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 prearranged 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 frontforward 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.”