Seether's Shaun Morgan's top 5 tips for guitarists
Seether guitarist and singer Shaun Morgan admits that the lead guitar spot in the multi-platinum band has been a bit of a bouncing ball. Since 1999, the group has gone through three lead axemen, with the most recent, Troy McLawhorn, departing in 2011.
"What drummers were to Spinal Tap, lead guitarists are to Seether," Morgan says with a good-natured laugh.“The problem is that a lot of these guys have ego problems, plain and simple. We’ve seen guys become rock stars overnight, which becomes a problem because that’s not how we operate. And we’ve had guys who stay for a few months and then say, ‘This is not for me.’ It’s a strange place to be in."
Earlier this year, Morgan, drummer John Humphrey and bassist Dale Stewart welcomed Bryan Wickermann as a touring lead guitarist for the band. Wickermann began working with Seether as part of his job at Schecter Guitars and then became the group's bass tech. So far, his promotion to an onstage role seems to be working out, says Morgan: "Everybody seems happy and feels that it's a good fit. No signs of rock stardom with Bryan. We'll see how it goes."
Morgan assumed all guitar responsibilities on Seether's just-released new album, Isolate And Medicate. It's the band's second effort with noted producer Brendan O'Brien, whose past work includes discs by Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine and Bruce Springsteen, among others. “It’s still humbling to work with a guy like Brendan," Morgan says. "He’s worked with some of the greatest artists and best players in the world. To think that he respects our band and likes what we do is pretty extraordinary."
"Brendan gives us a lot of freedom, and he’s always willing to try new ideas," Morgan elaborates. "He’ll always say, ‘That’s a great song, but how can we make it more interesting? How can we keep the listener engaged?’ And then there’s a lot of back and forth that happens, which can be exciting – you see the song take off in some new direction. But that’s the way Brendan is: He wants to make every second of the band’s music count.”
When asked to list his Top Five Tips for Guitarists, Morgan demurs at first – “I’m not an accomplished guitarist, so I really wouldn’t know what to say.” A second later, he does an abrupt 180 and says, “But I do know how to get the job done. If you’ve been in a band for as long as I have and have played a lot of shows, you figure out a few things along the way. So let's have a go then."
“I’ve never sat down with a guitar teacher to take a lesson – I refused to. I had friends who took lessons, and I always thought that they never really developed their own sound or style.
“Learning solos and scales just like somebody does them doesn’t seem like the right idea to me. Learn some chords by yourself and find your own way around the guitar. If you do that, I think you’ll discover a way of playing that’s all your own.”
Develop a great sense of rhythm
“I always noticed that those same kids who learned how to play solos from guitar teachers never seemed to know how to hold down a rhythm.
“It’s one thing to be able to play arpeggiated, shreddy-type solos, but if you can’t play strum a simple rhythm, that’s really going to hold you back. So before you try to do all the tricky stuff, develop a real sense of rhythm. You'll be a much better player overall, and you'll work out better when you get in a band."
Play along with bands that you love
“If learning how to play isn’t fun, you’re not going to stick with it for very long. What I would do is, I’d buy a bunch of guitar magazines that had tablature of songs that I loved, and I’d teach myself how to play them.
“Some of the songs were a bit out of my reach, but I did learn the basics and would eventually figure things out. So I did teach myself, but it wasn’t like going to a guitar teacher who was correcting me all the time and making me play like him.
“The main thing is to persevere through the tough times and fight through any ruts. If you can learn to play songs that you love, you’re going to have a lot of breakthroughs along the way.”
Don't start out on a complicated guitar
“I started out on a Hofner guitar with a Floyd Rose tremolo system. I had no idea how to change the strings or fine-tune it or anything; it was completely out of my capabilities as far as its mechanics.
“In hindsight, I should have started out with a simple Strat or a Strat knock-off. I almost gave up completely because of that first guitar. Trying to figure out how to deal with the floating tremolo just frustrated the hell out of me.
“Your first guitar should either be an acoustic or a simple electric that doesn’t have too much stuff on it; it's just too many things to deal with. You don’t want to sit there trying to figure out how to change the strings and all of that. You want to spend your time playing the thing.”
Get in a band as soon as you can
“Playing the guitar in your room is fine, but you’ll become a better player so much faster the minute you start playing with other people. It’s really amazing how fast it all happens.
“Getting hooked on that live-music drug will fuel you to keep going. That’s the most fun part of the job, playing with other people and performing live. There really is no substitute for it at all.
“As soon as you feel comfortable with your abilities, get your buddies together, whether at school or in the neighborhood, and form a band. Go make some noise and have fun. The immediate return on your efforts will amaze you.”