Together for almost two decades, Sevendust weathered many storms and managed to stay afloat on the turbulent seas of a constantly changing music industry. Sevendust have outlasted many of their peers and continue to grow stronger with each successive album. Their personal bond not only strengthens, but the music tends to get tougher and tighter as well. Their ninth full-length offering, ‘Black Out the Sun’ [7 Bros./ADA-Music], staunchly upholds that tradition. They don’t stray from the bruising hallmarks of their patented style, but they also don’t stick to a script either. They deliver what their diehard fan base has loved since day one, but they continue to challenge themselves in the process. As a result, ‘Black Out the Sun’ sees Sevendust at their most uncompromising, unwavering, and undeniable. For the first time since their formation, the quintet took a much-needed break right after touring for almost two years behind 2010′s Cold Day Memory. The record served as a milestone for a few reasons. It welcomed founding guitarist Lowery back into the fold after a 6-year absence and yielded the band’s highest first-week debut ever on the Billboard Top 200, reaching number twelve on the chart. After the roller coaster tour cycle, the group enjoyed a real “vacation”. Lowery and Rose joined forces for Call Me No One, dropping their debut ‘The Last Parade,’ and Connolly and Hornsby formed Projected and released ‘Human.’ However, by the summer of 2012, everyone began chomping at the bit to return to Sevendust. They were soon drawn to the studio once more to create their most beautifully crafted album to date. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Sevendust frontman Lajon Witherspoon to discuss the creation of ‘Black Out The Sun,’ the longevity of the band, life on the road and much more!
We like to take our readers back a bit to give them background on your formative years. What are your first memories of music?
It goes back quite a way. I remember my father growing up would sing in church. I would also see him with his band, he had one when I was a kid. I used to go to practices with him. It was really cool to be able to go to his house and the clubs. He always laughed when I reminded him that I remember those bars and clubs when I would go to sound checks with him! It is something that really stuck with me that I wanted to do.
What made you pursue music professionally instead of following a different path?
I guess that God has a plan! I think I always wanted to do this, even in high school it was a dream of mine. I thought I was destined to do it, so I just kept going down that avenue. It seemed to keep presenting itself to us, so we continued to walk down it. We got very lucky to be at the right place at the right time. TVT Records discovered us in the Wreck Room, a place where we used to rent to rehearse there. They thought they were going to the strip club one night during the Gavin Convention when they accidentally ran into Sevendust! It is a true story and that is how it happened! A year later we started negotiating a record deal with them, signed it and there ya have it! [laughs]
If you had to cite a specific person or type of artist who inspired you early on, who would they be?
Definitely my father. He had a tremendous influence on me. There were also a ton of artists. Really, it was anyone who was doing what they were doing with conviction and songs. That is what I really like so I have always followed true people.
Obviously you guys had your share of ups and downs. You have been around for a very long time and outlasted many of your peers. To what do you attribute Sevendust’s longevity?
I think we have a great group of guys who set out to do something and we have to finish what we started. Sevendust definitely changed all of our lives. There have been a lot of ups and downs but as far as the life lessons I have learned, I wouldn’t change it for the world. The people we have met along the way and the lives we have changed have been incredible. To be still relevant today — what more could you ask for? To still be touring, writing music, playing in front of incredible people, doing what you love and building new relationships is an unbelievable gift.
You just released “Black Out The Sun.” What inspired this album and fuel the creative fire?
Definitely taking off that year helped everyone. We didn’t have any material written for the album, so it was really good to go in without anything and jam as a band again like we did in the beginning. I think having that year off really inspired everyone.
How did the title come about and what does it mean to you?
The title was something that came to me a little while before we went to record. It was something that stuck with me. The title ended up turning into a song about the loss of my father. I think the album really speaks to what is going on in our lives from the good to the bad to the loss to the gain, everything. I think we weren’t afraid to do the most melodic song we have ever done, “Got A Feeling,” to the heaviest song we have ever done, “‘Til Death.” To be able to continue to do stuff like that and not have anyone come in and police it and say, “This should sound like that,” is great. Our artistic ability really had no boundaries and we were able to be ourselves and that is exactly what we did with “Black Out The Sun.”
When you guys first got back together after the break, did you have certain expectations heading into a new album?
No. It was just good to be back together, to be true to ourselves and jam. There was never any thought that we had to reinvent the wheel. We did kinda talk about wanting to capture that original Sevendust energy and I think we did get that with this approach. The first time we recorded, we did it in a room and just looked at each other. That is what we did this time and it was really cool to feed off each other, laugh and hang out. The whole process was really cool.
Can you tell us about your songwriting process at this point?
That is one of the great things we have going for us. We have all writers in the band and everyone comes to the table with something. It is really a fun process. If someone doesn’t have anything you can go to the next guy and he might have an idea. It is a fun way to write because you have access to so many ideas. On top of that, everyone can sing, so it is real cool. We wrote a song a day for this album and we were at the studio for 30 days. We were there everyday from 12 noon to 12 midnight every day until Saturday where we took off but we were right back at it on Sunday. That is how we approached it for “Black Out The Sun” and that was all the time we had! [laughs]
Looking back on the process of bringing the album to life, what do you consider the biggest challenge?
Trying to beat the deadline of 30 days. We really wanted to make sure we were happy with what we had. We had no intentions of leaving there unless we were happy, you can believe that! We definitely wanted to test ourselves and see if we were able to accomplish that goal and it was truly an incredible experience. We are definitely in a great place creatively. I think we all are. It is a very cool place to be. It is exciting and new.
Let’s talk about the music video and touring aspects of “Black Out The Sun.” What do you have in store for fans?
The video for “Decay” is already out. We released that about three weeks ago. It was an idea that we came up with. I wanted to do it in a mansion. We were able to find a rent-a-week mansion in Davenport, Iowa. We came up with a cool little theme that I think everyone should check it out! We will definitely be doing some more videos as well, in addition to touring the world. We will be headed back overseas. We will be going to South America for the first time. We are excited about building relationships and hope everyone grabs this album!
I have to ask you about a “Spinal Tap” moment …
Oh my god! I have fallen off stage twice! [laughs] In Flint, Mich. at The Machine Shop! My lighting guy didn’t put any green tape up, nor did he tell me where the light was that was flashing. I guess there was a gap on both sides. I went down on the right side of the stage and he flashed the lights on bright! He said, “Sorry!” I said, “It’s OK, man! It’s cool!” Then I did it again on the second time! [laughs] We continued to rock out, so it was cool! [laughs]
You guys have a tremendous amount of material at this point. How do you guys determine what you will play when hitting the road for a new tour?
Oh, man! It is getting crazier and crazier each time! [laughs] It is so funny! I really look forward to the shenanigans that go on when we go to pick the songs. It can be something like, a true story, we will start playing a song, get three bars through it and someone will say, “Fuck that song!” [laughs] It is like a train crash when everyone drops what they are doing. [laughs] Then someone else chimes in, “Yeah, this song sucks.” We have fun with it! It is a beautiful thing to have such an arsenal of songs to pick from. We try to pick a little something from each album.
It goes without saying that we are all getting older. How is your approach to touring these days differently than days in the past?
We have movie nights a lot more than we used to! For sure! [laughs] We have movie nights and we go to the gym. We don’t burn both ends of the candle anymore and it is cool. We just try to keep a normal pace. Every once and awhile it gets wild but it is never anything like “Girls Gone Wild” or something crazy. It is more like a couple of guys might be up a little late drinking cold beer but nothing too wild. We are pretty tame these days.
Are you the type of guys always working on new material, even when you are on the road?
Not really. Once things slow down again, people will start writing. Right now, there is so much excitement from this new album, the energy is still so new. Clint [Lowery] just had his baby and everything is poppin’ right now. We will start writing again very soon though.
You have a great range with your voice and always bring your A-game when it comes to the vocals. I was curious if you do anything to preserve your voice, as it is your instrument?
I just drink plenty of water and get a lot of rest. I pray. Ya know, I have never had to cancel a show before. Some days my voice sounds better than others, especially right now where I just came off of 11 shows in 10 days!
How have you evolved as an artist since you first started?
I think I have matured. It is weird, I still get weirded out when I hear myself on the radio but I think it is incredible. I still can’t believe it. I always say my dream is coming true because I feel like I am dreaming when I wake up each morning and can do want I am doing in music, people want your autograph or want to talk to you about a particular song. It is amazing when I hear, “Hey man! I was your age when I first started listening to you and here is my son and his girlfriend.” It’s incredible man! I think I have learned so much and met so many beautiful people along the way. I have lost a lot of people as well. I think the music industry has taken me down a path I can definitely say I wouldn’t want to change!
I can relate. The first exposure I had to Sevendust was way back in 1997 when you guys were touring with Coal Chamber.
Yeah. That was the first time we met. You were playing Washington D.C.’s 930 Club. It was after your set and we were both at the bar waiting to get served. I said something like, “You can’t even get served around here if you are a rockstar!” You laughed. It always stuck with me because you are so down to earth.
Oh yeah! I am a country boy! [laughs]
Out of curiosity, do you ever have those days where you do feel like a rock star?
I don’t know if I feel like a rock star, man! [laughs] I don’t know what that feels like. I feel that I am a very blessed person who loves to do music like crazy but feeling like a rockstar, I don’t know. I guess we have a tour bus, so that is kinda rockstar but I don’t look at it like that. I look at it like we have been very blessed to do it. It isn’t like we are living in big mansions with 16 cars. I still take it all with a grain of salt and I never take it for granted, ya know what I mean?
Just as down to earth today as you were all those years ago! [laughs]
Right on, brother! I gotta stay grounded — otherwise my wife will kick my ass! [laughs]
What is the best advice you can pass along to someone looking to pursue a career in the music industry?
If I would say anything, I would say to the women and men out there not only be true to your art but be a businesswoman or businessman in the music business. I say that because you have to keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on around you. When we were younger, we didn’t really care about that. I was 21 years old and I didn’t have any responsibility really. I was like, “Oh my god! We have a record deal! We are going to go on the road for a year? Who cares! Let’s do it!” At the end of it I had a Chic-O-Stick and no money but we didn’t really care about it because we were playing towns all over the United States and our dream was finally coming true. With all that happening, you kinda lose sight of the business side of it. I think everyone out there should always keep their eye on the business side of things because it is so very important.
Do you have your eye on any potential side projects you might be looking to explore in the future?
Yeah, definitely. I love working with bands. I just worked with the band, Earthside. I did a score with the Moscow Orchestra with them. That was an incredible experience and it really took me out of the box. I am interested in doing some solo stuff but it would definitely be after Sevendust slows down, closes the door for a minute and takes a break. It is something we have talked about and I am just taking my time. We will see. I definitely want to get my hands on some other things at some point to show my range.
For those who haven’t heard “Black Out The Sun” yet, what would you tell them about it sonically?
I think it is an experience, a magical experience! It is just Sevendust being real and doing what we do best.
I second that, my friend. It is a terrific album and you guys definitely captured some magic with this one. Thank you so much for your time today, Lajon! We look forward to seeing you on tour!
Right on, brother! I look forward to seeing you. I am glad you enjoy the album and thank you for your support for so many years!