When the post-hardcore act Senses Fail
formed in New Jersey back in 2002, the Jersey/Long Island music scenes featured a number of acts that would go on to receive national attention.
Senses Fail singer Buddy Nielsen, the group's sole original member, fondly recalls that time period.
"The music scene in New Jersey and Long Island was spectacular back then," he says. Senses Fail performs with Reggie and the Full Effect, Have Mercy and Household at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20, at the Agora Ballroom
. "It will go down as L.A. in the '80s or Seattle in the '90s. It was the epicenter for a genre of music. There were shows every weekend in every little town at every legion hall. I saw and played some crazy shows with bands that were just starting out. Taking Back Sunday and My Chemical Romance went on to become some of the biggest bands in the world."
Shortly after releasing its 2004 debut, Let It Enfold You
, the band hopped on Warped Tour. Nielsen says he realized then that the post-hardcore/screamo scene was on the verge of breaking big.
"Those Warped Tours were insane," he says. "Some of the lineups were crazy. Our first one was 2004. We did half of it. We were on a small stage, and none of the bands had blown up yet. It was happening, though, and you felt like you were in the middle of a storm. You were in the middle of this thing that was gaining momentum."
After going in a heavier direction on 2013's Renacer
and 2015's Pull the Thorns from Your Heart
, the band decided to emphasize the softer side of its sound on its new album, If There Is Light, It Will Find You
"We wanted to come back to our old sound," Nielsen explains. "The last records have been a departure into a hardcore metal thing. I wanted to come from the perspective of my songwriting. This is the first time I'm stepping up and being the main songwriter. It's my perspective on what the band is. The best way to package dark, emotional stuff is around ear candy. You don't have to dive beneath the surface to see what the song is about. You can hang out on the outer edges."
Many of the songs have a political dimension to them. The band addresses the opioid crisis, for example, in the hard-hitting "New Jersey Makes, the World Takes."
"I have a daughter, and when she asks what I did during this era of history, I want to say I did something, and that I didn't sit on my hands and let the bullshit that's happening go," says Nielsen. "I'm not a politician, and I'm not going to be out there at every rally. I don't have the mental capacity to take on every issue because there are so many of them. My vehicle is music. I want to put that into my music. I don't know the best way to make change. At least I'm doing something. You can't sit there and hope it's going to go away."
There's also a sense of mortality in songs such as "Is It Gonna be the Year?," a pop-punk number that finds Nielsen singing about the "stupid and selfish things" he did when he was younger.
"It's weird coming into middle age," he says. "Your idea of invincibility and infinite time becomes less centered on being 20 and having 45 years left. You start to realize that you have 45 years left if you're lucky. I have many friends who aren't here anymore for various reasons. You realize how fragile life is. I hope that as I do age, I worry less about that and more about being present. Some people wake up in their late 60s and realize they lived a whole life doing things they didn't like. They realize they don't have that much time left. I'm doing things I want and love to do. I could die today and feel good about what I've accomplished."
Though the group has experienced numerous lineup changes and though the music industry has essentially imploded since the band first formed, Nielsen says he's more committed to the group than ever.
"It's like, 'Here I am 16 years later. This is what I do and what I'm going to do for another 20 years,'" he says. "You have to let go of the idea of wanting to do something else. That's what's changed. I worked for a record company, and I used to manage bands. I had one foot out of the door. But now I have recommitted to making my life all about music."