INTERVIEW WITH LAJON WITHERSPOON BY KELLEY SIMMS
Atlanta’s alt-metal/hard rock band Sevendust has been thriving for two-plus decades. Formed in 1994, Sevendust—vocalist Lajon Witherspoon, guitarists Clint Lowery and John Connolly, bassist Vince Hornsby, and drummer Morgan Rose—is one of the few bands that have remarkably sustained the same lineup throughout its existence with only one member change to date.
On its newest and 13th full-length album, Blood & Stone, the quintet continues its distinctive sound by infusing old school Sevendust-isms with its more modern, current era sound, resulting in a superb listening experience. Lajon Witherspoon recently spoke with us about Sevendust’s new album, the October 23 live streaming event, his long awaited solo album, and the band’s future plans amidst the ongoing pandemic.
During this pandemic, how have you been channeling your creativity?
The good side of the pandemic, if there is a good side, is that I’m home safe with my family, with my two kids here who are growing, trying to navigate in this new world that we’re living in, and my wife as well. We’re a normal family, we do normal things. We have an arcade here at the house, so we have arcade night. We try to make the most of what we can within the surroundings that we have. It’s been crazy, it seems like the world has changed overnight. We play music, the kids have instruments here. We just try to keep some type of normalcy.
“WE TRY TO MAKE THE MOST OF WHAT WE CAN WITHIN THE SURROUNDINGS THAT WE HAVE.”
Speaking of kids, mine only go to school two/three times a week and the rest is online learning and Zoom sessions. How have you dealt with your kids’ school during this pandemic?
My daughter’s doing Zoom, too. The only day my daughter was able to go to school was yesterday for school pictures, which I thought was odd. It’s been weird, but I told my daughter that I wanted her to have that feeling of having to get up and being nervous because daddy’s going to drop you off at school and you’re going to be late. I want you to have that feeling that you better make an “A” or a “B,” or a “C.” A “D” might get you in trouble around here. You know, what I mean? The stuff that we went through, the normalcy of life. Those feelings make you the person that you’re going to be. Not that it’s going to damage the kids or anything, but I can’t wait till it gets back to where they can get to that thing again. That Zoom thing…they definitely can’t pay attention like they need to, but as long as they’re learning something, I think it’s good.
Blood & Stone is a good mix of early era Sevendust and the more modern sounding latter era Sevendust stuff. What were you going for on this new album?
What you just you said! No one’s ever said that, thank you. A lot of people haven’t heard the album, but that’s a great way to put it. I think that was the accomplishment, to make it have some old school Sevendust sound but also the modern thing. When you’re touring as a band…I can’t help it, but we’re getting old as hell now, we have to go along with the times and I feel like we’re seasoned. We had time to be away from each other to write music, to do other things, and then to come back into the Sevendust soul as a family. Really getting back to work again is awesome. I always say our magic together is what we do together as a band and when we do our best stuff.
“SEVENDUST WILL PUT ON A SHOW BECAUSE THIS MEANS A LOT, TO LET PEOPLE SEE THAT WE’RE STILL HERE, WE STILL LOVE WHAT WE’RE DOING, AND THAT WE’RE STILL GOING TO DO MUSIC.”
You’ll be streaming a live concert on October 23 in tandem with the record release date. This is something different for the band, but it’s become the new norm during these current times.
It’s so weird. We have an enclosed facility that we’ll be doing this show at. The only people that will be there, that are allowed because of the union, are the band, three of our crew, and the film crew, and everyone will wear a mask. And we’ll just jam. It’s going to be weird because that’s who we’re jamming in front of. But Sevendust will put on a show because this means a lot, to let people see that we’re still here, we still love what we’re doing, and that we’re still going to do music. And hopefully everyone, in their living rooms or wherever they decide to watch, will have a good time and take their mind away from all the crazy stuff that’s going on. We’d love to have everyone in the building, but we can’t right now at this time so this is what we’re doing. It’ll be fun. We’ll do older stuff, we’ll throw some new stuff in there. Of course, we’ll do the Soundgarden cover “The Day I Tried to Live.” It’s definitely going to be a show.
Speaking of, what made you want to cover Soundgarden’s “The Day I Tried to Live?” Your vocals are in such great range of Chris Cornell’s, but what does this song or band mean to you?
We’re not known as a band that do a lot of covers, we’ve done like maybe two? But for this time around…we’ve always talked about doing a cover for this album. We couldn’t actually come to an agreement as a band. Of course, doing a cover, there are so many songs that you’d want to cover. Elvis [Producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette] came in one day and said, “‘The Day I Tried to Live’ by Soundgarden.” I thought that was amazing because I love Soundgarden and Chris Cornell songs. I was like, “Who’s going to sing it though?” And everyone laughed and said, “You are.” It took awhile to register in my mind that I was going to have to do this and I pushed it back to the last song of the album. Honestly, what I did when I went in there, I had to say to myself, “Listen, you can’t compare to Chris Cornell.” And I wasn’t going to do that. But what I made myself do was to just go in there and do it the LJ way and put my heart and soul into it, just like I do everything. Ironically, this song fits in with what’s going on in the world today and that was the reason why this song came out. But what an incredible experience to go into the studio with Elvis and to record this track. It was a magical experience to go down that rabbit hole and sing it. It was crazy to track such a beautiful piece of music.
“WHAT I MADE MYSELF DO WAS TO JUST GO IN THERE AND DO IT THE LJ WAY AND PUT MY HEART AND SOUL INTO IT”
Speaking of Elvis, what were you going for sound-wise on the album, and what did he bring out within the band?
He’s a damn member of the band. Elvis is incredible. Elvis is the man I’d recommend to any artist out there who I think they should work with. We were the only band to live in the studio while recording, and man, what an experience just within itself. It’s like if you remember being a kid and watching the Afterschool Special show and that one episode where the magic house was at and you always wanted to go inside. And once the kids finally got in there, they never wanted to leave. That’s what it’s like at Elvis’ spot as a musician and an artist. It’s so creative, just working with him was a magical experience.
Opening track “Dying to Live” is the perfect way to start the album. Did you know early on that this would be the clear-cut opener? Did you pay a lot of attention to the song sequencing?
You start thinking, “Yeah, that’s Sevendust right there.” We had a couple of ideas, but after everything was said and done and once the song was done, I was like, “That’s dope.” Just to let the fans know what the rest of the album will be like and to be ready. I think that’s something we’ve always done since the beginning of our career—to get into the flow of the album.
“WE HAD AN OPPORTUNITY NOT TO DO ALL THE HEAVIEST SONGS.”
Compared to the previous album, 2018’s All I See is War, did you approach Blood & Stone differently or want to experiment with sounds?
I sang more on this album, if that makes sense. I have more melody on this one, just to fill in the pockets. We had an opportunity not to do all the heaviest songs. We came out and did some really cool slower tracks and some cool fun mid ranged tracks, just rocking steady and it was fun to be able to sing over that.
You’re also releasing a solo album soon?
Well, I don’t know how soon it’s going to be, but I’m still writing music with Sahaj [Daniel “Sahaj” Ticotin, who contributed to Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt soundtrack] and a couple other people, but I’m excited. We have an album’s worth of material. There are labels that are interested in signing me, which is fun and exciting to think that you can still get a record deal these days. I’d love to have another outlet. It’s not the most important thing, but this is important to me to be able to get out to let people know there’s another side to me, even though it’s kind of on the same avenue, but it’s different and it’s fun. I’m very blessed to be in a band like Sevendust, to have an outlet where we all get to do our different things that we like to enjoy and then come back and rock it out with the Dust. So, I’m looking forward to everyone hearing it whenever it’s allowed to be able to get out and once I take the proper steps to keep moving forward. I’m just sitting here waiting, so I’m ready. We’re going to write about four more songs for it and keep that energy going.
Blood & Stone is the band’s second album with Rise Records. How has this relationship gone so far?
It’s been great. Day one when we were talking to those cats, it always really felt like they had a pulse on the media outlet and they’ve helped us a lot. It’s been a great partnership. Being able to get back to making videos, when the pandemic hit, it slowed everything down with us getting to do a proper video where you see the band together. Rise is great. I like working with them and they’ve done a lot.
“WE CAN’T LET, NOT ONLY OURSELVES DOWN, BUT ALSO THE BEAUTIFUL FAMILY THAT WE CALL OUR FANS OUT THERE”
Sevendust has sustained a very stable lineup throughout the years with only one member change. How has the camaraderie and musical chemistry been there so well after so many years?
We just owe it all to each other. We wouldn’t have what we have now if it wasn’t for each of us in this band contributing and working hard. But we’ve made it, and I feel like we’re destined to continue. We can’t let, not only ourselves down, but also the beautiful family that we call our fans out there, everyone that supports us. If it wasn’t for you guys out there, then we wouldn’t have a job. It’s kept us going for a long time, so we have to continue. And it’s great to still be relevant in the sense of the music industry where one day you can be there and the next day you’re gone. I feel like we’re honestly a band and not a group.
What’s next? Although there’s still no foreseeable future for bands touring, what will you be focusing on?
Hopefully navigating some type of way for us to get back to some type of capacity of doing a natural run where you do a Friday, Saturday, Sunday in certain towns that are allowing shows. Maybe that can happen again. Finishing up my solo album with Sahaj, getting back together again at my studio at my farm house that we have and we’re going to write a few more songs. Just trying to stay focused. Trying to be a good daddy and a good husband. Trying to keep my kids’ heads up and just try to make it through this crazy curveball that we’ve been thrown. I think music is a healer and we’re here to heal.