Welcome to our three-part series profiling the artists headlining the Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival. In this first installment, we feature Seether, Three Days Grace, and Art of Dying. For the complete band lineup, tour dates, and more information, visit rockstaruproar.com.
Seether (left to right)—Shaun Morgan, John Humphrey, and Dale Stewart
Photo: Clay Patrick McBride
A Front-Forward Power Trio
South Africa''s Seether has spent the past decade directing catharsis into modern rock chart success. Fronted by singer-guitarist Shaun Morgan, augmented by bassist Dale Stewart and drummer John Humphrey, Seether has toured on material collected over five Gold- or Platinum-certified albums that celebrate the command of negative space and dynamic flares exemplified by such band idols as Nirvana and Tool. Now, with the release of 2011''s Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray, Seether has captured the balance between presenting a frothing live entity and slow-burning recording artists.
Partnering with producer Brendan O''Brien (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, AC/DC, Mastodon) and sequestered at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, Tenn., Seether worked across several sessions to flesh out introspection and articulate inner demons, writing in the studio to bridge random impulses and knowing nuances [piano, strings, organ]. The result includes more clearly matured melodies, as well as a lucid representation of the band''s innate musicianship.
“He let us play our own guitars, the gear we tour with,” says Morgan. “So we were playing Schecters and Mesa Boogies … and Brendan was totally cool with everything sounding different [from a pre-arranged session of rare producer-selected guitars and immaculately miked amps]. If the song is already a good song in his mind, it doesn''t matter what you use to record it. He helps make the album sound like the band, not the producer and his $5,000 Gibsons.”
Early in the band''s career, on the 2002 album Disclaimer, Seether experienced a producer/mixer whose efforts resulted in an album that was “machine-like, robotic … so linear,” says Morgan. “It sucked the life out of the album.” Since then, the band has been driven to work increasingly hard to present a waveform that both expands and contracts, or expresses “both the light and the dark without anyone''s foolish compression shoving it all in one box,” says Morgan.
Onstage, Seether is not overly theatrical or concerned with image. The band embodies a front-forward power trio. On Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray, meanwhile, the guys and O''Brien took cues from power-pop crunch to prog embellishments and worked with the stereo field. “[Brendan] understands it''s there for a reason, so he''d pan a back-up vocal to the right or the left, and if you listen in headphones, there''s a dynamic that keeps you interested, like the albums from 20 years ago and beyond,” says Morgan. “So many albums have become guitars straight down the middle, drums down the middle, vocals down the middle, and what''s the point of having stereo if you''re going to mix it as a type of mono? Brendan was great with not doing that; we didn''t even have to say anything to him, he just thinks the way we do.”
Even live, Seether''s sound engineer works delay, pan, and volume to build what is integrally a buffeting mono experience into a stereo, stacked presentation. That''s where any manipulation ends, however. Onstage, Seether doesn''t do anything that takes away from the sonic grit and emotional volume. “We don''t push Play on any back tracks and attempt to play just like the album,” says Morgan. “We''re just three guys who get up on stage and attempt to play our best, and have the most fun doing it. We adjust the length of the cable according to stage size, plug it in, and it works. We work hard to keeps things really simple and make sure that it sounds good.”
Three Days Grace (left to right)—Brad Walsh, Adam Gontier, Neil Sanderson, and Barry Stock
THREE DAYS GRACE
Cutting Loose, Reining It In
Three Days Grace punctuated 2009 with the release of their third full-length, Life Starts Now. A determination to rise despite the ragged edges permeates the album from the title on, and the band''s newfound commitment to take what you''ve got, make the best of it, and deliver proved an integral element in recording sessions.
“I think a lot of producers and bands [right now] have made the mistake of thinking heaviness is defined by layer upon layer … but we''re huge fans of classic rock records where it was all about the musicianship between a few guys who understood you could be minimalistic but sound huge,” says Neil Sanderson, drummer/keyboardist for the Canadian band, who split their home base between Toronto and Vancouver, where Life Starts Now was recorded.
Congregating in Warehouse Studios with producer Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, Papa Roach, Daughtry, Art of Dying), Sanderson, vocalist/guitarist Adam Gontier, bassist Brad Walst, and guitarist Barry Stock set out to take advantage of the studio''s big, natural-sounding tracking rooms and room-miking to eschew shiny processing for an openness. The band, who has been together since high school, found themselves in a position that allowed them to deliver a boomy, harmony-laden sound incorporating new inspirations like electric piano, all the while tastefully informed by feeding off the energy of touring''s expanses. It''s the sound of a band cutting loose, but tempered by the knowledge of when to pull back.
“You see all these ‘metal'' drummers, and they''re just sloshing the shit out of their hi-hats. But I find over-the-top cymbals shrink the sound, so I tend to play with my hi-hats closed up, even in spots where it''s the natural tendency in rock to open it up and slosh through a part,” says Sanderson as an example. “I tend to close it up a little bit, even live, and it just cleans it up and makes it more concise, because it''s important to take into account a frequency that can compete against vocal and guitar. It''s important to be mindful of when to frame certain instruments, doing what it takes to make them pop.”
Of course, there are considerations even to these considerations. Sanderson emphasizes that Three Days Grace has always been a band who is not about overdoing it, but he''s also not against experimenting with overdriving Logic''s ES2 synthesizer or demoing breakbeats through drum modeling to potentially open some future sonic possibilities. Ultimately, however, the band aims to never be about hiding behind bells and whistles, and to never be too timid to be “guys who are a little rough around the edges, rockin'' out and releasing the emotion to make crowds go crazy!”
Art of Dying (left to right)—Greg Bradley, Jeff Brown, Jonny Hetherington, Travis Stanley, and Cale Gontier
ART OF DYING
Living It Up, In the Studio and on Tour
Art of Dying is living it up. Speaking from the road, guitarist Tavis Stanley is feeling no pain, aided by a few beers and a triumphant performance. Of course, this is par for the course for the Canadian hard rock quintet, formed in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2004. Indeed, it''s hinted at right in the band''s name.
“The phrase ‘art of dying'' comes from a longer sentence, ‘The art of dying is my life to live,'' which is saying you don''t know when you''ll pass away, so it''s all about making the most of your time here while you''re on this planet,” explains Stanley. “And we do that with our music, we do that in our show, we do that in our lives; we just basically have a good time and create the best possible scenario for ourselves and to inspire others to do the same.”
With their approach that says the glass is half-full, but still needs a refill, Art of Dying has captured their positivity-enriched, melody-borne riffage on 2011''s sophomore album, Vices and Virtues, recorded in Los Angeles with in-demand producer Howard Benson (Three Days Grace, P.O.D., Three Doors Down). Additionally, some finishing production was done in Chicago with Intoxication Records'' label head Dan Donega (of Disturbed). Building on an appreciation for the dynamics of Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Metallica, and Alice in Chains, the band–Stanley, guitarist Greg Bradley, bassist Cale Gontier, drummer Jeff Brown and vocalist Jonny Hetherington–constructed multi-part vocal harmonies atop drop-B tuning and quickened rhythms, though they weren''t afraid to throw in some ballads.
“On this record, Cale, Jonny, and I just pushed ourselves over the limit, went into the vocal room with a bottle of champagne and some beers and sang higher and harder than we''ve ever sang before,” laughs Stanley. “We also opened ourselves up to more experimentation with Howard Benson''s team. We put like an 89 [gauge], a big, fat bass string, on Jonny''s late-''70s [Gibson] Firebird, and recorded that for the heavies. And we''d do some strange stuff, like going next door to the studio to a gym and recording skipping ropes spinning through the air for a swirling, windy reverb, and then drumming rhythms on dumbbells. You can hear that in the bridge on ‘Completely,'' and there''s probably some bottles smashing in the background if you listen hard!”
Armed with an arsenal of Yamaha drums; Ampeg, Marshall, Mesa Boogie, and Bogner amps; Ernie Ball bass; plus Les Paul, Yamaha SG, Schecter, and B.C. Rich guitars; Art of Dying blended tonal concepts and vibey arrangements originally demoed to Logic or Garage Band running on a MacBook Pro. Art of Dying also recorded a duet with fellow Canadian Adam Gontier of Three Days Grace, which may see itself fully performed as the two bands tour together for the UPROAR Festival. The final result assures the stage will be alive with rousing anthems of determination.