Metal Edge Magazine
November 2006

Seether
By Bryan Reesman

They may have sold nearly two million albums over the last five years, toured various parts of the world, and had radio smashes like "Broken" and "The Gift," but in some ways, Seether are still rock 'n' roll underdogs. Hailing from South Africa, where rock music may be embraced by the masses but not the mass media, the band has been toiling away since 1999, first as a trio--now comprising perennial guitarist/vocalist Shaun Morgan, and bassist Dale Stewart, and current drummer John Humphrey--then as a quartet for three years with guitarist Pat Callahan, who recently departed the band. While they have broken through to an international audience, many people are still getting to know them.

The Seether story is similar to many other hard rock and metal bands in that they earned their success the old-fashioned way. They released a well-received album and toured, toured, toured. Originally called Saron Gas, as which they unleashed the album Fragile in South Africa in 2000, they changed their name to Seether after Wind-Up Records showed interest in them and desired a less controversial group moniker. After debuting in the States first on OZZfest in 2002, then with that year's Disclaimer, a collection of angst-ridden, post-grunge rockers like "Fine Again," "Gasoline," and "F**k It," Seether began to tour steadily in order to amass a following.

As sales of Disclaimer increased, Morgan and the band began writing more material on the road, resulting in two songs released on The Punisher movie soundtrack in 2004, including a new, electric version of the ballad "Broken" from Disclaimer, this time done as a duet with Evanescence singer (and at the time, Morgan's significant other) Amy Lee. The song became a hit and was included on the subsequently remixed, repackaged, and beefed up album Disclaimer II, a revisiting of their first major album which featured some new material and a DVD. Each Disclaimer release sold a half million units, reportedly the first time a band's mainstream debut issued twice, achieved that sales mark. Disclaimer II eventually went platinum. Their growing success allowed Seether to tour Europe, then North America again, with Evanescence in 2004.

When Karma and Effect arrived in May 2005, it offered a fuller sound with Callahan onboard. It became the band's first Top 10 release and hit gold status fairly quickly, fueled by the singles "Remedy," "Truth," and the recent single and ballad "The Gift." The band toured American arenas with Audioslave and co-headlined the 2006 SnoCore tour. They also played three stadium dates with Metallica in their native South Africa this past March along with their own headlining club shows. Not content to rest on their laurels, the band recently recorded the live acoustic CD and DVD, entitled One Cold Night, at the small, intimate Grape Street venue in Philadelhpia. It features some of their biggest songs--"Remedy," "Fine Again," and "Broken"--including a solo vocal version of ther latter as well as a cover of Pearl Jam's "Immortality" and the tune "Tied My Hands," which was written during Seether's previous incarnation as Saron Gas.

Morgan has said that he doesn't want to wait two years to release each new album, so putting out One Cold Night is a way to satiate fans with some new or little heard material along with reworked versions of songs from their catalog. He would love to release an album a year, even if it's a new studio release every other year alternating with a live, rarities, or covers CD. He wants Seether to build up a body of work and thinks back to the '60s, when bands released an album or two per year.

Just prior to the release of One Cold Night, Morgan chatted with Metal Edge about the making of the album, returning to tour his native South Africa, and the art of playing unplugged.

Metal Edge: When a bombastic band like Seether decides to do an acoustic record, what challenges does that present for the group, and what does that process reveal about your music once you strip it away to its core?
Shaun Morgan: Basically, the songs begin there. They begin on an acoustic in a bedroom in a hotel or the back of a bus or a crappy, little backstage dressing room. Once they form, then the band takes them and puts all the distortion and effects on them in the studio and creates a loud, speaker-shaking experience. This [acoustic format] is great, because you're hearing the songs where they came from. It's an interesting thing because you almost lose sight of where they originally come from a lot of times, because sometimes they evolve. They evolve out of necessity, and they evolve just because you start running with it and creating new things. Bringing it back to playing acoustic is a challenge obviously, because now you're in a live setting. You've got two guitars, one bass guitar, drums, vocals, and that's it. There is nothing else, whereas in the studio you often have two or three guitar tracks on each side, you have numerous vocal takes, and you have every little thing exactly the way you want it. For me, it's more important to feel it again. This is whwere the songs came from; this is what the band does and really can do. It shows a different side of the band.

ME: The Viking-themed video for the raucous "Remedy" was fun, becuase it was reminiscent of early '80s metal. It's interesting to contrast that heavy version with its very groove-oriented, acoustic version on a stripped-down set on the live DVD.
SM: That started as an acoustic riff that I just recorded in the back of the bus. I had a tape recorder with a record button and fast-forward, rewind, and play. That's what I used. I'm going to have to get something a little bit more high tech [for future demos]. It's all about the presentation to the label. The more you can give the label [ahead of time], the more chance of you actually get to record the next album. But anyway, "Remedy" was just one of those ideas that jumped out at me when I played back the tape.

ME: The ballad "Broken" became popular in its recorded duet form with Evanescence singer Amy Lee. Now it's back in its solo vocal form on One Cold Night. Had you played it live previous to this EP with another singer?
SM: We did it on the SnoCore tour with Lzzy from Halestorm. They're a very young band that's releasing an album sometime this year. She's a great, great female vocalist. She reminds me a lot of Janis Joplin. She's got an awesome range, and she really came out and rocked that song up. Amy's voice was a little more trained and classical, and Lzzy comes out and makes it a little raw. I think that was the last time we'll play the song in that form. We'll retire it now. I don't think you need to play all your singles all the time. We didn't play it on the Metallica tour, because we didn't feel like we wanted to. Some people asked, "Why didn't you play that 'Broken' song?" "Because we didn't want tol. Because you asked a stupid question like that."

ME: I'm of the belief that a band's "greatest hits" is not always their best material, but it's often their best-known material. Now there's one song on here called "Tied My Hands" that's from the band's early days as Saron Gas. What was that period like?
SM: That was when we were basically a garage band touring around the country in a pick-up truck. I would drive, and my bandmate Dale would sleep in the back of the truck, and my brother would sleep in the back, too. We needed someone to do sound, so he was our guy. We took him with us. He had no idea what he was doing, but it was cool. He would set up our P.A. in the club, and we would play the show, then break down. It was rough, but I still remember those days quite fondly because we had a fun time. "Tied My Hands" is one of those songs that people really asked for. It kind of has a real ethereal feel.

ME: You currently live in L.A. When was the last time you were home in South Africa?
SM: We were back in March when we were touring with Metallica.

ME: How did that go?
SM: Awesome. The shows were amazing; there were lots of people, and the band was great to us. You hear rumors about the band, and when you meeth the guys, you find out they're completely wrong.

ME: I imagine that Metallica fans in South Africa might be different in North America.
SM: The main difference is that they've never seen Metallica play. For the first show, they had 45,000 people in the stadium, and the other two were about 35,000 people. It was awesome.

ME: Were these the largest crowds you've ever played to?
SM: The largest crowds I ever played to that knows who we are [laughs]. We played Rock an Ring and Rock-Im-Park [in Europe] in 2004, and there is nothing worse than playing to 100,000 people who don't know who the hell you are. So this was really cool.

ME: Metallica fans are notorious for not wanting to listen to the opening band. How did they respond to you?
SM: We've been known in South Africa for a long time, so this was a homecoming event for us as well.

ME: Playing the acoustic set at Grape Street in Philadelphia was another homecoming, since that is where you met guitarist Pat Callahan. Did that bring back any memories?
SM: The original building was actually right across the street from the new one. We met him there [in 2003]. We set up in the bar and performed, and [Pat] had a bottle of Jager with him. We asked him to come audition for the band the next day. He got the wrong message, so he didn't come out. We auditioned some pretty boy losers. We had people show up who didn't know even one of the songs. How can you come audition for a band and not even know the songs? I'll be the first to admit that our songs are simple. You don't have to know scales and theory. If you can play guitar, you can play them. [Later that year] Pat came onboard.

ME: So what was the scene like when you were coming up in South Africa, and what is it like now?
SM: Obviously, the support from the crowd [for those Metallica shows] was awesome. I think, on the first day there, the traffic was backed up on the highway for 20 or 30 miles. People were standing in line for days. We started out playing in clubs to only a few people. There's definitely a deep love of rock [there], but it's not really well supported by the radio stations and the labels.

ME: Are there a lot of bands in South Africa?
SM: There are a lot of underground rock bands, bands that are way too heavy to get played on any Top 40 stations. They get played on the [college] campus stations, but that's too small to reach a nationwide audience. There's a system that's set up, but it's flawed in so many ways. First, it needs belief in the bands, and secondly, there needs to be someone to go in there to get the bands exposed.

ME: Do you think Seether helped change that at all by becoming successful on an international level?
SM: I would have hoped so, but the labels just don't give a shit. They want to put out the next Mariah Carey album or the next Whitney Houston or the next Britney Spears or whatever. Rock music isn't going to sell down there much more than, if you're lukcy, 5,000 or 10,000 copies. One out of 10,000 rock bands will sell 50,000 copies or whatever. The pop and R&B stuff is where it's at for them. That's where the main focus is.

ME: It's funny that as much as pop crap like American Idol is really popular right now, pure rock has been making a comeback. And musicianship seems to be coming back as well.
SM: Hopefully, there will be a backlash [to American Idol]. It's like skateboarding versus rollerblading. Some people like American Idol and the karaoke aspect. Yeah, sure, you can sing, but you don't have an ounce of talent as far as songwriting. This show's made huge stars out of [individual singers]. And the other side of it... You know, it's weird. People aske me if we write our own songs. It's insane. And that's all because of American Idol, all because of the trend of songwriters just writing songs for bands. For me, it's really bizarre when somebody comes to a show and asks, "Do you write your own songs?" Of course we do. Why wouldn't we? As far as I'm concerned, I would rather go make something as organic as possible.

ME: It's funny that you say that, because twenty years ago I got into a discussion with a film director who felt that music in the '80s wasn't so great, because people were writing their own songs, whereas in the '60s and earlier it was more acceptable for musicians to perform songs written by other people. It makes American Idol seem more retro in that regard, although ultimately I suppose it depends upon who you are, what you want to achieve, and where your strengths lie. Bands might tend to play their own songs, rather than solo performers and singers.
SM: I'm not just a singer. For me, music is a creative outlet, whereas I think for a lot of pop and R&B artists it's more about lending their voice to somebody else's creation. That's fine. They enjoy singing, and I enjoy singing and playing, but I really enjoy creating something out of nothing. That, for me, is the greatest thrill.

"I'll meet people who tell me, 'Man I really thought you were gonna be a prick,'" Shaun Morgan says. "And I go, 'Why would you think that?' And they're like, 'Well, you sound so sad and angry all the time. And, you know, everyone else like this is always a douchebag.'"

With everything that's happened in the last few years, the frontman for hard rockers Seeter certainly couldn't be faulted if he decided to be depressed and resentful. Since the release of their last studio record, Karma and Effect, in 2005, the band and its lead singer have withstood a series of personal challenges and personnel changes. First came Morgan's well-publicized breakup with Evanescence leader Amy Lee. Then lead guitarist Pat Callahan exited the band just as they were preparing for the next album. Adding to the Behind the Music drama, Morgan entered rehab in August 2006. (Lee later admitted that her band's subsequent kiss-off hit, "Call Me When You're Sober," was inspired by his drinking and drug abuse.) Weathering these traumas, and waiting for drummer John Humphrey to recover from serious back surgery, Morgan, aided by bassist Dale Stewart, began work on what would become Seether's latest, Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces (Wind-Up), at the end of last year. But before Seether could put the finishing touches on the record, one more tragedy reared its awful head: Eugene, Shaun's brother, committed suicide in August by jumping out a hotel window in Rapid City, South Dakota, where the band had just performed.

But though Morgan does display flashes of sadness and anger while speaking with Revolver from his label's Manhattan offices, he certainly doesn''t come across as a prick. "The fact that I can string a sentence together surprises a lot of people," he says with a laugh. "They think all rock-band guys are idiots. It seems like, for a long time, it was almost a bad thing to be an intelligent band guy."

Finding Beauty--the album that emerged from that tumultuous, uncertain time in the band's career--is a reliably radio-sleek mixture of hard-rock antagonism and melodic hooks, with songs whose polished surfaces mask an overwhelming darkness underneath. Similarly, Morgan is both optimistic and mournful, whether he's talking about the tough road to recovery or his own suicidal tendenices.

Revolver: After all that's gone on, is it a relief to finally have the record out?
Shaun Morgan: Yeah, it's been a long time coming. It feels like we've overcome something. We kind of rediscovered the excitement we have for music and being in a band.

As a hard-rock band with a mainstream audience, is there a struggle to make music that won't alienate either crowd?
On the last album, I think we were really conscious of that. With Finding Beauty, I think we really didn't care. [Laughs] Because we'd been through so much, this album is just for us. We made it for ourselves. You, know, it's been a rough year. This is what we needed to do to get ourselves through it. It had to be selfish, and, honestly, in some ways all music is selfish, because you write it for yourself. If you don't write it for yourself, then chances are Britney Spears is singing your song.

Did rehab work for you?
You walk in there and you're very, very pissed off at everyone. I was forced against my will. And that's never going to make it successful. So I didn't participate for the first couple of days. Then I was like, You know what? I'm here, I might as well make use of it. I don't know if I'm gonna enjoy it, but let me at least embrace this. So I started speaking up in group meetings.

When you got out, was it hard not to fall back into the old patterns?
I came out and lasted about a month and then went back to drinking and doing blow. Part of me is not ready to really quit because I still like having drinks. At this moment in my life, I'm still dealing with a lot of stuff with my brother. But I can't drink now because, dude, if I drink, I can't have one beer. I have to have 25 beers... and 13 shots... and a bag of blow. I've been playing stone sober for the past three weeks. We're playing much better; we sound amazing. But, you know, I wouldn't know what we sounded like before. [Laughs] Back then I always figured, "Damn, dude, rock and roll! Woo-hoo!" It's such a tough thing to give up something that you love so much. But I need to for a period of time until I get my head straightened out.

Was the album basically finished when your brother committed suicide?
Yes, and I'm thankful the album was done. I'm not ready to deal with that yet. Maybe the next album will be pretty thick with that stuff. Or possibly I'll do an EP, you know, a solo thing. But it's a tough thing to process. I've never experienced tragedy, man, not like this and not in any way close to me. Friends from high schoo, yeah, that I haven't seen in 10 years. But that doesn't wrench out your soul and kick you in the fucking teeth.

Is it painful to have lyrics on Finding Beauty that mention suicide in light of his death?
It's weird, because that was all me talking about myself. I was always the suicidal kid. I was always the one slashing my arms up and I was the one doing the cutting. And I was the one with the gun to my head as a kid. I was the one who took pills in 2005 and tried to take myself out. I was the one trying to buy shotguns online when my girlfriend left me. That's me; it wasn't him.

Would you and your brother talk about your suicidal thoughts?
Yeah, he and I would talk about me. Never about him, man. He was the one that would, you know, make me feel better every time, you know. [Long pause, collecting himself] So it's kind of weird, the irony, the "happy kid."

This has to be hard to talk about.
Well, I went to a therapist, and she said the only way to deal with it is to talk about it.

Does it feel better to be on the road as opposed to taking time off?
Yeah, totally. If I sit by myself, I'm gonna freak out. If I'm not doing something with my life, I'm gonna fewak out. No matter what, he wouldn't want me to sit around and not do anything. My brother was very, very proud of what I did. And a big supporter of it.

You've said that "Breakdown" is the only song on the album that's about your relationship with Amy Lee, but did you write any others that didn't make the cut?
I really consciously made the effort not to. I didn't want to keep beating that dead horse. It would have been fine except that she wrote that song "Call Me When You're Sober" and then told everyone it was about me. Even though I did have some of those problems that she mentioned, it wasn't cool to tell the whole world about it. But really this isn't an East Coast/West Coast rap battle, dude. I don't have my posse try to take out her posse. I wish her nothing but success, man. I hope she finds real happiness and really finds within herself the peace that I couldn't help her find.

Are there misconceptions about the band that you'd like to correct?
I think the main thing is this idea that we're a super-depressed, take-our-selves-way-too-seriously kind of band. We walk in to radio stations wearing stupid hats--we don't take ourselves seriously at all. We take the music part really seriously--it's more than just music, it's therapy. But ourselves as people, we're not in any way little whiny, pissy dudes.

Maybe you should do smiley faces for your next album cover.
Oh no, we're gonna go one further. We're gonna do bunnies and butterlies. We're gonna make a video where we have bunnies hopping around and it's all really cute and smiley and happy. And then, right at the end, we'll just freak out and take a baseball bat and just start belting these bunnies around.
Tim Grierson