Whichever walk of life you emanate from it's fair to say you'll have issues, whether they be major or minor. Some take those negative feelings and turn them into positive creations, be it a song, a film, a book, and so forth. When it comes to artists, sometimes their darkest hour can result in their most creatively fruitful period. Seether frontman / lyricist Shaun Morgan is no different, channelling these emotions into his compositions with hopes for the best.
Due for issue on May 17th, 2011 courtesy of Wind-Up Records, "Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray" is Seether's fifth studio album. Cut at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, the album was produced by Brendan O'Brien (whose CV includes weighty names like AC/DC, Rage Against The Machine and Pearl Jam). As ever, the lyrics deal with personal issues being confronted by frontman Shaun Morgan.
On this occasion, the lead vocalist / rhythm guitarist has opted to mainly use clean vocals, tracks like "Desire For Need" being notable exceptions. Other compositions include the Muse-influenced "Roses" and "Tonight", which almost didn't make it onto the album. With only two studio days left, Shaun had completely rewritten the lyrics and shown it to all involved. All involved agreed the track should be recorded. "Here And Now", meanwhile, incorporates the full-length's title into its lyrics. Charting at position seventy-four on the Billboard Hot 100, inaugural single "Country Song" was released on March 8th and April 4th in North America and the United Kingdom respectively. A deluxe edition version of "Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray" will include the bonus songs "Dead Seeds", "Yeah", "Nobody" and "Effigy". If pre-ordered through iTunes, the deluxe edition also boasts "Here and Now (Deconstructed)".
On April 22nd at 20:25 GMT, Seether's management telephoned Hit The Lights' Robert Gray. The management connected him to frontman Shaun Morgan to discuss "Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray".
Shaun Morgan: Hello?
UG: Hello. How are you Shaun?
I'm very good. How are you?
I'm doing well. Would it be ok if we began the interview?
Could you provide some background information on 'Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray'? Writing its tracks, and what Seether wished to achieve this time around?
Yeah. This time we worked with Brendan O'Brien, and he's by far the best producer we've ever worked with as far as how he works, and as far as how he works with us and how we work for him. He works fast and he works productively, and overall it was a great experience. We recorded the album in three different batches in blocks of five songs at a time, and then each time we'd recorded a block of five we'd go back to the drawing board and try to write better songs than the previous five. Basically we were just trying to better ourselves every time we went back to the studio. We ended up recording it in Nashville at Blackbird Studios, so that was cool because it was a very Beatles-themed studio. That gave everyone inspiration, coming into the studio and then having John Lennon on the wall. It was a good way to start. Other than that, I think we worked pretty hard on this album. With this album, every song found its sound. I'm really proud of this one.
Are The Beatles a musical influence?
Yeah. Growing up I was a huge Beatles fan, and I still am a huge Beatles fan. I think they did pretty much everything when it comes to music; they did blues, they did rock, they did country, they did pop - they basically covered all the bases. I think The Beatles wrote the best songs we'll ever hear. Certainly any time I need to listen to something that's inspiring, I definitely listen to The Beatles. I preferred John Lennon's style of writing; I loved his solo albums. There's certainly a wealth of songs to pick from to gain inspiration. By no means will I ever be comparable to a band like that or will I ever write anything that's even remotely as good as a Beatles song, but certainly their inspiration makes my songwriting better.
How did Brendan O'Brien come to produce?
I told my manager that I would like to speak with Brendan. Luckily I was in L.A. at the time and so was he, and he said yes, that he would have a meeting with me. We met in a coffee shop, and we sat down for about an hour. We spoke; I said "We'd like you to produce the album", and he said he would love to work on the album. He basically told me to just start sending him demos. I got back in my car, phoned the band and told them we got Brendan O'Brien, and nobody believed me. Eventually I guess we were in Nashville in February or March 2010, and we were doing some recording sessions for some tracks. He just basically took every song that we had and improved them - it just took us to the next level. As a good producer, I don't think you're supposed to write songs and I don't think you're supposed to change things completely from what they are. As a good producer, you're supposed to bring the best out of a band and that's what Brendan did.
How did Brendan attempt to draw the best out of Seether?
We'd basically sit there and work on a song, and he'd say "Well, that part of the song is great. Maybe we can make the next part of the song a little more interesting by maybe changing the guitar line" or vice versa. He tried to make it as interesting as possible for the listener. He will find something that he likes about a song and he'll keep that element, and then he'll just expand upon that element. That's really his approach to producing. It was really interesting because we even started paying attention to the way we write songs because of that. We would start off writing a song in a certain way, and then ask Brendan for his input. We started completely adapting our songwriting process to accomodate what Brendan was gonna say, which ultimately I think made us write better songs as well. He can sing, he can play guitar, he can play drums. He can do anything; he'll sit down and work on any instrument with you. That's the most important part of being a producer, is to have that really good musical ear and be able to keep the integrity of a song, but make it more interesting.
When Seether decides to record a follow-up to 'Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray', will Brendan O'Brien definitely be on the list of potential producers to work with?
Yeah, without a doubt. As far as we're concerned, we've found the producer we want to work with. I pray we'll never have to find somebody else. I'm sure he really had a good time working with us as much as we had a good time working with him, so I think next time it won't even be the question of finding a producer. It'll just be making sure that he's available.
On 'Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray''s tracks, you generally don't scream as much as you did in the past. Is there a reason for that musical shift?
Well, yeah. I didn't feel like I wanted to scream as much on this album. I wrote a bunch of songs that were real heavy and real screamy, but I just didn't feel like they would fit this album - it wasn't what I wanted to put out this time. I'm not gonna throw in screams just for the sake of having them. It just felt like it wasn't appropriate this time. There's certainly parts on the album where there's one or two good screams on there, but the whole point of this wasn't to make one of those albums. I was trying to express myself by not having to get juvenile with it so there's almost no screaming, but having said that, the next album might just be full of it. I can never tell. It just so happens that this time screaming wasn't generally the right approach.
Have you felt any pressure to include screams in Seether songs in the past?
No, not personally. I certainly felt like I was angry and that was the only way I could express it. It was more of a therapy rather than trying to figure out a way... It's just one of those things; you can scream or you can use words, and on this album I wanted to use words rather than just resort to the familiarity of screaming because as much as I enjoy doing it, it wasn't gonna serve a purpose. On past Seether albums I only screamed where I felt they were necessary.
"By no means will I ever write anything that's even remotely as good as a Beatles song."
In terms of clean vocals, who are your influences?
First of all, I'd say Kurt Cobain was a bigger source than the whole Seattle scene. Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, that whole crowd. I like any band that I believe is melodic and is good at it; I'm a huge Tool fan, I love the Deftones. I'm quite a fan of female singers actually because I feel what they're doing melodically. There isn't necessarily one particular person I listen to all the time now, but I would say I'm pretty much influenced by everyone around me and anyone who might sing in any band in any kind of musical scene. Someone might play me a pop song, but then again it could be a Slipknot track that I like the vocals on. If any band is passionate in the vocals, then I might be a fan of it.
Are there certain female singers you enjoy?
PJ Harvey I would say is probably my favourite. There's many songs though where I just find the female vocals to be really quite soothing, and just really creative.
You said how you felt as though the songs on 'Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray' didn't call for screaming. How did you compliment the generally more clean singing on the album with your guitar playing?
Basically the vocals come last - I always write the guitar parts first. I try to fit a vocal to whatever the music is, and I usually try to sense the emotion of the music and then incorporate the lyrics and the melody into that. My guitar playing hasn't necessarily changed, but I think the vocals might've changed for the playing because again, the riffs and the music come first. Sometimes a vocal idea might come in, but sometimes I'll just work on music for a couple of weeks and not have any vocal ideas. I remember as a kid I used to write songs and just on the spot write the vocal parts, but these days I just focus on the music first. I focus on making the guitar work as interesting as possible before I even attempt a vocal. It's a little easier to put a good vocal over some good music than it is to put some good music over a good vocal.
Is there a certain place 'Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray' is coming from?
I don't know if there's one particular place, but again it draws from my experience. It's all really based on things I've gone through and things I have to get out of my system. Again, there's not really any particular one place. I guess the idea of this album was to understand that just because you're afraid of being alone, that doesn't make it ok to stick around for the sake of it. I've been in that situation with friends and girlfriends - people I've been in relationships with - where it's been apparent from the start that you just hang onto them. You can't really tell why, but you hang onto them anyway. It's just a parasitic relationship for everybody involved.
So singing these tracks was a cathartic experience?
Yeah. Every time I record an album, it's certainly a therapeutic process. It's a way to get things out of my system. If I didn't have that outlet, then I'd find it more difficult to live a somewhat more regular life. Sometimes it's difficult dealing with the issues I deal with as far as songs go though, so yeah, recording an album is always therapeutic. It saves me $140 a week on counselling (laughs).
Do you ever find it difficult to draw on issues to write about, or are there plenty of things you can write about?
Thankfully I've surrounded myself - I guess my entire life - by a bunch of morons, so there's always fodder for songwriting. I don't think that one song ever deals with any situation enough. I think sometimes situations that inspired a song requires more than one song, if it's that much of an influential thing. To capitalise on that in a song, one can never deal with it in one take. I just keep mining issues that I have from thirty-two years of life. Sometimes the issues are more recent and sometimes they're a little older, but thank God I haven't run out of things yet.
In what ways is 'Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray' a definite progression from 'Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces'?
I would say we approached this one more melodically than the previous one. I think we took a really long, hard look at the songs, and we worked on each song until we thought it was something that was superior to anything else we'd done. The whole focus on this album was to outdo the last one - and I think we do every time - but I think really there is just no real reason for why it's better than the last one. By the same token though, a lot of the time we wanted to make the guitars a little bit more heavy. You have the juxtaposition of a melodic vocal line and a heavy guitar, and I think that was the focus here. I love heavy music, but Brendan is the kind of producer who likes to have melodic vocals over heavy music. That was our only approach with this one, was to be a little bit more clear with the vocals and think a little bit more out of the box.
Would you say there is a balance between delving into new musical territory but not making a complete 180 degrees shift?
I think with any album you do you have to be creative, but you also have to retain the elements of whatever first attracted people to your band. Having said that, every time you write a song there's still your band's vibe on the song. Whichever people were attracted to the band in the first place, they should hopefully be along for the ride. You experiment and you try to broaden old fans' horizons, and you try to attract new fans. It's one of those things. I think we've definitely managed to maintain a balance. I was quite mindful of that as well writing the album, because again, you don't want to alienate people and you don't want them to think of the band as recycling older stuff. I would say that we covered all the bases on the album.
"With this album, every song found its sound. I'm really proud of this one."
You've said how the guitars are heavier on 'Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray'. Is there anything else you'd say about the guitars on the album, compared to previous Seether albums?
Overall, I think the idea was to make the guitars heavy and interesting, and then from there add vocals to the songs. I think we spent a lot of time on the sound finding the right balances, and finding the right tone for each song. When we found a certain sound that we liked, we kept that in some cases - it didn't necessarily change with every song. If it wasn't broken, we didn't fix it. If we found something that we liked and we all agreed that it was the best sound, then we kept that. From the drum beat to the bass line to the guitar work to the vocals, the main focus was how to keep the listener interested. That's why it took so long as well.
One of your favourite tracks on 'Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray' - "Tonight" - nearly didn't make it onto the album.
Yeah. We had basically finished recording the album, and had two studio days left to do overdubs and so on to make sure everything was polished. I went ahead and showed the band the song on the way to the studio and everyone freaked out, so I went into the studio and laid down guitars and vocals for it. We brought the drums back into the studio and laid down drums - we recorded it over those two days. I'm glad it's on there; I think it's a hopeful song and I think it's a positive song. Sometimes songs go unnoticed and fall through the cracks during the process, and you become overwhelmed by it. This one was very much in danger of that happening, so I'm glad it was saved at the eleventh hour. Brendan's the kind of guy that likes to record strong material, even if it means a long day in the studio or whatever.
A Muse-influenced track features on the album too, titled "Roses".
I'm a Muse fan, and I think there's certainly a small ode to Muse on that song musically. I don't know whether or not vocally I could ever do anything as great as they do. When you try to tap into an influence like Muse, I think it makes a song more interesting.
Why did Seether decide to title 'Holding Onto Strings Better Left To Fray' after lyrics from the track "Here And Now"?
Actually, the lyrics from "Here And Now" are taken from the album title. I'd already come up with the album title about a year ago. I just took the title and incorporated it into the lyrics. I've never done that before, so that was interesting. I really liked the way the title sounded, so incorporated it into "Here And Now" because of that.
What do you feel the future holds for Seether? What does the band hope to achieve in the future?
That's an interesting question, because you never really know man. We hope that with every album we become more successful, and that the fanbase grows that much more. We don't really have any lofty goals or anything; we don't wanna win Grammies or anything like that. We want to keep doing this as long as we can. There's not a better job in the world, so long as we keep it...
Thanks for speaking to me Shaun.
No problem man. Thank you very much.
I hope Seether's new album does well. All the best.
Interview by Robert Gray
"This time we worked with Brendan O'Brien, and he's by far the best producer we've ever worked with."