Guitar One Magazine
Breakthrough Artist

by Michael Muller

For critics quick to dismiss the South African power trio as a neo-grunge knockoff, the band offers this Disclaimer.

"Back home, they sold the sheet music from old guitar magazines by the pound," explains Seether singer/guitarist Shaun Morgan outside a restaurant in New York's "Little India" neighborhood. "That's how I learned to play guitar, from those old transcriptions." Before we can continue our conversation, his publicist beckons us inside the eating establishment, even though the sign reads "closed" and the lights are off. One can only imagine what was going through the waiter's mind, having just been awakened from his afternoon siesta, when Morgan--toting his Coffin Case like an old New York gangster--walked in looking for a safe place to stow his axe during the interview.

Formed in Johannesburg, South Africa, in May 1999, Seether originally donned the malevolent moniker Saron Gas, completely unaware of the evil connotation associated with the ultra-deadly substance [sarin gas]. "Originally, we didn't even know what it was; we just thought it sounded cool," explains Morgan. "But people started calling us anti-Semitic and KKK and the strangest shit. So we changed it--just before September 11, oddly enough."

Borrowed from the hit song by Veruca Salt, the new appellation is apropos, considering the sound Morgan wrings from his custom Schecters and MESA/Boogie Triple Rectifiers. Truer to the Seether sound, though, are the melodic, grunge-inspired guitars and vocals of "69 Tea" and "Fine Again"--a familiar sound for which the band is prepared to take some flak. "Everyone's gonna say, 'You sound like Nirvana,'" Morgan admits, "but [Nevermind] was the album that made me want to pick up the guitar and play like that. I can't now say, 'No, that wasn't one of the biggest influences of my life.'"

It's been over 10 years since Nirvana jolted rock audiences awake--just enough time for the first generation of bands to emerge that are inspired by the consequential trio rather than simply copying another bland rock recipe. For Seether, that raw sound helped them break the relatively restricted music market in their homeland, even if they didn't always get the credit. "One of our songs was being played on the radio, and it had reached like #2 on Top 40," Morgan relates, "and when people heard it on the radio, they thought it was an American band. Then, when they heard us play it live, people were like, 'Hey, nice cover.' And we were like, 'No, that's our song.'" Their reaction wasn't surprising, considering the current state of the live music scene in South Africa. New restrictions on club hours and noise levels have all but destroyed the rock scene in Johannesburg. "When the rock industry was underground, there were clubs everywhere that you could play at. Now, you're not allowed to have bands playing after midnight."

Sensing this limited opportunity in their homeland and wanting to reach out to a broader audience, Seetehr began shopping for a major-label deal. "We tried to get a deal everywhere, like everyone does, and everyone said 'No,' because it wouldn't sell in our country," says Morgan, explaining how, in a country where bands like Pearl Jam and Korn move a total of only five-to-10 thousand copies, locals aren't given much of a chance. Fortune smiled on Seether, however, when the band's indie record, Fragile, found its way into the hands of Wind-Up Records president Stever Lerner. "He called and asked us to fly over for a showcase a week later," says Morgan. "The rest has been pretty much insane."

Disclaimer, the band's U.S. debut, has helped make Seether's dream come true. But leaving South Africa has been unexpectedly bittersweet for the band, especially Morgan. As an artist whose primary goal is to touch his fans at base, primal levels, Morgan has seen his songs alter the lives of some hometown fans. "There have been three main incidents that have stuck out so far," he says in reflection. "One is a story of a little girl, about 11, whose family was moving to Australia; she started crying when she got on the plane ...because she wouldn't be in the country when we released our next album. Another happened when I was sitting in a bar, and this big, scary-looking guy kept looking at me and eventually came over and said, 'I want to speak with you.' I was like, 'Oh, shit!' [Laughs] Apparently he'd been in prison, and while there, he had access to a radio; the evening deejay played our stuff every night. And he said, 'I just wanted to say thanks to you for helping me get through prison.'"

It's the third story, however, that is most poignant. "A girl had overdosed on heroin or something," Morgan recalls, "and she told Dale [Stewart, bass] that she heard 'Fine Again' while she was in the hospital. She said that song was what made her decide to get up, get out of there, and totally change her life."

Indeed, the power of music works in wondrous ways. And for a young artist, wielding that power brings a lot of responsibility. But Morgan welcomes it. "It's insane; I didn't know any of those people, but that's all I've ever wanted to do--touch people in that way."