House Blend | Episode 37a: Smile Empty Soul
ABOUT THE ARTIST
After everything Smile Empty Soul has been through over the past several years, you’d have to forgive them for having a chip on their collective shoulder. But instead of an attitude, they’ve returned with Consciousness, an album that bleeds with the guitar-driven urgency that their fans have grown accustomed to, and bristles with a lyrical intensity born of the depths from which the Los Angeles-bred band have risen.
Consciousness is the band’s third album, but the first release for a new joint partnership between the F.O.F. Label Group and EMI Music. The new label marks the dawning of a new era for Smile Empty Soul, one where their creative fires can burn as bright as the path they’ve blazed since the release of their self-titled debut in 2003. Driven by the breakthrough success of their smash single “Bottom Of A Bottle,” the album was certified Gold by the RIAA, heightening expectations for the band’s sophomore release.
But far be it for great hard rock to thrive without strife. Enter the corporate censors, who in the midst of sweeping major label acquisitions and mergers were afraid that a line from the song “Holes” — “Just admit that Jesus died for me, take your bibles and go home” — would be found offensive. When asked to edit the track, which was the lead single from their completed second album, Anxiety, Smile Empty Soul refused. The ensuing struggle, combined with an upheaval of top label brass, led to a parting of ways between the band and Lava/Atlantic Records, and the finished album was never formally released.
The drama spurred their productivity, and the ensuing effort Vultures, their “official” sophomore release (though technically their third album) was released. “We were pretty much all just pissed off, and the Vultures album was really angry in a lot of ways,” explained Sean Danielsen, the trio’s guitarist , vocalist and principal songwriter. “Vultures was a reaction to everything we’d gone through with the debut, the process of making the second record and going through the emotional roller coaster of the album not coming out after working so hard.” The hard work and chemistry is evident throughout Consciousness, where Smile Empty Soul re-emerges like a phoenix from the flames. “We’re all in a much more comfortable, positive space, and we were from the start of this album process — it shows,” says bassist Ryan Martin.
While they speak with the wisdom of industry veterans, the irony is, the members of Smile Empty Soul are all only 27 years old. That young age, coupled with nearly a decade of band experience, helps cast the band’s future in an even brighter light. “We’ve just become so much more confident in how we want this band to be, and we have matured so much over the past couple of years, that it’s been the smoothest recording process we’ve ever been a part of,” continues the frontman of the new release.
The album’s lead single, “Don’t Ever Leave” bounces with a contagious rhythm and wide open, jangling verse that builds into a driving chorus. It is Smile Empty Soul just as their fans love them, but with the added depth and texture of a band that’s not afraid to build on their past to ensure a more engaging future. Standout tracks on Consciousness include the pining strains of “Compromise,” the grinding propulsion that builds “Ban Nuys” into a twisting and scaling progressive musical peak, and the acoustic strains and emotive pleas of “O’Lord,” the heart-on-your-sleeve closing track that Danielsen describes as a “call for help from a dark place,” inspired by his battles with alcohol.
Lyrically, the singer says that Consciousness is set apart from previous Smile Empty Soul lyrics by the more open nature and interpretation of his vocals. “In the past, a lot of our stuff has been specifically about events or stories, and on this record a lot of the songs are about a particular feeling, mood, or place you’re in emotionally. They’re not as specific, and you can let them take you wherever you want.” The band’s musical approach was similarly open-ended. “This album is more progressive than anything we’ve ever done. There are more tripped-out weird parts, and good little parts for stoners to drool all over themselves and vegg out and listen to. We’ve come a long away,” Danielsen sums up of the new release. “We’re always playing music, and we are always progressing and developing as musicians, and I think that musicianship really shows on this record.”
Consciousness comes from a good place for Smile Empty Soul. And they hope it brings listeners to one, as well.
ABOUT THE HOST@2012SCVTV
“House Blend” host, writer and co-producer Stephen K. Peeples is a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival,” 1992), award-winning radio writer-producer (“The Lost Lennon Tapes,” 1988-1990) and veteran record company executive (Capitol, Elektra/Asylum, Rhino). A Canyon Country resident since early 1988, Peeples wrote about the SCV music scene for The Signal newspaper in 2004-2006 and was Managing Editor of the My Santa Clarita community website in 2006-2007. He was The Signal’s Online Editor and social media manager from October 2007 to May 2011. In 2009 he was honored when The-Signal.com was named “Best Website” by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. A jazz and rock drummer since he was 12, Peeples was a member of the underground West L.A. garage band Peaking Duck from 1977-2008. In 2010, he co-founded the SCV-based jazz quartet RainTree.