Lansing State Journal

Broken Hearted

By Anne Erickson

Any foreign band that's tried to make a name for itself in the States is well aware of the obstacles: finding a U.S. label, building an American fan base, competing for domestic record sales.

Seether knows all about it.

In half a decade, the South African rock band has gone from playing homeland festivals and clubs to nearly dominating U.S. rock charts. Seether's sophomore album hit No. 8 on the Billboard charts, and a single, "Remedy," is No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart.

For Seether vocalist and guitarist Shaun Morgan, the adventure has taken him a long way from his days growing up near Johannesburg.

Morgan got into music by singing in the school choir and starring in junior high musicals.

At age 13, and enthralled by Nirvana's "Nevermind," he turned to rock.

"I was inspired by the sound of the music - the noise and the anger and the emotion of it," Morgan said by phone.

He was inspired enough to start a late-'90s rock band called Saron Gas. The group trekked across South Africa, playing countless shows. "We headlined all the festivals; we played every city; we played every single club there was to play," he said.

The hard work paid off. Next thing it knew, the band signed with U.S. label Wind-Up Records. After a name change, Seether released its stateside debut, 2002's "Disclaimer."

America welcomed Morgan, guitarist Pat Callahan, bass player Dale Stewart and drummer Kevin Soffera (later replaced by John Humphrey) with open ears. Full of emotion-driven, post-grunge alt-rock, "Disclaimer" rode a string of modern-rock hits - "Fine Again," "Driven Under" and "Gasoline" - to gold-selling status.

But the band's big breakout hit was yet to come.

That was last year's "Broken," the crossover duet Morgan sang with his girlfriend, Amy Lee, the Evanescence lead singer and reigning goth princess.

"I'd never seen her work in the studio before, and she's a pro," Morgan said of the high-profile collaboration. "It was fun to do something with her, and to have it be a successful song was even better."

The ballad, originally recorded for "The Punisher" movie soundtrack, took a leap into the Billboard Top 10.

"When they teamed up with Amy Lee and did 'Broken,' it really put his (Morgan's) voice in the forefront, and the band's name itself," said Bob Olson, program director for WJXQ-FM (106.1) in Holt, which is presenting tonight's show.

In response to the hoopla, Seether re-issued its first CD with a few added tracks, including "Broken," and named it "Disclaimer II." The disc went gold internationally.

"We went from being just a rock band in the States to playing all over the world," Morgan said. "It was just bizarre; it was out of this world."

Morgan, who usually refrains from explaining the meanings behind his songs, said "Broken" was written "for my daughter when I left South Africa; the lyrics are for her."

Those lyrics ("Cause I'm broken when I'm lonesome/And I don't feel right when you're gone away") tell the tale of a frontman who, underneath all the glitz, simply misses home.

"On the outside, everyone goes, 'Man, you should be so happy right now,' " Morgan said. "But, I don't see my daughter; I don't see my friends; I don't see my family. There's a bunch of stuff that affects me still; there's always something that I'm passionate about."

Morgan used that passion on Seether's latest album.

Released in May, "Karma and Effect" marks a shift from the subtle guitars and string flourishes of "Broken" to overdriven riffing, primordial rhythms and ardent vocals.

In other words, it rocks hard.

"We wanted an album with stronger songs; an album that was slightly heavier than the last one," said Morgan. "We wanted to make it edgier and the production pretty raw. We were more concerned about having passion than making perfect performances. We just wanted to make an old school rock album."

WJXQ currently plays the single, "Remedy," in heavy rotation. "It's been one of our consistent performers and consistent phone records," Olson said.

Morgan takes the single's success as a good sign, but is quick to note the importance of face-to-face fan feedback.

"Every time someone comes up and says, 'Man, that song did this,' or 'saved this relationship,' that for us is awesome," he said. "That's a validation we need.

"We've all been where some of these kids are, and the music still keeps us alive, and keeps us sane, and keeps us normal. So, the fans - the people who come up to us and tell their stories - that's all we want."