In 1994, Sevendust first forged a familial tie amongst each other that translated into one of the most diehard audiences in the game. To this day, the connection between fans and the GRAMMY® Award-nominated, gold-certified hard rock outfit only grows stronger. A trifecta of now-classic gold albums—’Sevendust’ , ‘Home’ , and ‘Animosity’ — ignited their journey. Known as an equally intense and unforgettable live force, they’ve consistently packed houses around the world and decimated stages everywhere from Rock on the Range and Woodstock to OZZfest and Shiprocked! 2015’s ‘Kill The Flaw’ represented a high watermark. Bowing at #13 on the Billboard Top 200, it scored their highest debut on the respective chart since 2010 and marked their fifth consecutive Top 10 on the Top Rock Albums Chart and third straight Top 3 on the Hard Rock Albums Chart. Most impressively, the lead single “Thank You” garnered a nomination in the category of “Best Metal Performance” at the 2016 GRAMMY® Awards, a career first.
In 2018, the band stands ready to unveil the latest chapter in their already rich history — ‘All I See Is War.’ For their twelfth full-length and first release for Rise Records, the quintet—Lajon Witherspoon [lead vocals], Clint Lowery [lead guitar, backing vocals], John Connolly [rhythm guitar, backing vocals], Vince Hornsby [bass], and Morgan Rose [drums]—did the best thing they could possibly do to combat all of the division in the streets and on social media — they simply made a Sevendust record. The journey to the new album started a year before, when the boys began to discuss what would become their next offering. Instead of diving right in, they took advantage of an eight-month writing process, which proved to be a breath of fresh air. After sessions in their native Atlanta and at Lowery’s spot in St. Louis, the group headed down to Orlando in order to record at Studio Barbarosa with Michael “Elvis” Baskette [Alter Bridge, Trivium, Slash]. Over the years, they maintained a friendship with the producer amplified by the praises of longtime comrades Alter Bridge and Connolly whose Projected utilized his mixing talents on their debut. It was a match made in rock ‘n’ roll heaven as the band and producer immediately began to gel and vibe with each other on a highly creative level. ‘All I See Is War’ is proof-positive that, even with 20 years together as a band, Sevendust is showing no signs of slowing down. The new album is as powerful and captivating as the albums that introduced them to the world at the start of their career and, by all accounts, they’re just getting warmed up!
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Lajon Witherspoon as Sevendust prepares to embark on a headline tour in support of ‘All I See Is War.’ The charismatic frontman offers up a look inside the making of their 12th studio album, the challenges they faced along the way and what the future might hold for them in the years to come!
You’ve come a long way from your humble beginnings to a true rock star. I wanted to go back to the earlier years to start. What went into finding your creative voice as a young man?
Ya know, I think what really started it was church. Growing up, I was in the church choir and I would get that same feeling of nervous energy that I still get before we go on stage today. I guess it’s a thing you need but also that you crave. So, I started with the choir and when I was in high school, I continued on. I almost did show choir, but I was like, “Wait, we have to dance too? That’s a little too much!” [laughs] I think that it what started to mold me. I also grew up seeing my father playing music and being a singer. I think that is what really focused me. It helped mold me. It made me want to do a lot of singing and not be afraid to show my voice. I didn’t have the best voice, but it helped me realize that you don’t have to have the best voice if you have conviction and meaning. If you have that, people are going to get it, understand it and feel it! That’s what you want; you want people to feel it!
By all accounts, you’re known as one of the best frontmen in rock. You have the rare ability to truly command a crowd and bring the live show to the next level. When do you feel you came into your own in that role?
I don’t know, thank you for saying that, but I think there is still so much room to grow! That’s a good question though. I think the energy from the beautiful friends and family out there is what I truly feed off of. They command me to make sure that I command the stage. Too many voices out there can’t do it, so I guess one has too! [laughs]
You’re a guy who never slows down. What fuels your creative fire these days?
Wow! Ya know what? What fuels it today is continuing to be relevant in this industry. We were recently able to sign a new record deal with Rise Records! Thank the Lord for them coming along to be in our lives. I think that put a spark under the band. That goes for me and the rest of the guys in the band. This is something that we had promised that we were going to continue. I’m praying that with Rise, we go down a different avenue that we haven’t been down in a long time. We are really excited about the adventure with these guys!
The new record is ‘All I See is War.’ What does the title mean to you and the band?
We didn’t realize it until the end of this album, but we said “war” a lot though the course of it. We say, “All I see is war…” within the song “Dirty.” Funny enough, in this world today, war is a big part of what is going on. I think about the times when I was a kid and how you really only read about old wars. Growing up today, war is going on and it’s been going on for a while. At the same time, I feel it’s a play on words. I don’t want to get too political with it but, with the album art, you see the kids playing and still trying to have fun but behind them is fire. For me personally, I feel like that’s what’s going on. I think people can take it and go with it however they would like.
What can you tell us about the headspace the band was in going into the creative process for this record? Was there anything you were excited to accomplish this time around?
Yeah! Working with Elvis! [aka producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette] I couldn’t wait, man! Personally, we had been talking about it for years! I was so excited, and I really didn’t know what to expect or what it would be like! The first night, when I flew into Orlando, I went to his home and it was really exciting. We were the first band to ever be invited to live with him at the studio, where the house is at. Immediately, there was an incredible vibe! Working with him every day was great. I never felt like, “Oh man, I don’t feel like I want to go into the studio today.” It was an experience to watch him work! It was a true pleasure! Creatively, Elvis is good all around. He’s a guitar player, singer and a writer. He’s a really cool dude and the kind of guy you’d like to hang out with in addition to working with. For me, Elvis was easy. Working with him was never hard. We feed off of each other really well. The ideas flowed back and forth very easily. You know how it is, sometimes you just click with somebody and have a good workflow. I’m not saying that other producer’s we’ve worked with didn’t have it, but this was something different! With that said, I’d love to work with him again. It was an easy process and we fed off each other! Everyone was in a great headspace. I mean, it was great to be able to go to sleep in this big, beautiful home and wake up and go right to the studio! We were there a little over 30 days and we broke trail maybe once or twice. I remember one night we went out. Our big night out was to Taco Bell and McDonald’s! [laughs] We were so excited. It was like, “It’s Friday Night!!!” [laughs] My point is that we go to work, man! This album was really important to us. Every album is important to us but it’s an important time for us and we really had a good time doing it.
What do you consider the biggest challenges you faced during the creation of this album?
Honestly, it was figuring out what songs to pick! Going into it, I think there were over 50 songs that we had to whittle down to an album’s worth of material. That was hard, but fun! Getting down to the wire, at the very end of the process, it was a difficult thing to figure out what songs weren’t going to make the album. The last days of being in the studio were tough. There were moments of “What should we do here?” or “Should we change this?” or “Is it too late to change that?” Other than that, it was a great experience from start to finish! I mean, come on, there was a pool and a hot tub at the house, it was in Florida, the weather was beautiful every day! Even when it was cold, it wasn’t cold! Are you kidding me! [laughs] How could it have not been great! [laughs] When we get together, it’s the best. When you have so many writers, everyone plays a really cool part. Everyone in the band can sing and everyone can write, so it tends to make things a little easier. For me, it’s cool because if I’m having problem with something, someone else in the band can say, “Oh, try this out here…” or “What do you think about this?” There is always something there and something to dig! I think we kind of push each other. It’s always a creative process. You have good days and you have bad days, but we always find a way to come together musically, if that makes sense!
What made “Dirty” the right choice for a lead single for the new album?
Wow! Let’s see, inquiring minds want to know! [laughs] I think “Dirty” is a great lead-off song, and the whole team behind us now felt the song was the one that best representations of what’s going on right now. With that said, there are so many other songs that I can’t wait for everyone to hear! It’s funny because “Dirty” was one of the first songs that we wrote in Atlanta, Georgia. We went down there and put it together. That was one of the first! That makes me feel good because first impressions mean a lot! That’s what was going on and that’s what we were feeling! I’m glad that other people got that too!
That’s very cool to here. That’s one of the things I love about your band. It’s more than a band, it’s a brotherhood!
Yeah, man. I appreciate that. It’s crazy. Now, we have families and our own lives. Sevendust is a part of it, of course. I remember, years and years ago, saying “Wouldn’t it be crazy if we had kids and wives and they came out on the road and were at our shows?” Sure enough, that’s happening! [laughs] What a beautiful dream come true! I think that this is something we were destined to do and are very blessed to be a part of. I could never take it for granted! Like you said, we are brothers but, more importantly, we are family!
You will be kicking off a new tour in support of “All I See Is War” very shortly. What goes into putting your tours together these days?
That’s a good question, man. I’m trying to get in that headspace right now! It’s funny because we are trying to pick the set list right now and a lighting show is getting put together, which is exciting. We will rehearse here in a couple of weeks and get it all together! We have been off the road for a while and only done a few shows here and there, but I think once you get back out there, that’s when it gets real! I mean, it’s getting REAL right now! [laughs] Once you leave the house and get on the bus, it’s real! The first show is April 20th with us and Five Finger Death Punch and some other bands. That’s when it really hits you and you start hitting it! [laughs] It’s exciting and I can’t wait to get out there, share new music, get back in the faces and start rocking again. We have all these big festivals, along with 18 headlining shows for this new album. It’s a blessing!
One of the other cool things about your shows is the mix of people from all walks of life and all ages. There are die-hards who’ve been there from day one and new faces as well. There are plenty of people just now discovering your back catalog of work and that leads to my next question. What’s a good spot for them to jump in? Any particular songs, maybe lesser known, that they might start exploring?
Oh my God! What a crazy question, man! There’s like a thousand songs! Let’s see! Ya know, the album “Seasons” is absolutely one of my favorite albums. That was with Butch Walker. That’s a good one to ease you into it! We were doing some crazy stuff, but it was awesome! “Time Travelers and Bonfires” was fun. That was an acoustic version of what we were doing. There are so many things out there. It’s funny, I go to my favorite little restaurant that my family and I hang out and they have a jukebox thing in there. There are over 100 and some Sevendust songs on that thing! [laughs] I’m like, “Holy cow, we need to calm down a little bit!” [laughs] But yeah, definitely check out “Seasons.” We were young, and the songs are still powerful!
We’ve talked a lot about the past and present today, but where do you see Sevendust headed in the future?
I don’t know, man! Hopefully with a couple of Grammys! [laughs] Definitely touring and hopefully getting bigger. I think there is still so much room to grow. I see us building more overseas, for sure. With this new label in place, we can explore some different avenues and that’s one of the ones I’m really excited about. I can’t wait to get back overseas and build. I also can’t wait to get back in the studio again! Like I said, I’d love to work with Elvis again. I’m already excited about doing other stuff, even though “All I See Is War” isn’t even out yet! I can’t wait to tour this! I think there is so much more left in us as a band. In a lot of ways, it feels like the beginning again in a sense.
You released a solo single last year titled, “Love Song.” What was that experience like for you and does this mean we are inching ever closer to a Lajon Witherspoon solo album?
Yeah, man. That’s funny you ask that. It was fun to do that and cool to see the feedback. Everyone was excited about it. Actually, that is still in the making right now. I’m talking with a very well-known artist and writer that I think a lot of people would be excited that I’ll be working with. When everything slows down again with Sevendust, I will wrap my head around that again. I’m excited about that, so, yeah, that’s still in the making!
Do you have a particular vision for what this solo album might be?
I want to go Jimi Hendrix, bell bottoms, afro… [laughs] No, I’m just kidding! [laughs] Ya know, I’d like to keep it in the rock genre but maybe not as heavy but still heavy at times. That’s what I do! It’s just a different side of it. It’s just like the song I put out there, “Love Song.” It’s kind of what I do, but just a different blend of it!
Fair enough! Getting back to Sevendust and everything you have created, what’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Woo! I’ll tell you what, young men and young women out there, as an artist, stay true to your art. All that is great but also be a businessman or businesswoman. Try to be at least. Try to keep your hands and eyes on all of that. It took us a long time to learn that. I think we are still learning but I would hope I have a better grasp on it these days! [laughs] That’s something that you have to do, man. You have to watch out for what’s going on because if you don’t, no one else really will. That’s some advice! Again, stay true to your art and be passionate! It’s so funny, I’m thinking back on when we got a record deal, 20 something years ago. We said, “Yeah, we made it!” When I think about it now, I’m like, “Oh my God, it was before the beginning and we thought we had made it!” What a dream come true to sign a record deal and tour the world. After all these years, like I was saying earlier, to sign a record deal again and have that feeling all over again. It’s the feeling of “Wow, there is someone who wants to be behind this and help us to continue this journey that we’ve been on and maybe take it to the next level. It’s a good thing, man!
That’s so awesome to hear! Well, you guys keep pushing forward and we will always be out here waving the flag for you!
Thank you, brother! I appreciate that! It’s great to talk to you again! Talk to you soon!
For all the latest news and tour dates for Sevendust, visit their official website at www.sevendust.com. All I See Is War, scheduled for release on May 11th via Rise Records.