Dale Stewart of Seether
Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces isn’t just the name of the new Seether album, it’s a metaphor for how the band currently lives their lives. It hasn’t always been this way though. Since the release of their last album a lot has happened for this band on a personal and professional level – rehab, the departure of a band member, and sadly the passing of lead singer Shaun Morgan’s brother Eugene. Through the wreckage, Morgan incredibly was able to see the light that led him out, and to write an album displaying an air of optimism, not something we’ve come to expect from Seether in the past.
With the exit of guitarist Pat Callahan, Seether moved from a quartet back to a trio, further strengthening their bond and musicianship and returning them to their roots. The change in the line-up has allowed Morgan’s creativity to run amuck which has been aided by co-conspirators Dale Stewart on bass and John Humphrey on drums. Morgan furiously wrote fifty to sixty songs for Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces and then the band as a whole was tasked with whittling them down, finishing them up and picking out the gems. What they were left with was an array of ballads, rockers, and everything in between – a much wider scope than the band had ever attempted in the past. They tried out new sounds, new instruments and most importantly, a new outlook on life – I guess you could say, the power of Eugene lives on.
Seether is currently out on the road in support of Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces with Three Days Grace. Bassist Dale Stewart took some time out of their busy tour schedule to give me the lowdown on the new album, how it all came together, the macarbe tale behind the artwork on the album, and what’s new in the world of Seether.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | November 2007
The songwriting on this album was a bit different and was said to be the results of Shaun’s new outlook on life. Can you speak to this new outlook? What is is and what the effect has been overall to the band?
In general I think everyone hopefully has a bit more of a positive outlook. Last year was quite a year for the band and a lot went down. I think we came out of that better for it. I think we’re all prouder as people and there’s a real fellowship in the band. We’re very close having been through so much together. I think that positive outlook started like “its only going to get better from here” and being excited about the album. the entire process, up until the recording part had been quite rough. When we got into the studio there was a huge relief where we all thought “okay, we’re doing it” and we got to record the album. It was definitely more of a positive vibe than in the past when it was more stressful thinking about making a good album that would sell and allow us to keep touring and hope that people didn’t forget who we were. With this one, we didn’t put that pressure on ourselves, we just wanted to make the album that we wanted to make. I think it definitely shows, especially lyrically, Shaun’s got a few kind of positive song with a positive message.
You picked the tracks from about sixty songs Shaun brought to you. How hard is it to narrow down songs like that and when he brings them to you, what stage are they in and where do you go from there with them?
Various stages, some of the songs we would rework completely, some of them are just ideas and some of them are pretty complete songs. We did a little bit of writing in the studio also, there’s a few songs that just came up when we were doing pre-production and jamming and even when we were tracking drums a song came out. It just depends, if a song comes out and we like it, it’ll make it. That’s the bottom line, if we don’t like something we’ll just stop trying to polish it and move on to something that’s working. The twelve songs on the album were kind of a no-brainer, I think everyone came forward with a list and I think everyone’s vision of what it should be and what songs should make it was very close. I think we all had more or less the same songs on our lists with the exception of two or three here and there but everyone compromised quite quickly and we chose the 12 tracks.
So any chance of those left over songs resurfacing or are they just gone forever?
There’s always b-sides for European releases or maybe a soundtrack or a playstation game, that kind of thing.
It just blows my mind that there’s fifty to sixty songs and you have to choose twelve. Its just amazing to me.
Yeah it is. Even on the last album we probably had about 25 songs for that one, of which we recorded fifteen and then twelve went on the album, so there’s always leftover songs. We never actually revisit those songs so if they don’t get released I guess they are kind of lost forever until maybe one day when we have a back catalog and dribs and drabs of those songs could be put together on a cd.
Watch Seether’s video for FAKE IT
I think that Seether has really been able to do something that not all bands can do, you have a very distinct sound where people can hear a song and automatically pick it up as a Seether song, yet, you’re not writing the same songs over and over again. Is this something that the band works towards or is it just sort of natural?
I think we did kind of set out, especially on this album, to try something a little different than we have in the past. I don’t know if we had a specific sound in mind, I think it was more of us just not limiting ourselves to anything and not saying “okay we can’t do that because that’s not OUR sound.” We just thought if it sounds cool and we want to do it, we’re going to to it. If that means putting a piano in a song, or a sitar, drum samples, whatever it may be, we just wanted to make the songs as cool as we could, in our minds at least. I think Howard Benson really allowed us to do that as well. People may say that it doesn’t sound like us but, that’s how we sound now.
I definitely think it has the signature Seether sound.
Yes, I think Shaun really does have a signature vocal style and voice and that will always give us that type of signature sound regardless of how the backing music behind the voice is sounding. I think that will always keep us sounding like Seether.
You just briefly mentioned Howard Benson. How did you end up working with him and did you seek him out or was he brought to you by the label?
He was suggested by management actually. I wasn’t really one hundred percent sure on what he had done and started doing a little bit of research and speaking to friends he’s worked with, and it just started panning out as him being the right guy for the job. He’d done the Flyleaf album, Three Days Grace and Papa Roach..he’d done all these albums that I loved and thought were great albums. I spoke to some of those bands and asked how they liked working with him and they had great things to say about him so we made the decision to go for it and put a lot of trust in him, that he would deliver something that we would be proud of and that he would share our vision for this album and be willing to make something that was not necessarily straight forward rock as we usually do. He was up for it and he did a great job. It was a lot of fun working with him, he’s a very talented guy.
Dale rockin the studio – Photo used courtesy of the Seether MySpace page
You don’t often find an interview or review for Seether that doesn’t mention that you’re from South Africa. How much does the band identify with where you came from? Is it important to you that that gets recognized?
We’re very proud of where we come from. We definitely have very real roots in South Africa and try to go there as much as we can. I do think that as a band we were very much influenced by American bands. Having grown up in a country like South Africa where when I was a little kid there was this rock radio station at night, it wasn’t even a rock station, they didn’t have a rock station, it was a pop station with a rock n roll show late at night. I figured this out when I was a kid and put it on and they’d be playing Metallica and my parents wouldn’t want you to listen to it because it was evil. So I’d lay in my room at night and listen to music and it just had this profound affect on me and made me want to play music. Even though we’re from South Africa and we’re very proud of that, our music was sparked by bands like Metallica and the grunge scene like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, and that genre. We’re the South African band that sounds American, if that makes sense.
Last year, Pat Callahan left the band and you didn’t replace him. How has that effected the band and how is it different going from a four piece to a three piece band?
It’s definitely had a profound effect, I don’t think it’s negative though. Pat is a great guitar player and really brought something to the band but we started as a three piece in South Africa and when we came over here the label thought it would be a good idea for us to get another guitar player, which we did. We had a lot of fun years playing together but I think in a way it happened for a reason. In many ways we feel really comfortable in our skin now. It’s nothing against Patty because I do love his playing but I think it allows Shaun to come out of his shell more. He did all the guitar playing on this album and I think its great, and great often in it’s simplicity. Shaun’s strength is his understanding of music and his sense of melody and that really comes through. I think maybe Shaun is the kind of guy that needs to be thrown in the deep end and it works because he will play something that just works perfectly with what he’s singing. That can be clouded by someone else’s concept of how it should sound, that’s also why I think the album sounds the way it does.
In all of the reviews I’ve read on the new album, each one points out and praises the rhythm section, which isn’t something that’s often pointed out in reviews…first question, do you read reviews?
No, I really don’t. Not for fear of having my feelings hurt, I’m just lazy. I’m the kind of guy where I don’t think I would really get my feelings hurt, I’ve got pretty thick skin for the most part, but you do come across the odd one here and there and that’s awesome if they’re saying that about the rhythm section because as you said, it’s not often a compliment that people get. It seems that these days in music the bass guitar is more of a frequency than an instrument and I try and play tastefully and I really am conscious of what John is doing and trying to lock in with what he’s playing and hopefully almost try to mold the two to make the drum and bass almost one instrument so they work and compliment each other and hopefully it came through on the album.
Can you take us through a few of your personal favorite songs on the album?
It’s weird, I’ve been listening to the album and my favorites constantly change. One day it will be one, the next another. I’m really enjoying Fake It now, I think because I’ve been hearing it so much, and that’s always good and it’s great to play live..
..plus it has that slammin’ bass line.
..and it starts with a bass line! The bass line is fun and probably all of those reasons. Like Suicide is another favorite because it’s a really cool rhythm section song and its a little bit riffy in it as well so it’s fun to play and a song we’ve been playing live. I think another one would be Walk Away From the Sun, I love it because it’s very different as far as what we’ve done in the past. I feel that it’s a good step in a new direction. I’m not saying that that’s how all of our songs will sound from now on but I definitely like that we made a song that was a little bit from left field and starts with weird guitar in the beginning and looped drums and then kind of kicks in and becomes more of a predictable style rock song. I love the overall feel of the song, lyrically I love the song, just overall it’s one of my favorites.
Now is it true that Shaun had written that song (Walk Way From The Sun) years ago and then it just resurfaced and did it change a lot from it’s inception?
It did change a lot. I think it was just a riff he had. We’ve jammed on that riff a lot in the past but nothing has really ever come from it. We’ve always like the guitar part and Shaun was telling me that he had it in his head when he came out of rehab and the first song he sang on was that chord progression and wrote the chorus for it as well and the song was born. It was pretty much the first song we wrote for the album.
Going back to Fake it, originally that wasn’t even going to make the album, is that right?
Yeah, we weren’t sure because it was very much trying to see if there was a song in a weird kind of swing beat, if there was a rock song in there somewhere. It was definitely a tongue in cheek kind of thing. I don’t know if it was initially intended to be taken seriously but when we started recording it and Shaun started singing on it, we thought it sounded good and we thought it could be a single. It was a song that got stuck in your head after a day of recording and we thought that was a really good sign that it could get stuck in some other people’s heads too.
So was it the band’s pick for the single?
It was kind of a collaborative effort with us, the label and management team. We started recording a few tracks for potential singles and Fake It was one of them and when we sat down to listen to them, that’s what popped out as what should be the single. We had a conference call and everyone chimed in and everyone was pretty much unanimous that Fake It would be the best lead off single for the album.
I love the album title. Does it have a personal meaning to you?
I think basically the album title encompasses the last year in the life of Seether. I think that it sums up the recording process, the writing process, there was a lot of negative things if you will, that happened, and it was a rough year for us and the beauty that we found was the music and the album. It was the inspiration behind it all, if something bad happens or you’re angry you’ll express yourself through music, maybe write a song or make an album in this case, that’s the beauty that came out of all of the bad things that happened.
Can you tell us a little bit about the artwork for the album, it’s by artist David Ho. Was it created specifically for the album or was it a piece he had already created? It’s hard not to look at it, it’s one of those covers that draws you in.
It’s a little haunting, it’s kind of beautiful but it’s dark and you have to look at it for a minute to really drink it in. He actually had the concept of this little girl, her name is Candace the Ghost. We asked him if we could use her image and some of his existing pieces for the album and he agreed. He’s a great artist, he’s very talented and we were very excited when he let us use the artwork. Some artists don’t want you to cheapen their art by putting it on a cd that’s going to be sold at WalMart but he was cool about it and understood. There’s also this really cool story that goes with this little girl. I’ll probably mess it up but I’ll give it a shot. She is dead, but she’s in love with a little boy who is alive and he’s the only person who can see her. I think then what happened is they want to be together so the little boy gives his life so that they can be together in death but in turn she almost takes his life and now the bond is broken and they can no longer see each other. She gives her new life that she just got back to him so at least they can see each other and be together as they once were. So there’s this whole tragic love story of dying to be together. It’s a cool story and really an added bonus to the amazing images that he has.
Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces
Your previous two albums charted, does that lend any kind of pressure going into a new album or is it not even something you consider? Also, tied into that, what about pressure from fans to stay a certain sound…does that ever factor into song decisions?
On this one, not really so much. I think in the past we may have gone into an album thinking we should make a heavy album because that’s what the fans wanted. On this one we just went into the studio and made an album that we wanted to make and focused on songs that we liked and wanted to play. We didn’t really think about necessarily chart positions or what the fans might think. We just went in and wrote songs and chose what our favorites were and put those on the album. There was actually very little pressure. I don’t think at one time we thought that we should do something else because of any of those reasons. It was very relaxed and chilled out, Howard was great and inspired us. We made the album largely for ourselves.
It really has to start with you right? If you don’t love it first..how will we as fans identify..
We’re music fans first and foremost, hopefully if it’s something we like then other people will like it too.
Last question, what do you miss the most when you’re on tour?
I’m going to have to firstly say my girlfriend. I really miss her. I also miss my motorcycles. I really crave them. I do a lot of riding and it’s one of my favorite hobbies.
Like street bikes or motocross?
Like street, canyon riding, canyon carving pretty much. It’s just something that I find to be really relaxing and something I really love and it clears my head. I can’t do it on the road and I get almost kind of frustrated sometimes and I start jonzin’ for it. I really want to get back on my bike..
You’re a bike junkie!
I really am, it’s this problem I have! It’s really something I miss a lot..but mostly my girlfriend!!!