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Shaun Morgan of Seether

While many songwriters have perfected the craft of anonymous songwriting – you know, handy songs for almost any occasion – Shaun Morgan of Seether is a long way from mastering that approach to composition. Instead, the examples of "Breakdown" and "No Jesus Christ" are thinly veiled autobiographical works, which speak about the people in his life. Heck, even "Burrito" is about Ozzy Osbourne, peering into the mortal side of the Prince of Darkness.

The contrast between the snarling way Morgan sings Seether songs, and the proper gentleman he is over the phone is striking. He couldn't be a nicer guy, even though you may never guess that from his recordings. Morgan took the time to answer, and answer honestly, about some of Seether's more notable songs. He may or may not have called his significant other while inebriated, which was famously turned into a hit song, but he was certainly sharp and alert while speaking with us.

Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): We're all about songs and songwriting, and there is some really lively debate on the site about interpretations of your various songs. So this should be quite informative.

Shaun Morgan: Cool, man. I'll see what I can do.

Songfacts: Let's start light and get heavier as we go. The song "Burrito," I've read in various places that it was inspired by watching The Osbournes. So I wanted to find out from you if that's true.

Shaun: Yeah, the song's title was inspired by that, because we didn't have a name for the song and we were watching The Osbournes. Ozzy was running around mumbling about spicy burritos. And it was one of those moments where it was like, this is a legendary man, but it's a different side of him. It seemed real vulnerable and real personal. So we just picked it because it was a tongue-in-cheek homage to Ozzy Osbourne.

Songfacts: You've been able to play an Ozzfest or two, right?

Shaun: Yeah. We played Ozzfest in 2002.

Songfacts: And did you have a chance to have any encounters with the man himself?

Shaun: He arrived right before we got on stage and he would leave soon or directly after, so it wasn't that kind of thing where there was any sort of a gathering where we could hang out with other bands or whatever. On the second stage there were a lot of bands hanging out after the shows, but the main stage bands, we were often not even allowed to go get on main stage, because we were just the little baby band on the tour. So unfortunately I didn't get to meet him, but I'm sure there'll come a time some time in the future.

Songfacts: Yeah. He's definitely an amazing bigger than life figure, huh?

Shaun: Yeah. We played a show with Black Sabbath a couple of years later and I got to meet Tony Iommi, and that was awesome. So that's a real influential band in my life. That would be great to meet him one day.

Songfacts: In preparing for this interviewing, one of the songs that I listened to a lot that I really enjoyed was "Rise Above This," which, as I understand it, was your response to your brother's suicide?

Shaun: It was written slightly before he died. It was about an attempt that he had made on his own life. The idea was to write a song that if I could play it to him, that it would make him feel better. And unfortunately I never got a chance to play it for him. So it was written just before, like a couple of weeks prior to him dying.

Songfacts: Did you have a premonition that he could really do it?

Shaun: I never thought that it was a serious attempt. I thought the first time that it was an accidental thing. So I don't think that I, in my mind, thought that it was something that would be repeated. I didn't at all think that he was serious about it. I just wanted to write something to let him know that I cared about him.

Songfacts: It really does show a gentle side to your personality, and I imagine it must resonate with your fans. Have you gotten some good responses from them as far as how it might have touched their lives?

Shaun: Yeah. There's been a lot of great feedback from that song. We started our own festival this year and hopefully we'll be able to repeat it every year. But we started a festival in New Hampshire called The Rise Above Fest. And it was basically as a way to raise some money for the National Alliance of Mental Illness, which deals with families of suicides, depression and a bunch of different things.

I wanted something to live on. I mean, there's a tragedy, but I wanted at least to have his death mean something. So we started the festival and we had a great turnout and there was a lot of great stories from people. And so it was a pretty great day.

Songfacts: That's a healthy way to respond instead of just wallowing in the pain. I'm sure there's a lot of pain that goes along with it, but when you can do something positive...

Shaun: Yeah. It's still painful. The first couple of years it was very, very difficult to get out of that slump. But I think that's really the best way for me to deal with it. It helps me, as well. It helps me to deal with the process. I like the fact that I can give something back to somebody else.

Songfacts: Well, I want to talk about one of the songs that there's a lot of speculation about. And that's the song "Breakdown," where someone has suggested that that's sort of a response to Amy Lee.

Shaun: [Laughs]

Songfacts: And so how would you like to respond to that? Is that the case?

Shaun: Maybe. I mean, that's at the heart of the whole thing. She wrote a song about me called "Call Me When You're Sober," and then she tried to retract that. Basically she went out and aired all my dirty laundry in the press. She was bad mouthing me and everything.

She was very much an inspiration for that song, but she's also been the inspiration for other songs, as well, which are not quite as current. [Laughs] So yeah. Honestly, I think I wanted to do something that was different. I wanted to say, "Okay. That's the way you want to approach this whole thing and that's the road you want to walk on."

I never thought it would be a single. It was just a song for me to get it out of my system. And yeah, she definitely was a very big part of the inspiration for that song. I'll put it that way.

Songfacts: Now, the song that you sing a duet on, the song "Broken," I don't imagine that you imagined that as a duet, did you?

Shaun: It wasn't really my idea to do that. We had done it as a duet live a couple of times, and it was always something that I was willing to try. Originally we were open to try that and end up doing the acoustic version, but having it sort of be a milder, more mellow version of what eventually became the single. And our label, obviously, they smelled dollars. So they sent us into the studio and we did that version.

There are times when I'm quite proud of that version, but other times when I feel like I should have just stuck with my guns and kept the original version of the way I prefer it. But in 2004 we didn't have any say at our record company, so it was mostly a lot of decisions were made for us and we just went with them.

But I wrote the string parts at the end of it, and I think that's great. So it was a little different for us. I don't think I ever imagined it to be quite so soundtrack, epic-y sounding. I would have preferred for it to be what the vulnerability that we wrote it with was. But it's done now.

Songfacts: Leads me to my next question, and that is if you were to choose a duet partner for a song, who would you pick?

Shaun: Well, it depends on the song, but there are a lot of great singers. Lzzy Hale from Halestorm's awesome. Then, that would be sort of a poor decision on my part, because she would just destroy me. But if I could do stuff with like PJ Harvey, I'd be in to that. Who sang with Damien Rice on "Volcano"? [Lisa Hannigan] I forget her name now. I forget what her name is, but she's got a beautiful voice. I would like to do a duet with somebody like the girl that sang with Gotye.

Songfacts: Kimbra.

Shaun: Yeah. I like how she can go from soft to loud. That's the kind of dynamic that I would like to ultimately find and work with.

Songfacts: Well, one of your songs, which I think is really interesting, it has the title "No Jesus Christ," which would suggest that it's something almost religious, although when you listen to it, at least when I hear it, I don't think of it as being a religious song. How much of your spiritual beliefs would you say get into your songs, and are there examples of songs that you've written that you think express how you really feel about religion?

Shaun: No. I honestly think I try to keep religion out as much as possible, unless I'm using it as a reference of some sort. "No Jesus Christ" is called that because of people with their God complexes that I was surrounded by for a while. And it may or may not have been inspired by a girlfriend that talked a lot of crap about me in the press. [Laughing] So it was basically a tongue-in-cheek thing.

But religion is not something that I talk about or that I care for people to know where I stand. In "69 Tea" there's a line that says, "Save me smiling Jesus, get off that cross." And that was overwhelmingly sarcastic. I wrote that when I was 16. It was something that was just there in front of me and that's the way I wanted to say it.

So yeah, the song is definitely not religious at all, but it's an attack on the God complex that people have.

Songfacts: Well, it certainly grabs attention. And that's important, right, when you write a song you have to think of something that's going to get people to want to listen to it, and sometimes the title can do that.

Shaun: Yeah. Exactly. I like when something is provocative in the sense that people have that at face value and can get quite pissed off at that. We've been really good friends with the Flyleaf people for years, and Lacey wanted to sing on that, as well, because she understood that it wasn't a religious attack and it certainly wasn't anything that was anti-religion. But maybe some of their fans would have been a little challenged by it. Flyleaf has a very big spiritual following, and I think that was something that would have been great for her to push the envelope.

But all I'm saying is ultimately that if somebody that's that spiritual and that sweet can want to sing on a song like that, then you know it's not in any way too religious.

Songfacts: Another really provocative title is one of your most popular songs, which is "Country Song." And as I understand it, it was really inspired by where it was recorded, in Nashville.

Shaun: Yeah. We were in Nashville and that swampy verse came from our old guitarist - he was just messing around with that. We had that around for a couple of years before we even started working on it. I don't think in any way that it's a country song, but again, it was a tongue-in-cheek thing. We were like, "Well, that sounds kind of swampy and bluesy and we are in Nashville." And I know Nashville is the Mecca for country music. There are hundreds and hundreds of writers there. So it was a working title that stuck.

You know, our label wanted us to change the name, and I was like, Well, what's in a name? Seriously? I mean, when did the music that we write start becoming so available to them as to alternate titles the way they see fit? So we actually said, No, we want to keep it "Country Song" because that's what we've gotten used to calling it and that's what we're going to keep calling it. It just doesn't feel right changing the name after we'd had this song for 8 months before the album came out. That's like changing your kid's name when he becomes a teenager. That's the name, it's ridiculous. So we just stuck with our guns. And the band that in 2004 didn't have any say in their career certainly isn't the same in 2012, so we had the ability to keep that the way we wanted it to be.

Songfacts: So the time that you spent in Nashville, did that ever inspire you to write a legitimate country song just for the heck of it?

Shaun: It's something I'm sure I'll dabble with in the future, but I'm not in any hurry to do it.

Songfacts: It's not on your bucket list?

Shaun: I don't think so. And also, with Aaron Lewis doing the whole switch over to country music now... I never want to be somebody that's part of a trend, or who follows. I think it's great what he's doing, but I don't want to do it because he's doing it at the same time. To be honest, I don't really know enough about country music to be able to write good country songs. I could write stuff that's sort of country-esque, but I don't know if I could actually write something that would be considered a proper country song.

Songfacts: Someone suggested that your version of "Careless Whisper" was kind of a joke. And even though it may have started that way, it certainly comes off authentic and you sound like you're really putting a lot of feeling into it. Is it only a half joke?

Shaun: No. If you want to be joking, you should put everything into it. Even though I'm taking the piss out of something, I don't want to be condescending. I think there's a different way that you can approach the sense of humor thing. Basically, it's a love song written by a gay man, and they wanted us to do a Valentine's Day song for iTunes, and we said, "Well, let's pick a gay love song."

But we love the song. It's one of those guilty pleasures that you have. The last thing that we wanted to do was a serious love song, and it doesn't get more cheeseball than that. We decided to take the opposite approach. We went off to New York, we were at Electric Ladyland Studios, so it was awesome. We worked that day. If you're going to do something, at least do it properly. The other part is that even though we're joking it's something that's going to be out there in perpetuity.

So yeah, it was us taking the piss out of Valentine's Day and we certainly never ever assumed it would become a single. But these things happen. Lightning strikes when you least expect it, I guess. It was fun, but we've had very different mindsets about that song as far as fans. We were doing a Nickelback tour and the younger kids thought that was our song, but then there were some older guys that would stare and flip us off for that entire song because of the homophobia attached that people have. So it's like, well, whatever.

So we just did it as a joke and it sort of backfired on us a little bit.

Songfacts: I know that you've also covered Frank Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin." Are there any covers that the band plays?

Shaun: Actually, we always used to do a cover in our set, but we haven't done it on this tour because we just wanted to do our own thing. There are a lot of songs that are great, but I don't know if I ever want to record a cover again. But having said that, that's where my head's at right now. I mean, that could change very easily in the future.

We've done Alice in Chains songs, we've done Nirvana songs, we've done Stone Temple Pilots songs, all that stuff that I was inspired by as a kid and the stuff that I grew up with. That's the kind of stuff that really influenced the band, so it wouldn't make sense to record a cover of that, because we would want to do it exactly like the original. So you've got to find a song that you love, but you don't really have that much of an emotional investment in it to cover. It could be some horrible pop song one day; it could be an old song that we do, but it needs to have some sort of emotional resonance with me, but without me being afraid of changing it up and making it my own.

Songfacts: What's next for you after this tour?

Shaun: I'm going to take a few months off, because we've been touring really hard this year and we've been killing ourselves doing this one. So next year I'll take a couple months off and we'll start writing for the next album. There's always stuff being written, but it's never with the intent and focus that we need for when we write for the album. So we'll see, probably start writing about March or April of next year.

Songfacts: Let's talk about how you go about writing songs. Are you the kind of person that needs to have an album in order to really focus, or are you always coming up with ideas? And then when it comes time to write songs, is there a regular way that you do it?

Shaun: Yeah. On the road a lot of the time it's just riffs or quick ideas, but when I go home and I go to the studio at my house, then I can focus and see things through. There's never really a formula, there's never a standard approach like I have to do any rituals or anything. If you feel like you want to get something off your chest or you have an inspiration, that's when it happens. Other than that, there's not a formula or a way I go about it that is always the same.

Sometimes you wake up at 3:00 in the morning with a whole song in your head, or other times you'll be in the shower and you have to jump out and run upstairs and record a riff, because you don't want to forget it. It's not like I go, "It's 9:00, I've got to start writing music." I feel that just makes it sound forced and it becomes like a job.

Songfacts: Well I hope you enjoy the tour, but certainly take some time off and get some rest and then come back with a great album.

Shaun: The idea is to rest up long enough so that we can come back. I feel like we want to raise the bar on ourselves every time. I don't want to just put something out for the sake of putting it out, so a little R&R would be a very good way to start me getting inspired.

May 6, 2013. Get more at Seether.com.
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Comments: 1

Seether is great, they're really talented guys, and Shaun Morgan is one of the coolest guys ever. Nice interviewRoger from Somewhere In Nowhere

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