YOUTH CORRESPONDENT

"I WAS EXACTLY the way I am now. I was basically not focused on school--all I focused on was the band," reflects Sean Danielsen of Smile Empty Soul on his high-school days.

From this axis, the singer-guitarist tells it!, Smile Empty Soul was born in California in 1998.

Smile Empty Soul has a distinctive, unique sound. Two songs in particular have catapulted the band's career on radio and MTV: "Nowhere Kids" and "Bottom of the Bottle."

Musically, Danielsen had been influenced by the '90s grunge movement, and it shows somewhat. Occasionally, the band is even confused with the "metal" genre.

However, he says they feel as though they are just rock musicians.

"We were mostly influenced by '90s grunge movement, like Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Sound Garden," he notes. "We are a straightforward rock band with very direct lyrics."

The formation consists of Sean Danielsen on guitar, Ryan Martin on bass and Derek Gledhill on drums. All hail from California.

Sean Danielsen got an early start in music. When it came to selecting an instrument, he notes, "Well, my dad was a guitar player. He influenced me a lot. I have always been drawn towards playing rock music. And it was an obvious instrument [for me] to start playing."

Signed to Lava Records, the band released its first (self-titled) album in 2003, which includes 14 heavy-hitting tracks.

The first song on the album is "Bottom of the Bottle," which has had much airplay on radio stations around the country, including Fredericksburg's own 99.3 WYSK.

Many of the songs on this album have fairly brawny messages behind them. "Every Sunday," a song that criticizes hypocritical Christians, conveys many personal sentiments for Danielsen.

But he's careful to note that it's not an anti-Christian song--just a song to make people live up to what they say at church.

"Everybody needs to believe what makes them happy," he says. "Those are just my personal beliefs. My experience with dealing with people going to church every SundayThey aren't too much better than everybody else."

"This Is War" contains an anti-war sentiment. Presumably about the war on Iraq, it shows a decidedly displeased feeling toward the decisions made by the current administration.

The lyrics include: "My feet hurt from the sand/ but still I march on, gun in hand/ 'cause this is war/ This isn't what I planned/ I wanted to be so much more/ but this is war."

Danielsen appears to be politically active. "I think we are going to get George W. Bush out of office, which is important," he says. "More young people need to get up and vote, because if everyone went out and voted, we could definitely do it!"

With the album out, and "G.W. Bush Sucks" etched in his guitar, Smile Empty Soul is currently on The Winterfresh SnoCore Tour with Trapt.

They played recently in Richmond at Alley Katz, along with Saint Diablo and Moment in Grace.

Amy Toombs, a senior at Stafford Senior High School, was able to go to this show.

"I could physically feel the crowd cheering," she says. "Sean continued, despite his severe cold, along with Ryan and Derek who played their hearts out. The audience wasn't all moshy and violent, which was great, because Smile Empty Soul just doesn't promote violence."

Danielsen says that he loves touring.

"Playing kick-ass rock shows for sold-out shows--that is the greatest thing in the world," he laughs.

He does admit that he misses his family and friends whilst on the road.

And while Danielsen may say that his thoughts were only on the band in high school, he has spoken out publicly on the need for kids to be smart. In an interview for MTV.com, he said the song "Nowhere Kids" is a song decrying "us and our friends back home being raised by TV sets."

LINDSEY MARTH is a junior at Stafford High School.

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