Seether have returned to our shores once again for a short tour of the UK before performing at Reading & Leeds Festival so we caught up with bassist Dale Stewart to talk festivals, Nirvana and being embarrassed by your Mum.
HTF: You’ve played a few festivals this Summer, have there been any new bands you’ve liked?
Dave: I can’t really say that there have. A lot of the time the festivals are quite busy so I don’t really get to watch as many of the bands as I’d like, but I’m really looking forward to Reading & Leeds Festival so hopefully we’ll discover a couple of new bands there.
HTF: Are you planning to check out any bands in particular at Reading and Leeds?
D: No-one in particular but I think we’re only playing half an hour so I’ll definitely have time to have a couple of drinks, walk around a bit and actually enjoy the festival for once.
HTF: Do you all get involved in the lyrics or do you stick to your instruments?
D: Lyrics is all Shaun (Morgan) but musically we collaborate, we’ll all bounce ideas off each other. It’s a collaboration but lyrics are all Shaun since he’s gotta sing them. [laughs]
HTF: What made you want to focus on the subject of police brutality in your video for ‘Nobody Praying For Me’?
D: In the States particularly there seems to be a problem with police brutality and we didn’t want to necessarily paint it as a race thing but that’s unfortunately what happens a lot of the time. But, there’s fault on both sides of the equation and we wanted to make that apparent in the video, we didn’t want to take anyone’s side or paint anyone with a broad brush on either side of the debate. The video’s just meant to say, “don’t believe everything you read or how a story might have been skewed. See all the facts and make up your own mind.”
HTF: All your albums have produced a hit, so where does that ability to write hits from?
D: We’re all self-taught and we’re just music fans. We don’t go in with a specific goal in mind, we just write songs. We write them for us because we like playing and we love music so we write them if we like them. Hopefully other people will like them too. It’s great that we’ve been able to be successful and people like what we’re doing but at the end of the day I guess we just write the song we want to hear as music fans.
HTF: Do you tend to know when you’ve got a hit, as you’re writing it?
D: Sometimes you’ll be in the studio and a song will start taking shape and you’ll be like “I’ve got a good feeling about this one” but often times my favourite song on an album may not be a single or one of the more popular songs. It’s weird because when you’re so close to the material it’s hard to gauge, so that’s why, when it comes to picking singles, it involves our record label and management. We’re like “what do we do? You guys are the pros” because we’re too involved and too personally attached.
HTF: So you need that outside opinion then?
D: Yeah, definitely. Especially for things like picking the album tracks because we’ll write more songs than we need and then you’ve got to flick the ones out which are maybe not as strong as the rest. That’s tough too though, it’s like the Mother bird pushing eggs out of the nest.
HTF: You have quite a grunge sound so were you influenced by Nirvana?
D: Yeah, we grew up in that era and were teenagers when Nirvana really hit big in South Africa. It had an effect on pop culture, I don’t think it’s possible to grow up in that era and not own a Nirvana CD or t-shirt.
HTF: Have you met Dave Grohl or Krist Novoselic? Do you know if they’re fans of Seether?
D: We’ve met Dave and he’ll come hang out at shows if we play, now and again he’ll pop in. It’s really cool because, being big fans of Nirvana and Foo Fighters we tend to get all nerdy and geeky, like “hey man, you’re Dave Grohl!”
HTF: So there’s still that fanboy inside you then?
D: Yeah definitely, we’re fans first and musicians second. I don’t think that ever really goes away. It’s been really cool being doing this because we’ve gotten to meet a lot of the bands. Nirvana was the obvious one but there’re so many bands from that era that were great, like Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam. There’s a huge list. We’ve gotten to play with a lot of those bands and meet our heroes. Metallica was another huge one for me growing up. Getting to play with them and meet those guys, that’s one of the most exciting times of my life as they were the band that really made me want to pick a guitar up.
HTF: Did you get any advice from the bands you’ve met?
D: Not really, we just chit chat. However, I did learn from James Hetfield that no matter how old you are, your Mum will always embarrass you. We were doing a show with him in South Africa and Shaun’s parents came out. He was introducing all the crew who work for us and James Hetfield walks in and Shaun’s Mum’s just like “hi, who are you and what do you do?” Shaun’s just like “Mum!” and James just says “hi, I’m James. I sing in Metallica” and she’s just like “oh, it’s nice to meet you James”. She had no clue but I think James loved it because it was genuine. Shaun’s just bright red saying “Mum, you embarrassed me in front of my heroes!” [laughs]
HTF: As it’s hard to be a working musician in South Africa, have you left the country?
D: Yeah we live in the States now. I’m in L.A., Shaun’s in Nashville. It didn’t take us long to hit, what we perceive to be, the plateau. There was no real place to go from there as we’d headlined all the main festivals and the slice of the pie is very slim in South Africa as far as music goes so we had to try and get out. It was either come to the UK, Australia or the States. The States is where we really wanted to go because that’s where a lot of the bands we were influenced by were from but getting in there was almost like a pipedream, there was so much red tape. But we sent a CD over there and got a call from Wind-Up Records saying they’d love to meet us so they bought us plane tickets, we went over and they signed us pretty much on the spot.
HTF: So, how long did it take you to get a record deal?
D: We started at the end of 1999 and got a record deal in 2001 in South Africa so it took us a while. No-one wanted to sign us, all the major labels were like “no-one listens to rock”. A buddy of ours ended up starting an indie label and had made some money distributing video games so he partnered up with a guy who’s a producer and they started this label then he produced our CD. We put that out and that’s the one we sent overseas and then we were picked up by Wind-Up and they bought us out of that deal with Musketeer Records.
HTF: Has the music scene in South Africa got worse or better over time?
D: I feel like it’s got better. It’s more integrated now like, you’ll go to a festival and see a black kid with a Pantera t-shirt on, that was something you didn’t really see when we were playing there back in the day. There was still a segregation of sorts. We just get to go back every now and again and maybe do a festival or play but it’s hard to say because I’m so out of the music loop there, I don’t know a lot of the new bands that are making waves there.
HTF: You’ve had trouble with guitarists in the past but Bryan Wickmann has been with you playing live and as a guitar tech for a few years, so is he a permanent member now?
D: That’s a conversation we still need to have but it’s going really well. He’s a great guy and we’ve known Bryan for years because before he worked for us he used to do graphic design and guitar design for Schecter guitars, the guitars we play. He’s also done album covers, so we know him from back in the day since we’ve been playing Schecters. Him and I were mates for a while then he quit the Schecter thing and we just said he should come on the road, it would be fun and then we started thinking we really should get another guy on stage again to mix it up. We were racking our brains about who to get and what would work then it hit us like, we’ll just get Bryan! That’s the hardest thing, to include someone in your little family unit. Your personalities clash, guys get out on the road in the spotlight and they might never have done it before and won’t know what to expect and they’ll either get a massive ego or they’re miserable because it’s not nearly as glamourous as they thought it would be. But me and Bryan had been touring for a couple of years so we know we could live together and he has the right temperament so it was just a good match.
HTF: It’s been you, Shaun and John Humphrey for the majority of the band’s existence, what’s kept you three together for over 10 years?
D: It’s like a marriage of sorts, you need to respect each other and one another’s space. Respect and compromise would be the two main things. You need to compromise some things for the good of the group or the other guys and vice versa. Just respect each other and don’t sweat the little sh*t.
HTF: What is the future plans? Are you writing new material?
D: Not right now. Normally when we’re touring like this we just tour and then when we’re done we’ll take a little break and then we’ll start writing again. When we’re done in the UK we’re actually going to Kuwait to do some stuff for the troops then we’ve got a run towards the end of the year in the States again. There’s rumours about maybe doing South Africa but I don’t think that’s going to work out so we’ll probably just do Christmas. We’ve got one thing planned in January called Shiprocked, it’s basically a couple of bands get on a boat and sail around for like 4 days from Miami to Mexico. You just play on the boat and party, so that’ll be cool. After that we’ll probably take our break then next year start working on a new album.
HTF: Do you have any advice for upcoming artists?
D: I don’t think there’s any one way to do be successful but what is true is that it’s hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easily so you need to be willing to sacrifice a lot and put in a lot of hard work. In this day and age there’s not a whole lot of money in music so you have to love music and want to do it and be driven. Just work at it. And in this day and age with social media, it’s such a great tool to expose yourself to people all around the world. The other edge of that sword though is you’re kinda lost in a bit of an ocean of crap that you have to sift through to find the good stuff. But if you make good music and you’re persistent and get it out there then you’ll rise to the top.