Yes, you read that correctly. You probably just muttered, “Really?” out loud. But it is the truth. Senses Fail’s album Renacer (2013), specifically the single, “Between the Mountains and the Sea,” have become my new anchor on the days I feel myself slipping the most. I have been trailing Senses Fail’s career since a friend played them for me back in 8th grade, with Bloody Romance blaring out of the speakers. They had come out with their first album that year, From the Depths of Dreams (2004). At 14 years old I was already feeling angsty. About what? The usual: fitting in at school, body image, and sex.
It scares me now at 24 to know at that age people were getting physical, but it happened, and it stressed me the eff out because I wasn’t ready for it. I never cared how my body looked in certain clothes until the first time another girl called me chubby, or until I realized boys always pursued my thin, lighter-skinned friends. A certain hatred for myself began to develop in those early teen years due to all those superficial pressures all of us have to find a way to survive through.
Music has been a constant outlet since I was old enough to choose what cassette tapes I listened to (Disney sing a-longs and Whitney Houston), and Senses Fail became a way for me to channel the darkest places my anger and sadness went after my innocence began to shed. In the earlier albums, lead singer Buddy Nielsen, sings his heart out and screams about his self-disgust with alcohol abuse and expresses a painful anger toward his father that was not involved in his life. The song “Coward” off The Fire (2010) is enough to paint an idea of his feelings about his dad.
"Your own daughter barely knows your face.
You set the fire and then walked away,
leaving everyone to clean the mess that you have made.
Everything you passed down to me,
The stiff right hand, this fuckin disease.
What do I get for being your son...
What I appreciated about their music was the way Buddy allowed himself to pour his darkest secrets and vulnerabilities into the words. I know those that are not fan of the scream-o genre use the defense they cannot understand what the singer is saying. I get that, and some bands can be hard to figure out, but it matters how much one is actually listening.
Even though I was not dealing with the same issues as Buddy, the voice screaming and singing to me resembled the same pain and anger screaming at myself from the inside. It became a healthy way for me to channel the feelings I wanted to show outwardly. As I grew up, the band did too, and I continued to follow them. I noticed how the first few albums were heavy with pessimism and hopelessness. With tracks such as “Can’t Be Saved” and “The Priest and the Matador,” it was beginning to feel like Buddy didn’t think he would ever overcome his obstacles.
“I shut the door and turn all the lights out.
And listen to all the songs that the night shouts.
They go something just like this...
So go fill up a glass with tonic rocks and gin
and drink yourself to happiness.
I'm stuck in a coma, stuck in a never-ending sleep.”
“Can’t Be Saved” (2006)
“A priest is rushing, to my side.
Begins to read me my last rites.
Father you're too late,
my faith is weak.
So won't you save your half-hearted speech.”
“The Priest and the Matador” (2006)
But I noticed a major shift when Life is Not a Waiting Room was released in 2008 that actually contained uplifting messages and my love for the phrase, “follow your bliss” began. Seriously, I have contemplated getting it tattooed on myself many times; it just hasn’t happened yet. “Yellow Angels” still gives me goosebumps whenever I listen to it. Every time that line, “Wake up, you’re sleeping behind the wheel” was coming I turned up my volume so I could chant along. Buddy finally had a wakeup call, and Senses Fail became a band I could listen to, to gain positive vibes and not just channel my negative ones.
The dark days I mention in the title are days that come and go. Sometimes they surprise me out of the blue, but when they pay me a visit it can cause me to spiral. I realize when I step back and take a look at my life as a whole in the present and past, things have never been that bad. I have been fortunate enough to have a supportive family around me, a bed to sleep in every night, and a safe place to grow up. Despite all that, sometimes it’s still hard to see it that way.
Coming into my mid-twenties, some pressures have remained such as contentment with body image, but a boat-load of new ones have joined me. Getting older and going to college grew my awareness of politics, the world on a bigger scale, and all the corruptness of those in power. Some days it gets hard to see the good in anything when it feels like we are puppeteers led to believe we are making our own choices when we are restricted a lot more then it seems. Sometimes I get dragged far into the realization of our government’s lack of care for the poor and praise for the rich and fall into a depression over where the state of the world is potentially going.
My own difficulty of being able to find a new job six months after graduating college became a large contributor into my fleeting desire and drive. Multiple times a week I could find myself slipping into the slump of thinking the “American Dream” no longer existed, and it would not be a road ahead like I had been promised. This is where Senses Fail comes in for the rescue.
“And do you ever ask yourself
if the person that you are
is the person you were meant to be,
or are you too afraid to go that far?
Courage is to walk
through the valley of our thoughts
and in the desert that you fear
sit down with open ears.”
“Between the Mountains and the Sea” (2013)
The first time I heard this song it hit me the way an epiphany does at a random moment. “YES!” I wanted to yell. It was as if Buddy had finally reached the place he had been fighting to be for so long, and although I was not where I wanted to be, it gave me the answer that if I kept fighting I would be. Rather than placing the blame on the world surrounding him, Buddy calls himself out, calls everyone out, on letting fear stand in the way of our happiness and what we want. A lot of us believe we have a potential to reach, but the challenge is figuring out the steps to lead us to that place, and so many stay stagnant where it feels safe.
Between the Mountains and the Sea forces me to confront my feelings of wanting to give up, of wanting yell “fuck it” to the rest of the world, and those moments where life doesn’t seem fully worth it. It asks me:
“So what are you gonna do,
when everything you love is taken right away from you?
And what are you gonna do,
if the person that you thought you were is not the person you knew?”
I answer that I know everything is not going to last forever, and I really do need to appreciate, nurture, and take chances on everything that is available to me now. It also helps me remember we as people can change if we truly want to. It is easy to get stuck in our ways and not want to step out of our comfort zones, but we do not know what we are capable of doing if we never go for it. A pessimist only feeds their own fury, and I have my father to thank for being a real-life example. One can bring up any topic around him, and he will find a bad side to it even if it doesn’t seem like there is one.
I don’t want to live this way, and some days I would rather just wallow in it, but I can see that only hurts, not helps. It is easier to pour my weaknesses into music, a place I know where I won’t be judged, than to try and spill my problems to a friend in fear they will just think I am crazy or overreacting. It becomes a safe space for me to let out the worst side of myself without involving anyone else.
With all the credit I am giving to this band, I do not want it to seem like there aren’t other artists who give me a similar remedy and different type of boost, or that my loved ones and hobbies do not give me a release. I believe the more outlets, the better. Music just has a way of being the partner I need, no matter what time of day, emotion I’m feeling, or activity I am doing.
My mood is immediately perked up if I have music playing as I get ready. Talk radio is never on in my car. My car is actually the only place I feel confident singing in my “real” voice. My favorite way to workout has become Zumba within the last year and a half. I basically have music on at all times, unless I’m at work. It calms me, keeps me company, helps me cry, makes me hyper, turns me on and so on. I guess I could say Senses Fail does not just save me on my darkest day, but music overall saves me in every way because my world would feel very empty and quiet without it.