Antihero Magazine had the opportunity to chat with Smile Empty Soul frontman Sean Danielsen about the band’s legacy, the release of the Rarities album, and his solo career.
Mark Dean: What prompted your move to a solo career back in 2013? Was that something that you always wanted to do outside the band?
Sean Danielsen: Yeah. I write songs that don’t necessarily fit Smile Empty Soul in every way, and I always wanted an outlet for those types of songs. I saw a little opportunity. I had a little bit of time, in 2013. I recorded and released my first solo EP and then, ever since then, just when I have some time I record stuff, and release stuff and do it when I can. I enjoy it a lot. It’s a career thing, but it’s fun too.
Mark Dean: What about the gigs for that solo material? Did you find your audience was a bit of a mix of new people coming to you for the first time and Smile fans as well?
Sean Danielsen: It seems like it’s mostly Smile fans. As I’ve done more solo music over the years, I’ve started to hear people say things like, “I actually dig your solo stuff more at this point.” I feel like I’m building my own fanbase now. To begin with, it’s just drawing from those fans that I’ve already created through Smile Empty Soul.
Mark Dean: Your last solo album was only out over here a couple of months ago. Do you feel that the new Smile album might detract from the promotion of that solo album?
Sean Danielsen: I don’t know. I don’t know. Who knows how things work anymore these days. I don’t try to analyze anything too much anymore. I just do things and see what happens. It’s hard to understand the way things work in this day and age. Like I said, I only was drawing from Smile fans because I don’t know where else to … I don’t have a label behind me and I’m not trying to get one. I don’t know how to go suddenly market myself to a whole new group of fans or music listeners. It’s such a strange day and age. It costs so much money too to do any sort of marketing. I just make music and put it out. Try not to think about it too much.
Sean Danielsen: Those were tracks that we had recorded at different studio sessions throughout the years that didn’t make this album or that album. We had a nice little pile of them and thought it would be a cool little thing to release for the fans.
Mark Dean: Are you putting them out in the raw format as they were, as you originally recorded them, or will you have to rerecord, reproduce, any of those? Are they fresh just as they were?
Sean Danielsen: They’re all the original recordings. We just had to remaster them just to try to give the whole recording some sense of similarity, especially in volume then in tone as well. We just took the mixes that we had from all of those and then just had them remastered to give them a little cohesiveness.
Mark Dean: Will those tracks be actually played live? I see you’re doing an acoustic tour. Will you be tossing down some of the Rarities tracks on those dates?
Sean Danielsen: Possibly. I haven’t thought about that too much yet, but that’s within the realm of reason to think that a track or two could make it into the set.
Mark Dean: Are you hoping that this Rarities album will rejuvenate an interest in the band and then see where it goes from there?
Sean Danielsen: No, we have no dreams of this Rarities record rejuvenating anything. This record is just for the diehard fans. Like I said before, in this day and age, unless you spend a lot of money, you’re not going to be reaching anybody but the people that you’ve already carved out a niche for. We’ve released this record completely on our own and it’s mostly for the fans. I don’t think currently that there’s a lot of … We don’t see ourselves as some band that’s going to release something new and suddenly become as popular as we once were again. We don’t have any dreams of grandeur like that. We’re just making our music, and putting it out there, and playing shows, and trying to enjoy it.
Mark Dean: Is that not the job though of a publicity company like High Road Publicity who you’ve hooked up with? Is that not their function to open your music to new markets?
Sean Danielsen: That’s their job and they do a good job of arranging for interviews, and album reviews, and articles, and things like that, but I don’t know of a publicity company out there that could take our band and just single-handedly make us popular again the way we once were. It just takes more than that. It takes so much now to get people’s attention. Our publicity company that we hired for this, they’re doing a killer job but we’ve always had publicity on every record that we’ve released. Really, they’re just the facilitators of things like this, interviews and reviews, from established events that already have interest. They can’t force your band onto or into any things that don’t already want your band to be there.
Mark Dean: Smile Empty Soul. How do you feel about the band now? Is that a band that have ended or just on a break? You just leaving it open? I thought that perhaps this Rarities release would awaken an interest in the band and reactivate them?
Sean Danielsen: We don’t have plans for a new record right now, but that doesn’t mean anything. We could make a new record at any point in time. As of right now, we just released this Rarities record. We’re going to promote that. I’m going to do some touring in the springtime here, in May and then in the summertime. Then I do believe I’m going to be releasing another new solo EP over the summer. Then I’ll just see what goes on after that.
Mark Dean: That acoustic tour, that’s with Trapt, yeah? I was a bit surprised by the sort of order of the billing in that because Trapt are a relatively new band here in the UK and you guys have been there and done it.
Sean Danielsen: Trapt? Trapt actually they’ve been around just as long as us. A little bit longer. Our very first national tour that we ever did in 2003 was opening for Trapt.
Mark Dean: Maybe then they are just new to us here in the UK?
Sean Danielsen: Maybe so, yeah.
Mark Dean: What was your first introduction to music? Was that a gig, maybe a song on the radio?
Sean Danielsen: Both my parents were musicians. My dad and my mom were in a band together in high school before I was around. My mom always would sing to me as a youngster and my dad was always playing the guitar. It was just pretty much always around.
Mark Dean: You hinted at problems in the music industry and the music business has changed rapidly. How do you explain that you’re still around yourself still making records? Does it come down to passion because it can’t be money?
Sean Danielsen: Yeah, it’s definitely not money. There’s nothing else that I could do with myself personally. Like I just told you, I grew up around music. Both my parents were musicians. I started playing in bands and writing songs at a very young age. As long as I can make it happen, I’m going to keep making music, and releasing music, and playing music because it’s what I truly love to do.
Mark Dean: Your solo album music seems to be relatively mellow, laid back, in comparison with Smile Empty Soul. Does that mean that all your youthful anger is gone or do you still write angry songs?
Sean Danielsen: I don’t know. I think that I could probably write an angry song if I really wanted to, but I feel like I did it so much in my young years that it’s just kind of fun to take on other energies when writing these days. That doesn’t mean that I could never do it again. I still have anger in me, I’m sure, but I’m having fun with what I’m doing right now.
Mark Dean: At the height of your Smile Empty Soul success, did you find fame difficult? Did it weigh heavy on your shoulders? How did you cope with that?
Sean Danielsen: We partied way too much. We drank, and drank, and drank back then to the point that I actually had to quit back in 2007. I gave up the booze. It was good because we were going down a pretty harsh path, me specifically. I think that was part of it because I’m actually more of a shy person. Back in the day when we were getting music video play on MTV and our songs were all over the radio, we were playing sold-out shows every night and it just feels like there’s expectations on you to be a certain way or a certain thing. It is an interesting thing to cope with. I guess my way of dealing with it was drinking.
Mark Dean: What do you like to enjoy outside of music? What do you do in your spare time?
Sean Danielsen: I love to paint. That’s always a nice little creative outlet that has some similarities to music and just the creative process, but there’s nothing like it in so many other ways. I also like to cook, and like to play golf here and there, shoot guns, a couple of things.
Mark Dean: And be a dad, of course.
Sean Danielsen: Yes. I’m a fresh dad.
Mark Dean: It’s a pretty demanding job.
Sean Danielsen: I’m learning that. Yeah, it’s crazy. I thought it was going to be really hard, but it’s probably even harder than I thought.
Mark Dean: What’s next then for you? You’ve got yet another solo album coming out. You must have a very strong work ethic – keep releasing music, keep working, keep writing.
Sean Danielsen: Yeah. I’m always writing songs and it’s not ever something that I feel like I’m having to push myself to do. It’s not like something I’m like, “oh, I got to go write more songs.” I just write them as they come and I just feel like they keep coming. I’ve got my own home studio now, so I record and write quite a bit. When something’s ready to be released, I release it. I do consider myself a hard worker. Put those together and a lot of music’s been coming out lately.
Mark Dean: Is music still able to sustain a living for you? It’s changed times. Are you able to make a living still solely from music?
Sean Danielsen: Yeah. I can’t say that it’s been easy. I’ve had to develop the ability to wear multiple hats. Where we used to have a team of people that we paid, now it’s pretty much just me and a small group of people. I’ve just had to learn many, many aspects of the business and take over myself. Therefore, eliminating salaries. Like I said, as long as I can be doing music and … I haven’t had a real job since 2002. As long as I can be doing music and doing it for a living, I’m going to keep chugging along.
Mark Dean: You don’t miss those big shows, big crowds, rocking out?
Sean Danielsen: Those were some great times. We still play. We still have good shows here and there of course. We still play some festivals with giant crowds here and there. It was just the frequency of every night sold out, sold out, sold out. Huge festivals couple times a week back in those days. Those are some great times and I’ll never forget it. I do miss the excitement of those crowds.
Mark Dean: Thank you very much. As I said, maybe this Rarities release will trigger a new generation of Smile Empty Soul fans.
Sean Danielsen: I doubt it, but it’s … Like I said, I’m in a good place with everything. With Smile Empty Soul, with my solo stuff. I’m happy that I can be doing music, making a decent living, and doing exactly what I want to do exactly the way I want to do it on my own time line. I’ve got nobody, no labels, hanging over me, no anybody doing anything. It’s a good place to be. I’m completely satisfied at the moment.
Mark Dean: Okay, Sean. That’s great. Thank you very much for chatting. Enjoy the rest of your day.
Sean Danielsen: You too, man. Nice talking to you.