Senses Fail: 'You Should Stop Messing Around, And Achieve Something'

artist: Senses Fail date: 11/21/2008 category: interviews
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Senses Fail: 'You Should Stop Messing Around, And Achieve Something'
During the year 2002, New Jersey's Senses Fail formed. That very same year, inaugural EP "From The Depths Of Dreams" was issued. 2004's inaugural full length "Let It Enfold You" was succeeded by 2006's "Still Searching" (UG review), which garnered position #15 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. Thus far, multiple tours have featured Senses Fail amongst the billing, and catalogue sales have reached over 850, 000. Third full length "Life Is Not A Waiting Room" (UG review) aims to expand upon that success. Brian McTernan (Thrice, Circa Survive) returns as producer, and songs were laid down at McTernan's Salad Days studio in Baltimore, Maryland. Erstwhile Hot Water Music member Jason Black makes his recording debut with the group, usurping former member Mike Glita. Erstwhile Midtown guitarists Garrett Zablocki and Heath Saraceno figure once again, whose musicianship has earned Senses Fail a coveted spot upon the soundtrack in support of the best-selling Madden NFL '09 video game. Lyrical content proves a weight issue; whereas "Still Searching" reportedly focused upon issues regarding religion and depression, its follow up centres itself around a crumbing relationship, and the desire for meaningful change. Vocalist Buddy Nielsen endured a split with a longtime girlfriend, the first he feels he had ever loved. Regret, and coming to terms with the past, provides scope for other lyrical themes. Two-part track cycle "Yellow Angels" and "Four Years" were inspired by a terminally ill fan named Marcel, who had befriended Neilsen at a Senses Fail show in Dallas, Texas. Stricken with cancer of the soft tissue of his face, Nielsen was contacted by the teen's mother when the eighteen year old's condition worsened. During the man's final days, Nielsen spent a great deal of time with him. "Life Is Not A Waiting Room" concerns living within the present, and making the most of what life you have, as opposed to preoccupying yourself with past regrets. In light of Marcel's plight, this seems a somewhat sobering thought. With that in mind, Ultimate Guitar conducted an email interview with guitarists Garrett Zablocki and Heath Saraceno. UG: Can you provide an introduction to 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room' for those unfamiliar with the recording, and the meaning behind the album title itself? Heath: 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room' is the title of Senses Fail's third studio album. Actually, the album's title is a lyrical line lifted from a track which didn't surface upon 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room''s final tracklisting. The album's title concerns the realisation that your past is your past, and that you should begin to actually live your life - you only grow older, and life passes you by. It's a wake up call in some respects, and says that you should stop messing around, and achieve something with yourself. Buddy penned those lyrics, and they concern life changing episodes which have transpired during the past year or two. When and how were initial ideas gathered in preparation for 'Life Is Not a Waiting Room', from writing to recording? Garrett: During our late 2007 tour alongside New Found Glory, some riffs were composed. In most instances, 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room''s material was conceived in my basement, and Brian McTernan's studio. Both January and February were spent writing material in my basement. Following that, we took a week's break and visited Brian so that we could show him our progress. At that time, the songs "Wolves at the Door", "Garden State" and "Chandelier" were mostly complete, including their respective vocal parts. We refined those tracks, and began authoring several more during our visit to Brian. We then devoted the rest of March towards penning both complete, and incomplete, tracks. On April 1st, we officially entered the studio. During that month, we shaped the tracks, not to mention writing roughly ten additional numbers. When May arrived, we began to track each respective song until June 7th.
"Whilst we took the songwriting further away than we did on past albums, we returned to a 'new-blood' state of mind."
Brian McTernan produced 2006's 'Still Searching', and has returned to produce 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room'. Why was he chosen to return, and what production style did he opt towards in support of this album? Garrett: When Brian was chosen to produce 'Still Searching', there wasn't much room for his participation upon the tracks - with the exception of tweaking arts in certain instances. When we demoed those songs in my basement without the input of a producer, most eventually surfaced upon 'Still Searching' with the exact same structure. On both a personal and musical level, Brian connected with us. He comprised Senses Fail's sixth member, and we were collectively comfortable with him being part of the group. In authoring 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room', Brian was present during nearly all songwriting sessions. After agreeing upon a promising riff a member had written, Brian would leave us in the live room to pen the rest of the track. Brian would then return so that he could hear what we had return. Following that, he would steer us towards the right direction so that we could finish writing the song. Acting as the anchor, Brian additionally lent us the ability to occasionally away from the 'Senses Fail' sound, and attempt fresh ideas. Through his help, those foreign ideas would translate into Senses Fail songs. Heath: When we began the process in support of 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room', we knew that Brian would produce the album. Whilst recording 'Still Searching', we got to know him very well, and really liked his approach towards production. As individuals and as a group, Brian really understands us. He's intuitive, brutally honest, and possesses a raft of great ideas. Additionally, Brian knows the locations of all the greatest food establishments in the Baltimore area. In some respects, Brian is a larger brother who coaches us regarding the big game, and congratulates us when we deliver a great performance, but yells at us when we deliver otherwise. The cover artwork was designed by Sons of Nero, and features a mask wearing individual sitting in a waiting room. How did that artwork come to fruition, and what's the meaning behind that artwork? Heath: In comparison to the artwork featured upon Senses Fail's past records, we wanted the artwork to be slightly more organic. As opposed to the artwork being a glossy, ambiguous cover, the idea of a singular, striking matte image proved more appealing. Buddy spawned the idea, and then described that idea to us. We all liked it. Portland (Matt Hay, NORA guitarist and founder of Sons of Nero) contacted us several weeks later, and presented us with the photographs - we were all blown away. Within the inside booklet, a kid sits on a park bench whilst holding black balloons. It's one of my favourite pictures; something about that image is very startling. Since the release of Senses Fail's first two studio albums, how do you feel you've evolved as both songwriters and musicians? Garrett: Both our songwriting and musicianship have collectively progressed. As our proficiency in playing our instruments has improved, we've been able to channel those improvements into the music. This relates to other issues as well; in future, we'll know which rhythm, lead, time signature, etc. we want to play, though we'll have to practice to achieve this goal. In terms of our progression as musicians, I feel this is wholly responsible. We've discovered Senses Fail's songwriting formula, I think. We'll continually adhere to the sound that listeners expect from us, though we'll inject some twists in certain instances so that our sound remains fresh. Though we highlight each members' progression as musicians, we aren't excessive in this regard. We play as one. During your time as part of Senses Fail, in what ways have you let go of certain aspects of yourself, and changed for the better? Garrett: With us, both selfishness and bullshit immediately leave the room. We're a rare group of individuals who get along upon a day to day basis; it took roughly five to six years, and several lineup changes, to arrive at this point, though being part of Senses Fail is now most enjoyable. It's lent me a greater outlook on life, and I have so much fun that I don't actually realise that being part of Senses Fail is also a career. Being part of the group has also forced me to become familiar with many aspects of business, knowledge that you'd never learn whilst at school. With tuition, these experiences can't be learnt. Heath: Within Senses Fail, ego isn't involved. When each and every decision is made, each member of the group has an equal voice. We're all friends, and value the time we're afforded to spend with one another. We're fortunate that we're achieving this with our lives, and we know that - we have the greatest job ever. Buddy commented that the songs have "a real sense of urgency". Can you discuss that in further detail, and how well you feel that will translate live? Garrett: In cutting 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room', we were extremely conscious as regards the album's live aspect. Whilst performing live in the basement, we wrote the record. We didn't write the album through pods, and v-drums via a computer. Irrespective of each track's tempo, we ensured that every number was exciting to perform, and not just to listen to. Each song featured upon 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room' would seamlessly translate live, and I can honestly say that. These tracks incite pure adrenaline, so some of those songs sound even better within a live setting. Heath: When you compose a tour's setlist, you want that setlist to contain tracks which possess much energy. For several weeks or months, you'll have to perform that setlist, so it has to prove exciting for both the audience and the group. When we wrote 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room', we wanted its tracklisting to a mirror a setlist that contains each track we'd like to perform live. 'Still Searching' featured tracks such as "Lost and Found" and "All The Best Cowboys" for example, and those songs didn't translate to the live setting. When songwriting, we strived to remember certain qualities prevalent within songs which are fun to perform live. Also, we wished to pen tracks which would still maintain our excitement once we had performed them on a nightly basis, and for a whole year. Buddy also said that the tracks remind him of how he felt when writing 'From the Depths of Dreams'. Do you feel the same way? Garrett: When we wrote material in support of 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room', its organic quality mirrored that of when we didn't know how to compose material. Ironically enough, both our current experience and knowledge is much advanced in comparison to the experience and knowledge we held during the sessions for 'From the Depths of Dreams'. We wanted 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room''s to boast a raw quality, as opposed to the material issued by all these new, neon groups, which sounds as though it was produced by a song factory. We've always possessed a raw vibe within our music, I feel. However, I feel 'Still Searching' lost some of that raw vibe. During the initial two weeks, we didn't know what type of material to pen. Genuinely scared, we felt that we couldn't match the quality which 'Still Searching' has, let alone surpass that quality. In a certain respect, we ventured forwards as much as we did backwards; whilst we took the songwriting further away than we did on past albums, we returned to a "new-blood" state of mind. Heath: To succeed 'Still Searching', we knew that we had to write a particularly special album. 'Still Searching' is viewed as a turning point for the group, so to successfully compete with ourselves, we had to really push our abilities. We worked our asses off in an attempt to make our material more personal, aggressive and exciting. As a group, we were also aware that we could possibly take extra chances in penning 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room'. We weren't faithful to a specific formula, and wrote a number of tracks. For that reason, we had a host of different material to choose from. In recording your parts in support of 'Life Is Not a Waiting Room', what aspects of your musical identity are featured upon the tracks themselves? Garrett: It's tough to say somewhat. Heath and myself have adapted to one another's abilities, and so much so that we both play and write as one. I like to think that we inspire one another much in the same way that the Allman Brothers inspire one another. Before Heath hits the next note, I'll know exactly which one he'll hit, and the same vice versa. Both the chord voicing and leads / solos is the only area in which you can really hear our identities. Heath: When writing tracks in support of 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room', sometimes one member would propose a rough idea, and another member would immediately complete that idea. Prior to recording, we jammed upon these songs together hundreds of times. Therefore, we knew exactly what each member would play upon the final recording. It's a genuine pleasure to perform as part of a group alongside a musician who looks at a track, or part of a track, from the same perspective as yourself. Neither Garrett, nor myself, are cocky, flashy, "look at what I can do" type guitarists. The vocals are what each listener hears initially, so we both know that the vocals are the most important aspect of a track for that reason. In short, we wish to lend texture and melody to the composition, but not overcrowd the vocals.
"We've discovered Senses Fail's songwriting formula, I think."
"Family Tradition" was issued as a digital single in August. Is a music video of this being recorded, or will a music video for another track be recorded? Can you provide details on any upcoming music video plans, and what you'd like to achieve with the music video? Garrett: During the other week, we filmed a video in support of "Family Tradition". Within the next week or so, that video should be finished. Upon 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room's release, it should surface via video outlets. We wanted to film a cool live perform, and use a non-serious storyline. The video itself runs loosely alongside the track's lyrical content. Heath: We're hoping to film an additional video at some point, possibly in support of the track "Garden State". Thus far, that track has received much positive feedback from, and other message board kids. Since January 2008, Jason Black has occupied bass duties. How's the chemistry been with Black since his arrival? Can you confirm whether Jason's position in the group is temporary, or whether there's the possibility of Jason figuring as a permanent member of the group? Garrett: It took Jason roughly two days to begin making fun of Buddy, I think. Usually, that's when we know you're one of us. In that sense, no one's really safe with us. We make fun of everything, get inebriated, and make fun of everything even further. However, our teasing never gets to the point where it's outright mean. Additionally, Jason's a real bassist. Thinking and playing in the vein of a bassist, Jason has elevated our group to a whole new level. Senses Fail's rhythm section has never been this tight. Heath: At Warped Tour 2002, I met Jason briefly, and he gave me a beer I think. I saw him perform as part of Hot Water numerous times upon that tour, and was already very familiar with his playing style - Hot Water were one of my favourite groups. I knew that Jason played melodic, intricate bass lines upon studio recordings, and that those basslines were performed with slightly more intensity during live concerts. Hands down, Jason is the greatest bassist around. When Buddy telephoned me, and said that Jason had contacted him out of the blue, and asked if Senses Fail sought a bassist. I thought he was joking. Throughout October and November, Senses Fail will conduct a headlining tour. How do you feel material lifted from ' Life Is Not A Waiting Room' will gel into the live setlist, and make the set more diverse overall? Garrett: 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room''s tracks will be the most energetic songs featured amongst the setlist. Whilst performing the new tracks, I'm sure we'll play harder, and move around more. For those who have yet to hear the material, I feel they'll get the greatest impression you can from a live track. Heath: We're really excited to perform these tracks live. If we could perform all of 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room''s tracks live, we would. However, we don't want to annoy those kids who also wish to hear Senses Fail's old material. Now that we've written three full lengths ('Let It Enfold You', 'Still Searching' and 'Life Is Not A Waiting') and an EP ('From The Depths of Dreams'), it's becoming difficult to compose a setlist. It'll definitely be the most diverse setlist we've ever performed. How do you feel 'Life Is Not a Waiting Room' stands in the group's overall career, and where will it take the group in furthering its wider aims? Garrett: I think 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room' surpasses 'Still Searching', but keeps within that same sound. As a group, I believe we've finally established our sound with 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room'. We'll always continually improve, and attempt fresh things, though we'll never commit a 180 on our fans, and release material which doesn't sound like Senses Fails. After all, that's why group members form side projects. We'll just improve as both musicians and songwriters, and push our sound to the limits with each successive record. Heath: We won't attempt to reinvent ourselves; we're happy with what Senses Fail is. With 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room', we expanded upon the ideas we loved most from 'Still Searching'. With 'Life Is Not A Waiting Room''s successor, we'll expand upon the ideas we loved most from this album. It's a stepping stone towards the next album, and that next album will form the same function to the album issued following that. We just want to issue material, perform shows, drink beer and hang out. Interview by Robert Gray Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2008
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