Smile Empty Soul are a sublime genre-bending rock outfit who originally hail from Santa Clara, California. The band released their debut self-titled album way back in 2003 and have been busy creating amazing music ever since.
We spoke to Sean Danielsen about the bands upcoming '2020' EP, his insane productivity during the pandemic, what inspired him to get into music and his drummers addiction to Gold Fish crackers...
"I really enjoyed taking on those cover songs, think they turned out great, and the response from people has been terrific."
Firstly, unfortunately I have to ask this at the moment, how have you guys been coping in the lock-down? What kind of things have been keeping you sane during the lock-down and pandemic?
I’ve been alright actually. I’m thankful that I live in Arkansas and we never actually “locked down” here. The largest impact this whole thing has had on me is that all my tours have been cancelled.
That’s tough because I’m very used to being on the road, and the financial loss has been hard to deal with.
Let’s be honest 2020 has been a weird year so far and things will probably be weird for a while. As an artist, especially an artist with you EP The Acoustic Sessions Vol.2 releasing during the pandemic, how (if at all) did this affect the EP’s release?
Well I wasn't even planning to make that EP until my spring tour was cancelled. Once it was confirmed that spring was a “no go”, I made plans to make “the acoustic sessions, volume 2” as a way to use the time productively, and generate revenue to help make up for the tour loss.
It actually hasn’t effected the release too much other than the fact that I haven’t been able to take the physical product on tour to sell of course.
Final question on the pandemic I promise. With the release of EP The Acoustic Sessions Vol.2 on June 01st releasing in the pandemic, would you do anything different with the release in hindsight?
No, it actually went totally according to plan, and it was fun to make and release. I really enjoyed taking on those cover songs, think they turned out great, and the response from people has been terrific.
"After a while I just picked up the guitar at home and started figuring it out using what I had observed as well as chord charts as a guide. I totally connected with the guitar right away, and instantly started playing for hours a day and knew it’s what I wanted to do with my life."
How did you get into writing and creating music? Was there a decisive moment or event that you remember that made you stop and think, wow, THIS is what I want to do with my life?
Both my parents are musicians, so I grew up around music... but as far as a defining moment, I was taking piano lessons when I was 9 and 10, and my Mom was taking guitar lessons from the same teacher at the time. We would go together for a block of lessons where I would have my piano lesson, and then my Mom would have her guitar lesson while I was there watching.
After a while I just picked up the guitar at home and started figuring it out using what I had observed as well as chord charts as a guide. I totally connected with the guitar right away, and instantly started playing for hours a day and knew it’s what I wanted to do with my life.
Your latest single Entitled dropped on YouTube on 19th August and is taken from your upcoming “2020” EP release. Can you go into the creation process of this themes of this track a little more? How did this track come about?
This song was written the same way all of my songs come about. I wrote it on an acoustic, then recorded a rough demo to send to my drummer Ty with some notes. We then bounced drum ideas back and forth a couple times getting them finalised, and jumped into the recording studio to track everything.
‘Entitled’ is an absolute belter of a track and has already received massive critical praise. Is it always the ambition of the band to always push the limits of what the definitive Smile Empty Soul sound can be?
I definitely don’t want to repeat myself musically, so I try to have a different touch with each release while keeping the smile empty soul sound overall.
"My plans are to continue to promote this “2020” EP that’s coming on Sept 4th, and I’m even considering recording another EP towards the end of the year to make it 3 releases by the end. I have to see how it goes though."
With everything still up in the air, what do you think the rest of 2020 will look like for you as a band?
Since our freedoms have been completely taken from us, I highly doubt any touring will happen this year. My plans are to continue to promote this “2020” EP that’s coming on Sept 4th, and I’m even considering recording another EP towards the end of the year to make it 3 releases by the end. I have to see how it goes though.
‘Entitled’ shows new unheard depths in your sound and in comparison, to ‘Oblivion’ in 2018, was this a conscious choice or a natural evolution of your sound?
Well the song was kept purposefully simple because that’s what seemed to fit to lyrics and repetitive aspect. The rest of the “2020” EP is a little more aligned with the classic Smile Empty Soul sound...although it does have a little bit of its own thing going on. As I continue down life’s path I change as a person and writer, so it actually happens naturally that the sound evolves.
If you HAD to choose one song from the Smile Empty Soul catalogue that you feel would best encompasses the bands signature sound for a new listener, which song would you choose and why?
That’s a little tough because we have a lot of softer stuff, some poppy material, as well as some really heavy tunes. I really like how our 2019 EP “sheep” turned out, so if someone was asking me what release I would recommend, that would be the one. It’s a good straight forward rock release.
Can you tell us a fun fact about each member of the band?
There’s only 2 of us now, as I hold down the bass as well as the guitar and vocals. I use a special pickup in the neck of my guitar called “a little thunder”, that allows me to send a signal to a bass rig that takes just the lowest note I’m playing on the guitar and drops it down an octave.
As far as my drummer Ty, besides being a complete beast of a musician, he can live almost exclusively on Gold Fish crackers, haha.
What is on your playlist at the moment?
Lately I’ve been listening to Sigur Ros, Lana Del Rey, Ben Howard, and Florence and the machine.
‘Excommunicated’ is the next single from the ‘2020’ EP and has a music video also coming next month. Does this track continue with the same themes as ‘Entitled’? Can we expect these themes through the entire EP?
There are some carry over themes running through the whole EP, but “excommunicated” is very different song than “entitled”. The video is similar to stick with the “2020” theme, but the song is coming from a different place with a different sound.
Finally, as we are called Not A Phase, were you guys scene kids when you were growing up? If not, what kind of music were you rocking out back in your formative teenage years?
I’m not sure what a “scene kid” really is, but I grew up playing the Hollywood club scene from the age of 16 through when we got signed at the age of 20. I was always really into the rock music scene, but for me that meant Seattle grunge, and Tool, Deftones, etc. The “scene” was probably very different back then.
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