Courage of the knife

Senses Fail visits Thomspon House

By Alan Sculley

photo: Senses Fail will perform at the Thompson House on May 1; photo credit: Jonathan Weiner

Buddy Nielsen, frontman of Senses Fail, says he went into the group’s new album, Renacer, with the attitude that there was nothing to lose. That might seem like an unusual outlook considering things hadn’t gone perfectly for the band in recent years. For one thing, the band’s popularity had dipped as the group released and toured behind its previous two CDs, 2008’s Life Is Not a Waiting Room and 2010’s The Fire.

The group had also been through several personnel changes coinciding with those albums. Bassist Mike Glita left Senses Fail in 2007 and was replaced by Jason Black, until he departed ahead of Renacer. (Black also plays in the recently reunited group Hot Water Music.) Meanwhile, guitarist Heath Saraceno bowed out of the band in 2009 and was replaced Garrett Zablocki, who quit just a couple of weeks into touring behind The Fire. Touring guitarist Zack Roach was then elevated to a full-time band member, while Matt Smith filled the other guitar slot, joining drummer – and original band member – Dan Trapp in the lineup. The group is currently touring with Gavin Caswell on bass.

Such events would have many bands feeling a lot was at stake at this juncture of a career. It might seem like the pressure would be on to prove the new edition of the group was as good as ever and to make an album that would restore the commercial momentum that had faded in recent years.

But Nielsen, in a late-March phone interview, expressed the exact opposite outlook. He felt the time was right to reinvent Senses Fail. “I wanted it to be almost a new band, really,” he said, and take more musical chances than at any time in the band’s career.

“We sort of look at it like this: This (band) is sort of no longer what it was,” Nielsen said. “So trying to make it what it was and trying to re-create something that happened in the past is a waste of time. So, why don’t we do something different? And why not see if we switch it up, I don’t know, maybe something crazy happens. Maybe we write this really amazing record that’s accepted by a whole different audience of people and we sort of, I don’t know, have [a rebirth].”

Nielsen and his bandmates have moved in some notably different directions on Renacer, a word that translates to “rebirth.” Although the band always rocked and retains the long-standing melodic dimension of its music, the new album is considerably heavier and more in-your-face than anything Senses Fail has done. It’s a musical direction Nielsen has wanted to pursue for some time, and the departure of Zablocki cleared the way for the musical shift.

“I have always been the one who wanted to push things in a heavier direction. I’ve never had the opportunity, really, to dictate the sound,” Nielsen said. “You know, with Garrett, he was more of a poppy guy. He wasn’t really into the heavy stuff … So we sort of split the difference. And like, OK, we’ll write some heavy stuff and we’ll write some poppy stuff. But the whole time, I’d much rather play heavier music. I mean, that’s what I listen to.”

Renacer also stands as a major departure for Nielsen as a lyricist. On the four earlier Senses Fail albums – 2004’s Let It Enfold You and 2006’s Still Searching, Life Is Not A Waiting Room and The Fire, Nielsen frequently wrote angry and turbulent lyrics about life’s challenges and various personality issues. For Renacer, the perspective is far more upbeat, as Nielsen frequently has self-affirming and encouraging words for himself and the band’s listeners.

“I think it’s kind of a new viewpoint for me overall,” Nielsen said. “I’ve usually stuck to writing more angry and depressing type things, and this is my first attempt at abandoning that.”

The more positive outlook isn’t just a lyrical device. It reflects the way Nielsen feels about himself and his life these days. Nielsen offers a clue to one change in his life in the song “Ancient Tombs,” with the line, “I fell in love in 2010 November.”

“I think that definitely has to do with it, the relationship that I’m in,” Nielsen said. “But I think in order to be in that relationship, I had to accept myself and, basically, I grew up.”

With an album the band can fully stand behind, Senses Fail is trying to get the word out about Renacer, playing a half-dozen of the songs from the album in its live sets, along with a cross section of fan favorites. Nielsen likes the way the current lineup of the band sounds these days.

“I think we’re really solid,” Nielsen said. “I think the people we have playing with us and have had playing with us, I don’t think we’ve ever been as far as the music side of things, as far as the rhythm section goes, I don’t think we’ve ever been flawed. We’ve always had really, really good players in the band, and right now is no exception.”

Senses Fail will perform on Wednesday, May 1 at the Thompson House, 24 E. Third St. in Newport, Ky. Also on the bill is Real Friends. Tickets are $15. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at 

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Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at

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