Formed in 1998, while each of it’s three members were still in high school in California, Smile Empty Soul, is a heavy alternative rock band fronted by Sean Danielsen. In addition to Danielsen, the band also includs drummer Derek Gledhill and bassist Ryan Martin. A nationally-well traveled band through it’s frequent touring, they hope to extend their travels through Europe and the Far East. Be sure to listen to “Stars” from their latest release, ‘Oblivion,’ embedded below.
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Sean Ritchie: I wanted to start off with California. What makes that state special to you? Where would you send a first-time visitor to the area?
Sean Danielsen: California is cool for many reasons, it’s so diverse. Anything that you can imagine is going on there. There’s mountainous areas, deserts, forests — there’s everything. There’s great food and entertainment of all kinds. It’s a pretty special state. As much as I complain about the “rat race” aspect of it, there’s a lot of real cool things that it has to offer.
If I had to send someone that’s going for their first time? I’d say go to Southern California. The hub of [Los Angeles], Orange County and San Diego. It’s a nice area. There’s a lot to do. There’s great weather — beaches, food, all kids of good stuff.
SR: Sums it up nicely. Touching on where you’re currently residing in Arkansas, a state that we don’t get to talk about as much, does it have a special charm to you? What stands out about that state?
SD: I’ve always actually loved Arkansas, even before knowing my wife, who is from here. I travelled here on tour many times. Being from California, there’s something about the southern US that struck me. I like it for some reason. There’s a southern hospitality thing going on where people are just nice and genuine on a certain level. Then there’s a lot of older culture and character going on, especially in Little Rock, for example. It’s just got that old southern feel that you can’t really find in a place like California. Arkansas is definitely a beautiful state. It’s mostly woods and there’s a lot of outdoorsy things to do — rivers and lakes. The [Ozark mountains] also go through here, which is gorgeous.
SR: That sounds amazing. I have family that are from Georgia, and you can really sense that southern hospitality mindset.
SD: Yeah, it’s a slower pace in general. I’m just a firm believer that people’s energies are contagious. If you’re packed into an area with a bunch of stressed-out people, that stress that all those people around you are feeling is going to affect you, as well. If you’re in area where everyone is laid back, taking it slower, it’s going to rub off on you. You’ll feel that. The South definitely has that. Georgia is another, beautiful, southern state with charm and character.
SR: Absolutely! Bringing it back to how you got you’re start in music, how were you first introduced to music? Was it through family or friends?
SD: Actually, both my parents were musicians and they were in a band together in high school. So, music was just kind of in the blood to some extent. I’ve been around music my whole life. It was almost always second nature. It came naturally. I started playing piano when I was nine. I picked up the guitar around 10. I think I started playing in my first garage rock band when I was about 11. So, it was an “always there” kind of thing.
SR: Really cool. To fast forward, I want to touch on Smile Empty Soul’s current happenings. What has the band been up to the past year?
SD: We’ve been on the road doing, typically, about one-month runs at a time every quarter. I do a quarter of the [United States], basically. When we came back from our last tour, we jumped straight into the studio and recorded our newest album, ‘Oblivion.’ We are currently on our Flawless Smile Tour in support of that record.
SR: What was your mindset behind this newest release?
SD: No particular mindset, it’s just the next evolution of the band and our songs. We’re just kind of going with the flow and trying some new things. It turned out great and it was a really cool experience. We went to a studio we’d never been to in St. Louis. It came highly recommended. We banged out this 10-song record and I couldn’t be happier with it. It came out really good.
SR: Really cool! To tie it into travel, when you do have some downtime and are trying to get away, are you more of a beach guy? Are you looking to be near a city somewhere? Or, trying to be more in the woods?
SD: I love both the woods and the beach. Certain cities I do love too. What specifically drives me to travel a lot of times is food. My wife and I like to eat. There’s certain cities that obviously just have great food scenes. So, a city like Portland, Maine or New Orleans would definitely get us more excited than a town that doesn’t have a really banging food scene.
SR: I’ve hear Portland has some amazing seafood. Is that right?
SD: They do have amazing seafood, but it’s actually an incredibly-foody town that just has this restaurant scene that you wouldn’t believe if you haven’t been up there. You can get any style of food at a ridiculously-high level of quality. It’s just restaurant after restaurant of amazing food. It’s crazy, because Maine is a small state population-wise, Portland is the largest city in the state with 60,000 people. There are just so many killer restaurants. You couldn’t eat at all the restaurants that are amazing up there. You have to do it in a few separate trips.
SR: I didn’t realize that. That’s so cool. One of our main objectives is to bring people together while travelling. We feel that music is one of the biggest conduits of that. It constantly brings people from all walks of life together under one roof. Being a musician, talk to how special it is to have your platform. How important is it, in as crazy of a world as we live in, that music is still a constant?
SD: That’s an intense question. I agree with you. It’s definitely something that brings people together. You don’t even need to understand the language being sung to be moved by a piece of music. So, it supersedes any language or cultural barriers — everything. People up on stage and in that position can use that to make an argument or statement, if that was part of your question.
Being someone that’s up on stage quite a bit, I used to say more of what I thought of things going on in the world, but lately I have just pulled myself back from inserting any opinions into anything. I’ll encode my messages into the music and lyrics, but we’re living in a day and age when people aren’t tolerant of other people’s opinions. They’re just waiting for anything to just pounce on somebody, whether on social media or in a crowd. People are just so confrontational that I keep my personal opinions to myself these days.
SR: Lastly, I love to ask well-traveled people if there are destinations that they haven’t been to that they still want to see. Do you have a few on your list?
SD: I have a million that are on my list, because as much as I’ve traveled within the US, I’ve barely traveled outside of it. I’ve been to Mexico a whole bunch of times and we’ve played in Canada, but as far as Europe, Australia or other places, we haven’t been yet. My little brother just moved to Japan. He married a Japanese women. That would be an interesting trip to see that culture and eat some food there. Australia would be cool and I’ve always wanted to tour Europe. Pretty much the rest of the world.