“Country Song,” the new single by post-grunge band Seether, continues to climb the charts, and this isn’t a first for the South African outfit. Frontman Shaun Morgan and his trio have scored five rock radio hits since 2002 in “Remedy,” “Broken,” “Fine Again,” “Truth” and “Gasoline.”

Seether took a full year to write and record their forthcoming album, Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray (out May 17). But this is what comes from taking their time: 12 tracks built mainly from basic rock-combo parts, practiced and perfected with a keen attention to musically and passionately wild detail. With its heavy choruses and jaunty guitar riffs, Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray is possibly the best album Seether have made since 2002’s Disclaimer inaugurated the neo-grunge era.

Lead songwriter and vocalist Shaun Morgan checked in with Gibson.com to talk about working with one of rock’s biggest producers (Brendan O’Brien) and putting together Seether’s unsuspecting, twang-y single. Morgan also named his Top 5 favorite rock albums.

I’ve read that Kurt Cobain inspired you to pick up the guitar.

Yes, that was my very first influence. I liked how the guitars were super noisy, and it drove me in that direction to start playing guitar.

You have a new album dropping May 17, Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray. How did the writing and recording process on this album differ from previous Seether releases?

We took a lot longer to write this one, and we really concentrated on making the songs better than the ones on our last album. We felt we raised the bar on the last album, and we weren’t going to be happy if that wasn’t accomplished again. Having a producer like Brendan O’Brien involved, it was a whole different experience, too, because he’s the kind of the guy you work with instead of work for. He would take the songs and make them more interesting and not just change them for the sake of changing them, which at the end of the day, I think made everybody a lot more comfortable with the changes and made everybody far more excited about them. The actual creating of the album was a lot different than we’ve ever experienced. That in itself is the biggest difference.

Musically, we tried some new things and expanded our horizons, because I feel like you have to keep growing as a band. If you don’t, then you just stagnate and become one of those bands that gets boring because you’re doing the same thing all the time.

How exactly did O’Brien shape Seether’s sound on the album?

I think he’s a very smart guy and very musical. He would take something, like a verse in a song, and just make it more interesting. So, for example, with a chord progression, he would find one that would change slightly the second time around, so you wouldn’t keep doing the same thing over and over. He’s an interesting guy to work with, because he can sit down at the piano and just hammer out what he was thinking. When he plays guitar, he’s playing chords I’ve never really seen. He’s just a great person to learn from. He really cares about writing and making stuff good. He doesn’t put his name on just anything. Unless he’s able to achieve that standard he’s achieved with the bands he’s worked with, he hasn’t done his job.

Listening to the album, your vocals sound more melodic, cleaner and less gritty than on Seether’s other releases.

Yeah, that was one of the things I had always wanted to do on an album, but all of the other producers I worked with said, “No, do that thing that you do,” and I was like, “I don’t feel like doing that thing I do all the time.” So, Brendan was far more open to me. I wanted to try something where I didn’t have the grit as much, and I wanted to try to sing it more how a singer would sing it. I was far more comfortable singing on this album, period. Brendan would come into the area with me, and doing the harmonies and melodies, he would be right there with me. Usually that’s something that’s a very private and personal space, when you’re doing vocal tracking, and to feel comfortable with him was a great experience. I felt confident with him, and ultimately I think this is my favorite album, as far vocals go.

In “Down,” I noticed a really great upper register I hadn’t heard before.

That’s the thing – I was experimenting. I was very out of my comfort zone, and to be honest, a couple songs on there that were at the very, very end of my range. But it was still fun to go up there and hit them and do it properly. Then again, I did kind of make it more challenging for the live shows. [Laughs]

The album’s first single, “Country Song,” hit the Top 5 on active rock quickly. How did you come up with that catchy, twang-y riff in the verses?

We had a guitarist that had that riff for the verse for a while, and he played it for me, and I said, “That’s cool – I’m sure we can do something with that.” Well, we kind of forgot about the riff, and two years later in L.A., we started working with it again and turning it into a song. What I like is that the verse is kind of country sounding, but then it just explodes into a hard rock song, out of nowhere. The combination, I think, is really interesting, and that’s why it’s called, “Country Song,” because we were recording in Nashville and the verses have that feel. It’s not a country record, but it sounded country in that riff. It was actually the working title and tongue-and-cheek, but we decided to keep it. It was really just us having a little fun with the title.

Which Gibsons did you play on this album?

We used a Silverburst Gibson Les Paul Studio on the album for several tracks, and actually, I was borrowing it, eventually fell in love with it and bought it… I personally think Gibsons come across cleaner than most guitars. Gibsons definitely showed up on anything that had a solo on it, or a guitar overdub… If there was an overdub that needed to be crisp and clear, I used the Silverburst.

How does it feel to be coming up on Seether’s 10th anniversary?

Well, right about this time 10 years ago, we were just getting our first South African album out and touring there, and now 10 years down the line, it’s a very different situation. It’s one of those things you kind of imagine could happen, but you never really know if it can. I couldn’t want for anything else to happen. It feels like we’re in a good place.

May we get a quick, “Shaun Morgan’s Top 5 Favorite Rock Albums of All Time”?

Wow. I would definitely say Nevermind would be in there. Probably Deftones; their new album [Diamond Eyes] I love. I think it’s an incredible album. But pretty much any Deftones album could be in my collection. I love Portishead’s Dummy. Brand New’s Daisy. Just for variety, I have to throw in a Chili Peppers album. I grew up listening to the Peppers, so Blood Sugar Sex Magik would fit in there, as well.

Photo Credit: Clay McBride