It was the day before Halloween when we spoke with Sean Danielsen. While not participating in the festivities this year – he’s too busy with Halloween landing on the first night of his new tour – he does typically enjoy dressing up, and recounts his favorite costume as the time he dressed as Jesus at The New Daisy Theater in Memphis in 2003. We were disappointed to learn Danielsen has no photographic evidence of the event…or at least none he would admit to.
If you don’t immediately recognize the name Sean Danielsen, you may recognize his band name. Danielsen is primarily best known as the lead vocalist/guitarist of three-piece Smile Empty Soul, the hard rock band which originated in Santa Clarita, California. They saw much success after releasing their self-titled debut album Smile Empty Soul in 2003. The album produced three successful singles (Bottom of a Bottle, Silhouettes and Nowhere Kids), and in 2005 the album was certified gold when sales reached an excess of 500,000+. Since the first album release, Smile Empty Soul has toured extensively, releasing their six album Chemicals in 2013.
While Danielsen plays lead to a successful rock band, he’s also spent some time developing a solo career over the past few years. In April of 2013 Danielsen released his first solo EP, Enjoy the Process. Danielsen released another solo EP, Food Chain, on November 4, 2014. Danielsen says Food Chain is a collection of five songs he’s been working on over the last year or so. “It’s very different from Smile, but it’s still very much my songwriting.” Danielsen seems to feel a need to have other outlets for creating work which may not fit into the Smile Empty Soul “mold.” “I’m always writing songs, and not all of them feel like Smile Empty Soul songs,” says Danielsen. “Plus, Smile is taking a little break right now, so it’s a good moment to do something like this.” Food Chain is available everywhere digital music is sold. You can read a review of Food Chain here.
Sometimes when we think of a certain genre of artist, we naturally expect their music tastes to align with their work. It’s interesting to hear what music someone like Danielsen was influenced by, and it’s even more interesting sometimes to hear what he listens to which might take fans by surprise. When it comes to early influences, Danielsen’s mom listened mainly to Christian music, but his father clearly had a driving force in his musical tastes with his listening choices including Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Peter Gabriel, Frank Zappa, among others. When it was time for Danielsen to start choosing what to listen to during his teen years he gravitated towards what he calls “loud/rebellious rock”….Pantera, Tool, Deftones, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, etc.
What’s he currently listening to? “I’m currently listening to a lot of TesseracT, Dead Letter Circus, and Tori Amos.” says Danielsen. “I know it’s a funny combination, but that’s what I picked up on one of my last CD store raids–I still buy CD’s. I listen to a lot of soft/moodie stuff that might surprise some people. When you’ve spent your whole life being in heavy bands and playing tons of shows with heavy bands, you sometimes want to listen to bands like Sigur Ros to find a little peace.”
As a rocker, he has some strong opinions on the state of rock music. Gene Simmons faced scrutiny in September when he made a comment to Esquire magazine saying, “rock is finally dead.” Sean agrees with the statement, explaining how the music industry, particularly for rock musicians, has changed drastically since he came into it in the early 2000’s. “I’ve seen it change in every single way imaginable. It’s not even the same industry it was when I started in 2002. Rock is completely dead and I’m not sure what’s gonna happen.”
But if rock isn’t relevant, why does Danielsen keep playing? “I keep playing rock music because it’s where my heart is. I don’t do this to be trendy or cool or popular… I do it so I can create what my soul is driven to create…so I don’t explode.”
Danielsen talks about the mainstream rock artist, and how they seem to get the shaft. Rock still seems to be alive and relevant, but aspects of it are too often repackaged nowadays into other genres. Country, for example. Danielsen’s commentary on that: “Yeah, I’ve seen these country douche bags with their new tattoos and ‘rock’ outfits that some overpaid stylist picks out for them to wear. It’s way cooler to look rock than to sound rock…but all these people are fake assholes that will do whatever to get to the next level. Soulless.”
On a similar note, and in reference to “fake assholes,” Danielsen gave us some insight about what he thinks is wrong with our society (he’s been previously quoted as saying Octomom is an irresponsible attention whore and what she represents fairly well sums up everything wrong with our world today): “People are obsessed with appearance and surface bullshit. But at the end of the day, it’s treating people right that will make you feel good about yourself, not the huge plastic bag of chemicals you stuff into your breasts to make ‘em look bigger.”
In past interviews Danielsen has admitted to his struggles with drug usage and excessive drinking, but he claims marijuana helped him to give up drugs and drinking seven years ago. “I was able to smoke marijuana instead of drink and drug, therefore helping leave those other things behind,” said Danielsen. He doesn’t consider marijuana a drug because it’s not addictive. “You cannot overdose on it, and it’s completely natural. I consider it in the same category as nicotine and caffeine.” He personally chooses to imbibe because of the calming effect it has on him. “It’s very calming. When you use it consistently it stops getting you so ‘high’, and just keeps you leveled out in a peaceful way. I use it as some people use mood altering medications, but I can’t get addicted to it, unlike those medications.”
So, it’s no surprise Danielsen supports the legalization of marijuana. When asked why it should be legalized, his response: “Because it grows naturally on the ground and is unprocessed, it’s not dangerous in any way, and it’s a huge cash crop for a dying economy. The real question is: why should it be illegal?”
Danielsen’s solo tour, as mentioned, started on Halloween night, and continued through until November 22nd. His set included songs from the new EP Food Chain, as well as songs from the first EP Enjoy the Process, and he also threw into the mix a few Smile Empty Soul songs. While the tour is set to end before our interview goes to print Danielsen plans to get back out on the road after the holidays, and do another solo acoustic tour in Februrary 2015, where his stops will include a different region than the November tour.
Danielsen seems focused on himself right now, but what does that mean for future plans for Smile Empty Soul? “Not sure…we didn’t stop touring for more than two months in the last three years, so we’re just taking a break right now. In the meantime, I’ll be working away on solo stuff.”
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