A little more than a decade ago, a hard rocking trio from South Africa, changed its name from Saron Gas to Seether and disembarked for the United States. It was, according to frontman Shaun Morgan, “an emotional decision, by no means easy. Taking that big step was terrifying, but I feel that the decision we made, as tough as it was, was ultimately the correct one.”
Talk about an understatement…
Over the course of five albums, Seether — Morgan, bassist Dale Stewart and drummer John Humphrey — has proved itself to be one of the rock world’s most consistently diverse, unquenchably ambitious bands. And also one of its most successful; Seether has sold millions of albums worldwide, including four gold albums and the platinum Finding Beauty In Negative Places, and launched 11 #1 singles and 17 Top 5 hits across multiple formats at radio, including enduring favorites such as “Broken,” “Remedy,” “Fine Again,” “Fake It”, “Rise Above This” “Country Song,” “Tonight” and “No Resolution.”
Heck, Seether even cranked Wham!’s “Careless Whisper” into a Top 5, platinum hard rock ballad.
Seether 2002-2013 certainly backs that up, taking stock of the group’s first decade or so of accomplishment. After all, how many bands can really deliver a best-of compilation that spans two discs, with each of the 27 songs — including rare B-sides, film soundtrack contributions and three eye-opening demos — as strong as the next, representing a catalog rich in defining, adventurous moments from the first single, “Fine Again,” to new offerings “Safe to Say I’ve Had Enough,” “Weak” and a high-octane treatment of Veruca Salt’s “Seether,” which inspired the group’s moniker all those years ago.
The early Seether “liked a lot of different kinds of music” according to Morgan, and the pull of classic rock melodicism and metal and grunge ferocity was certainly heard on 2002’s Disclaimer, which started life in South Africa before the band decamped for Los Angeles. The pensive ballad “Fine Again” put Seether on the map — and onto the soundtracks of the video games Madden 2003 and 1080 Avalanche — but tracks such as the grooving “Gasoline” and the explosive ebb-and-flow of “Driven Under” established Seether’s heavyweight credentials enough to land the band a spot on the 2002 OZZFest tour.
“Broken” was the song that broke things wide open, however. A mellow, acoustic closer to Disclaimer, Seether re-recorded it with fuller instrumentation and tighter dynamics as a duet between Morgan and Evanescence’s Amy Lee. The new rendition first appeared on the Punisher soundtrack and hit No. 20 on the Billboard 200, and it was voted the Best Song From a Movie Soundtrack in the 2004 Metal Edge Reader’s Choice Awards. Its success also led to the release of Disclaimer II, an expanded edition of the debut album.
The success of “Broken” and “Fine Again” created an odd dilemma as Seether began working on its second album, 2005’s Karma & Effect. “Ultimately the impression of the band that was created was a fairly false one,” Morgan notes. “By that I mean we played shows and people would come up and know the songs on the radio, but when we played a heavy rock song they didn’t know what to do with themselves. I think people expected matchbox twenty, and we weren’t anything like that.” Consequently on Karma & Effect, Morgan and company set out “to write an album that was heavier and darker. We didn’t want to have to deal with misconceptions again.” And if there was indeed a darker and more ominous tone to the album — which debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 — nobody who heard the skull-rattling riffs of “Remedy,” “Truth” and “The Gift” was left with any doubt about just what kind of band Seether was. But Seether could be just as impactful when it quieted down, as evidenced by One Cold Night, a live acoustic CD/DVD set recorded during early 2006 in Philadelphia that included a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Immortality.”
Seether returned to the studio for 2007’s Finding Beauty In Negative Places, another Top 10 entry. Morgan, never one to shy away from personal subject matter, tapped into his forced stint in rehab the previous summer, which he calls “an interesting experience” — and an inspirational one. Morgan came in with more than 50 songs that were written and considered by Seether and producer Howard Benson. “The songs went through phases,” Morgan says. “You could tell — here’s my dark phase, then I got pissed off and started writing super metal riffs, as heavy as I could make it. Then I had my melancholy phase, all acoustic, said stuff. And I ended up coming out at the end and writing stuff that’s possibly a little more hopeful. So, yeah, some good came out of it.” That whole range can be heard in selections such as “Fake It,” “Rise Above This” and “Breakdown,” as well as the aforementioned, and very surprising, “Careless Whisper.”
“The whole idea of the album was to embrace songwriting, just have an album full of songs,” Morgan explains. “The bands I like, like Nirvana or Pearl Jam or Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, are all about songs. It’s not all one thing. So we tried to give more of a cross-section of the band.” Finding Beauty In Negative Places became one of Seether’s most decorated albums, too, with a platinum certification in the U.S. and winning a South African Music Award for Best Rock: English performance and an MTV Africa Music Award for Best Alternative Act.
In its wake, Morgan notes, “we felt like we had to raise the bar every time we write new songs,” which made for an exacting and occasionally exasperating making of 2011’s Holding onto Strings Better Left to Fray with producer Brendan O’Brien at Nashville’ historic Blackbird Studios. “This album took a little time because we wrote more songs and we wrote a little more carefully and certainly took our time with them,” Morgan says. That time paid off, though, with another diverse collection that gave Seether its highest-ever Billboard 200 peak — No. 2 — in addition to topping the Rock Albums, Alternative Albums and Hard Rock Albums charts. Spawning hits such as “Country Song,” “Tonight,” “No Resolution” and “Here and Now,” Holding onto Strings Better Left to Fray was an unqualified smash that made Seether Billboard`s No. 1 Active Artist and No. 1 Heritage Artist of 2011, while “Country Song” was the year’s top Active Rock song in both the U.S. and Canada as well as Mediabase’s No. 1 Song of the Year. Seether capped the campaign by giving back, headlining and curating the first Rise Above Fest during September of 2012 in Gilford, N.H., to raise the focus on awareness and prevention of teen suicide in memory of Morgan’s brother Eugene Welgemoed, who committed suicide five years prior. After raising more than $20,000 in 2012 — with help from pals Buckcherry, Puddle of Mudd and Black Stone Cherry as well as others who contributed items for auction — the Rise Above Fest will return on May 10, 2014 in Bangor, Maine.
While Seether 2002-2013 finds the group taking a breath to acknowledge its 10th anniversary, the trio is hardly resting on its laurels — as evidenced by the set’s three brand new, O’Brien-produced tracks. Dale Stewart calls the explosive “Safe to Say I’ve Had Enough” “one of those songs that didn’t require that much effort…It was just kind of everything we thought it needed to be. It was kind of heavy but still had that sort of melodic thing about it. It just worked.” John Humphrey, meanwhile, says that “Weak,” “fell into place for us rather quickly. I think we ran through it a couple of times in rehearsal and captured the song on the second take. I’m very pleased with the final result.”
Then there’s the group’s forceful rendition of “Seether,” which serves multiple purposes, according to Morgan. “We thought it would be a good way to pay homage to (Veruca Salt) and the song that inspired our name,” he explains. “And we wanted to represent it in our own way. It’s not at all meant to be taken seriously. We figured it was a fun way to celebrate this point in our career, and answer once for all how we got our band name.”
Looking into the future, Seether plans to keep its good name intact and its creative process as passionate and perfectionist as it’s been for the past 13 years. Stewart says Seether is plans “to go full steam on the new album” for 2014, though Morgan promises the trio’s sixth album “is not going to be something we rush into and put out a crappy thing just because there’s a deadline.” As Seether 2002-2013 underscores, quality is and always will be job one for Morgan, Stewart and Humphrey.
“We hope to be around 20 years from now, still writing music and touring, to become a band that spans decades is the ultimate achievement,” Morgan says. “Hopefully we have set up a good enough foundation for that goal to be achieved. We’re looking forward to the future and are really excited about the music we’re writing right now, and hopefully, we can continue to win fans and broaden our influence.”