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Smile Empty Soul

For Smile Empty Soul, it's all about the music

Smile Empty Soul's debut CD has gotten plenty of notice for its recent modern-rock single, "Bottom of the Bottle" — a tune that features the now-familiar line, "I do it for the drugs."

That line, obviously, has gotten the single tagged as a pro-drug song. But singer/guitarist Sean Danielsen isn't sweating the controversy "Bottom of the Bottle" created.

"I'm not even worried about it because even if somebody said 'That's pro-drugs or pro-drinking, I'd say: 'Sure, whatever,'" he said. "It's either. It's not even for or against anything. It's just kind of a statement. For me, obviously my real drug is music. I've been doing a band my whole life."

Danielsen, who noted that he intended the word drugs in "Bottom of the Bottle" to be a metaphor for anything that someone lives for in life, is only slightly exaggerating when he says he's been in rock 'n' roll his whole life. This single-minded pursuit, he said, was apparent by the time he was drifting his way through high school in Santa Clarita, a Los Angeles suburb.

By then, Danielsen, drummer Derek Gledhill and bassist Ryan Martin already were together as Smile Empty Soul. They soon decided on a path they hoped would lead them to a record deal.

"For awhile, we were doing the L.A. club scene, and we were thinking that's how we'll make it," he recalled. "But we quickly realized that wasn't really the scene for us, and the way we were going to make it was just by writing good songs and putting out demos and getting them to the right people."

It turned out that the right person for Smile Empty Soul literally was in the band's back yard. A friend of Danielsen's told him about John Parker, a producer who had also written "Hard Habit to Break," a hit song for Chicago and just happened to live in Santa Clarita. Parker was starting a mini-record company, ThroBack Records, and he signed Smile Empty Soul to a development deal before shopping the band to established record labels.

He found a match in Lava Records, part of the Atlantic Records family of labels. In listening to the "Smile Empty Soul" CD, it's easy to see why Parker and Lava Records saw commercial potential in the band.

With a melodic sound that shifts between moody and understated segments and heavy, hard-rocking sections — "Bottom of the Bottle," "Nowhere Kids" and "Silhouettes" are good examples of this stylistic mix — Smile Empty Soul fits neatly alongside such radio-friendly rock bands as Creed and Nickelback.

Lyrically, the CD matches the popular trend of writing about trials and tribulations of youth. But in Danielsen's case, there is a good deal of real-life truth behind his lyrics.

"It's all pretty personal, actually. They're all definitely pieces of me, I think," Danielsen said of his songs. "I can't write songs really about other people's situations too well because how can I relate when it's not happening to me? I think the best songs that I write are the most personal songs."

Danielsen's parents divorced when he was just 1 year old. He spent his early years living with his mother, who remarried when Danielsen was about 6 and then moved to Maine, where his stepfather had grown up. Danielsen said his stepfather found it difficult to find work in Maine's struggling economy and the family ended up living for three years at a summer camp — even though the housing was not equipped for Maine's cold and snowy winters.

The isolating environment Danielsen experienced as he grew up certainly seems to flavor is lyrics in a general way, particularly in songs like "The Other Side," "Your Way" or "Therapy." Another song, "Silhouettes," though, offers more specific clues about Danielsen's mother and father. Danielsen moved back to California at age 15 to live with his natural father. In "Silhouettes," Danielsen sings about not wanting to live like his mother or his father.

"The thing about my mom is just basically like, kind of the religion thing," Danielsen said. "Because I kind of feel like religion is somewhat of a security blanket, and for me it's kind of like you're so afraid of there not being a god out there, you're just kind of in denial and you're just afraid. And I just didn't want to have that trait.

"For my dad, it was kind of the thing where he kind of like lost some passion for life and for what he was doing," he explained. "It just seemed like he was doing the same (stuff) every day, his job and all that. I didn't ever want to lose that (passion) either."

Danielsen stressed that despite those lyrics, he actually gets along fine with both of his parents these days.

"I have relationships with both of my parents," he said. "It's not like I'm saying I don't like them or anything. I think everybody can relate to that (the situations in "Silhouettes"). They have things about their parents they don't want to (be like)."

Smile Empty Soul shares a Feb. 10 bill with Puddle of Mudd at the Pageant, 6161 Delmar Blvd. Tickets for the show, which also features Modern Day Zero, cost $20.

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