This October, legendary rock band Seether will take the stage alongside Lynyrd Skynyrd, Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses as part of the inaugural Exit 111 Festival.
For Seether’s frontman Shaun Morgan, the festival hits especially close to the heart. One dollar from each ticket sold will benefit SAVE, a leading suicide prevention organization that Morgan became involved with after losing his own brother to suicide in 2007. SAVE is led by executive director Dr. Dan Reidenberg, a personal friend of Morgan’s. The two were originally connected after Dr. Dan heard about Rise Above, Morgan’s own philanthropic organization aimed at suicide awareness and prevention.
“Suicide is a public health crisis,” says Dr. Dan. “We lose someone every 11 minutes, and every 28 seconds someone attempts to take their life. These are hard, tragic numbers that we are fighting to change. Thankfully, for all those we lose, there are hundreds that are saved every day, thousands every year because suicide can be prevented. When people know the warning signs, what to watch for and what to do, we know lives can be saved. Seether, Exit 111 and SAVE are telling everyone that this is an important cause.”
In addition to SAVE and Rise Above’s presence at Exit 111, Morgan will also be debuting his new beer, Alain’s Ardent Ale, at the festival. The beer was created in honor of Morgan’s brother, as a way to raise awareness while reminding people to enjoy life’s little moments – like sipping a cold one. Grit Daily caught up with Morgan to discuss the festival, his Rise Above organization and his experience with metal health in the music industry.
Rocking it out
Grit Daily: You’re playing at the first Exit 111 rock festival in Manchester, TN in the fall. What are you expecting from the fans at the well-known home of Bonnaroo?
Shaun Morgan: Rock festivals are always a blast to play because there is so much enthusiasm from the crowds. I feel like people really let loose and enjoy themselves with abandon which makes for an incredibly positive and vibrant experience. I expect this festival will be no different especially considering the bands on the bill. It is incredibly diverse and some of my favorite bands are playing so I’ll be having fun regardless. Bonnaroo is a different type of festival, which I’ve never attended, so I can’t make comparisons, but I am confident this festival will be a huge success.
GD: How does it feel to be playing on the same roster as legends Guns n’ Roses and Def Leppard?
SM: That’s mind-blowing! Both bands are legendary in their own rights and I listened to them well before I played in my first band as a kid. I’m pretty sure we covered their songs when I was 12 so this is a surreal moment to consider. Growing up in South Africa we were never exposed to many American bands so we were never able to see them in concert at all. I will definitely be reliving parts of my childhood watching these to great bands play live and it’s an absolute honor to be on this roster. I may need to frame a poster from this festival to have a reminder of how special this actually is.
GD: The festival teamed up with your organization Rise Above to give a dollar from all ticket sales to SAVE. Tell us a bit about your involvement with the charity.
SM: The concept for the Rise Above festival started years ago in New Hampshire, where I was living at the time. The aim is to raise awareness for suicide. The catalyst for that was my own brother’s suicide, which led to my desire to turn tragedy into beauty with the intention of really shining a light on the current suicide epidemic. The first year was very small but we moved the festival up to Maine and it began to grow exponentially after we partnered up with S.A.V.E. which helped us really expand the reach of the underlying message.
Dr. Dan is one of the driving forces behind the charity and having people who sincerely want to help and be part of a discussion that is painful to have is incredible. Together we built the festival into the largest gathering in the world in support of suicide awareness and I am extremely proud of that. We have since ended our association with the people in Maine and are now aiming to rebuild the brand and the message in Tennessee.
GD: Why did you also want to involve SAVE in your new beer, Alain’s Ardent Ale?
SM: I wanted to create a beer brand in an effort to create a tangible way for people to be involved in Rise Above, as well as to provide a pleasurable experience at the same time. This ale is a perfect way for people to be able to support a charitable organization whilst at the same time sipping on a craft brew that was developed with love and dedication. It is my hope that this beer can bring people together and open broader discussions pertaining to suicide. I hope this inspires other people to join the cause and to try to make a difference, no matter the size.
Playing through the pain
GD: What keeps you inspired as an artist, songwriter and performer?
SM: Music is now and always has been my passion. That’s the simple truth of it. I keep writing music because I need the catharsis of the process and I love being able to extract music from my head to be able to actually hear it coming through speakers. Lyrically, I always have inspiration because every song is a snippet of a passage in a diary, or a snapshot of something buried deep inside my subconscious, and therefore there is endless material. I am just truly grateful that the ditties I come up with resonate with people and they feel compelled to support me and the band, and continue to come to shows. That is an inspiration in and of itself.
GD: How do you all keep a healthy headspace on tour when your schedules get chaotic?
SM: That’s a tough one because it is incredibly difficult. Leaving on tour means leaving behind loved ones and the people who are most important in your life. I used to turn to drugs and alcohol to help me cope, which is ridiculous, but that was how I chose to numb the pain and the fear and the boredom. These days I go to bed early and speak to my girls at least once a day. I try to have a video call with my daughter every night before she goes to bed and speak to my fiancé as much as possible. I put a lot of people through a lot of terrible things with my past behavior and now I approach my life differently. Meditation helps in some cases as it allows you to settle and quiet the mind every morning which sets a precedent for the rest of the day. Being surrounded by good people helps with morale and mindset too, so that’s very important.
GD: What misconceptions do you feel there are around mental health in the music industry?
SM: The biggest misconception is that musicians don’t suffer from mental health issues like everyone else. From the outside looking in, it seems to impossible to fathom someone with wealth and fame being depressed or suicidal. That’s from a purely materialistic view because money doesn’t buy happiness, self confidence or internal peace. Money doesn’t magically alter your brain chemistry and rewire you to feel “normal,” just as fame doesn’t alter a negative self image and magically transform you into a confident person. I have battled depression and suicidal thoughts my entire life.
Raising awareness of it doesn’t make that disappear. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe to some, but I never said I didn’t struggle with the exact same thing I am trying to raise awareness for. In fact, I feel it better qualifies me to be able to see the struggle from the other side which allows for a compassionate approach, rather than a disdainful one. I guess my point is that musicians struggle just as much as other people, regardless of their assets and the adoration.