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Smile Empty Soul’s Sean Danielsen Discusses New Album ’3′s’ and Looks Back at Band’s Career

Sean Danielsen of Smile Empty Soul
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Smile Empty Soul frontman Sean Danielsen recently checked in with Loudwire to talk the band’s nearly 15-year career. With a brand-new album out called ’3′s,’ Danielson opened up about Smile Empty Soul’s sudden success with ‘Bottom of a Bottle’ and ‘Nowhere Kids,’ while describing the frustration of attempting to keep their career at that very high point.

Smile Empty Soul recently released their first single ‘Afterlife’ from the ’3′s’ album, and the video for the tune has just been unveiled. In our interview, Danielsen talks about the song and the album, as well as reflecting on the band’s career.

The new album is ’3′s,’ and so far you guys have released the single ‘Afterlife.’ Is the song a good representation of the entire album?

Yeah, I definitely think ‘Afterlife’ is a pretty good representation of the rest of it. In general it’s a little bit heavier than our past stuff and its a little bit more mature and a little more developed, you know? But the record has a lot of ups and downs, a lot of peaks and valleys. So there is some slow, soft stuff on the record and there is some up-tempo fast, hard stuff too, but I think ‘Afterlife’ is right there in the middle.

The band started out as a three piece, then for a little bit you were a four piece, and now you’re back to a three piece. Are you guys more comfortable as a three piece? Does that feel how the band is meant to be?

Definitely. You know, we added an extra guitar player for only a short period of time. I think we actually had him for one record, then we did like one tour with him. It just became real apparent that we function better as a three piece — that we just gelled better and there is something about our sound that it just worked like that. Then when we added another guy it didn’t really do what we were hoping for, and on top of it just kinda confused our sound.

So it really changed that creative dynamic within the band?

Yeah, you never know why something in particular works until you change it and then all of a sudden it starts dawning on you that it was just better the way it was.

Is Smile Empty Soul remaining as a three-piece one of the reasons you decided to call this next album ’3′s’?

Actually it is. You know, when we were making the record, we were looking for titles and the way we like to kinda do things when we are searching for a title for an album is just see what themes keep popping themselves up as you’re creating the record. As we were making the album, the number three just kept popping up everywhere we were looking. Obviously one of the major reasons is the fact that we are a three piece and that is definitely something we took into consideration with naming it, but there are also a ton of other threes going on everywhere we looked in our lives collectively as a band.

Do you have any examples?

We figured out we’ve released one album every three years ever since our first record, our current line up has been the same for 6 years, our name obviously Smile Empty Soul has three words in it, we all turned 30 during the making of the record … the list was actually crazy. We sat and started writing the different threes in our lives down and it was overwhelming.

One of my favorite song titles ever is ‘Jesus Is the Manager at Wal-Mart.’ What was the meaning behind that title for you?

The idea for that song came to me when I was actually at a Wal-Mart making a purchase and I looked at my receipt — and you know, when you purchase something at Wal-Mart, it actually says who the on-duty manager is…

It was Jesus?!

Yeah, the guy’s name was Jesus and a light bulb went off in my mind about Wal-Mart being so Christian conservative run and just the whole religious tie-ins with the company. That’s kinda where the song idea sprouted from

Can you give us a timeline of the band before and after the debut album? When you guys broke on to the scene with ‘Bottom of a Bottle,’ it was just so huge. Can you give us a view of what your life was like before that big break out and then afterwards until now?

We were just a local band and playing the L.A. club scene. We formed in 1998 and we were playing all the clubs — the Troubadour, the Roxy, the Whiskey and just trying to build a following. You know, to get some cash to go record demos here and there, passing them out for free, doing that whole thing. We got a demo tape to our producer that liked the potential in what he heard and what we did and he signed us to his production company. We started working on our first record with him and we made the record over the course of about nine months or so and then he shopped us around to all the labels that were doing rock music at the time.

We landed a really good record deal with Lava records and the song ['Bottom of a Bottle'] came out and it really did kinda take off on its own you know? It took off right away and we were kinda flung into being just a local band with big aspirations and dreams to all of a sudden opening up for all these bands that we followed and looked up to and touring with all these great bands and selling a decent amount of records and being all over the radio and then TV and stuff like that. It was definitely crazy. It was great, it was a real fun ride.

After that record, things kinda fell apart with us and the record label that we were on and things kinda really turned a crazy, harsh corner after that — fighting with the label and then the next record not even coming out and since then its been a pretty crazy struggle to continue being a band. There’s a fourth record deal that we are on right now — we just signed with eOne. We have been through four or five different management companies, four or five different booking agencies, several different lawyers … it’s been a crazy ride and seems like we had all that success on the first record and ever since then we’ve just been struggling to just keep it going. So here we are we are still doing our thing and releasing music, so I can’t really complain.

I remember a while ago one of you guys said starting out in Los Angeles was the worst place for up-and-coming bands. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?

Yeah, you know, L.A. is just a funny scene because there are just so many bands. We grew up out here so technically we were actually a local band, but you’re not just competing with the other local bands, you’re also competing with all the bands from all around the country and the world that thought they could make it in L.A. So you’ve got the hundreds of thousands of bands that are actually from here and then you’ve also got the hundreds of thousands of bands that just moved here, and so its just like a crazy kind of clusterf— going on of just so many bands. It’s just very hard to get noticed or recognized or achieve any sort of success. We were very lucky in getting our demo to a producer and getting our break and having some things go our way.

Smile Empty Soul’s new album ’3′s’ is now available on iTunes.

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