April 4, 2014 Interview – Sean Danielsen of Smile Empty Soul
Determination and dedication are the measurements of someone’s work, and the desire for something remarkable to occur. In 2003, that culmination happened for Southern California band Smile Empty Soul when they erupted into the rock world with their certified gold self-titled debut album Smile Empty Soul . While the road has not been paved with gold the whole journey through, the three-piece band has weathered the storm coming out one of the strongest veteran rock bands on the scene today. Having recently released their sixth studio album Chemicals in late 2013 is yet another testament to the band’s ability to craft full-sounding, complete rock tunes fans long to hear. Recently, we sat down with lead song writer/vocalist Sean Danielsen for a personal look at the story of Smile Empty Soul, surviving the road, writing music, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been working hard with Smile Empty Soul now for fifteen years. In 2003, the band really took hard rock by storm with your major label self-titled debut. The band has since gone on to a successful career with five studio albums. Looking back at that debut album and the massive success of “Bottom Of A Bottle”, what was going through your mind with everything happening so quickly?
Sean Danielsen – It was a pretty crazy roller coaster of a time, definitely. We were young and good things were happening. We were very excited to be living our dreams of growing up, working really hard, and being in a band.
CrypticRock.com – It had to be a crazy time. Following all the success, you had some bumps in the road in 2005 when you were held back from releasing your second album Anxiety. How frustrating was it for the band to have this happen on the heels of the success of the debut and all the hard work you did to over reach that point?
Sean Danielsen – It was definitely really tough. It was another really crazy time, the roller coaster was on the opposite end of the spectrum. It was such a great ride on the first record and then the second record everything went awry in that sense.
CrypticRock.com – I imagine you learned a lot from that experience.
Sean Danielsen – Definitely, you have to learn from the bumps in the road. We have seen plenty of bumps in the road. We have definitely learned a lot. We appreciate a lot of those tough experiences now because of the education it gave us.
CrypticRock.com – It all worked out in the end. Each album thereafter has seen a steady progression of hard rock. The band started out as a three piece and is a three piece presently. What made you decide to keep Smile Empty Soul a three piece band?
Sean Danielsen – It just works; I don’t know how to describe how it works. We did add another guitarist for a short time period at one point in 2006, but it didn’t do what we were hoping it was going to do. It actually, I think, kind of cluttered things; the way Ryan and I play together, there is enough space being filled. Ryan fills a lot of space with his bass playing a lot more than some other bass players, and he fills it up nicely with tasty little licks. I am always adding extra little note melodies into my chord progression on the guitar, and I think between the two of us we fill it up.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, for a three piece band, you guys sound extremely full. Yourself and Ryan have always been the core of Smile Empty Soul since the beginning. What has been the key to your long lasting musical relationship?
Sean Danielsen – I think mutual respect is the number one thing that has gotten us all together so happily for so many years now. Living in tight quarters and going through crazy ups and downs together, it is not easy. It is not easy to spend the amount of time we spend together with anyone. We respect each other and learn how to respect each other’s space, and know one another’s boundaries and limitations. I think we all just work very well together. Jake has been in the band for the last eight years, so the three of us have really been doing this a long time together.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it has been working well together and the chemistry is clearly good. I imagine it helps that everyone is all on the same page.
Sean Danielsen – Oh yea, definitely. We all have common views and goals for the band. We are all a team and we pull together. We have to, to live the lifestyle that we do, you have to be a team otherwise you will fall apart.
CrytpicRock.com – You are completely right about that. You just released your newest album Chemicals in 2013. The album continues in the band’s tradition of hard hitting rock songs with emotionally real lyrics. What was the writing and recording process like for this record?
Sean Danielsen – I had the songs pretty much there throughout the 3’s (2012) process. I kind of, in the back of mind, put together a nice little list of songs that I thought we could jump back in the studio and knock out another record quickly with. We got in the studio and we decided to take a live, human feel to the recording of the record. We decided not to do such heavy editing, beat detecting the drums, and overall processing things. We just put mics up on the drums, bass, guitar, played together, and we used those tracks. I sang over everything, laid some over dubs down, and the record was ready to be mixed. We left a lot of that human rawness in there that they take out on most records these days.
CrypticRock.com – That worked really well and it is refreshing you did so. There is nothing like an organic feel of a band playing together, rather than recording pieces at different times. Now, along with the release of this album you actually formed an imprint label called Two Disciples Entertainment. With that, you have total control of every aspect of the release and work put into Chemicals. After having weathered issues in the past, how does it feel to have this type of freedom?
Sean Danielsen – It is great. We definitely had a lot of freedom for our last four records. We had not had a record company person looking over our shoulder through the process of any albums, the creative process has been ours. With this imprint label, we basically are running the business and marketing side of being the label as well. We are essentially being as hands on as you can be. It is great, it is an educational experience, it is fun and stressful, but it is cool.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like a great experience that you have control over where your music is going and being in control of everything, even if it is more stressful. You actually just completed a tour with Hed P.E. at the beginning of March. How did the tour go for the band?
Sean Danielsen – It went great. We went around the south and stayed out of the cold states. The shows were great, the crowds have been great, the Hed P.E. guys were great. It was a lot of fun.
CrypticRock.com – That is a nice package. It will be exciting to see the band hit the northeast area of the USA soon.
Sean Danielsen – Yes, we definitely will. We will be going back out at the end of April. We will start in Florida, then going up the east coast into New England.
CrypticRock.com – That is something for fans in those areas to look forward to. Besides Smile Empty Soul, you actually worked on a side project with Brett of Fuel called World Fire Brigade, with you and Brett both taking on vocals. The band actually released an album in 2012 entitled Spreading My Wings. What was it like working on that project, and can we expect any new work from the band in the future?
Sean Danielsen – It was really fun to work on. Brett and Eddie Wohl are great guys. Eddie is actually the guy who produced the last three Smile Empty Soul albums and my solo EP Enjoy The Process (2013). He is a great friend and is always a good guy to work with. It started out with Myself, Eddie, and Brett to write songs and see what became of it. We wrote the songs really fast and had fun doing it, so we got a drummer, laid down some demos, and before you know it, we were making a record. It was a fun process; we did it for the right reasons, just to do it, and make a cool fun record collaborating. I am not sure if we will do it again, it is definitely depending on scheduling and time frames. Brett is busy with the new Fuel record and we are going to be on tour all year. It is possible for the future, but I am not sure.
CrypticRock.com – That is cool, maybe we can see that in the future. It is obvious you love music and love what you do. What are some of your musical influences?
Sean Danielsen – I definitely grew up listening to Tool, Deftones, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and all those great 90’s bands. I always listen to quite a wide variety these days of music. Sometimes, stuff that is not so much rock, and sometimes, rock. I am not quite as much into the heavier stuff these days.
CrypticRock.com – That is cool and those are all great mixes of classic 90’s bands. There are definitely influences which bleed in, like in any band, in one way or another.
Sean Danielsen – Oh yea, for sure. We are not by any means a copy band, and we don’t sound like anyone of those bands necessarily, but there is an influence there that can come through. Every band has influences.
CrypticRock.com – My next question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films, and if so, what are some of your favorite horror films?
Sean Danielsen – You know, I am not that big of a horror film fan. I am more of a comedy film fan myself. There are some great horror films I have loved over the years. I like some of the older Stephen King movies like Needful Things (1993) and Misery (1990). Stephen King is great, his stories are always very interesting. The Shining (1980) is a great film, it is definitely one of the horror film classics that I like.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, he is really great. There has only been a handful of films that have been transcribed into a feature film well, and The Shining is one of them, even though he himself did not like the film. You said you like comedies. What are some of your favorite comedies?
Sean Danielsen – When I say comedies, we pretty much like anything that will make you laugh, even it is not meant to be a comedy. The 80’s comedies, we love modern comedies, we love Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone movies, even if they are not meant to be taken as comedies. Out on the road, it can be tough and you just have to laugh a lot to get through it. You have to find jokes in things and find ways to enjoy yourself. Watching comedies is one of those things to help you with that.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it has to be tough on the road. You are away from home a lot. How do you manage to keep mentality and physically healthy?
Sean Danielsen – It is tough, we do not get enough sleep and are given a lot of really bad food. One of the things I use is a Nutribullet. We have one of those in our vehicle. This morning I picked up some organic baby kale, some apples, bananas, raw almonds, honey, cinnamon, some dark chocolate, and almond milk and you have a nice little smoothie that gives me a couple doses of green vegetables and nutrients you need.
CrypticRock.com – That sounds really good. It is really important to get nutrition. I think a lot of people do not realize that when you are on the road you need to stay healthy.
Sean Danielsen – I have been doing it every day in the morning. You can easily go weeks from seeing fresh green vegetables. There are a lot of places that try and feed you burgers and fries. You cannot do that every day.
CrypticRock.com – That is not healthy. Sometimes people have misconceptions of what it is like on the road for a band. It is not a party 24 hours a day.
Sean Danielsen – No, used to be with us back in the beginning for years and we all developed serious alcohol issues. Ryan and I have been sober for a while. I gave up boozing six something years ago and Ryan gave it up three something years ago.