Senses Fail frontman Buddy Nielsen on identifying as queer in the underground rock scene

Buddy Nielsen, who recently came out as queer, is the frontman for Senses Fail, a band known for its “scream” sound. His coming out is the kind of act one hopes will inspire others like him to feel safe enough to do the same. Nielsen, currently on tour with Senses Fail in support of its latest release, Pull The Thorns From Your Heart (Pure Noise), talks about the band and more.

Georgia Voice: Buddy, I’d like to begin by asking you about the genesis of the name of the band Senses Fail.
Buddy Nielsen: When I was in high school I took an Eastern Philosophy class. I was introduced to Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism and Jainism and all sorts of Eastern thought. It really spoke to me. I pulled (the name) out of a mix of some of the things I’d heard about Hinduism and Buddhism and the unsatisfactory nature of life. Senses Fail spoke to this transcending of what our reality is. It spoke to me because at an early age I had a traumatic experience and went into a dissociative state. I didn’t feel like I was in my own body. A lot of my life I was never really able to feel comfortable in my own skin. It was a reference to that, as well.

Senses Fail frontman Buddy Nielsen. (Courtesy photo)
Senses Fail frontman Buddy Nielsen. (Courtesy photo)

In terms of the band’s sound, was it always the plan for Senses Fail to be a hardcore metal band?
It started off a little dark, a little heavy. Then we had some success with some of the more poppy, catchy stuff. That’s what was going on at the time. We morphed into more of a rock band with some heaviness to it. Then, over the last three years, we’ve morphed into more of a hardcore sort of heavy metal act. There was no plan. Everything was pretty natural.

You recently came out as queer. What was the reaction from your family?
It was very positive. I think it’s just confusion, honestly. A lot of people didn’t really know what the hell I was talking about. I’m engaged to a cisgender woman. I didn’t live my entire life only being attracted to women. If I had felt more comfortable, who knows if I would have been in a committed relationship with a woman. I think everybody was a little confused about what it was exactly I was coming out for and what I was really saying. Because no one has ever known me to have any other sexual identity; but that’s just because I didn’t feel comfortable being in a relationship with a man or someone genderqueer. A lot of my attraction was to genderqueer people as well as transgender women. I never felt comfortable exploring any of that, really, so no one ever knew. They were all surprised.

How did your bandmates react?
They were fine. That was probably the easiest.

Do you think that’s because you spend so much time together?
Yes. It’s also because for the younger generation who are involved in this style of music—everybody’s pretty open. It wasn’t that big of a shock and nobody batted an eye.

Had you or have you spoken with other LGBTQ musicians within your musical genre about the coming-out process?
No, I haven’t really had a chance to. For this, it’s not really like there’s a community. That’s one of my issues and that’s what I’m trying to do and that’s why I’m being so vocal about it. There’s just not that many of us [laughs], especially in this musical genre. I don’t really have a place in this music scene. Indie rock is different and pop music is a little different. But in this underground rock scene, it’s very straight male-driven. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of advocates. But there’s a difference between advocates and people who identify.

Do you think by coming out, you can set an example for other musicians, as well as fans of yours who are struggling with the same issue?
Yeah! I would hope so. Giving people a place where they can voice that is really important. People need a place to discharge this stuff. That’s what I’m working towards; my role of becoming a safe place for people to connect. I spent a long time dealing with a lot of mental anguish over something that now, having come out—I just wish I would have done 10 years ago. But 10 years ago was a very different time in this country.

Senses Fail
Dec. 9 at 6 p.m.
The Masquerade