band is doing,” Zablocki says. “But you can ask people who’ve known us since kindergarten—we’re the same people we’ve always been. In fact, we kind of have to suppress who we are.”
“We do have to suppress who we are—at least our sense of humor—to accommodate others,” Nielsen concurs. “We’re from the East Coast, and there’re lots of offensive people here. If you bump into someone on the street, you can tell them to fuck off, and everything’s fine. It’s a different mentality, and that gets us in trouble sometimes. I mean, ‘Girls Have Pussies’? Well, they do!”
Calamity Of The Senses
Before Senses Fail, Zablocki sold pool chemicals and worked as a cashier at the local A&P. Miller worked as a dog groomer, squeezing canine butt-holes for leftovers (“Dogs don’t have the ability to wipe their own asses”), then briefly at a different A&P, where he ended up quitting the day before Senses Fail signed to Drive-Thru. Glita worked at T.G.I. Friday’s (he declines to mention how many pieces of flair he was required to wear) and at a Blockbuster Video (he once had to chase a shoplifter). He also attended a series of ski-racing academies in Vermont, Colorado and Switzerland until the end of 11th grade. “It’s like being on a traveling baseball team, only you’re in boarding school,” he explains. “And the hope is that, eventually, you’ll go to the Junior World Championships or maybe the Olympics. But it was just too competitive.”
Nielsen delivered flowers. “I used to get stoned and drive the van around, which made me ready to drive when the band formed, because we ended up with the same [model] van. But it was the worst job ever. I worked for this 55-year-old Asian woman who I obviously couldn’t relate to. I mean, I don’t give a shit about flowers, and she didn’t give a shit about anything I cared about. And I had to work every weekend, because that’s when all the weddings are.”
Trapp dropped out of high school at 16 to join the band. “I feel like a jerk because I haven’t got my GED yet,” he says. “But my parents have always been really supportive, and I thank them immensely for that. An opportunity like this will probably never happen again.”
Fast forward a year or so, and From The Depths Of Dreams is at 100,000 copies sold. Senses Fail, freshly signed to Geffen via Drive-Thru, are waiting for Let It Enfold You to come out. Only it takes about eight months, three manager firings and a lot of hand wringing before it actually happens.
“I thought we were done,” Miller recalls. “I thought there was no way Geffen would let us go to another label. I thought our album would get shelved and we’d all have to go back to school.” Luckily, it all comes out in the wash [see AP 196 for all the laborious details], and now Let It Enfold You is, at press time, on its way to selling 100,000 copies itself. Meanwhile, the band members are too busy fending off stalkers (whose list of offenses include, but are not limited to, climbing over IHOP bathroom stalls to watch Miller take a crap, invading Brand New’s van in a rabid search for Nielsen, and emailing Trapp’s girlfriend her own prom photos—creatively cropped to exclude her face) to dwell on bad label experiences. “We’ve been fucked over so many times, and we’ve only been in the industry for two years,” Miller says. “So we’re not taking any shit from anyone.”
The Double-Edged Sword Tends To Cut Both Ways
Generally speaking, the time it takes between the completion of a set of songs and the corresponding CD release date is so long that the band members are sick of their own material before anyone else has even heard it. Imagine, then, the psychological distance between Senses Fail and Let It Enfold You, which festered for an additional cultural infinity beyond the usual production lag—while other bands picked up the musical slack.
“When we wrote our record, there weren’t as many bands doing the kind of thing that we were doing,” Miller says. “It seemed a lot more special to me when we were finished with it. But there were so many records that were recorded after ours and came out before it. I’m not saying other bands copied us, but it’s kind of a bummer.”
Understandably, the members of Senses Fail have amassed a considerable backlog of new material over the past year. “We’ve had so much more time to develop our new songs,” Glita enthuses. “And we’ve got anywhere between eight and 15 songs to work on—plus, we’ll keep writing while we’re on tour. By the time we do the next CD, we might have 30 songs.”
“When we were recording [Let It Enfold You], I was never so proud of anything in my life,” Miller adds. “I was afraid we’d never top it. But now we’ve been working on all these new songs, and it seems like, for us, it’d be pretty easy to top it.”
“People hear we party too much, we piss people off, we think we’re rock stars, we’re assholes, whatever. I think we’re good at what we do. I think we have our own sound and our own personalities. But that also works against us.”
Back at Viacom, the first interviewer’s queries are winding down, and it seems unlikely that the second interviewer could possibly be any more inept. But he is, of course, and he immediately starts in with something about “influences,” even though his co-host already covered that one.
As Buddy reiterates the Buddhist concept of “failed senses” for the 600th time this year, my cellphone rings, and I scramble to turn it off. The first interviewer is visibly annoyed, a plastic smile forcing her gums just shy of exposing her whirring metallic yap. After what seems like days, the “interview” is finally over. Glita is accosted by a female friend who insists on introducing him around the office. The rest of us hit the elevator, where Nielsen tucks a wad of mint Skoal into his lower lip. “What is he doing? Nobody here wants to meet Mike,” he jokes. “He’s got camel toe right now.”
The explanation for all of the ultimately inconsequential BS (internet rumors, label hassles, tour indiscretions) Senses Fail have survived over the past year and a half is pretty simple, really. The age gap between the band’s audience and the band members themselves is—with the possible exception of Trapp—a matter of a high-school diploma. In fact, Senses Fail have never played an over-21 show, ever, and the last time they played an 18-and-over gig (with My Chemical Romance, not exactly a small draw themselves), the turnout was, according to Nielsen, “A total disaster—less than 200 people showed up.”
When the World Wide Web becomes the venue of choice for World Wide High School Cafeteria Gossip, when Warped Tour managers get inconsolably bent out of shape over juvenile homemade T-shirts, and when the industry gets its talons into five dudes barely old enough to enter into a legally binding contract, well, the shit is bound to hit the fan. Getting drunk? Drawing cocks on T-shirts? Pissing off older people? That’s what most 20-year olds do. Only they don’t have the eyes of the underground watching their every move.
“Coming from nowhere in such a little amount of time, people think we have this ego about us,” Nielsen concludes on the walk back to the Vagrant office. “People are always judging us before they meet us, and picking out things about us that [adhere] to their preconceived notion. People hear we party too much, we piss people off, we think we’re rock stars, we’re assholes, whatever. I think we’re good at what we do. I think we have our own sound and our own personalities. But that also works against us.” alt