Miami Herald

Seether Finding Rock Success Away From Clubs Of Johannesburg

August 11, 2002

South Africa's not thought of as a rock-and-roll haven. Thanks to its physical and political distance from the West -- the country was the subject of a global boycott until the early '90s because of its policy of racial separation -- South Africa's pop history for most is shrouded in mystery.

But the country has a deep rock lineage. And now, the music is getting heard outside its borders. Seether, the first South African rock band to get a major international push since the collapse of apartheid, has signed to Wind-Up Records (home to Florida's most popular band, Creed) and is releasing its first album, Disclaimer, this month. On top of that, the Johannesburg trio is playing some dates on the Ozzfest tour in the United States.

Singer, guitarist and frontman Shaun Morgan is of two minds about his band's situation. He knows that other rock bands popular in South Africa, like Springbok Nude Girls, have disbanded because of the failure to break out of the small South African market. ''We're lucky and there's pressure,'' he says in a phone interview from a tour stop in Columbia, S.C. ``We're the band that's opening the doors and paving the way. We're sorry that some of the other bands that preceded us didn't get this chance.''

South Africa has produced such well-known rock names as singer/keyboardist Manfred Mann (born Manfred Lubowitz), guitarist Trevor Rabin (Yes) and producer/engineer Kevin Shirley (Aerosmith, Iron Maiden, Black Crowes), but they made their reputations globally after living in England, the United States or Australia. Other performers, such as the punkish Asylum Kids or the electronic Kalahari Surfers, earned international kudos among activists for their anti-apartheid stance but remained cult figures.

The guys in Seether, which also includes bassist Dale Stewart and drummer Nick Oshiro, want to stay in South Africa and nab an audience overseas. The band's song Fine Again is on Billboard's Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock charts and is being played on South Florida radio stations like WZTA-FM (94.9). Yet Morgan says his group -- whose sound recalls a blend of Pearl Jam, Creed, Silverchair and Linkin Park -- is not influenced by his country's politics, still a fiery topic in post-apartheid South Africa.

''There is a school of thought that says you should have a South African sound, but I'm still trying to figure out what that is,'' he says. ``Some people say we're trying to be American and we aren't sticking to our roots. But I don't get into politics because they bore me. And it's cool now: We have black kids with white kids, black kids fronting grunge bands and wearing Korn T-shirts. We've had black kids mosh harder than white kids.''

In fact, it was because of a sinister political connotation that the members of Seether changed their original moniker: Saron Gas. Morgan says they came across the name and thought it sounded ''cool'' but didn't realize the full meaning. Sarin Gas is a nerve agent that was manufactured by the Nazis during the '30s and used in a 1995 terrorist attack on a Tokyo subway.

''We were labeled satanic and KKK,'' Morgan says.

The name stuck and didn't impede their popularity. But when it came time to try to sell themselves overseas, they decided it was time for a change. ''People at home still think of us as Saron Gas, but in a new country, we said we might as well change the name, too,'' Morgan explains. ``The amount of s - - - we were getting wasn't worth it.''

-Cary Darling