Fine Lines

It's not every day that a band from South Africa finds itself with a modern-rock hit in the United States, but don't tell that to Seether. The South African trio can trace its roots back to 1999, when a guitarist-singer then named Shaun Welgemoed (he changed his surname to Morgan in April 2002) formed a group called Saron Gas with two friends. Saron Gas independently released their first demo in late 1999, featuring the single "69 Tea."

The track quickly climbed to the upper reaches of radio charts in South Africa. Right around that time, the band's original bassist was replaced by current four-stringer Dale Stewart. The breakaway success of "69 Tea" landed the group regional music festival gigs and sparked interest from British indie label Musketeer Records.

Saron Gas inked a deal with Musketeer in September 2000. The trio spent two months in the studio working with legendary South African producer Brian O'Shea on its debut release, Fragile. Buoyed by a re-recorded version of "69 Tea," the disc became one of the top sellers in the group's home country, and a December 2000 regional headlining tour solidified the act as one of the most promising rock bands on the African continent. Soon, U.S. labels began to express interest, and in June 2001, Saron Gas were asked to fly to New York to perform at a label showcase.

The suits at Wind-up Records liked what they saw and signed the band to a deal, bringing the unlikely South African stars to the same label as Creed and Drowning Pool. For marketing reasons, the group changed its name to the less-controversial Seether so as not to be associated with the like-named sarin gas -- a lethal nerve agent that was used in an infamous attack on a crowded Tokyo subway in 1995. The group planned on relocating to New York at the end of 2001 to begin reworking Fragile for stateside release, but eventually scrapped the idea and headed to Los Angeles to record with producer Jay Baumgardner (Papa Roach, Drowning Pool). Popular session musician Josh Freese (A Perfect Circle, 3 Doors Down, Unwritten Law) was recruited to handle drumming duties in place of original skinsman Dave Cohoe, who parted ways with the band because of family commitments (Morgan remains the only original member). In the end, just a handful of Fragile cuts were kept, and the album was renamed Disclaimer.

Though the album was in the can, it wouldn't see release for months. Pumped from completing the disc and not wanting to rest on their laurels, Seether found a new drummer in Nick Oshiro and hit the road with Ozzfest. For a month last summer, Seether were rocking the same Ozzfest stage as Chevelle, the Used, Switched and Glassjaw, among others. Disclaimer finally was released in August. The disc's "Fine Again" has spent weeks near the top of the modern-rock charts.

Seether presently are in the midst of a North American tour that sees them playing with such acts as Socialburn, Our Lady Peace and Ra. Check out Seether's full itinerary here.

Morgan and Stewart sat down with us to talk about what first inspired them to play music, the origins of the band, recording Disclaimer and the spark provided by a little Veruca Salt tune called "Seether." (Joe Robinson)

Oh No, I Know a Dirty Word
Shaun Morgan: I know I'm going to get a lot of s**t for saying it, but [Nirvana's] "Smells Like Teen Spirit" made me pick up a guitar. And Jimi Hendrix. We used to play Smashing Pumpkins and Dinosaur Jr. -- all that stuff. And they were bands that no one else liked at the time when we were 12 or 13. Those were the bands [that were] loud and [featured] feedback on the end of the songs. Just the noise, just the fact that my parents didn't like it -- the fact that I could sit in my room with my little amp and do the same thing was what made me want to play guitar.
Dale Stewart: I used to listen to a lot of Guns N' Roses when I was a kid . . . I've always loved music, any kind of music. And I figured I'd try my hand at guitar. I picked up a guitar and I started playing and something about it just felt right.

Driven Under
SM: We formed this band in May '99. We had a different bassist, who eventually left the band, and we replaced him with Dale in January of 2000. So, we've been playing since then. Our original drummer recently left the band and we replaced him with another guy. It's been an interesting trip so far.
DS: [There's] never a dull moment . . . I guess in the music industry, nothing really goes smoothly, down to at a gig. If the sound is perfect and everything just works out, then there's something wrong.

SM: We'll make it sound as easy as we can. All we need now is for one of us to go to rehab and then we'll have Behind the Music.

Shock to the System
SM: [Recording Disclaimer in Los Angeles] was a really cool culture shock and then it wore off. Then we just got really tired of working in the studios. But Jay [Baumgardner is] really cool. It was different to work with someone who's doing this on such a different level to what we're used to, but we learned a lot. I think we came out of the experience having learned a lot and I think with what we've learned, we've come out [as] much better musicians, hopefully. Next time, the recording process won't take so long.
SM: ['Fine Again'] came about when we'd . . . been playing with some chords, but they weren't coming together. So, I picked up a seven string instead of a normal [guitar], and just put the chords down a little bit lower and it came out. We went back to the studio an hour later with the song -- it was one of those songs that just suddenly came together, the lyrics just came out. It went onto the album two days before it was mastered. It's just about being really frustrated and really p**sed off at the world, and then knowing that it's going to be cool, one day.

Can't Fight the Seether
SM: I'm a really big fan of L7 and Veruca Salt and I knew [Veruca Salt's] song ['Seether']. That was the first Veruca Salt song I heard. It's cool, the 'seether' part of it -- I think it goes with a lot of what we have to say. We were just sitting -- we were on tour and looking for a new name and it just came to me. Also, I don't think it was a recognized English word for a long time. And there's that reference in that song to the fact that it's about vaginas, which is also kind of cool. We only found that out [recently]. Plus, the vocalist is a babe, so hopefully, she'll see [our name] as an ode.

Interview by Steve Reynolds