Revolver caught up with Senses Fail frontman Buddy Nielsen (pictured above, center) for the Hardcore News page of our August/September issue. During the interview, we talked the group's new album, 'Pull the Thorns from Your Heart,' Buddhism and sexual identity. Here is more of the Q&A.
REVOLVER So 'Pull the Thorns from Your Heart' touches on some Buddhist concepts. How did you get into that?
BUDDY NIELSEN I've always been into it at an arm's length for over 10 years. The name Senses Fail comes from a Buddhist concept. I didn't end up practicing until about 2013. So I have done a daily meditation practice for just around two years.
I never thought about where the band name came from, but now it makes sense.
It comes from this Buddhist idea of the senses—sight, taste, touch, smell, sound, and mind. Our existence is all perceived through those. A lot of times our senses lead us to believe certain things are true. Like if I see rain it could lead me to get depressed, but some person could have the exact opposite experience. So what may be true for me is not absolute truth. It's a conditioned truth. So it's this idea that senses tend to fail in showing us the absolute truth. I mean, my idea of what senses fail means has changed since practicing Buddhism. A lot of times we can only see the conditioned truth lead us to simple things—I like the taste of oranges because they remind me of playing little league baseball. Or I hate fish. It doesn't mean that fish doesn't taste good, that's obviously not the truth. I think here in the Western world we put a lot into our senses being the truth.
What attracted you to this religious belief?
I don't believe in god or a higher power. I have never been able to feel that just faith alone in a god or gods got me the answers to my questions. Whereas with Buddhism, people used to ask the Buddha what is the meaning of life and he would say that's not relevant. I know that would bother some people, but what he teaches and what he taught is that there is suffering—and there is an end to suffering. Some people find it morose but what it teaches is that being alive is difficult—just having a body is difficult—we get sick or old and we don't get what we want or death. That really spoke to me when I heard that. When I heard a religion admit that about life... it was almost like a weight had been lifted from me because I had always felt that life has been difficult. I have had a lot of struggles and struggled to make sense of the traumatic experiences that happened when I was younger. So I knew, yes, this is a truth I can relate to. Then there is also, "And here is how to transcend that suffering." I always believed that faith was more about my own well-being and less about an external refuge. I have had a tough time trusting and believing people and to hear a religion say "believe in yourself"—that spoke to me instead of put your faith in this. So there is a much different tone to the Buddhism approach compared to the other religions which I think everyone is looking at the same moon in the sky, we're just taking different paths to get there. That's not to say anything is wrong with them, this one just works for me. But Buddhism is not a practice for everybody but for those interested it can be a very freeing way to view the world.
You said about the record that half of it represents darkness and half represents the light. Is that kind of like the idea you can't know what "good" is without "bad"?
Yeah, absolutely. When you start to look at yourself and you want to experience any joy or happiness you need to allow the opposite—the sadness, the pain. Most of our lives we spend avoiding the pain and sadness and then we wake up one day wondering why we aren't happy. It's just not the way our universe works. Coming to start to work with what's not so fun and painful, I started to realize how much more open I am to the good stuff. You can try so hard to push away but you can't get rid of a shadow. You're never going to outrun the darkness, but if you sit down then it becomes mixed in with who you are. Our human condition is based on opposites—light and dark, good and bad. Being someone who has suffered from a lot of anxiety and carrying it around since I was five years old, I've lived with fear and trying to avoid them my whole life. Over the past year and a half I have turned and faced them by running, drinking, sex—anything I could get my hands on. But sitting with them is ultimately very scary but they don't stay. So that's where the duality on the record comes from because I believe that to be the true nature of our existence as I see it.
Switching gears, you also publicly came out as queer. And you have done some spoken word shows about your story. Why did you decide it was time to be public about your sexuality?
I think it was important for me to embrace who I am and embrace something I have been self-marginalized by my whole life. I also really, really wanted to educate people on what I'm talking about because it's a lot different than coming out as gay or bisexual. Being queer and sexual identity isn't talked about as much mainstream. Most people think I came out as gay, but I am not gay and I'm getting married to a female. But my sexuality has been fluid my whole life and I've never been able to embrace it because I never felt like there was anybody, and I actually didn't even know it was real until I opened up and talked about it. I think it's really important that people come out and talk about the fluidity of gender and sexuality because it's such a big thing and isn't limited to male/female, gay/straight. There aren't a lot of voices there, or aren't enough. If I could have had somebody in my life when I was younger speak about it in this music scene, it would have changed my life. I didn't have that and I did a lot of fucked up shit because of it and I want to help other people and help myself.
What advice would you give to others who want to open up about their sexuality or gender identity but feel afraid to?
It is important to find a community or a support system. That's what I'm trying to do out here in L.A., we're trying to build a safe space group for people who are queer. I want to do a quarterly thing where people in the punk, hardcore and metal scene meet other people within the scene who are LGBTQ. Community is really important because you're not always going to get the support from peers of family or the community at large because it can be difficult to talk about gender and sexual fluidity. So it's important to have support because when you don't have support, you feel isolated and when you feel isolated, nothing feels safe.
What has the response been like? Is the hardcore-punk community accepting?
Generally. And generally I think people under the age of 25 are so open to it and people over the age of 25 are not interested or understanding. I think they were raised to think "There's gay, there's straight and if it's not one of those you're making it more difficult for me." It's almost like an old person who can't keep up with technology type of vibe. But for the younger crowd these discussions have been a part of their life. So generally while the punk scene is very accepting, it's not very safe for anyone who isn't male, straight or white. So if you're not a straight white man it doesn't feel like your community. So that's why I'm trying to build a queer community within the punk community. It's not anyone's fault. But there need to be women, gay men, people of color to make spaces and that's what's going to change it. Advocacy is helpful because being accepting doesn't really change it. That needs to come from that community. So now that it is open, now is the time for myself and others to demand, make space and time.
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We've finally hit the heat of summer and you know what that means—GWAR-B-Q! With the event just over a week away, we caught up with Blothar to see what the scumdogs should know about the upcoming festival.
For more on GWAR-B-Q and to get tickets, visit their website.
REVOLVER GWAR is celebrating their 30th Birthday this year! How is this being commemorated?
BLOTHAR The only way GWAR knows how; a good old fashioned backyard bar-b-q, and mankind is on the grill! We want to have a good time, and to do that we need meat to eat. In an effort to lure humans to us, we are holding a massive weekend long deathfest in Richmond, Virginia. It's our birthday party on August, 15, at Hadad's Lake, south of Richmond. Humans have been buying tickets like hot cakes to this thing, and if all goes as planned, it is going to be an orgy of death and destruction unlike any other. Plus we were promised there would be a cake with candles, and birthday whistles, and pointy hats. It's gonna kick ass.
What can fans expect from the GWAR B-Q this year?
Certain death for one. They will be flayed, filleted and might get laid if you know what I mean. Lots of food. We need 'em fattened up. And lots of rock bands. GWAR is playing of course, the greatest band to ever exist, but also Clutch, the Descendants, Down, Cro-Mags, and others playing outdoors before an ocean of pimply faced Bohabs, many of whom will have chlamydia before the weekend is over. Seriously. There is a carnival atmosphere including vendors and games. There will probably be loads of teenaged boys and loose chicks with their titties popping out riding skateboards at our Rolling Wheels of Death Skate Park, the Spew-Olympics, which is a series of competitive events, sort of like the old "field day" at your school, but with death hanging over your head. There will be a haunted house. I will stay away from that because I don't like things popping out at me. I am told there is a costume contest as well, so come dressed up and we might let you die last. Of course, there is also the city of Richmond, and Bohabs can have a good ole time in the city famous for having been the capital of the Confederate States of America. A city as sick as GWAR. Lots of dark history to explore, and they can always drown themselves in the James River, or at Hadad's which is a big outdoor lake.
What is it like to wear both the artist and promoter hat? How does the band manage that?
It sucks. What kind of hats do promoters wear? Beanies? Dunce caps? I can't find any hats that fit my giant head. Actually, Sleazy P. Martini is taking care of all of that stuff. We just show up for the crack and fat chicks.
Let's talk about B4BQ. That started as a small kick-off party and has grown into a big event in and of itself this year. Tell us about that show!
We are gonna have the B4BQ, a sort of opening party at The National in Richmond, on Friday, August 14. We have lined up Coal Chamber along with the Summer Slaughter tour featuring Arch Enemy, Fear Factory, and several others. We will be there scoping out the talent for Saturday's main event, the actual GWAR-B-Q where a ton of bands have agreed to end their careers. Clutch, the Descendants, Cro-Mags, the Dickies, Down, Goatwhore, all of them...last show ever, because none will survive.
What bands is Blothar excited to see the most over the weekend?
I want to see GWAR. I hate all other music. I do hope the Dickies pull out that little sock puppet though, I LOVE him. And Clutch too. I love that groovy go-go metal. I am a dancer actually. I love to boogie down holding the corpse of a human in my arms as my partner. So Clutch and Down and any band that gets the groove going.
How will the spirit of Oderus be a part of the event?
Oderus is always with us, looming over us, taunting us from beyond...wherever the hell he is. The whole thing is really for him. He really put this show together, this is the thirtieth year of his creation. GWAR and all that. He was the one who wanted to play rock music. Sleazy conned us into it, but Oderus loved being on stage in the role of lead pervert. He kept it going. Anything we do is an homage to his fetid and horrible presence. Don't forget Flattus. He is hanging around in the ether too, so, this all goes out for him as well.
The fest has now become a 3 day event. How did that come about?
We needed more time to draw in more humans because we want money, drugs and stuff to eat. It is that simple.
The Brutal Brunch is a totally new event that's been added to the festivities. Tell us about it.
This is a closing party, I love brunch. Love it. We will be there in human form, trying to get laid. And it is at GWARbar, our new endeavor to milk the humans dry by getting them wasted drunk. This one we designed to lure in the family Bohab. I want my babyback, babyback, babyback, if you know what I mean? Its an arts ting, with lots of weirdos hanging around with artwork, and good food, and some music too.
GWARbar is a success by all accounts. What was behind the decision to open your own venue?
We wanted a place to get drunk for free. We also wanted a place to fatten up the humans for the kill. Balsac is actually a celebrated chef, and he wanted to stretch out those horse legs and give it a shot—Gordon Ramsey style. It is working, the humans seem to love the intergalactic junk food menu, and they really love the booze. It is also a place where you can sit and choke down a burger and swill beer while listening to non-stop hard rock and metal music. This town needed that.
How has the band kept going in the face of monumental losses? Key members like Dave Brockie and Cory Smoot have left the planet.
We keep doing what we have done. We know where we come from, and we seek to honor our erstwhile Scumdog warriors. GWAR will miss our most cherished human slaves, but we have to push forward. It is all we know. In many respects, these losses have forced the band back to its roots—the old ensemble presentation of GWAR with many characters coming out to add to the story.
What is the future of GWAR B-Q? The event gets bigger every year. Is that the ultimate goal? To turn this into a behemoth East Coast festival?
Yes, we want it to be so big that the East Coast actually separates from the continent due to the weight of the fans that show up. We want it to be big...Elvis at the end big….I mean really big y'all. It's all about the money, and the money is all about the drugs, and the drugs at this point are boner pills. I need money to pay for a massive supply of boner pills. Yes, we want it to take over all other festivals, to draw every last human to their death. Then, it will be just us, and what then? What happens when we free the earth of the curse of humanity? Then we can really party with the sharks and dolphins and turtles and lizards and bears. All superior to humans.
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