“You should know that the lies won’t hide your flaws / No sense in hiding all of yours.” More than just lyrics to Seether’s swinging hit ‘Fake It’, the words reflect a way of life for the band’s frontman. That’s startlingly clear when I come face to face with Shaun Morgan Welgemoed. What you see is what you get. There’s nothing fake about him.
He doesn’t even bother to hide his vulnerability: “The bigger it gets the more I realise I wasn’t cut out for the fame part of it.”
Not that the South African born Welgemoed was ever going to do anything other than play music.
“I couldn’t do anything else besides this – I’ve known that since I was a kid that this is what I wanted to do.
“But you never sign up for the backbiting and the negative stuff. You sign up for the fun stuff of playing shows, touring the world, that kind of stuff.
“I have to keep myself very far removed from the negativity because it’s so easy to be hurt by one person saying something bad. It doesn’t matter how many people said good things — and the bigger it gets the more people there are who want to say bad stuff.”
Welgemoed fiddles with an unlit cigarette on the table. He looks wistful.
“And I’m a really sensitive person when it comes to that, especially when it’s people who don’t know you. They haven’t met you but they have these opinions of you, they have these judgments.”
The 29-year-old sounds neither bitter nor frustrated. Steeled by a 2006 stint in rehab and the sudden death of his younger brother Eugene in August last year, he’s now better equipped to deal with the badmouthing.
“I stopped really caring what other people thought – certainly this past year which has been more about trying to make myself happy. Because really if you don’t, nobody else is; and if you expect somebody else to, it’s sad.”
That resolution helped shape Seether’s ‘Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces’, the band’s strongest, most adventurous collection of songs yet.
“I didn’t pay attention to what anyone said and just sat down and wrote exactly what I wanted – regardless if it was mellow, or melodic, or really, really heavy,” he explains.
“It’s crucial to me to test myself, to challenge myself.”
And challenge himself he did.
“I was by myself, I was bored as hell, so I was coming up with new things, I was trying to play guitar a different way, I was trying to learn new chords, I was trying to play with a different dynamic.
“The way I write changed – it wasn’t just me and an acoustic guitar. And if I’d done it that way again it would have been the same as the last album. Or similar to it.
“Some people prefer the way we sounded then, some people don’t. But you have to be different, you have to branch out, you have to change, you have to give something that’s almost a challenge for the audience.
“Because it’s easy to give them the kinds of songs they know and understand, but if you come out with something that’s kind of ‘Woah, hang on, this isn’t what I know’, then it’s a challenge, and that’s what I think art should be doing,” Welgemoed points out.
“Look at The Beatles, look at Led Zeppelin, The Doors, there was so much diversity not only on each album but from album to album. You could always tell it was them but they didn’t sound like they were repeating themselves. That’s really important.
“If you’re doing the same thing over and over, you’re just going to get bored. And the fans are going to get bored. Everyone at some point has a limit to their attention span and if you’re going to be feeding them the same thing, when their attention span shifts, you lose out.”
Seether don’t seem to be losing out though – ‘Fake It’ has topped Billboard’s Modern Rock charts for close on three months. And next single ‘Rise Above This’, written about Eugene before his death, is being tipped as their ticket to mainstream success.
“The opinion that that song is going to elevate the band to a whole new place is awesome,” confesses Welgemoed, “but thinking about it I’m getting goosebumps because I don’t know what to expect.”
But he’s bracing himself.
“Having said that I’ve also achieved a lot more than I ever thought was possible. I’ve dealt with each step as it came along by just doing what I do for the reasons I do it, loving it for the reasons I love it, staying true to myself and trying to embrace each wave as it hits you.
“It’s rough, but I’m having the most fun ever doing this. I’m just going with the flow because, shit man, you don’t know if there’s going to be a tomorrow.
“So live today as fully as you can,” the straight-talking Welgemoed pulls off the sentiment without sounding like a cheesy self-help guru.
That’s because he speaks from experience.
“For a long time I felt really empty and alone doing this so I would buy stuff to keep me occupied. Stuff that I thought would fill this void: an Xbox, a car, a house, big screen TV, all this crap that you really don’t need. It’s nice to have, it certainly makes things comfortable, but at the end of the day there’s so much more to the world than that.
“And I was in a place where I didn’t see that for a long time so I assumed that this stuff was going to make me happy because I just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy. No matter what I did, I couldn’t make myself get rid of this one little nugget of ‘eurgh’.
“So I realised over the course of the past year, and certainly over the past few months, it’s not about that.”
Welgemoed looks me in the eye: “It’s about the experiences, about the things you can say that you’ve done, and the decisions you make and the people you hang out with, the way you touch peoples’ lives or the way they touch yours – the real stuff, the people stuff, the intangible stuff.”
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.