Seether's Shaun Morgan: Going Acoustic Is More Than Comfortable

artist: Seether date: 08/14/2006 category: interviews
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Seether's Shaun Morgan: Going Acoustic Is More Than Comfortable
Shaun Morgan is the intriguing mainman with Seether, a trio (guitarist Pat Callahan recently left) from South Africa playing a dark and sinewy style of guitar rock that has been classified as post-grunge. As a singer, however, Morgan brings a bigger quality to the band's music, a sense of purpose and passion delivered up in his strangely hypnotic and wounded vocals. The band has opted to put out a live acoustic CD as their third release, a terse and resonant document called One Cold Night. Accompanied by a DVD of the performance, the CD serves up signature songs like "Broken" and "Gasoline" and covers various tracks from the Disclaimer albums and from Karma and Effect. One Cold Night signifies guitarist Pat Callahan's departure (Morgan, bassist Dale Stewart and drummer John Humphrey felt his presence was hindering the band's forward musical momentum) and a new era as a re-configured trio (their initial lineup). This is a bare bones, naked rendering of Morgan's most haunting compositions and here, in this conversation, he serves up an equally frank and stripped-down opinion on who he is and what he does. Ultimate-Guitar: The new CD is a bit of a strange choice for a third release - it's live, it's acoustic, and there no new songs here. What made you decide to release this sort of record? Shaun Morgan: A couple reasons - first reason being that we've fans ask us for a long time to do an acoustic album. So it's something we always knew we would eventually approach, whether or not there was all new material or not never really discussed. What basically happened was, this whole thing, the whole process was sped up when we did the Sno-Core Tour and I got sick. For three shows I sat down and did acoustic sets. Basically we were sandwiched between Flyleaf and Shinedown for those three shows. The crowd was really responsive and really receptive to the acoustic set as opposed to the normal distorted one. Our monitor guy took a feed from the front board and then sent it to the record company. And the record company started getting really excited about it. Then we figured, of course, we could do an acoustic album maybe toward the end of the year. We'll go into the studio and we'll re-record everything acoustic maybe or write some new songs. They were more into us doing a live acoustic album. At first it was kind of a daunting thing because live acoustic, first of all, is too?We're obviously comfortable in a live environment, but not as far as recording goes. We were obviously comfortable with acoustic, but not as far as necessarily putting it out onto an album. So we went into town and we basically just hammered it out and the first set was for the audio. And the second set was for like additional angles, I guess, cameras and stuff. It snowballed into something a lot bigger than we ever thought it was gonna be. We kind of didn't take it too seriously when we went in. We finished, and we kind of thought, "Oh, we'll see what happens." It's a very common thing when you go into and do one of those sets and everyone kind of goes, "Mmmm, well, it's not as cool as we thought it would be." So luckily and through the graces of somebody, we managed to make it sound not too embarrassing, make it look not too bad. They're putting it out and it's exciting because the label sees it as a major release. For us, it's kind of like an in-between release. I don't think there should be a formula of how you release stuff and when you release stuff. I think it should be done like the old guys have done it. Like how Johnny Cash would release whatever he felt like or how Bob Dylan or The Beatles or Rolling Stones. All these bands just released whatever they felt like, when they felt like it. And really, it is about the band and what we want to do first of all. That's ideally the goal. We're excited about it. We're real proud of it. It's something different from us and we want to have an album out every year now. Whether or not it's viable to think we can have an album of completely new material out, it is viable to think that instead of having a full album, we could have an EP of six songs or a live album or a cover album or an acoustic album or whatever. That's our focus right now, just to keep bringing out music.
"It's something different from us and we want to have an album out every year now."
Did some songs lend themselves to the acoustic versions better than others? That was just trial and error from years and years of going to radio stations and playing acoustic songs. Going in with three that probably worked and they ask for six. So you have to really figure out which ones are gonna work in the future and which aren't. There were some that we specifically did because they don't sound like they could work acoustic. That was the point, too, for one or two of the songs. To take some of the heavier songs, which were originally written on acoustic anyway. Because I write a lot of my songs on acoustic guitar and then take it into the band. Then once the band hears it, we beef it up and we record it obviously. But it's easier on an acoustic because you can sit in a hotel room, you can sit backstage, or you can sit in the back of a bus. These ideas, whether you hear them as the ultimate ending of distorted and heavy or whether you hear them as exactly what they are while you're playing them on the acoustic, you never really know what it's gonna end up like. But you end up after tour having reams and reams and reams of tape with little snippets of ideas on them - and sometimes whole songs. But they all come from an acoustic. It's very, very rare that you write the song with the band, first of all, because we all live in different parts of the country. And secondly, if everyone's in a good mood, something's gonna happen. If one's person's in a bad mood, the whole day sucks. So it was very tough for us to write as a band before because there was always one guy who was in a bad mood. The point is that now that it's a different environment and I'm sure it's gonna be a lot more productive. That's the whole point of this album. Those songs that don't sound like they could be played acoustic we did because that's where they really came from. Can you talk about some of those tracks? Some of the songs are actually I think only gonna be available for download. One's called "Burrito" and one's called "Needles." I think those two are the ones that didn't make it to the album. Because being in the band, I've seen the album and I have it lying around somewhere, but I only got a copy of it three or four days ago. These are songs that are generally considered to be our heaviest songs on the albums and the live set, but both did come from an acoustic writing process. So it's kind of weird. And I think it's interesting to bring it back to its bare bones and say, "Okay, this is where it started." Contrary to what you hear, this is how a lot of these songs are found and built upon to reach the loud phase. Why were those two songs not included? I don't know, man. We specifically picked a 14-song set because we've always wanted a 14-song album. I think it had a lot to do with the record company. Even though it's not all the songs we wanted to put on it, at least it's 12 of the 14. For us, that's close enough. It's not quite there, but it'll do in the meantime. Then the downloadable versions of "Burrito" and "Needles" are close to what the songs probably sounded like when you first wrote them? Yeah, pretty much. All these songs, if you can imagine taking away the bass and drums, then that's what these songs would be. That's where they all started from. With the exception of a song like "Gasoline." That's when we were in a soundcheck in South Africa about five, six years ago. I was bored and I started playing the riff, and that was when our drummer came in and the song was born. That's a very rare occasion that something like that does happen. But everything else pretty much came from an acoustic. It's interesting that "Broken" was originally an acoustic that was made more electric - and now it's coming full circle back to an acoustic again. Yeah, obviously we had to include a song like that on the album. But also it's important for us to showcase the song in its original form because, once again, the version that was far more in the limelight, was very produced, very geared toward a certain sound. Very geared toward being based on a soundtrack, putting a lot of strings, a lot of dramatic sort of stuff. Quite simply, the song came from the demo we have that I still have from when we first wrote it. It doesn't even have drums on it. That song, it is important for us to reclaim something we felt we lost for a while through no fault of our own. Because of ignorance, I guess, or naivet? on people's parts, there was the misconception that we hadn't written the song. That's a bummer when people just assume something. So anyway, we just did it again. I think both versions are good versions. I prefer the original version, but you can't deny the fact that the newer version helped us out a lot.
"It's very rare that you write the song with the band, because we all live in different parts of the country."
When you did One Cold Night, did you know that Pat (Callahan) would be leaving? And secondly, now that Pat is gone, do you think the material you'll write in the future will take a shift or change in its sound? The first question, we didn't know Pat was leaving at all. There had been a lot of tension between him and myself for a long time. But it was always something that as friends and people that were living on a bus for so long, we could always sort one thing out or another. But ultimately, the man couldn't be happy where we were no matter what we tried. So hopefully he's back home and happy. Secondly, the thing is about the music, honestly I think there's gonna be more freedom then there was last time because I don't have to deal with an ego anymore. I write songs and I write sometimes two or three parts to the songs. Whether or not I use them or not is immaterial. But then if we do use the second part and it wasn't written by the other person, then the other person would get offended. That's not the point. The point should be what is better for the song. As a result, we got criticized by him for doing the newer version of "Broken," for adding strings to a song, for many things. All along the line, a misconception of what bands have to do. His opinion was, we didn't have any integrity. His opinion was we didn't have any street credibility, which I think in both cases, is the complete opposite. For example, a song like "The Gift" almost didn't come about because I went and showed the band three times, and all three times I was shot down - by the same person. Eventually, I came back and said, "Look, here's the song. Just check it out." And so it was born. What pissed me off is that I had to ask permission to play one of my songs in the band that I started. It's not at all that dynamic. It should never have been me saying, "Hey, do you mind if?" It should be like, "Hey, check this out. Let's do it." If all of us disagree on something, that's fine. That's a different story. But John and I have spoken about it, and Dale. We're all music fans. We're all fans of pop music, fans of rock music, fans of heavy music, fans of everything. We're also fans of melody, fans of writing songs. And that's our focus. The stuff we're working on right now, the stuff I've been writing, it's different. There's gonna be some heavy stuff, obviously, because that's still part of who we are. But you know, there's gonna be some stuff where we put some piano in it or some strings or whatever, and in some cases both. I can't see how that's a bad thing. We still have the other side of us, but we now have the freedom to say, "Well, here's this side." We can add things in to color in a song - that's still the song. Whether or not the other instruments are there is not the point. We don't have someone who has a strong negative opinion about everything. We have three really positive guys in fact and the exact opposite of what we had before. That makes the writing process a hell of a lot easier because, first of all, there's no restrictions anymore. And when I said that before in interviews, that's just smoke and mirrors. You can't say, "Yeah, this other guy's a douche because I can't play what I want to." You know what I mean? But the point is, now there is no naysaying. There's no negativity. There's no, "You can't do this. You can't do that. That's not a Seether song." There's none of that. And that is really refreshing because that's why we started this band, to be able to write music and to play it the way you want to play it. Not play it according to some rules of credibility. Without meaning to kick someone while he's down, some of Pat's playing on the new DVD/CD was less than stellar. His timing was sketchy and oftentimes he was just doubling the guitar parts you were playing. I've always thought there were two kinds of guitarists. There is the one kind of guitarist that can play rhythm and there's the one that can pretty much shred because shredding doesn't really have timing. I've always been the kind of guitarist that's more into the rhythm of the song and the structure of the song and the melody of the song. That's always been my focus. And it's never been important to me to say, "Look how fast I can play." Pat's shredding was to the point where I would sit there sometimes in awe and go, "Wow, maybe I should learn how to do that stuff." But ultimately, leave that stuff to Yngwie. You know, I don't care about it. It's an interesting observation and coming from somebody from a complete outside source, that is not the first time that has been said. There are definitely times that I can think back on when that was an issue. What's cool about being a three-piece now is that we've come out as a three-piece and we've played like that for about a month and a half. The first comment has always been, "Look, I don't want to piss anybody off, but we don't miss Pat." First of all, that's not gonna piss us off. It's gonna make us feel better. And secondly, that's kind of cool because a lot of the time my parts are just being doubled. And a lot of the times my parts weren't being doubled like I would double them. That's a tough thing. The guy's a great player, he's a great guy. He just wasn't happy. Sometimes I think some people start believing they're a little better than they are. The point is, we are now much tighter and much more solid because all three of us play the same way. John is a super-tight drummer; Dale's very tight with John. And I can be a little loose on either side, but I know exactly when the cues are coming and that kind of stuff. What's awesome is we can do so much more as far as the shows go between songs and all that kind of stuff. Like you said, the timing thing - there aren't any of those issues now. We're all really proud of what we've done. I know that the guy who left wasn't very happy that we didn't replace him because that's even more insulting. You've got to remember that we started off as a three piece and we got signed as a three-piece band. Then we were strong-armed to a degree to hire a touring guitarist. At the time, just coming over, just being green, going, "Cool, we just got this record deal! We've gotta do everything we can!" We changed our name, we did a whole bunch of things. The first guy we had we didn't like at all. Then he left the band and we were told, "Look, if we don't get another guy in the next week, the European promo date is canceled, the tour." So we said, "Geez, we have to get someone." And what's wonderful with what we've done now and the point we've reached in our careers and due to the success we've had, now if someone phones me up and says I need to get another guitarist, I can go tell them exactly what they can do with that idea. We know we've done it and we've said it all along. We've said it now for four-and-a-half, five years. It's amazing. It's great. The first couple of shows, I crapped myself because I had to do all the stuff again. I had to relearn some of the parts I had handed off because I felt like I had to give him something to do. It was very tough giving up those parts originally. It wasn't really tough because of an ego thing. It was just tough because I love playing them. But this is great because it's three of us now. The album comes out tomorrow and it's got Pat on it and that's history. It's something I'm still proud of. We don't know how it would have turned out any other way. All we know is the three guys we are now in this band, we really feel like we have the freedom to be able to do better things than we did before.
"What pissed me off is that I had to ask permission to play one of my songs in the band that I started."
Now that you're the sole guitarist, more of that musical focus will be on you. Can you describe the guitars you used on the album. We just basically went into straight into DIs. It's definitely way easier just to DI something because there's none of the feedback. It's amazing how easy it is to have an acoustic guitar feedback on you, especially when you're in a live environment. I don't use any pedals. I don't think Pat used any effects. Dale just uses his straight-up Schechter. He's a man of simple needs. He's not really a tough guy to please, I think. We use Alvarez guitars. I'm unsure of the make so I'm texting my friend and he'll let me know. I always get in trouble because I'm not a big gear head. I play guitars really hard. I've owned PRS's, and I've owned Fenders and Gibsons and stuff like that. I play Schechters because I think they sound better. They're fun and I can throw them around. My guitars take a real beating. If you went to my guitar tech, you'd see he's got quite a large selection of spare parts. You get caught up in the moment and the passion is more important to me than the way I look when I play. But acoustically, we love those guitars. They sound really great. Dale's are both Schechter basses because he's never really been one for using acoustic basses live for some reason. He's a man who's easy to please, but sometimes he's really stuck in his ways. He does own an acoustic bass, I just don't know where it is. I don't think he does either. I think I might have it somewhere in storage. What amps do you use live? We just use Mesa Boogie. I use Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier and I use a chorus effect, I use a noise suppressor, and I use a delay for solos. And then I have a Zakk Wylde wah. Pat used to use Line 6. I used Line 6 a long time ago in South Africa. Being the only guitarist, I didn't have to go out and buy a bunch of effects. I just get confused with all the buttons. I have so much to do as it is. The last thing I have time for is to make sure I hit the right button in the sequence of 35 that are below me. I just got overwhelmed by those buttons. We're really simple. I just bought a tape echo or a delay echo. It's an Akai pedal. It's real time recording and looping. I don't know if you've seen the KT Tunstall video. She starts tapping on the drum and makes a drum sound. Then she starts strumming the strings while it keeps going. And you keep layering layer upon layer of recording. That's kind of geared toward what we do in the acoustic sets. The new thing I now have to learn in order to completely eradicate the need for a second guitarist ever is record one part as I'm playing it, and then save it and store it for when I do a solo. We're not a band that believe that much in tapes and ProTools rigged on stage. Too many bands do that. We adopt the Foo Fighters approach of, "I'd rather suck than sound like the record every night." That's very much more our opinion. There are so many bands out there that use tape now. In fact, we're so disgusted by that trend that we're gonna start a new rule that every time we tour, the band we tour with are not allowed to use any tape. It's just ridiculous. What happened to bands playing music? Now it seems Milli Vanilli is the norm and that's kind of scary. Bands like Hendrix and the Who used to play music. Did you take anything from them as trios? Yeah, we listened to Cream songs when I was a kid, Jimi Hendrix songs.
"I've always been the kind of guitarist that's more into the rhythm, the structure and the melody of the song."
Cream was big in South Africa? I think the oldies, the hits like "Sunshine of Your Love," we used to do that when I was like 13 years old. We did "Foxy Lady" when I was 13. We did Nirvana songs. But there's always been something beautiful about it. Even bands with just one guitarist, it doesn't necessarily have to be three. But the three-piece thing is really cool as far as like Silverchair. And even more recently, Wolfmother is garnering a lot of attention. These days I'm so critical of these artsy fartsy, just flavor-of-the-month kinds of bands. I do reserve judgment until I've actually decided I've seen enough or whatever. I downloaded a performance they did recently at the Palms recently. It was interesting. The guitar was out of tune, but it was rock and roll. They have a lot more than most of the bands you see today. I have to respect them for that even though they think we're not cool enough to tour with. There's this bullshit political history that we have and this band has only been around for I don't know how many months. We were just offended because we were told we weren't cool enough to tour with him. You're on the tour now with Three Days Grace, Staind, and Soil. Do those bands complement what you do? Can you learn from bands like those? It works a hell of a lot better than most of the tours. Take for example the last tour we did. We went on tour with two bands that I really didn't like. We had done so many tours with bands we really enjoy listening to and really get on with really well. For the first time in our lives we experienced a tour - we toured for a month - with two bands that came out with a wrong attitude and created the wrong impression from day one. That really got us off to a bad foot. It was a sober tour for me, so I wasn't out partying all the time. And it was interesting to watch how quickly an unknown band's ego can change. I've seen it many times, but it was interesting to watch from a completely sober, completely distant view. In complete opposite to that, the Three Days Grace guys we're friends with. The Staind guys we're good friends with. We often get compared to Staind, which I think has got its merits. But we're different types of bands. Three Days Grace, obviously, they do their own thing, too. It's gonna be cool. It's an easy tour for us. It's a tour where we don't have to sell tickets. We just have to show up and play, which is kind of cool. We've done a year-plus hard, hard touring. But it's gonna be fun. They're good guys. I like the music of Staind and Three Days Grace. I wasn't sure if it was Soil or Black Stone Cherry, but I knew there was one or the other. Black Stone Cherry is a relatively new band and Soil I've known for a while. It's interesting. It's gonna be cool. What's gonna be interesting is that we'd only been doing acoustic. You'll be doing the acoustic set the whole tour? Yeah. We figured, hell, we might do an acoustic mostly and end up with an electric couple of songs at the end or something. It's based on the acoustic album. That's the whole reason why we're going out. 2006 Steven Rosen
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