Since 2003, Smile Empty Soul have toured the world over. They scored a hit with “Bottom of a Bottle” in 2003, and hit the ground running since. Over the years, and spending time on various labels, they are now home at EOne Music. In 2012, they released their fifth album “3’s”. Touring extensively throughout the year, they are just coming off a very successful tour with HURT. While the band is taking a break during the Christmas and New Year holiday, I was given the opportunity to speak with Sean Danielsen, vocalist and guitarist of Smile Empty Soul.
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Today we have Sean Danielsen of Smile Empty Soul with us. Sean, thank for giving us a call, and welcome to the Unsung Melody family.
Absolutely, man. Thanks for having me!
We’re happy to have you here. To start off, 3’s was released in May of last year. How did the writing process flow during the writing and recording of the record?
The writing process was real smooth. You know, I had most of those songs laying around, that I had written over the course of the tours we had done for our previous album, Conciousness. When it came time to go to the rehearsal room and bang out the songs, we pretty much had them all ready to go. So, it wasn’t like a weird pinch for songs, or a scramble. It was very comfortable. The guys got together in our studio, and just working through stuff, getting them where we wanted them. Two months doing that, getting them all worked up, then we started hitting the studio to actually track them.
To me, it sounds like a strong return to form. The whole album just sounds very strong, and I really enjoyed the album.
Thank you man, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I definitely feel the same way, so I’m glad you noticed that because I feel like that album came together in a very natural way. The way it started out, I just feel really good about it. We all did, we feel like it’s our best.
What influenced the album title “3’s”?
What we like to do as a band is to allow a theme to develop as we’re making a record. Then, whatever that theme is, that becomes the title. We started noticing how the number “3” was every where for us, and we started making a list. It was really the only fitting title for the album.
How has the fan reception been in regards to the album?
It’s been great. I think that a lot of our fans feel the same way that you do, and the way that we do about the record; that it’s one of our stronger albums. It’s been a little bit more difficult for us at radio and other things, but as far as fan reception and what people have felt about the music, I think it has gone over as good as it could have.
You have been touring behind the album most of the year, is that correct?
Yeah, we have done a few runs behind 3’s this year. We did the tour in the spring and early summer, a headlining run. Then we did another headlining summer run, and then we just did a fall-winter tour with HURT a couple of weeks ago.
That tour was very successful, wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was a really good tour. It was a lot of fun. The guys in HURT, they are a great band and a great bunch of dudes. We’re all great friends, and it was a blast.
Speaking of HURT, you just mentioned that you recently finished a tour with them. You recently collaborated with them on a cover of the Alice in Chains song “No Excuses”. What lead up to the decision of covering it? Or, was it more of a spontaneous decision?
It was totally spontaneous. We actually had a day off in Michigan, and our booking agent called to say “Hey, there’s a recording studio that’s willing to donate the day to you guys. You want to go in and do whatever you want?”. Initially, we were going to go in and do the more cliché thing that any band would do in that scenario, just to go in and do a broken-down, acoustic version of one of our songs, and HURT was going to do an acoustic version of one of their songs. When we got in there, I think we all just wanted to do something different and have fun with it. So, we decided to collaborate on one song, and have it be a cover song. Right on the spot, we just tossed around a couple of song ideas, and ended up settling with “No Excuses”.
It turned out to be a really great cover, I think.
Thanks! I thought it turned out really cool. It was very on-the-spot, spontaneous and we just kind of banged it out right there. Some of the best things come spontaneously like that.
Could we hear another collaboration from you all, and the guys from HURT in the future?
It’s definitely possible. We’re good friends. There’s always the possibility of doing something on a recording of ours, or vice versa, or another collaborative cover. We’re actually possibly going back out on the road with them next year (2013) at some point. You never know with these things, it could happen.
If you do, I’m looking forward to hearing it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Speaking of collaborations, you have a project with Brett Scallions of Fuel called World Fire Brigade. Did this germinate from your 2003 tour with Fuel?
It did, actually. Fuel took us out when we were just starting out, back in 2003 on their “Natural Selection” tour. I met Brett back then. Years later, I was actually working with this producer, that produced the last 2 Smile Empty Soul records, named Eddie Wohl. He’s good friends with Brett, and he suggested we have a writing session, just us three. So we got together to write some tunes and we started coming up with a bunch of stuff very quickly, and effortlessly. We had a few sessions, and before you know it, we had a record’s worth of material. We recorded those songs off and on over the course of the last few years when I had downtime from Smile and Brett had downtime from Fuel and his other projects and when Eddie had downtime from producing and all the things he does. We chipped away at this record and finished it, and called it World Fire Brigade, and just kind-of soft-released it earlier this year. We’re just letting it organically grow and flow by word of mouth and things like that.
Here at Unsung Melody, we believe it’s a VERY strong album.
Thank you, man!
You’re welcome. I didn’t expect what it would sound like. I thought it was going to be a mixture of Fuel and Smile Empty Soul, or is it going to be its own beast? It became its own beast, and you all had Rob Caggiano (former Anthrax guitarist) and Mike McCready (guitarist of Pearl Jam) guest on it?
Yeah, they both did guest on it. Mike did a solo on it, and Rob did two solos on it, actually. Yeah, like you said, we went into it wanting it to be different than just Smile Empty Soul meets Fuel, you know what I mean? It kind of took its own form, its own life, and that’s not as predictable as it would have sounded like if it was a Fuel song, or a Smile song.
In some songs, I can’t tell whether it’s you, or Brett singing.
You know, that’s what’s so weird. We have very different voices, but you put them together and they blend better than you would think. They blend well together. At some points, you can’t really tell who’s who.
That’s what I really love about it, not being able to tell who was singing what. It keeps you guessing, and makes you think more on the music.
Could we possibly hear more from World Fire Brigade in the future?
That’s the plan. I think that all three of us are on board as far as recording more in the future. It’s just a matter of scheduling, time frames and whatnot. We’re all friends, and we enjoy making music together, so I don’t see why not.
We’re looking forward to hearing it. I think you all can do some great stuff. Now, I’ve got two more questions here, if you don’t mind. 2013 marks 10 years since your major-label debut of your self-titled album. How do you feel about where you are as a band now, and are you happy with where you stand?
In some ways, I’m totally happy, and in some ways I’m not. Obviously, there are certain things that could be better. It’s pretty crazy looking back. Just to look back and realize that we have released records and toured for 10 years. It’s a long time, and we’ve been through quite a bit of ups and downs and things that other bands would have stopped and broken up over. We’re proud to have been around this long. We’re just musicians at heart, and we love making music. It’s great to be able to have done this for so long, and continue to do it.
Going through as much as you all have, it’s made your music stronger. It’s given you heart and strength for your voice, musically and lyrically.
I think so to. It’s cliché, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You learn a lot from hardship and struggle. I like where we’re at right now.
We try to end our interviews with a random question. I think this one is a bit of a doozy. I had some writers block, and then had a EUREKA moment. Here we go! You are given free reign to select members of a supergroup to record a cover song for a tribute album. The song you are hired to cover is “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. Who would you select as members of the band, and what direction would you take this song musically?
Wow. “Never Gonna Give You Up”? I can pick anybody? I guess I’d take it super, super heavy, and get the singer of Lamb of God (Randy Blythe), get him, and I’ll play guitar. Then, we’ll have Dave Grohl play drums and get Justin Chancellor from TOOL to play bass. It would be interesting at least.
How heavy would you take it? Hard rock heavy, or melodic death metal heavy like In Flames or Dark Tranquility?
With the Lamb of God guy, you’d have to take it super heavy. I don’t know how much he actually sings, melodically. Just take it full-blown. That would be an interesting cover of that. It might be a disaster, but it would be fun. Actually, you know, thinking about that a little more here, it wouldn’t be bad to have Maynard from TOOL sing, actually. He could actually keep it not so death metal, and sing with the melody. It would make it kind of heavy and interesting.
That does sound very interesting. Never know, though. One of these days, something crazy like that might actually happen.
You never know!
Well, Sean, thank you for calling us, and thank you for being part of the Unsung Melody family!
I appreciate it! It was good.
Check out the video for We’re Through by Smile Empty Soul below: