Listen to Seether's New Single 'Nothing Left': Exclusive
Frontman Shaun Morgan says new album looks at how society idolizes 'vapid, empty people that have done nothing to warrant the admiration they receive.'
Hard-rock band Seether has been on a roll at U.S. radio since "Fine Again," lead single from their Wind-up Records debut, Disclaimer, introduced the band in 2002. Since then, the South African act — which is led by singer-guitarist Shaun Morgan —has logged 20 top 10 hits on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Songs chart, including the No. 1s "Remedy," "Fake It," "Country Song," "Tonight" and "Words As Weapons." They've also notched four top 10s on the Billboard 200 (with 2011's Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray peaking at No. 2) and have accumulated U.S. album sales of 4.5 million, according to Nielsen Music.
With a track record like that, it's not surprising that Morgan took the reins as both label proprietor and producer of Seether's new project, Poison the Parish. Morgan acted as the sole producer, employing engineer-mixer Matt Hyde to help put the record together. The album will be released May 12 on Morgan's Canine Riot Records. The frontman says of manning the boards, "Ultimately, at the end of the day, I didn’t want anybody else to answer to. For me, it was kind of a liberating experience, because I was making an album where I was getting it to sound like I always wanted it to sound like."
He notes that he learned much from Seether's previous producers: Jay Baumgardner, Bob Marlette, Howard Benson and Brendan O’Brien. "They’re all great in their own right," says Morgan. "Of all the producers I learned the most from, [it was] definitely Brendan O’Brien. I learned from him what to do and I learned from the other guys what not to do, so with that kind of knowledge and having done six albums at that point, I figured I had enough information that I could try it myself."
Seether's new single, "Nothing Left," is premiering today on Billboard and can be heard below. Meanwhile, read on about how Morgan's producing stint resulted in a meatier sound for Seether, why he considers pop-culture hits like Jersey Shore and Real Housewives "vile, disgusting stuff," why he abhors society's mindless pursuit of fame -- and how growing up on a South African pig farm helped shape his work ethic.
I thought the album had a heavier vibe than some of your earlier stuff.
That’s because a lot of the time, we were dealing with the record company that wanted the band to … sound slightly more radio-friendly, in terms of possibly pushing us toward an alternative direction. Alternative used to be something that was the category [we were] in. That’s no longer the case. Now, it’s more that guitars are less of a player in the music, and it’s more Imagine Dragons and Lorde and stuff like that. We don’t fit the alternative category anymore. That was something that the label wanted us quite desperately to try [to be a part of], and I think the producers steered us in that direction as well. It all makes sense, in some respect. They had a plan that we just weren’t privy to [Laughs.]
The whole point, for me, was to reclaim the fact that we’re a rock band and it’s what we’ll always be, and until the alternative label shifts back to the kind of rock bands that have guitar and vocals, that’s just what we’ll be.
A recent interview quoted you as saying that there were times when Seether made an album and certain songs got earmarked for radio, it seemed like they got more attention than other tracks, and you thought that was a disservice to the band and the listeners. With Poison the Parish, since you didn’t have that hanging over your head, did you still wonder if you would produce something that radio would play?
The problem with the previous approaches is you earmark a couple of songs, those songs get all of the attention, and the rest sort of become considered album filler. I always found that kind of offensive in a sense, because to me, all the songs are equally important, and therefore to treat some differently sort of annoyed me. This time, we said, “Let’s start alphabetically and work that way from the top to the bottom.”
The goal really wasn’t to appease any kind of radio listener or radio station, because the whole point of this was to make music that I want to hear and listen to, that I love to write and to play. If we needed to look at it afterward and say, “This is unlistenable” or “This is unplayable,” then I guess there would have been some hurdle to overcome. But I think there’s a place for what we do. I was never afraid of radio saying, “We’re not going to play this music, it’s too acerbic,” or, “It’s too unpleasing to the ear.” I never had a problem with that. I just wanted it to be written the way I thought it should be. It should be heavy guitar, it should be loud drums, and it should be pretty simple down the line. It shouldn’t have a lot of percussion in the background and keyboard parts and tons of strings in different places. There’s a time and place for all those things, but I didn’t feel like this was that time or place.
What's the inspiration behind “Nothing Left”?
The inspiration behind that song, and pretty much everything else on this album, is looking around at society and seeing how, in my mind, it seems to be crumbling in the sense that we worship and idolize vapid and empty people that have done nothing in their lives to warrant the admiration that they receive. I see it, and it makes me angry and it makes me sad. The fact that I have a teenage daughter who thinks that Instagram is a very important place to get likes because therefore that gives you some sort of self-worth as a human being, I think is bullshit. There’s no other way to say it. As far as I’m concerned, there’s far more important and valuable ways to be considered important and that you are worth something and that as a human being you have something to offer, something to bring to the rest of the world.
Listen to "Nothing Left" below:
What we are being fed down our throats is “Well, you can just be a Kardashian. You can just be in a sex tape, and suddenly you can have an empire.” Or you can be 16 and pregnant, and suddenly you can be making millions of dollars as a porn star. I mean, what message is that sending? … To put on a pedestal little girls that are 16 and 15 years old and pregnant, and then to say to other kids, “Look, this is great, because look what happens: You get a career out of it..." To put it on a major TV network that it’s OK to be 16 and pregnant, because things will work out just fine for this select handful, it’s not a message that should be sent. That should be shut down and shelved.
Stuff like Jersey Shore, all these Real Housewives, all this crap dominates the airwaves. It’s vile. It’s disgusting stuff. On Instagram, people are famous because of the way they look. [Laughs.] What have they done? What have they contributed to society? Looks fade, and at some point those men and women will become crones and trolls, and that’ll be the end of their short-lived fame. I just wonder why that’s something that people aspire to and how it’s become a thing where fame is more important than say, I don’t know, learning a trade.
Did you consciously set about writing about that topic, or did you notice as you were writing the music that that was what was coming out?
I don’t consciously set out to do very much, actually. [Laughs.]
I’ve been watching the whole political thing, with the hysterical left and the alt-right, and nobody can get on with each other, and how there’s this massive, ridiculous ongoing inability to allow each other to speak to each other and try to figure out what’s going on instead of “If you disagree with me, I’m going to scream at you” or “I’m going to beat you.” It’s this sort of Neanderthal response.
It’s overwhelming to think that that’s the world we’re living in right now, where nobody can get along because of simple political beliefs, and whether or not one person should be that polarizing is not the point. The point is that you should be able to have a discourse and discussions without turning violent or without [being insulted]. If you’re a Trump supporter, you shouldn’t be told that you’re a misogynist sexist pig because that’s how you feel, or that you’re stupid, and on the other side, you shouldn’t be called a social justice warrior and a hysterical leftist or feminazi or whatever the terms are these days. You shouldn’t have to be called that, either.
When did the name-calling become acceptable, and when did the world become such an ugly place? I guess I’ve been sort of consumed with it, and I find myself sitting squarely in the middle, looking at both sides, going, “You’re all idiots,” because really, what’s done is done. Now’s the time for everyone to get along and figure out how to make the best of a bad situation.
I get your point. But as a musician, you have a certain level of fame, and you may or may not be rich. What would you say to those who think, “You’re condemning people who want to be rich and famous, but aren’t you yourself rich and famous?”
I didn’t start playing music because I wanted to be rich and famous. I started playing music because it was fun and it made me feel like it was a great way to spend a summer afternoon with a few friends and a six-pack of beer. Then you start playing shows, and it becomes this thing that you embrace, and it’s a really fun time. Things like sitting around a campfire and playing an acoustic and singing whatever songs come to mind, those are all the things that started me playing.
In short, everybody has the aspiration to make it in the music business … But that entails a lot of hard work and a lot of focus and dedication and blood, sweat and tears. That does not include just making a sex tape, you know? Or just putting on some makeup and taking some upshots of yourself on an Instagram profile. I think that’s a ridiculous comparison to draw, because we’ve worked our asses off. None of this fell into our lap. I grew up on a pig farm in Africa, and this has been a career that’s been 20 years-plus. I started playing in my first band when I was 14, and I’m 38. For [nearly] 25 years, I’m playing guitar and writing songs and learning how to get better at what I do, and every single day I learn something new. So to draw a comparison like that is absolutely unfounded.
I have no problem with people wanting to be rich and famous. My problem is that’s all that they want to be without having anything to contribute. I think we contribute something to society by the music that we write. Obviously, people get something out of that music, and we provide, in some way, a service. We’re out on the road, we’re touring 10 months out of the year, five, six shows a week. It’s not an easy thing to achieve in a musical climate where whatever we do is, [people] assume it should be free.
Did you have to work the farm as well?
Yes, of course. I was knee-deep in pig shit most weekends. (Laughs.) When you’re on a pig farm, you can’t escape it. You always smell like pig shit wherever you go, because it’s a very permeable substance.
How did that affect your work ethic as a musician?
I don’t know. What affected me most about music was every time I was told I couldn’t do it or I shouldn’t do it, it ticked me off. I was told that by many people, because when you first say, “Hey, I want to be in a band,” your mom says, “Well, that’s fine, that’s cute. Go ahead and try it out.” You start taking it seriously, and then people go, “Listen, you’re wasting your time. This is never going to work out.” Then when it did work out [and you say], “I want to do this with every single ounce of my energy,” they’re like, “Well, now you can’t do it anymore, because it’s stupid.” It just makes you angry, and it just makes you more convinced that you’re going to prove everybody wrong. In some weird way, it made me believe in myself.
Hard work in general is something I’ve never been afraid of. Maybe that was from watching my dad, maybe it was watching my grandfather, who was a diary farmer. I had numerous cousins that had a whole host of other kinds of farms. Interestingly enough, a lot of musicians have come from farms, which is really bizarre. [Laughs.] [Once], I was sitting at a panel at one of those things where they have six musicians with different backgrounds, and four of us had been raised on farms. I think there’s an interesting connection.