Smile Empty Soul has a Reason to Smile
J. Gordon
11/23/2003 7:22:36 PM

"The bottom line is that someone who’s not a musician isn’t really listening to the drums or bass. They’re listening to the words and how it goes together"

In the wake of the post-grunge movement, Smile Empty Soul is leading the pack. This three-piece team from Santa Clarita, CA has stormed MTV with their huge hit, “Bottom of a Bottle,” they were the artist of the month for October, and they’ve been on wildly successful tours with Fuel, Three Days Grace, and Puddle of Mudd, promoting their debut album, Smile Empty Soul that some critics are touting as one of the best CDs of 2003. checked in with SES’s drummer, Derek Gledhill, 24, to find out how the tour’s been going and what the audience can expect when they see them on their current radio tour. In fact, Smile Empty Soul’s rowdy reputation extends beyond choruses like “I do it for the drugs” to garner a reputation for getting into trouble during the shows…

Derek laughs and says, “Oh, that’s because one night on tour, I threw a water bottle and it hit a lighting console. Luckily, we didn’t have to pay for it and it didn’t do too much damage. We’re known to throw water and whatever on stage and in the crowd. We got the stage all wet, and the headlining band, Fuel’s, gear got all wet. But not on purpose!”

The band has also met with some wild antics in a face-off against Puddle of Mudd:

“This one time, Puddle of Mudd’s drummer threw a whole cup of pepper on my snare drum, like, right in the middle, so I couldn’t kick it off and dump it. That hurt really bad! My eyes were all red and burning and I had to play through it.”

“All us guys got ‘em back with smashed up bags of chips and cereal [during their set that followed]. We went out and dumped it down their shirts onstage. I shoved a banana down their guitarist’s pants. It also smashed on the neck of the guitar, so the guitar wouldn’t make anymore noise. They had to switch it out.” [Here, he gives an evil chuckle]

Derek emphasizes that it’s all in play, and that some solid friendships have been formed with their band companions.

“Puddle of Mudd are awesome. They are so not rock stars. A lot of bands will just talk to you, or the singer, but not the crew--as if they’re below them. We really liked how that band took the whole camp and treated everyone like people. That’s how we want to treat people.”

But, after the hazing and the onstage vendetta’s, Smile Empty Soul is still left with a pretty powerful album that’s strong lyrically, as well as musically.

“Sean’s the lyricist,” says Derek, “and I wouldn’t want to put words in his mouth. But songs like ‘This is War’ are meant to get a mixed reaction. It’s about someone going out to join the military for his future, to pay for school, whatever, and he winds up overseas killing people. It’s definitely not a pro-war song. Even when you have to go to war, it’s not a good thing and it’s always gonna suck.”

“We have friends that are over there. We meet people who have gotten back, or have friends over there. [We support them, but] There’s definitely kind of a sarcastic undertone to that song.”

On, SES’s lead singer Sean Danielsen, 21, said that kids today don’t seem to care at all what’s going on anymore.

“Well, there’s so much going on in entertainment,” Derek continues, “They’re caught up in their own little drama and not looking at how fortunate they are. I think people are self-absorbed. The world is getting very superficial. To each their own, instead of the whole.”

In part, Derek puts the blame on technology. “You can be anyone you want to be out there [on the Internet]. Back in the day, you had to go communicate in person. Now I know people who stay on their computer all day, every day. They don’t even go outside and enjoy the sun. The world is there. You don’t need to leave your computer. You can pay your bills, shop, date, just sit at your desk and that’s it—if you want it to be.”

“I think people choose to isolate themselves. I’m not into computers myself. Ryan [Martin, 22] our bass player, does all the writing and stuff in the journal on our website. Right now, I’m outside in the sun, taking a walk. [He’s speaking to NT on a cellphone in Des Moines, Iowa] It’s sunny and not too cold. I’m here, not because I don’t know how [to work computers], but because I want to be here.”

Derek says that he makes sure he takes care of his body, as well as his empty soul, and likes to get up early on tours and run, or else find a gym if he has the time. During the tour, their days are packed with interviews and radio performances. The nights are sound checking, performing, watching the other bands and hanging out with fans. It’s a dream life and he has no complaints.

For a young band, however, Smile Empty Soul has paid its dues. Starting out in the Hollywood scene, they learned firsthand about the notorious pay-to-play racket, where the clubs determine how many tickets you must sell for your own show.

“For us, it was like 70 tickets at $10 a piece. That means that when you come to the club, you have to pay $700 to play. We’ve done that, lived up to our part of the bargain, and then had them cut our set short, or move us up a slot. It’s rough. If you don’t sell the tickets, you’re paying out of your pocket. If you’re in with the promoters, you don’t have to [play this game]. We were on the outskirts. As you establish a fan base, you don’t have to but we never made it to that point in LA. We always paid to play.”

The LA scene proved to be a little heavier than the sound that Smile Empty Soul was going for, and the crowds weren’t as receptive as the guys would have liked. So the band decided that scene wasn’t for them, and got creative. They put all their energy into writing and recording, instead.

“We invented our own way,” Derek says. “What helped us the most was always being in the studio recording and getting feedback. We kept progressing as artists. We kept writing and kept evolving. We did at least six demos, self-funded. Every time they changed and got better and better until we loved it. It really boils down to the songwriting, you know? Make sure you’ve got a frontman with the in-your-face lyrics and powerful melodies. The bottom line is that someone who’s not a musician isn’t really listening to the drums or bass. They’re listening to the words and how it goes together.”

“If you play a horrible song great, that’s fine. But it won’t get you anywhere. But if you play a really great song kind of bad, and pull it off, it’s because of the song. It all boils down to the song.”

Two of Derek’s favorite songs on the album are “With this Knife,” and “Every Sunday,” which he says, “that’s as in your face as you can get.” The band has already started writing for their follow-up album, and may play something new at their shows on this tour, “to switch it up a bit and see what the crowd thinks,” he says.

Don’t miss Smile Empty Soul when they play KPNT’s Ho-Ho Show with Jane’s Addiction, the Deftones (“one of my favorite bands of all time!” Derek says), Thursday, and Thrice at the Savvis Center in St. Louis on Friday, December 5th.


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