Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
Shaun Morgan – Vocals/Guitar
Dale Stewart – Bass/Vocals
John Humphrey – Drums
Corey Lowery – Guitar/Vocals
“These songs are carefully crafted to nestle in your ears like a tiny velvet rabbit clutching a switch-blade,” says Shaun Morgan, his flair for vivid imagery with a dash of self-deprecating humor on full display. The SEETHER front man is describing the multi-platinum selling band’s eighth full-length album, Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum (translation: If You Want Peace, Prepare for War), a cunning, primal mix of euphoria and misery from a self-aware artist who admits he can be as fucked-up as the world circa 2020 yet unafraid to delve into the depths to help heal both himself and the planet.
That bold openness strikes a chord both musically and lyrically; 13 songs that explore and eviscerate demons both personal and political. Turning 40 last year and having a child also informs Morgan’s life and art: “This whole album is kind of me going through that process. I’m exposing myself to a degree I’m not normally comfortable with,” he says. “But I think it’s OK. I’m proud to be a little bit more vulnerable on Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum. Yes, I feel mortified by some things I’ve done in my life. I can’t take them back, and maybe I don’t want to, because every single decision led me to this place where I’m sitting right now. Could it be better? Sure. Could it be worse? Absolutely.”
That said, the South African-born creator is glad to have music to help him–and others–navigate rough waters. “Being unsure of the future is somewhat disconcerting because I haven’t been unsure of the future for 41 years, he says. “This time in the world is especially difficult for people who struggle with depression and mental illness. But making and playing music gives me a sense of purpose.”
Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum was produced by Morgan and engineered and mixed by Matt Hyde (Deftones, AFI) in Nashville from December 2019 through January 2020. SEETHER is joined on the album by newest member, Corey Lowery (ex-guitarist/vocalist for Saint Ansonia and Stuck Mojo). Morgan’s friend of 16 years, Lowery brings “a lot of expertise; he assistant-engineered the album,” Morgan says. “He’s inspiring as a guitarist as well; he’s the older brother I’ve always wanted.” Lowery joins the rock-solid threesome–rounded out by South African bassist and founding member Dale Stewart, and drummer John Humphrey (who joined in 2003)—to create a band whose symbiosis has become seamless.
The push-pull of SEETHER’s songs are as dynamic as they are memorable. Morgan brings an intimate singer-songwriter sensibility to the band’s heavy rock grooves. Drawing on influences including the dark and raw honesty of grunge’s epic guitar attack and the South African underground punk and metal that Morgan grew up on, SEETHER’s own sonic brew is unmistakable and timeless.
The new album’s haunting, unforgettable “Dangerous” is an instant standout. “It’s so different-sounding to anything we’ve done before, and it was by far my favorite demo,” Morgan says. “It’s just got so many guitar parts, including a cool Eastern-inspired solo running underneath the chorus. I don’t know what mood I was in, but I actually wrote the bassline on guitar and from there, I built the song.” Lyrically, the band wants to leave “Dangerous” open to interpretation, though lyrics like, “It’s so dangerous all this blamelessness / and I feel like I lost all the good I’ve known” are a passionate and pointed indictment of self and society at large. “Beg,” where Morgan snarls, “See hope fading out of your eyes / This time the pain is going to feel unreal,” is similarly unrelenting, and cathartic. The chorus’s point-blank demand, “beg, motherfucker!” is a primal rock rallying cry that will be obeyed.
Since forming in 1999, SEETHER has amassed impressive sales, chart and streaming numbers, but more importantly, the quartet never waned in their purpose. While others of their ilk faded away, SEETHER maintains a strong sense of self, ignoring trends and critics in favor of a consummate devotion to their craft. The resultant global fan base has grown organically, with the quartet’s sense of purpose and commitment spreading outwards, offering fans camaraderie, comfort and a sense of personal power. While the end result includes 3 platinum and 2 gold albums, 15 #1 singles (including 2017’s “Let You Down,” 2014’s “Words as Weapons,” and 2011’s “Tonight”); 19 Top 5 multi-format hits; and US singles sales topping 17 million, the joy is in the journey.
Bonded even tighter after a physically and mentally draining tour cycle for Poison the Parish, it took Morgan a moment to recalibrate and begin the cycle of writing that would become Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum. “We played about 19 or 20 countries in about four weeks,” he recalls. “It was brutal. I think had I come off the road and written lyrics immediately, they would’ve been a little bit bleaker. Not that they’re any kind of walk in a sunny field with butterflies now,” Morgan laughs. He began playing guitar at home again in the first part of 2019. “For the first few weeks, I had ideas; things that started becoming songs. I didn’t really start to rediscover my enthusiasm or passion until a few months into it. Then I couldn’t stop. Eventually I amassed about 38 or 40 different demo ideas, and of those, about 25 to 30 were sort of resembling songs.”
Striving for both cohesion and freshness, Morgan whittled down the selection to his favorites… of which there were many. They ultimately recorded 21 tracks in 17 days, then carefully picked 13 for the record. Morgan is “99% satisfied with the songs chosen,” a percentage the highly particular artist calls “pretty stunning.”
In the past, Morgan might not write lyrics until he was ready to record: “That way you allow the subconscious to take over, because you’re just scribbling things down.” But for Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum, he tried a different approach: “I actually sat and wrote the lyrics. I had them with me long before the tunes, so I got to live with them for a bit and make sure they lived up to what I was trying to achieve.”
The tracks include older memories as well as more recent experiences. Morgan digs into unresolved issues: “It could be relationships, abusive relationships, my brother’s death, or my dad’s death, subsequently, in 2017. Those things live within me and I touch on them in our songs.” Not only in song; Morgan helps others via his Rise Above charity and festivals. The Rise Above Fest (the name is derived from the SEETHER hit “Rise Above This”) was founded in 2012 to raise awareness for suicide prevention and mental illness. It was created in honor of Morgan’s brother, Eugene Welgemoed, who committed suicide in 2007.
In exorcising his own pain and passion via music, Morgan and SEETHER offer the rare gift of taking anger and personal darkness and making it relatable. “There’s a lot of rage, especially when I look around at the world. I don’t get into politics publicly, or religion,” Morgan says. “But in general, the ludicrous nature of extreme responses all around society to the most miniscule things has become quite terrifying—as well as quite amusing.” Si Vis Pacem Para, Bellum’s raison d’etre can also be gleaned via Morgan’s brutal but beautiful lyrics, like this from the track, “Failure,”: “I live my life like a broken-hearted failure / I’m trying to shed some light on the scars left by the razors.” SEETHER’s world embraces it all, as Morgan concludes, “Every album, we aim to come out with all guns blazing; even the album art is a visual representation our sonics. It’s beautiful, provocative, disturbing; it ticks all my boxes.”
That goal is also represented in the album title. Morgan grew up reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Latin at school, and he chose the ancient Latin phrase Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum as the title due to its current relevance. “I like the juxtaposition of using Latin, an almost dead language, and bringing it into modern times, partially for the point that we should learn from the lessons of history and the falls of empires,” he explains. “It’s about the social climate that’s been around for quite some time but is closer now to reaching a boiling point with the adopting of radical beliefs–left and right. The album is topical, and Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum is summing up what we’re trying to say with the songs, and the title is very appropriate to where I feel the world is.”