Music News & Reviews

Seether seizes its opportunities

It's not exactly the pathway to stardom that most bands would predict or even choose.

You start your creative journey in the unlikely rock 'n' roll terrain of South Africa. A move to the United States comes when a record contract is sealed. Enter a hard-earned fan base, commercial breakthroughs and a soap opera-like offstage life. An unlikely cover tune that becomes an equally improbable hit follows. That brings you to recording sessions with one of the world's most esteemed producers.

It has, in short, been quite a ride for Seether, a band whose music falls outside specific genres of metal and grunge while packing a powerful electric wallop. We last heard the quartet on Lexington soil a little more than a year ago as an opening band at Rupp Arena for Nickelback. Seether will bring the guitar crunch of four consecutive gold-selling albums, along with radio hits Fake It and Broken, back to Rupp to headline the multi-act Z-Fest on Sunday.

"We just consider ourselves a rock band," Seether bassist Dale Stewart said. "I don't know if one really could label us, because we kind of do a little bit of everything. We've made really heavy albums. We've made some acoustic albums. Some of the music is real heavy. Some of it is quite slow. And then there's some middle-of-the-road stuff. We would probably need a couple of labels to successfully describe it all."

Stewart and lead singer Shaun Morgan formed Seether under the name Saron Gas (the Seether moniker came from the name of a 1994 single by the Chicago band Veruca Salt) in a suburb of Johannesburg during the late '90s. As aspiring artists, their ears were tuned more to the sounds of America than those of their homeland.

"Growing up in South Africa wasn't a whole lot different, I guess, than growing up in an American suburb," Stewart said. "We lived just down the road from the school. We had the church on the corner and a little grocery store nearby. I go to suburbs in the States now, and there's not that much difference.

"There were obvious differences culturally that I'm sure influenced us subliminally. But Shaun and I grew up on American and British bands. We were always a South African band that didn't quite sound South African. A lot of people didn't like us because we didn't have that typical South African band sound. But things paid off."

A move to the United States and record contract with the Wind Up label came in 2002, along with tours with acts like Evanescence. As a result, a heavily acoustic ballad called Broken was reworked as a duet for Morgan and Evanescence's singer, Amy Lee. Add an increasingly public romance between the singers, and Seether became something of a sensation onstage and off.

A trip to the Top 10 was next, courtesy of the 2005 album Karma and Effect. It chalked up three radio singles, including the chart-topping Remedy. But a perhaps inevitable crash was on the way. By 2006, the Morgan-Lee hookup was history, Seether lost its guitarist (Pat Callahan), and Morgan was in rehab, confronting alcohol addiction.

None of this derailed the band.

In 2007, Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces lived up to its title by balancing angst and release with hits like Fake It, which pretty much owned modern rock radio airwaves that fall, and Rise Above This.

"There was certainly a lot of turmoil going on as we went into Finding Beauty," Stewart said. "But turmoil can spawn good songs. It's inspiring ... but also a bit of a double-edged sword."

Then came a real curiosity. With a follow-up to Finding Beauty still in early stages of development, Seether was invited by iTunes to record a song for a 2009 Valentine's Day compilation. The band answered with an amped-up but torchy version of Careless Whisper, the '80s hit by Wham! The rendition was added to subsequent pressings of Finding Beauty and became another Seether radio smash.

"I can't help but think of all the kids born pre-1985 who think Careless Whisper is actually one of our songs," Stewart said.

Seether's next act is just now unfurling. The band is near completion of am album overseen by producer Brendan O'Brien, whose credits include Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, AC/DC, Stone Temple Pilots and Bruce Springsteen's four most recent albums.

"We work pretty well with Brendan," Stewart said. "We're a band that likes to get in there and get the job done. We don't mess around too much. Brendan is the same. He's a real no-nonsense guy with a great work ethnic.

"With Brendan, we get in the studio, work real hard and just immerse ourselves in the songs. We go home at the end of the day and feel we have accomplished a lot. And that's pretty cool."