Photo Credit: Nick Perrone
We caught up with Buddy Nielsen of Senses Fail and he took the time to talk to us about coming out as queer, the reactions on social media, and more.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview! You’re 2 or 3 days into the tour?
2 days in! It’s been good, so I’m excited, it’s been fun.
It’s been a little over a year since you came out as queer, correct?
Yeah just over a year.
How has the reaction been? Above or below what you expected, negativity wise?
Less negativity than I expected. [The negativity is] more so from people that are upset that I keep talking about it, not that I identify as it, more so that they don’t want to keep hearing about it.
This past summer, you were vocal [regarding Warped Tour]. What made you speak up and what made you felt that you could use your position to hammer the point home to people?
It seemed super necessary. It’s not just that I feel like I need to. When you become aware of things like that, I find it hard to not want to make other people aware of it. A slight change in perspective in the way you see something will change your understanding of what sexual harassment is, what feminism is, and what is sexist, and what is racist.
It’s a thin veil that once you’ve seen the other side, you go “How does everyone not see this?” Raising awareness is one of the things that I can do to effect any change. It’s not necessarily about changing people’s opinions, but you want them to be aware of things. Maybe they then can change the way they interact regarding these situations. It’s super ingrained in people to continue to think the way they’ve always thought.
Do you think the situations are more prevalent now, or more stories are coming out because of social media?
More stories, more awareness, more people talking about it, more access to it, and the internet. I feel that there’s a social movement happening now. You can see it by the aggressiveness of the people who are pushing back at it. You see people are angry and aggressive and they no longer want people to voice their opinion of the ways in which they’ve been marginalized. You hear “racism’s done, we have gay marriage, women are more respected, what do you want?” We all know that it’s not all true, so we’ve come to a new phase now.
The reason Donald Trump exists is because people are so afraid of this leftist movement where they’re going to make everybody like each other, and we’re all going to die a horrible death when we’ve decided we’re not going to kill each other, and we treat everybody with respect and the world’s going to turn into a communist care bear camp and then we’re all going to self-destruct.
Really though, I’m not sure. I think people are afraid of the idea that they’re going to be forced to think in a different way. And when that becomes a reality, I think that just scares a lot of people. When people feel like they’re being forced to have to adopt a new way of thinking, they are not okay about it.
I wanted to talk about Pull the Thorns From Your Heart. To me at least, it’s the heaviest sonically and emotionally. It’s also your most positive. Did opening up about everything lift a weight off your shoulders?
I would say so. Absolutely. I don’t feel the need to constantly react to things. I don’t feel like I need to defend myself. Most people who react in a defensive manner react that way because they feel threatened. There’s some level where they aren’t willing to gauge the person that they are. I think there’s a lot of people who feel like they’re waiting to be found out. I used to live that way. “One day, everyone’s going to find out everything about me and they’re going to think I’m a fraud”. But really, what you’re afraid of is your truth.
Going back to the social media aspect, you’ve received a lot of backlash speaking up about things. How do you deal with it? I imagine it gets upsetting at points.
I lash out at some points, yeah.
I think there’s this ownership that the new music scene has. [Music is] a consumer based system, but it’s a different form of it. At any point, it’s being born out of someone’s experience. I’m not selling a product that you can take home and make your own. It’s like, it’s not yours, at the end of the day. It’s yours to relate to in whatever way you want, but it’s mine, and the reason I did it is because I needed to express who I was, not so that you can then tell me what to do with it.
You’re allowed to not like it or disagree with it or not buy it, but you can’t tell me what to do with it, and inherently, as Americans, people think that that’s not OK because they’re told and allowed since day one that if you want your sandwich without onions, you can do that.
When you go to Europe, things are different, down to when you order your food. You don’t have as many options. If you’re like “I want that, but I don’t want that.” They’ll look at you like, “No no no, you ordered it like this.” We [in America] have a very customizable way of living here.
And it overflows into music sometimes, and so people think like, “I want it to be this way.”
And that’s what makes music cool, you are appreciating something that’s presented to you. It’s not a sports team. It’s what makes art different than everything else. Even with pictures and paintings and sculptures. Any form of art is presented and you decide whether you find it meaningful or not. And it’s all up for debate whether it’s good or not. There’s no right way to do it.
So I get pissed off based on that, but I don’t get upset when people disagree. I don’t get mad that people disagree. I expect people to disagree, I expect people to not see things the way I do. It’s more like, when I read today, “I hope he doesn’t shove his agenda down our throats.” My agenda is for everyone to not be an asshole. To not be sexist, racist, homophobic. Which one of those do you disagree with?
It’s not necessarily that they may disagree, it’s that I’m not doing the things they want in the way they want it, and that’s what pisses me off. So then, don’t come to the show, don’t buy the record, don’t buy the merch. You have a full right to do so. But then why are you on our page complaining about what I’m gonna say at the show? You don’t even know what’s gonna happen, you don’t know what I’m gonna talk about.
What if I talk about The Ghost Inside being in an accident? Are you going to be an asshole about that?
If I talked about that, that would be acceptable for them. But when I talk about bisexuality or any of a number of other things, then it’s not okay. So, that’s what bothers me. It’s not so much a hard stance on it, but really about the wanting everything to be curated in the way in which they want to see it. Which is really an American problem, I think it’s a super Westernized version of living. As bands, we get to travel and to see a little bit more. We get to understand that it’s not like this everywhere. People don’t have the freedom to make their lives into a customizable RPG. That’s what’s presented in America.
When people are like “I don’t want that in my game! And I paid for the game! I want the game that I wanted!” And when the developer goes “Well fuck you”, it’s like “I’m the customer.” And that’s not the way music works. We have the right to disagree with you, and when I do, it’s “How dare you disagree! Your fans have supported you!” Our fans are not the ones doing that. That’s not what our fans do. A fan would go about that in a completely different manner. I like Morrissey. I don’t agree with everything he says, but like, I’m not gonna, at the drop of a hat, decide that all of his music and everything he does is garbage because he did one thing I disagree with. At the same time, I wouldn’t go like a band like All That Remains with a singer who’s the complete opposite spectrum for me. I’d go “I know what this is band is like, I’m not gonna follow this band around, parading that I dislike what he’s saying, because I just won’t like it”.
I never see any of this in person, people don’t tell me anything in person, cause no one would dare do that. It’s also more difficult to say that in person cause you’d have to deal with any consequences, whatever they may be. It may be as simple as the awkwardness of standing there with someone. It might be that I could get mad and yell. And you don’t have to do that on the internet, you can do whatever you want, say whatever you want.
For example, a kid yesterday was like “I wanna go see Silverstein but I don’t wanna sit through Senses Fail.” I said something funny, and he’s like “Yeah I’m just at college, I can’t even come.” Behind everybody saying stuff like that, there’s some kid who’s lost or confused.
What would you then say to people are being bullied online?
Get offline! Fuck online! Well, the more that I exist, the less I find connecting with people online is as meaningful. Being online is about sharing information, coordinating, it’s useful for a lot of things, but I don’t think it’s as useful for connecting with others in an emotional and meaningful way.
I think it’s to be used for sharing information, sharing art, and commerce. But I don’t think it’s as useful for connecting with people. It doesn’t provide the meaningful connection. Well, there is [online] dating, and I do think you can find people to connect with, but it’s not the same.
I think we’re stumbling through that phase where we realize that we have to be more accountable for it.
Do you think progress is being made to make shows safer for women, people of color, LGBTQ+?
I don’t know if progress is being made. I know that people are scared, and usually when people are scared, they choose to react in ways that are not progressive.
I don’t personally feel safe at our shows. Like I don’t feel like I could go into the crowd and connect with everybody and know that it’s a safe place. I don’t think it is honestly.
And I don’t know if shows in this genre are going to be – like on a DIY small level, maybe you could have that. But when you start getting to larger shows, it’s super difficult to expect that the people that are going to show up are going to be interested in that premise.
It takes bands to talk about it on stage and give a shit. But then, bands got to sell records and tickets and so, Republicans and racists and sexists buy records too and I think that’s the way a lot of bands think about it, like, “We’re not funding this guy’s life, he just has to like our band. We don’t wanna say anything to make people not like us.”
Are there any bands you know of that are speaking out at shows?
Anti-Flag, The Wonder Years.
I don’t know – there’s not a lot, there’s not many. It’s just not on a lot of people’s radars. It’s super easy now to be like “I can’t deal with it”. I understand that too, but it doesn’t really help.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m sure people will be upset at this interview. There will be fans like “Look, I bought your record 12 years ago…. I came to a show 10 years ago…You’re an asshole.”
All the people who are upset at me don’t even go to shows anymore, don’t listen to the new music, don’t come to see the band, but they’re like “Look, you’re blowing it. You’re pissing us off.”
I’ve not been talking a lot about this on tour because it takes a toll to like say stuff and then have to deal with reading the comments. “He spent 3 minutes about how we should stop being racist pieces of shit, it was awful!”
Follow Senses Fail: