Senses Fail on how Hell Is In Your Head expands on the story arc of Still Searching
On their eighth album, Senses Fail are proving that you can pay homage to the past while still moving forward. Part concept record, part self-examination, vocalist Buddy Nielsen is picking up where the band’s beloved 2006 hit record Still Searching left off by creating a spiritual sequel for the modern age.
RETURN TO FORM
Senses Fail vocalist and primary songwriter Buddy Nielsen is very aware of the things that make people resonate with his band’s music. With their 2006 record, Still Searching, the group hit their biggest commercial peak, thanks to themes of depression, trauma and the idea of mortality, which made the release universally relatable. “I felt like there was unfinished business [with Still Searching], and though we made a lot of records since then, it felt like the right balance between the heavier aspect of the band in a way that everybody liked,” Nielsen explains. “Now that I’m the main songwriter for the band, it felt like we should pick up where we left off.”
ENTER THE WASTELAND
In writing the lyrics for Hell Is In Your Head, Nielsen knew that they needed to fit within the story arc of Still Searching while still mining his present life. “I created a template [where] I could give each song a backdrop and tie things together. First, I went to this place called The Wasteland and made amends with my grief, but it wasn’t time for me to be there, so I came back to my life and what I’m dealing with currently. Conceptually, The Wasteland and the music is much more ethereal and experimental that is specifically supposed to be less naturalistic,” Nielsen says of the balance between both sides of the record. The result is a collection of songs that reopen old wounds but also offer insight into the growth and peace that Nielsen has experienced by becoming a parent and husband.
CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP
“Over the course of the last seven years, I became a much better guitar player, so my ability to be creative and find my style really came into its own with this record,” Nielsen says when speaking on his new role as the primary creative force behind the band. For the last 20 years, Senses Fail have had a revolving door of exceptional musicians, and it’s no small feat that Nielsen has been able to take over all principal songwriting. “I pretty much had to have a professional studio and understand how to record,” he explains. “The pandemic allowed me the time to get there. It’s a different world now — you have to be the creative driving force and engineer.”
When it came time to start principal tracking for Hell Is In Your Head, Senses Fail returned to frequent collaborator and producer Beau Burchell, member of the equally influential post-hardcore group Saosin. “We work really well together, and he understands what Senses Fail is, what fans like about it and what it should be. It’s just easy,” Nielsen says. However, the reconvening of old friends didn’t end there as Nielsen also enlisted original drummer Dan Trapp, who departed the group in 2013. Trapp returned to the kit to lay down his signature parts across all 11 tracks. His return couldn’t be more special as his drum style is so distinct to the band’s sound and adds a powerful new dimension.
FOLLOW YOUR BLISS
While Hell Is In Your Head certainly pays homage to the band’s classic sound, there’s also a great deal of progression within the sonic elements of the record. That’s immediately apparent on “What The Thunder Said,” a post-punk-inspired composition riddled with blast beats that show the band leaning into unexplored influences. This was intentional as Nielsen explains, “If I could, I would pretty much be in a Deafheaven, shoegaze and noise-sounding band. That’s what I’m interested in sonically and what I’m listening to. I feel like I was pulling the band towards my modern interpretation of what post-hardcore is. If Still Searching was our modern interpretation of what post-hardcore was, then I wanted this record to be an updated version of that now, which is obviously different. I wanted to embrace the gothiness in a nostalgic way but make it cool and not campy.”
Another compelling element of Hell Is In Your Head is the strong vocal features from Ice Nine Kills frontman Spencer Charnas and SeeYouSpaceCowboy frontwoman Connie Sgarbossa, who add fresh new energy to the tracks “Death By Water” and “End Of The World/A Game Of Chess,” respectively. “I think collaborations are super cool, and I’m excited that it’s becoming more of a thing in the rock world because in every other genre, it’s the standard. People need to be less precious with their music and more collaborative,” Nielsen explains. With Hell Is In Your Head, Senses Fail have certainly cracked the code in being a classic band that aren’t afraid to adapt to the future.