July 16, 2015


Q&A: Senses Fail Frontman, Warped Tour Veteran, on Coming Out as Queer

Matthew Vincent
Matthew Vincent

With the rapidity of the entertainment sector in 2015, it's a truly incredible thing to see a band reach their sixth studio full-length. Just two weeks ago, the unstoppable underground force that is Senses Fail did exactly that. At times Pull The Thorns From Your Heart is a raving, ferocious, hardcore riot intended only as a soundtrack for flailing limbs. And just when you're sure frontman Buddy Nielsen's temples might rocket out the sides of his head from lividity, the band slips effortlessly into a soaring, magic carpet ride of heartfelt melody.

With the awesome feat under their belts, Buddy's crew hopped back into familiar territory this summer—the Vans Warped Tour—leaving behind a trail of believers in each city as old fans mixed with new to watch their dynamic and versatile set. We caught up with Nielsen to hear about how life changed for him after embracing his sexuality, how it feels to be back on Warped, and where the sonics of Senses Fail might go next.

In various forms Senses Fail has been on Warped Tour for six years now. How has your sixth year differed from your first, or any of the following? 

Well, I think the culture on the tour is different. You have two distinct groups of bands, those that fall into the pop-punk/post-hardcore influenced bands and the metal core bands. I don't see a lot of interaction between the two sides—not malice or aggression—it just seems like there are two totally different and separate scenes. You have groups of bands that all tour together, share the same crew, labels, friends, that are different from the other groups. 

What is it about Warped that draws you back for so many consecutive years? Are you still meeting new fans at this stage in your career who are just discovering and subscribing to Senses Fail?

What draws us back is the opportunity to play and to be discovered by a younger audience. Our fan base is probably [aged] 22 to 32 and the Warped Tour is about 14 to 25. We don't get a lot of chances to play for people who don't know us or have only ever just heard of us now and this is our chance to do that. 

A few months ago, you came out as "queer", and it seems to be all anyone wants to talk with you about. Do you feel that this conversation is overshadowing your new music?

No, it is part of the music and I think it is just as important.

I’ve read interview responses from you touch on why you decided to come out, and why you chose the queer identification over "gay" or "bisexual." But what I haven’t seen and am curious about is: Have any of your colleagues in the music scene treated you differently, or behaved differently around you?

No, I haven't noticed anything different. Everyone has been very accepting and encouraging to my face. Who knows what they say behind closed doors, I am sure there are jokes about it and insecurities, but none of it has been in person.

Has your public addressing of your sexuality had any negative impact on your fiancé, or your relationship with her?

No, it's made it better because I can be more honest, more open and less defensive. She had known since we started dating almost five years ago, so it was really nothing new for her, just for everyone else. 

Thoughts on the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage?

I am just thankful I am alive to see it. It hasn't really sunk in yet, it's such a big deal that it is going to take hindsight to really appreciate what happened.

What advice would you provide to someone struggling with their sexual identity?

Try your best to find safe spaces, friends, or other people who identity and band together. There are also hotlines and places like the Trevor Project or It Gets Better that you can reach out to and they will provide support. 

The new record from Senses Fail, Pull the Thorns from Your Heart, is noticeably more aggressive than what I recall from even your harder material in the past. Is this a direction we can expect you'll sustain in the future?

Yes, right now the heavier direction feels like the right fit for us.