September 1, 2020 Interview – John Humphrey of Seether
While much of 2020 has been marked by the series of cataclysmic events that have taken hold of the world month-after-month, many are finding solace in music and entertainment. Despite the impact and restrictions placed on everyone due to the coronavirus pandemic that has canceled live events around the world, many artists have persevered with their album releases.
Seether has released their eighth studio album during this trying time and between its aggressive and rhythmic core as well as moments of serenity and peace, the aptly named Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum (“if you want peace, prepare for war”) is providing listeners with a new quarantine soundtrack. Amidst it all Seether Drummer John Humphrey sat down to chat about the new album, the band’s 2020 plans, 2021 hopes, and doing things themselves for a second time.
Cryptic Rock – Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. So, we wanted to talk about the new album this year. With this being Seether’s eighth studio album and the first follow up to Poison The Parish, what would you say was the hardest professional lesson you learned since then that you guys took into recording?
John Humphrey – You know, on this album, I don’t know if there were really any lessons to be learned. This is Shaun’s second album to fully produce and actually Poison went really well and we used a very similar process. Shaun wrote and put together all the demos for the material to be recorded. So, me being the drummer, we started rebuilding the demos, if you will, beginning with drums. Because I essentially played to the demos, which already have guitars and, in some cases, vocals and harmonies are already arranged, etcetera. This allowed Shaun to be in the control room and be in the producer role to be able to listen objectively and make comments or suggestions for changes because he didn’t have to play along or be in the room with me. He could be in the control room while I was in the tracking room recording the drums.
Cryptic Rock – Okay, so in this whole process of being able to have Shaun produce and record, what was the easiest part of that process compared to a traditional recording process? Or did it make it harder?
John Humphrey – No, it actually really helped. (The tour for) Poison wrapped at the end of 2019; 2019 was sort of an off-year for the band. As far as touring, we had some shows, but for the most part, Shaun was in his home studio. He was prolific, I would say. I mean, he wrote a lot of music and of all of that music, he narrowed down the track lists for the band to learn down from 21 songs. So, for myself, at the end of December of 2019, I did my homework leading up to the holidays. I had about two or three weeks there where I learned and made notes on the 21 songs in preparation to track.
Before that, maybe would have pre-production, which would mean the whole band would rehearse the material for, say, a week or so before going into the studio. In this instance, we, and this is before the COVID thing, we were all kind of in separate places. Shaun’s in Nashville. I’m in Oklahoma and I have a music room at home. I have a drum kit set up, and I’m doing my homework and making notes of learning 21 songs and then go in January of 2020 to begin tracking. It was pretty locked in on my part and what Shaun put on the demos I essentially replicated when I record my parts.
Cryptic Rock – So for you, it was all about, you know, being studious?
John Humphrey – Yeah, when you record music you want it to have emotion and power, but it does help when you don’t have to think about arrangement or “wait how’s this next part go again?” You know, that way I’ve got it all in the hard drive, so to speak. All I have to do is perform at the time on the spot. Then, it’s just remembering dynamics and musically just putting emotion into it and not having to worry about the technical side of it.
Cryptic Rock – You know what they say: failure to plan is a plan to fail.
John Humphrey – Yeah, that’s it. I’m a little OCD that way! I think that definitely helps with the process.
Cryptic Rock – Once you know that you’ve got the technical side down, it’s all about just really feeling it and you don’t have to worry so much about your steps. I think a lot of that becomes muscle memory after a while?
John Humphrey – Absolutely. In the past, sometimes it’s while you’re writing, maybe you’re finishing up a song or the producer will make arrangement change suggestions. You’re kind of having to remember all that on a song that maybe you’ve played a handful of times. In this case, I wanted to know the music like the back of my hand. It’s just like I’ve been playing “Fine Again” all these years. I wanted it to be second nature.
Cryptic Rock – I’m sure it takes a lot of that pressure off and then allows everything to flow more organically. When it came to trimming down those 21 songs to the 13 that made it on the record, was that something that you guys collectively did or did Shaun just sort of self-edit himself down to these core 13 tracks?
John Humphrey – No. The band and management, everyone… We did a vote on the track listing and then if there was a tiebreaker, then Shaun would be the deciding vote. We all sort of weighed in on the track list and then there’s a lot that we all wanted. To be honest, the 21 tracks, all of them I felt were really strong. There was no filler on this. So, really, personally, I was not disappointed with any of the final 13 that were selected and do hope and believe that hopefully, the other tracks will get out at some point.
Cryptic Rock – So, I’m not gonna say your favorite, because I know you can never ask any musician that, but is there one song that you loved or wanted to be released as a single? Or maybe still hoping might make it out as a single?
John Humphrey – No, no, I think, actually, what we’ve chosen as singles initially, “Dangerous” to start, “Beg,” and now “Bruised and Bloody” are all strong. There’s a song on the album I personally really love, but you’re right, it’s hard to say ”I love this one above all the rest.” There’s really not a case of that, but one of my favorites is “Wasteland,” It is just a cool track, and maybe it’ll end up being a single. That’s just a preference thing and that’s because I have great memories (of it). My kids picked me up from the airport and when I was playing them rough mixes of the album, “Wasteland” just happened to be the first on the certain track list that I put together. I just remember both my boys being like “This is awesome!” So, I have personal memories attached to certain songs. Maybe that’ll be a single at some point, but if it’s not, you know, that’s okay, too.
Cryptic Rock – How do you guys go about giving and receiving criticism during recording to pull the best out of one another?
John Humphrey – Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’ve been with the band now 17 years and there’s a chemistry there. We’ve been through a lot and have a lot of time under our belt. First and foremost, we are the biggest fans of this band, and we wouldn’t want to put anything out of this so far, so it definitely has to go through the band insurance quality control, if you will. We’re harder on ourselves than any other guy, label, or fan could possibly be. We want to be proud of it. We have to go out and tour for 16 months behind it, and we’re always… you know, it’s a photograph at that time and period, and where we’re at mentally and musically. I think these last two albums show a lot of growth for the band. I think it has a huge part to do Shaun writing and producing the album completely.
We’ve worked with some amazing producers in the past and we’ve learned a lot, but you always have that objective opinion (with other producers). You have an outside opinion and outside influence that you respect their experience and their decisions. (In the past) maybe there were some cases where maybe we wanted to speak up, but we were a young band, and maybe we had to compromise a vision. With Shaun producing and mixing you don’t have to compromise that vision. He fully envisions it. He hears it and it’s guitar-oriented Rock. There’s aggression there. There’s melody there, and I think there’s definite growth with these last two albums that you see. Do I think that has a huge part to do with Shaun producing them? Absolutely.
Cryptic Rock – That’s amazing. We were talking about life in the age of coronavirus. How did you guys approach and prepare yourselves to release an album during a global pandemic? Also, where do you think the future of the music industry and live events are going to be headed in a post-pandemic world?
John Humphrey – That’s a great question, and we’ve just kind of tried to be fluid and moved with everything. We wrapped recording and mixing the album at the end of January. I’m thrilled, though, that the album is coming out this year. We were supposed to, if the original plan had continued, we’d obviously be out on the road right now and about 30 shows into a tour. Thank God the album is coming out now, and regardless, we’ll tour next year, but in the meantime, we had the live stream on August 30th. It’s awesome to come together to play, rehearse, and get ready for this thing. Maybe there’s more live streams in the immediate future before full on recurring tours, but I certainly hope we’re planning on (touring) next year.
You know, as things slowly return to normal we’ll plan on tour dates for next summer and beyond. I wanna be out on the road again, and I certainly hope and remain optimistic that things can return to normal. In the meantime, if we need to do more live streams, then we’ll do it, because we’re a band. We play music and we need to play music. That’s what we love to do.
Cryptic Rock – That sounds awesome! Now, here at Cryptic Rock we also cover Horror/Sci-Fi. If you’re a fan of either of those genres, what are some of your favorite films?
John Humphrey – I’m a Star Wars kid and I’m watching The Mandalorian now. So, for Sci-Fi, I’m definitely a Star Wars guy. You know, there’s always those two factions, you’re either Star Trek or Star Wars and I’m Star Wars. I’m old enough to remember going to see The Empire Strikes Back (1980) in the theater as a kid. I have two boys, one’s a teenager and one’s twenty-one, and I’ve passed on the torch, if you will, of the Star Wars legacy. They both love it and know more about the details of it and explain things to me that I’ve missed. It’s been amazing that this franchise has lasted and carried on, and to see your kids have a passion for it. You remember having the little action figures, seeing the movie when you were a kid, and carrying the lunch box to school and all those things! I’m a total Star Wars geek!
Cryptic Rock – Nice! Nothing like giving the gift and the inheritance of a fandom.
John Humphrey – That’s right! On to the next generation! (laughs)