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Concert preview: Seether adds melody to the metal

Published September 9, 2014 9:25 am

Interview • South African band brings its post-grunge act to The Complex.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Many post-grunge acts have achieved momentary stardom, only to trip over their Nirvana affectations and disappear moments later into the bargain bin of obscurity and irrelevance.

Seether, on the other hand, has been at it since 1999, and as their sixth studio album, "Isolate and Medicate," demonstrates, the South African stalwarts are still doing it quite well.

While bassist Dale Stewart concedes that he and bandmates Shaun Morgan (vocals, guitars), John Humphrey (drums) and newbie Bryan Wickmann (guitars) — who will all play a Sept. 10 show at The Complex in Salt Lake City — do indeed worship at the altar of Kurt Cobain & Co., he attributes much of Seether's success and much of its current sound to its willingness to draw musical inspiration as much from '60s pop acts as from any '90s band who wore flannel and hailed from Seattle.

Stewart called from a stop on the Rockstar Uproar Festival in Peru, Ill., to discuss, among other things, Seether's legacy, straying from the alt-metal formula by focusing on melody, the new album and a memorable-in-a-fuzzy-sort-of-way previous stop in Salt Lake City, with its old bar membership laws.

You're playing a Rockstar Uproar Festival show today; what are your expectations for those shows?

I think pretty good, man. I mean, so far so good. Yesterday, the show was really well-attended and it went off pretty smoothly. It's a fun festival to do. We've done this before — we did one in 2011 and went out on tour with Avenged Sevenfold. We kind of jumped on this one because it's a pretty-well run, pretty well-put-together festival. And it's also nice to come together with a couple of bands and put together kind of a package and just make it really desirable for people to come out and see, instead of just one band, see a bunch of bands in one day.

Does being one of several big bands playing on a bill require any kind of adjustment from shows where you're the only headliner?

I wouldn't say there's really any adjustments for us, except one thing we do have to adjust is the setlist. We only have 60 minutes [per night] on this specific tour, so it becomes a case of "What aren't we going to play?" I guess it's a good problem to have. We've had I don't even know how many songs that were singles off the albums. So it's just 60 minutes of singles. No time to play deep album cuts. But it's cool — get up there, play all singles, have a good time, and boom — 60 minutes are done.

You've been part of this band since '99 when it was known as Saron Gas; how does it feel knowing you've been part of this band for 15 years now and you're still going strong?

Yeah, I guess … you know, it's kind of like a marriage in a weird way. It's a really long time. It's by far my longest relationship. But, yeah, it is. It's such a part of my life and I'm so intertwined with it. It's kind of odd to me to imagine life before the band or being without the band. So, it's a big part of my identity now, and probably always will be.

How has the band evolved over the years, from "Disclaimer" to "Isolate and Medicate"?

I think we've grown up a little bit. I think it's a natural evolution that every band goes through. I'd like to think that we've become better songwriters, and that we think a little bit more cleverly when writing songs. Working a bit more efficiently. I think the big thing is we've grown up — well, I'd like to think we've grown up. You might find some people who disagree.

Various descriptions of the band call you post-grunge or alt-metal; how would you define your style?

You know, we just call ourselves and consider ourselves a rock band. There's so many genres and subgenres, it can all get just a little confusing sometimes. We just consider ourselves a rock band, because we just play rock music. Sometimes it's heavy, sometimes it might be acoustic, but it's all in that rock genre. So we just call ourselves a rock band.

Who are some of the bands that have influenced you? People bring up Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Deftones, Nine Inch Nails — do you consider that an accurate list? Who would you add?

Absolutely — and the list is huge. We're first and foremost fans of music. The grunge scene was really influential for us. We arrived at the sort of age when that hit; we were teenagers and that music really spoke to us and influenced us largely, and made you want to play in a band. One of the cool things about Nirvana was that it was now possible to play in a band because you didn't have to be able to shred like [Metallica's] Kirk Hammett to play guitar in a band. You could know four chords and get up onstage. So I really feel like that brought music to the common man in a lot of ways. [Our influences are] really everything from Sepultura to Explosions in the Sky. We listen to a lot of music and, like I said, we're really just big fans.

Did you pattern your bass playing or guitar playing after anyone specific?

Not really. I used to be a guitar player first, and then I had some friends that had a band who needed a bass player and asked if I could play. So I said, you know, "I'll give it a shot." And I just really enjoyed playing bass. I've been playing it ever since. I don't think I really try to emulate anyone, or sound a certain way. I'm just trying to remain melodic, when I can, and trying to stay tasteful. I feel like knowing when not to play and knowing when not to overplay is one of the most important things. I just try to keep that in mind. Just pay attention to the drummer and the drums and try to keep it melodic. And whatever happens, happens.

It's interesting to hear you bring up the word "melodic," specifically because one thing that seems to separate Seether from both its influences and contemporaries is your focus on melody and harmony. Is that a conscious thing within the band?

Certainly. It's always been important to us to have that sense of melody even when the music gets heavy. We don't want to lose that. Or, at least, when it's a really heavy part, juxtapose that to a melodic part, which, basically, will let them intensify one another in a way. It's like contrasting colors, in a way. So yeah, it's been very important to us. At least for us, we find that's what makes music memorable. You go back in music to, like, The Beatles — their melodies were amazing. Or even a band like Nirvana — they were just basically heavy pop songs that had great melody. That's why people gravitated toward that stuff. So yeah, it's certainly something that's important to us and something we try to achieve on every album.

Tell me about making your new album, "Isolate and Medicate."

The process actually went really quickly, really smooth. The actual recording only took a little over two weeks, which is really fast. We've never actually made an album that quickly before. We worked with the producer Brendan O'Brien for the second time now — on our last two albums. And it was just really streamlined. I think we've gotten used to being in the studio and gotten better at playing over the years. Brendan is a great producer who's really good at getting the best out of us. So, yeah, I just feel like it was a really streamlined process and I think we're all on same page. We all went in there and we didn't mess around. We had a job to do and a vision of what we wanted it to be, so we just went in and pretty much knocked it out. We're really happy with the way it turned out. This is my favorite album that we've done. I enjoy the songs, I like the energy of the album, I like the way it flows. It was a fun one to make. It all came together the way I think it was supposed to.

I have to ask about "Same Damn Life": I hear the opening riff, and it invokes the '60s song "I Will Follow Him" by Little Peggy March. Was that intentional? How did that come about?

Well, initially it wasn't intentional. When we realized, "Oh wait, that's THAT song," that was actually hilarious. And then we were like, we have to put that in there. It's kind of a throwback, kind of a playful thing. We like to have fun with it and not be serious all the time — like the song "Fur Cue." It's funny. If anything, it makes you want to keep it and put it in there. So we got in touch with their people and said, "Look, it's this song," and we worked out the publishing rights and everything, and "Could we use the rest of that?" And we just ran with it.

The backing vocals, which you contribute to, seem to be a prominent part of Seether's songs; is that something you focus on, something you enjoy?

Yeah, it is. I think backing vocals are a great way to make a song more interesting. If you can throw interesting harmonies over a normal … I don't want to say "mundane" melody, but I feel like backing vocals can make a melody pop in a song, or make the lead vocal really pop out. You want to be careful, you don't want it go get to the point to where it gets in the way, or it's too over the top or overwhelms the lead vocal. But we love using backing vocals. Live, they're very challenging to do. We've never been a band to use any backing tracks or any kind of tape [when performing] live. And that's fine. It's a challenge, it makes it interesting. It's certainly a big part of our music. It's been working for us and we'll stick with it.

Has the band dynamic changed with the addition of Bryan Wickmann as the lead guitarist?

Certainly live it has. Bryan really brings a lot to the table. He's a great player for one, but it's also having another body onstage. I think, just visually, it looks better — having another guy up there with long hair, rocking out … I think it really makes the show more interesting to watch and gives the show more energy. And then the extra guitar, the extra voice — it really thickens up the sound a lot. As far as the band personally, it didn't really change much. He was our guitar tech before, so he was already in the organization, part of the group, one of our buddies out on road. So that part of it hasn't changed at all, which is nice because that's often the hardest part, is trying to incorporate someone into the organization. And that's another person to get along with, and it's, "Are we going to get on? Are we going to jell on a personal level as well as on a musical level?" That's a challenge. But it was a really smooth transition with Bryan.

Even though the Uproar Festival isn't coming to Utah this year as it often has, you still fit Salt Lake City into your schedule. Has Utah been a good stop for the band? Have you had any interesting experiences here?

Yeah, actually, I love Salt Lake a lot. I find it interesting that — not at all bars — but a lot of the bars that I've been to, you have to, technically I guess, be a member of them, you know, pay your $5 membership fee, and then you go inside, and then, I guess the beauty of that is you can smoke in there, 'cause it's a private club, so you can do what you want. I find that pretty interesting. I like to go out there drinking. One night I was out there and I stumbled into this place and discovered this amazing guitar player. He had two guitars on a stand, and he was just playing the one by hammering on chords with his right hand, and soloing over it with his left hand on a different guitar. And I don't remember the guy's name or anything, but he was just amazing. That's certainly a memory that … I don't know why that just popped in my head, but that was amazing.

ewalden@sltrib.com

Twitter: @esotericwalden —

Seether

When • Wednesday, Sept. 10, 7 p.m.

Where • The Complex, 536 W. 100 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $23 in advance, $28 day of show; http://www.showclix.com/event/3860350/tag/cslc

 

 


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