It comes as no surprise that South African Rock band, Seether, has remained consistent over nearly two decades of shedding light over notably uncanny music that sparks conversation for the entire world that is brimming with intent and purposeful lyricism. Transforming a personal tragedy into the opportunity to raise awareness behind a staggering epidemic that is plaguing modern-day society, Seether frontman, Shaun Morgan, has rallied the troops for a bigger purpose for the fifth annual ‘Rise Above’ Fest taking place in Bangor, ME on July 22nd + 23rd, 2017. I caught up with Shaun for a candid discussion of his beliefs behind society’s delicate approach toward suicide, the purpose of ‘Rise Above’ Fest, the upcoming release of ‘Poison the Parish’, tattoos and more.
How exciting that the fifth annual ‘Rise Above’ festival has expanded into a two-day event. Congratulations. Tell us about the conception of ‘Rise Above’ and the purpose behind the music event.
We started ‘Rise Above’ six years ago, and missed one year. Basically, my brother committed suicide almost ten years ago. I spent many years in a drug and alcohol haze trying to get over it, and then I had the idea that we should attempt to raise awareness about suicide istead of hearing stories from other people about suicide. Last year, we had Disturbed and this year we have bands such as Korn, Shinedown, and more on the lineup. It has been growing exponentially and the fact that it is two days this year is really exciting for many reasons. The festival is taken a bit more seriously over two days instead of one, and we get to raise money on two consecutive days instead of one. It’s a really good way to give something back. It’s a great way to start a dialogue on a topic that people try to ignore and pretend that they don’t acknowledge what is going on. It is a really serious epidemic.
It is an epidemic. And there are so many hurtful and debilitating things that individuals are hiding within themselves throughout the world.
Yes. And in order to really start dealing with those things, we have to remove the taboos and social barriers that are placed up against them. People need to realize that if someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, I’m not feeling so good, I’m feeling like I want to hurt myself”, you have to take that seriously. We are trying to clear the battle of it. Recently, it’s becoming almost cool and hip to talk about the effects of illness. It is more about trying to make other people’s lives better. The stories that we hear every day are just crazy. I feel like people just try to ignore and pretend that these things are not happening because nobody wants to talk about something ugly, ya know, everyone wants to talk about happy stuff and themselves.
Right. On the other hand, what a noble act on your part to translate your experience into something that is positive, informative for all and educating the public on the impact and importance of mental health.
Yeah. I look at the tragic thing that happened in my life and ask myself, “This is happening everywhere. How can I honor my brother in some way and do something constructive in helping other people?”. The people that are left behind when someone commits suicide are hurt in so many ways. You ask yourself what you didn’t do right. You ask yourself what you didn’t say. You ask yourself what you did wrong. You ask yourself how you could have stopped this. And you take on this massive burden of guilt. There is no literature that you can attend to that is prevalent. It is a bad experience, and you just try to raise awareness to others that this is real. 22 deaths per day now from suicide and kids as young as eight or nine years old are killing themselves because they don’t feel like they have anybody to talk to or anybody that wants to listen. We have to change that.
We all absolutely do. Do you perceive that schools, communities and local authorities can work together to prevent suicide? I personally feel that at times, the media portrays with an agenda to influence vulnerable individuals whose minds aren’t developed. These kids see things on television and while in the midst of the invincibility that a teenager typically feels, they are more likely to act upon harm or danger. As you said, this is very real. There has to be individuals and parents that step in to aid in these individuals comfort.
Yeah. I agree. I think that making suicide become trendy makes it less serious. I think that the main driving force behind what makes kids feel so inadequate and so sad is social media and how everyone is out to get each other.
It’s a double-edged sword.
Right. Exactly. It’s all based upon lies. It’s based on people trying to pretend that what they are doing is way more exciting. I think that social media is a massive problem. And really, it begins with the parents. Parents are responsible for their children. Parens are the ones who are supposed to be teaching their children. You know, parents think you know the signs that you are supposed to be looking for, but they don’t. For example, my daughter is 15-years-old, and there’s nothing that she is getting from Instagram that is constructive, but it’s very important to kids these days because that is what society is telling them that is important. Your worth is based on likes, comments and people hitting little heart boxes. It doesn’t make any sense. There is no value in it anymore. It’s become such an obsession that kids wake up and jump onto their phones immediately.
You know, sometimes the biggest sign for a parent is no sign at all. Individuals and parents are raised to believe that red lights need to be blowing off when the green lights can be the “sign” that there is a concern within the child that is hidden underneath.
Exactly. There are no guidelines for signs. All you have to do as a parent is check-in. Speak to your child. Find out how they are doing. We don’t live in a culture that is accessible, and parents must make themselves accessible to their children. Parents are the ones that are there to teach their children the tools for the real world. You can’t expect your children to know how to respond to circumstances and situations. But, you can certainly give them as many tools as you possibly can. Teach them to speak to bullies. Talk to them. There needs to be an open dialogue because kids and teenagers don’t know what the hell is going on in their heads. You know, we were all teenagers once. It is insane. You think that you know better than anyone else as a teenager, but you find out as you grow older that you didn’t and don’t. We can bring in other people, but parents are the ultimate teachers. You have to be caring in your approach when you talk to children. I see teenagers all the time who say that they used to cut themselves because they had nobody to talk to, and you can spot it from a mile away. It’s insane.
These kids haven’t built that open dialogue with their parents nor have the parents attempted to do so, therefore, they resort to harming themselves because they haven’t been given the tools to create another way.
Right. I used to be suicidal and cut myself. Today, I look back and ask myself what I was thinking, but I know what I was thinking; I couldn’t speak to anybody. Again, a lot of suicides are because people feel alone, and a lot of them are really spontaneous. There is a very large percentage of suicides in which the person will think of it and do it within a minute or two in an impulsive manner. I don’t think that I can prevent suicide by talking about it, and it’s not my place to prevent suicide because I feel like I want to try to help people; I just want to give somebody a pause for thought.
You know, I know that it is a social stigma, but being suicidal does come with the territory of being an artist. Artists fall into isolation, and the thoughts that can be curated within isolation from being idiosyncratic and being an oddball can dig a hole for the individual.
Do you have any tattoos pertaining to your brother and the experience that you are enduring?
Yeah. I have a tattoo of his nickname and a tattoo of a painting that are dedicated to him. I will definitely add more as I go as soon as I can handle the pain again. I have the date that he died tattooed on me that I see every day and constantly reminds me of the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It means so much to me. It is a long recovery process; it’s been almost ten years. There are times in which I start crying when I think about it; I just want to speak to him. We could be living in this shitstorm together. It’s really tough. It’s really tough to explain exactly what it is like.
Shaun, you can explain it all that you’d like, but from my perspective, no one will ever be able to feel it in the manner in which you feel it.
Exactly. The one thing that pisses me off is when people say that they understand how I am feeling…
They don’t know how you are feeling.
They don’t. I find that condescending when people say that. I know that you are trying to do what society has taught you to be the “right thing” in this situation, but it’s completely wrong. I don’t get offended, but I feel bad that the other individual has been programmed to deliver that response. I can prevent people knowing what it feels like and be an example of someone turning my pain into art. There are so many outlets that you can have, and kids don’t have the outlets. It was always art, music and hanging out with the misfits for me. We all understood each other and were misunderstood by everyone else.
I think that at times, individuals don’t know that they do have the artistic outlets and have the choice to create a positive outcome out of awful circumstances. What do fans of Seether have to look forward to over the remainder of 2017? I know that there is a new album in the works.
Yeah, we’ve got a new album, ‘Poison the Parish’ coming out May 12th, 2017 and we are going to start touring at the end of April. We have Clint Lowery of Sevendust playing with us which is really exciting because I love that guy and know that he will be bringing a lot to the table. We are going to be playing a lot of cool places with a lot of cool production. Playing both big and small places. We won’t be playing the same set every night, and we are going to have fun again.
Awesome. I have noticed that a great amount of your lyricism has a lot of depth to it and a lot of metaphors that are thought-provoking. Do you write in that manner purposely or does that come organically?
Thank you. Rock doesn’t have to be about getting laid or getting drunk, and you don’t have to be a singer/songwriter to get in touch with your feelings. I think that music is a great platform that reaches so many people; you should at least create something that has meaning, integrity, and honesty to it. These days, you get these kids who think they are hot shit because they have one song that made it big on the radio, and are more concerned about what they look like rather than the music and the message. It’s ridiculous. The last thing that you should be worried about in a band is what you look like. You know, I have loved Tool for many years and I never knew what they looked like.
It is amazing how Maynard stands in the back on stage and allows the music speak for itself. The focus isn’t on him; it’s all about the music.
Right. Tool’s show is really exciting, creative and interesting and the way that it builds up toward the end leaves you with the feeling that you have just experienced the best show ever. I got to see Tool last year and it was mind-blowing and inspirational. It’s all about the music.
Totally. Last but certainly not least, any closing messages for your fans?
I am so glad that our fans have stuck around. I hope that our fans can relate to our upcoming album. I was pretty pissed off when I wrote this album, so I hope that people will be happy with it.