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Seether’s Shaun Morgan Offers Brutally Honest Look Back at 2011

Shaun Morgan of Seether
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Seether are stronger than ever with the ongoing power of their 2011 album ‘Holding Onto Things Better Left To Fray,’ which is their first disc since 2007’s ‘Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces.’

It was one busy year in 2011 for Seether, with two monster radio singles ‘Country Song’ and ‘Tonight,’ along with their run on this summer’s Uproar Festival that included acts such as Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet for My Valentine, Sevendust and many others. The band is heating up radio again in 2012 with their latest single ‘No Resolution.’

Loudwire recently chatted with Seether frontman Shaun Morgan about ‘Holding Onto Strings…,’ the departure of guitarist Troy McLawhorn, touring and much more in a brutally honest interview.

The album’s name ‘Holding Onto Things Better Left To Fray’ is quite a mouthful; what does the title mean to you?

It’s about letting go of thoughts and demons, it’s mostly dealing with relationships with friends, family, people that you share living space with that kind of thing and just being able to grow and understanding when something is bad for you, a pointless environment that you’re in and understanding that nothing about it is gonna get better at any point. It’s understanding the inevitability of failure of a relationship, before you walk down that road if you can see the outcome then why are you even doing it?

I’ve had to deal with some people in my life and to string people along for a long time just becomes tedious as well, for example my mother, I don’t speak to my mother because she’s just not a very good person and it was a difficult decision I had to make but I made it because of the fact that she’s never gonna change who she is. Every single time I let my defenses down and I let her in and I pretend that everything’s fine, it’s takes too much effort sometimes, it’s just something that has never changed in the 32 years I’ve been around so I just had to move on.

This was the band’s first album in quite some time; what approach did you take writing and recording that differed from previous albums?

This one took a lot longer to write because it was in batches instead of doing one writing period of six months and then picking out songs and going and recording an album. The first six months we wrote a bunch of songs and only picked four of those and recorded those first and we felt that we set the bar in certain levels and then from there on we wrote more songs. So basically each time we’d written a bunch we would go and try to write twice as many and we’d have another four, five good ones and record those and we’d go back and write again. So, it was a staggered process which is different for us because we like going in and just hammering it out and then go out on the road.

I think what that did was it allowed us to look at the songs in a different way and really be critical of them, really say, “Okay, we’ve now done this, each song is as good or better than the songs we’ve already recorded” and if they weren’t than they’d get put away in an archive and we would just move on and try to write something else. I think because of the amount of time we had it took longer than we wanted it to but eventually came up with an album, from start to finish for us feels complete.

It feels like there’s no element of the band that’s missing, for example we wanted to make sure that the heavy side was represented, the light side represented, the pop side represented, the metal side represented and sometimes when you’re in a certain period of writing you don’t necessarily explore all of the avenues and when you have more time to do that then you get more diversity. I think that was the key for us, that we had more time to do it and I don’t know if we want to spend as much time, next time on an album but I think the most important thing we learned was that we didn’t stop until the album was finished in our minds. When we were collectively happy with the album then we said we can put it out.

Vocally, you tried out some new things on this album, was it difficult for you to experiment, or did it come naturally as you were recording?

Yeah I think it wasn’t too much of a pre-ordained kind of thing; it was really just going in and starting with music and seeing where I could go vocally. It took a little time, usually these days, I find writing a song in its completion music and lyrics and vocals all sort of mesh together quickly, that happens occasionally, it’s more of a process, it’s more of an analytical thing. I definitely didn’t hold back, I was definitely happy with the way the vocals sounded at the end of the day because of the fact that I didn’t feel like I was being constricted and I wasn’t being told “Okay, this is what you have to do.” Producers I’ve had before have restricted what I was allowed to do.

Brendan [O’Brien] was far more open to singing instead of me grinding vocals out of my throat and often times I would do it the way I thought he wanted me to do it and he said, “It doesn’t always have to sound like you finished a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of Jack.” [Laughs] He installed a level of confidence in me, a lot of times he was in the vocal booth with me and he would sing harmonies to me and I would sing them into the mic. It’s kind of a scary, very introverted process, I like to have the lights off so no one can really see you because you feel quite vulnerable. The difference was, having Brendan in there, it was a big trust thing for me and I feel like he bolstered my confidence and made me feel like I think I can do it the way I wanted to do it, he wasn’t telling me what he thought I should sound like.

Can you talk about the song ‘Tonight’ a little musically and lyrically?

It was a demo that I had, basically I would sit at home and write a bunch stuff and then I would put them on my iPod and listen to them and that’s how I would eventually come up with melodies and things. I actually had forgotten about that and we were in Nashville wrapping up the album and it was considered that we were finished because we felt that there were other songs on the album that were gonna be singles.

We happen to be going through a drive thru getting coffee one morning on our way to the studio and the iPod was on shuffle and the demo came on and the other guys were like, “What is that, why aren’t we recording that?” I had a vocal idea for the chorus, that I’d been messing around with for a while so basically we just rushed to the studio and I went into a little room and just put down a vocal basically on my laptop using just the microphone, it wasn’t really finished it was just a chorus and a verse idea.

We had already packed away the drums and guitars and everything so we had to break them all out again and we sat down and recorded that track late into that night and finished it. When it was done, it was clear that the alum had been missing that song. It’s fortuitous that it came on the iPod, if it hadn’t it would just be one of the lost demos that I have, literally I have hundreds of songs on my iPod that never make it because I forget to show them to people or I just never feel confident enough because they’re not finished.

Lyrically, it started off a lot darker than it is and I wasn’t happy with the way that sounded, so I scrapped it all and started from the beginning and it took on a more positive note and I think that was something necessary on an album that deals with intense things, it’s nice to have something on there that’s a little lighter and a little more positive and hopeful. Essentially, at the end of the day, it’s our version of what you would consider to be a love song I guess. I’m glad it’s on there, it means a lot to me and it definitely needed to be there to give you that breathing space in the middle of the album. Experience needs to be something emotional but it doesn’t always need to be intense.

Seether have managed to persevere for over quite some time in an industry that’s pretty tough these days; what’s the secret to your longevity?

That’s an interesting question because when we first came out, it was pretty much when the emo and the screamo scene started and we didn’t really feel like we fit in then, and then there’s always been the pop punk thing which also came and went, there’s more of the shock rock phase where its bands more concerned about their hair dos than their music and more power to them I guess but it’s not what I’m into. I feel like there’s not much potential what we do, it’s heart-on-your-sleeve type stuff.

We’re honest with ourselves, stick to what we believe in and we write songs that we feel are good songs, we enjoy playing them. If they get released to radio or whatever we’re going to have to play these songs for years to come so they’ve got to be songs that we really believe in, if you don’t then I think you look like an a—hole when for the next 10, 20 years you have to play these songs and you don’t believe in them. We’ve always been true to ourselves in that sense and if we as a band, as a collective group of guys agree that a song is a good song and we’re proud of the song and ultimately we enjoy listening to the song then it’s a good thing.

We’re not the best guitarists, or the best drummers, or the best bassists or the best singers but I think the combination of the three of us together has been a powerful thing for me. Out of all the bands I’ve been in, in my life this is the one that makes the most sense, it’s the most cohesive and creatively the stuff that we come out with as three guys , when playing guitar as a little kid this was the stuff that I imagined playing one day.

We’re getting closer to a place where we might have a distinct kind of sound but it’s really just doing what we feel we want to do, playing the songs the way we like to play them and just being honest with the music and lyrics and we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we just go on stage, there’s no fanfare, there’s no pre-game ritual, it’s just getting up there and having fun. We feel when you come watch us play you’ll here the songs represented and it won’t sound like the album because we don’t have three other guitarists and we don’t have a string section, we don’t have someone playing piano.

I think live the songs should be able to translate as they are, the way they were written, an album is very much when you layer things on because you want to make it orally more interesting, that’s the goal for an album because you want to put as much as you can into it because you only get one shot, whereas live you’re there to do it every night. It’s more about playing the songs and having fun with them and really trying to have the people that come and watch you be entertained.

Please share your thoughts on the departure of guitarist Troy McLawhorn.

Well you can’t make somebody happy in a situation where they aren’t; you can’t force them to believe in the same thing you believe in and see it the same way you see it. He left unfortunately and went to Evanescence and that’s his deal. There’s always been a rivalry I guess from Amy’s side with me, I personally the time or energy to invest anything into it. If he’s happier there then good luck to him, we are happier with him gone.

We’ve embraced the three piece and we will continue to be one. We’ve tried to have another guitarist and then you become friends with guys and you really become family because you’re on the road all the time, you see a lot of things together, you experience a lot of things together. It’s like being in a marriage pretty much. Even the best marriages end at some point, unless it’s those freak accidents like where my grandparents are married for 50 years.

He left on his own, I just didn’t like the way he handled it at the time so I was pissed about it when he left but there’s nothing you can do about it and ultimately at the end of the day, when the initial shock and anger wears off then you realize well you know what we’re in a better place and to be honest that’s how we feel. We have a lot of fun as the three guys now and I feel like we might have tried to hold on to something a little bit longer than was necessary as well. It was sort of pathetic when I had the album title and months later that’s when he left, if he’s happy then good luck to him, we certainly are happy without him. I certainly don’t think I’ll ever be friends with him again but there’s no animosity from the other guys. I personally don’t have any grudges or resentment but also I’m not begging for somebody to be my friend.

Any tour plans for 2012?

We’re going to a bunch of countries we haven’t been to in a long time and some new ones and then we do a European tour with 3 Doors Down and those guys are really good friends of ours, they actually took us out on our first proper tour in 2003 so we’ve known them for many years. They’re great guys and we always have a lot of fun with them, they take care of us and we all look after each other. Apparently there are some things in the works starting up in April into the middle of the year, but nothing is confirmed yet. The touring unit is difficult, people are feeling it, people are hurting financially so it’s becoming something where we certainly understand and realize that we need to be smarter about the way we tour and find ways to cut cost for everybody involved.

Check Out the Video for Seether’s Single ‘Tonight’

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