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Talking self-acceptance with Senses Fail's Buddy Nielsen


Senses Fail has been a staple of the post-hardcore punk since the early 2000's, but it's only recently that the band (vocalist Buddy Nielsen; guitarist Zack Roach; Matt Smith, guitar; Gavin Caswell, bass; and drummer Chris Hornbrook) has become one of the most important groups in punk today.

With Nielsen's personal shift to Buddhism before the band's 2013 record, "Renacer," Senses Fail -- and Nielsen in particular -- has tackled some of the most personal and hard-hitting social issues that afflict society at large. Being such an outspoken voice in the fight for social and personal fulfillment through their music, Senses Fail's latest record, "Pull the Thorns from Your Heart," is its tour de force: a record that absolutely knocks you off your feet and takes you to the core of your own being.

City Newspaper spoke via phone with Nielsen to explore the themes that permeate the band and their charismatic leader. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.

City: This album encapsulates some important issues of our modern age -- the lack of self-love, anxiety and mental illness, gender and sexual equality -- and frames it all through this lens of positive teachings of Eastern philosophy. How did you personally discover Eastern teachings, and how did you go about using that to punctuate the album?

Buddy Nielsen: I came in contact with it at a younger age. One of my teachers brought in an Eastern philosophy class. Then my mother introduced me to Joseph Campbell, who is a mythologist. The name of the band is Buddhist in nature. There have always been threads of it running through the band, but I started meditating two years ago and that brought it all into perspective. What I learned through meditation changed my life so much, so putting themes of that in the album seemed natural. I wanted to share what I learned with as many people as possible.

"Renacer," to me, was all about the joy you find in loving someone else and the love they give to you in return. In "Pull the Thorns from Your Heart," it's all about finding the joy of loving yourself. Was this the next step in the message you wanted to convey on these past albums?

There's more to it, but I'd say that is the main theme. The next one will be taking that love and putting that forth toward other people.

You're very active on social media when it comes to talking about and advocating for a lot of change -- in not just the scene but the world at large -- when it comes to acceptance of different sexual orientation, and an end to violence and sexual assault. Although it seems the majority of fans have embraced the message, does it bother you that some are vocally opposed?

It's more on the level of I have trouble understanding why people are deeply lost. The Internet has given a voice to people who do feel that way. There's this division between the people who advocate for moral and social awareness, and the people who say, "We don't want the world to get nicer and safer." It's a fear based thing. And some people are so much in pain themselves that they hate the idea of giving anyone else acceptance.

Do you think that punk by its nature has a responsibility to be a conduit for promoting social change?

Absolutely. The whole point of the music is to do that. If you're in a position nowadays, it's important to have something to say. It's kind of doing a disservice to the whole point of the music if you're not actively doing something and advocating for some kind of change.

This is an album about how you've embraced and found love in who you are. What advice would you give to those who are still on the path?

One of the big teachings in Buddhism is that there's an impermanence to everything. One of the only thing's that's certain is that you're going to die, and in our culture we're very removed from death. To me, the imminence of death changes how I live my life. Any action, any emotion, and really everything will eventually end. When you have that understanding, it's much easier to deal with anxiety and a lot of other uncomfortable situations. It provides a level of comfort. The idea of impermanence gets me through situations and feelings I don't want. But it's also about training your brain to give yourself love and forgiveness. You set an intention, which springs a thought, which springs a reaction.