Smile Empty Soul Members Talk New Album ‘Chemicals,’ Touring + More
It’s been 15 years since Smile Empty Soul formed and 10 years since their breakout single ‘Bottom of a Bottle,’ but the band recently started their own label to release their latest album, ‘Chemicals.’
During their recent tour stop at New York City’s Webster Hall, we spoke with all of the members of Smile Empty Soul about the new disc. The band also discussed the decision to go independent, touring and much more. Check out our interview with frontman Sean Danielsen, bassist Ryan Martin and drummer Jake Kilmer of Smile Empty Soul below:
Talk about ‘Chemicals’ and what the title of the album means to you.
Jake Kilmer: It’s just track three off of our record, obviously our title track but to me it just sounds awesome. There’s so many different ways you can take it. I’m a walking chemical machine myself. [Laughs]
Ryan Martin: For me every time we play that song now I always think about the cover of the record. It ended up looking like some sort of chemical factory. We all painted and did everything on the artwork for that.
Sean Danielsen: We did pick the title because it was one of the tracks on the album but I think once we picked it, in my mind, it started taking on a life of its own. I started looking at it and we totally live in a chemical age, we’re surrounded by it. There are chemicals in the food that we eat, there’s chemicals in the water we drink and there’s chemicals in the air that we breathe. Most people are taking all kinds of pills, pills for this and that, a lot of chemicals going on. It kind of represents the day and age we live in.
As far as the record, what it represents to me, it represents us starting our own label here at this point and making a record exactly the way we wanted to make it and having a great time recording it. It’s just a cool new step for our band. It represents a lot of awesome, forward progression and new things for us.
How was that for you guys to go out on your own, with your own label?
SD: We’re artists and we like to do what we want to do. We had freedoms in the past, like the last record that we made ‘3’s’ we made that record completely on our own. We then took it to eOne, which is the label that ended up releasing it so we’ve made records in the past our way. This one was even further in that direction, to that extent it was the most freedom we’ve ever had.
Even on the last record we did it in a more traditional way, you go in and track the drums and produce the drums and move on to another instrument and layer things. With this record, we went in and just recorded a bunch of stuff all together with a more live feel and kept it more raw. We painted the cover ourselves, down to the very last minute detail, it was all us.
You’ve stated that this album has “half live feel and half studio feel” – what about the live feel did you want to capture specifically?
JK: You get more of a live feel when you record together. That’s what we wanted to capture and just do the best we could. It was fun because it wasn’t hard. [Laughs]
RM: It was definitely the easiest way to do it and the most natural way to do it for us. We’re so used to playing and touring so much that there’s definitely this bond when we’re playing.
SD: Plus it’s the humanness, a lot of bands produce out the humanness. If you don’t leave any push and pull or human feel and you’ve beat detected every drum and autotune every vocal and over comp all the guitars and the bass – it sounds good and very clean and perfected but no human can actually play that. There’s so much over production going on so we just wanted to make a record that has that human element.
JK: And that sounds like a band. [Laughs]
SD: Right, three human beings playing music not three human beings that played music into a machine then chopped it and diced it and spit it back out in a perfect form.
With all of the bands that you have toured with, which would you say has left a long lasting impression on you and why?
SD: That’s tough, there were a lot of bands that we’ve toured with over the years, awesome guys that you always remember for one reason or another. Most recently we did a lot of touring with Hurt and we’re good friends with those guys.
JK: I would have to say SOil has left a lasting impression because we shared a bus with them in 2010. That was a pretty long tour, it was like nine weeks or something so there’s just like funny images and sequences in my head.
SD: And we still work with Tim [King], the bass player from SOil, because he works over at Pavement, which is the label that our label is distributed through. So, we actually worked together on this record. We knew him before the SOil tour we did but we really got to know those guys on that tour. They’re great guys.
RM: Definitely the Hurt tour for me. I really enjoyed getting to know those guys. It was eight weeks sharing a bus with them but then another six weeks of touring. Those were definitely some of the best that we’ve gotten to know out of all the musicians. We had a really good time.
What is a lesson that you continue to take with you that you’ve learned on tour?
SD: You learn so much on tour, I don’t even know where to begin. Touring is like the school of life – it’s the roughing it, hardcore school of life. You learn so many different, weird trades especially these days because you can’t afford to pay everybody to do all the little things so you have to do it yourself. You learn a lot of life lessons and all kinds of s—.
JK: Just be nice. [Laughs]
SD: [Laughs] That’s a great lesson!
With all of the massive touring schedule, what is one thing that you must have on tour with you, no electronics.
SD: [Laughs] My single answer would have to be my knife. Herb and the knife are two of the most essential road tools.