The music industry is always changing, always evolving. Throughout time, bands have come and gone or experience transitions with new members but after nearly two decades in the business, one band stands strong and that band is known as Sevendust. While Sevendust has gone through their share of transformations, one thing they never strayed from was their music, their true sound. We were fortunate enough to catch Lajon Witherspoon, lead vocalist during their busy tour with Godsmack. With Sevendust’s new album titled Kill The Flaw set to be released on October 2nd, Witherspoon along with Clint Lowery (lead guitar and backing vocals), John Connolly (rhythm guitar and backing vocals), Vince Hornsby (bass) and Morgan Rose (drums) have a lot of exciting things happening.
Sevendust was formed in 1994 in Atlanta, GA. The members were all in other bands initially when they had met and Witherspoon tells us he was the youngest one. “I had a young band and I had seen Morgan and John and Vinny around town in different bands. I always wanted to play with them and one day I wasn’t in a band and I ran into them and were playing cover songs and said they wanted to jam with me so we put the band together and found a rehearsal space and found magic and started on writing that first song.” The band went through several name changes before arriving at the name Sevendust and Witherspoon tells us how they came up with the band name. “Vinny came in one day with a bottle of Sevin Dust, but it was actually pronounced ‘Seevendust’ but us country folks called it ‘Sevendust’ and it was a pesticide for plants and stuff and we thought it was a cool name and seven is a heavenly name so we decided on Sevendust and I think it is fitting because we are very blessed and lucky to still be here playing music.” As mentioned before, the band has made changes throughout their rock music career and this is something that can affect a band and its’ members both personally as well as professionally and can be the true test of how strong a band is in their union and in their commitment to each other as well as the group. “We’ve always been focused, I think it is something in the music. I think the thing that really changed us the most is we had to learn about social media and that wave that took over and that whole new avenue we had to learn and I think that has changed and it’s been good for us,” Witherspoon confesses. “I think it is partly because we have grown up together and we all have lives, and wives and kids and we have music which has given us focus and strength and we have just been really blessed in every way, shape and form. I feel like sometimes we are still in the beginning of a lot of things.” With social media putting bands and artists directly into contact with their fans, it has forced artists to become more “hands on” when it comes to answering their fans whether it be on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, and while some artists do it simply because they have to in order to survive out there, others do it because they thrive on the more personal connection they can get with their fans individually and as a whole. Witherspoon talks about how he loves it and loves that when the band puts things out there, they can see direct and more immediate responses from their fans. One thing he found fascinating was the Apple broadcast and announcement the other day when a young lady came out on stage and they had no idea Sevendust would be mentioned but they were excited nonetheless and when she came out and said “not too many of you know it, but I’m a metalhead and my favorite album is Sevendust” and then she went on to mention “their new album Kill The Flaw is right there” and she started showing people how to work the Apple product and that was the most amazing social media thing he has ever seen according to Witherspoon.
Witherspoon was named “one of the 100 best rock vocalists of all time” by Hit Parader magazine, and he started singing when he was extremely young. He was involved in choir and his dad was in a musical group and in a band. He remembers going and watching his dad rehearse the bass and drums and how it still gives him that same feeling because it was so much bigger than anything he thought he could do and how he felt when they turned the amps on. He just remembers hanging out with the band. “My dad still thinks I’m crazy because I can still name off some of the clubs they played at and not remember exactly where they were in Nashville but I remember the setting and my dad is just amazed how I remember the names and the tables and little things like that.” Influenced by artists like Prince, Michael Jackson and Thin Lizzy, Witherspoon said at one point he wanted to be Prince so badly and loved country music. He was able to learn to love all different kinds of music thanks to his family and now he conveys the same to his kids, but laughed at how he is forced to listen to Taylor Swift quite often by his daughter.
Kill the Flaw is the eleventh album that Sevendust will have released since they started their journey and what makes this album different than the others they have released is that they were really able to unplug and unwind after doing the acoustic album Time Travelers and Bonfires in 2014. After touring for that album, Sevendust was ready to plug back in electric and blast out some new music and not hold back which is something they feel they can do now. “We have kind of taken the reigns and taken things into our own hands so there was no one holding us down, coming in to police the album and the producers and holding us back as a band so we were just able to let it out and do it the way we wanted” Witherspoon adds. What has stayed strong is the band’s musical chemistry which was instantaneous when they first started playing. “We got together and went to a jam room and wrote two songs. We were so excited, we had to go out and play a show” Witherspoon states. “The owner of the first place we played loved the songs we showed him and so went on stage and played and the crowd went nuts” Witherspoon exclaims. “Later on that night, we went back up on stage and did the same two songs backwards, but it was rockin” he says with a chuckle. That is when they wrote the song Black and they also had a song called Crazy and while it was so long ago, Witherspoon was just full of laughter when he was talking about it and what a great night and feeling it was and how much fun they had doing it. Immediately after that though, they went back and said they were a band and went and wrote more songs, and the rest is history.
Like athletes who fly to different cities for days at a time for games, musicians that tour around the United States and other countries can be gone for days or months or even for a year which forces them to leave their loved ones and the comfort of their homes and live on tour buses and in hotels. Playing music day after day can also wear on your body and emotional state, especially for a vocalist whose body is their instrument. Witherspoon says he misses being able to go the gym everyday when he is on tour and misses his family. “I definitely miss my family the most,” Witherspoon admits. “I try to stay focused and especially during this tour, we have been doing headline and co-headline shows, outdoors and late night. You just have to keep focused on your health and make sure you get your rest.” Witherspoon confesses he doesn’t really like to talk too much especially after he has just played multiple shows but they have done it for so long, he notices when his body has had enough and what he can or can’t handle moving forward. When it comes to preparing for a tour or for a show, Witherspoon sticks to a ritual to keep his voice strong and to keep that vocal sound we all know and love. “I try to sing a little bit and do a shot maybe, have a cold beer. Whatever does the trick. Vocal exercises are important and nothing too crazy but just make sure my vocal chords are warmed up.”
One of the songs that has really hit home for some people is the song Angel’s Son which was written by Witherspoon and his bandmate Clint Lowery. Written in honor of the late James Lynn Strait (lead vocalist for the band Snot, who was killed in a car crash in 1998) writing such an emotional song and performing it can emotionally take its toll on an artist, especially when it is someone they knew who was taken tragically from this world. “That’s a good question” Witherspoon says. “I couldn’t write the song, true story. I wrote the chorus and the day we recorded it when we went to Phoenix, that was the first time I have ever had to deal with the death of a friend so young and close I didn’t know what to say” Witherspoon expresses with sadness. “I didn’t want to let anyone down, and I just remember turning the lights off in the studio, so we did and I could see the other guys from Snot in the control room and music came on and a verse just came out, right off of the top of my head, no lie and they were true words from my heart but I had nothing for the second verse when it came around and I remember thinking ‘how am I going to do this’ and then it just happened–it just came out too. That type of song, you don’t have them a lot but a song like that was just an emotional roller coaster for me” Witherspoon concludes. Every time they play Angel’s Son it is hard because it puts one back in a time of when that incident happened and those same feelings come flooding back so it can be a struggle at times to sing such an emotional song but Witherspoon details that the song can go to anyone who has lost someone in their life.
As we brought up earlier in this interview, Witherspoon was named in the top 100 rock vocalists of all time in Hit Parader magazine which is quite an honor and to anyone who is a fan of Witherspoon and his band Sevendust, it is well deserved. “I was #66 and it was funny because the joke around here is ‘66 bitch’ and then I was moved higher up to #35 but it was just a running joke with us and this is just a great question because it was so funny how it all happened” Witherspoon laughs.
With the digital age taking its’ massive effect on the music industry with live streaming and social media, Witherspoon feels the day of buying a band’s album and supporting them is scarce. Now that people can just download the music or it is leaked online, it is what it is but still they have a job, musicians are doing a job when they put out music and should be compensated for it in the way anyone would want to be paid or receive something for their hard work. Thinking about something you put every ounce of your energy into with blood, sweat and tears, it’s an art and Witherspoon feels that it’s a musician’s baby and he thinks about how they have had to do more to keep the new album under wraps and while he doesn’t have a problem with it, he wishes it was like the old days when they could tour an album and not just have one single on the radio and then wonder what happened to that band unless you go to their shows. He is fond of the days when you could hear five singles and be all excited and wait for it to come on the radio but nowadays it is all about changing with the times. “I hope what we have done with being away for a little while, that with Kill The Flaw we can do that and go deeper into that and pull out more than a few singles off of the album. This week, Billboard has announced that for a limited time, the album is available in full length to listen to for free and it seems more and more artists and bands are doing this. This approach can have its positive and negative effect though, since people can download the music now onto their computers. So far, Witherspoon feels it is working for them and they are receiving positive feedback and he realizes there will be people downloading it but hopefully the true fans will still go out and buy the album. Having a loyal following is key and Witherspoon says he recalls seeing a 19-year-old kid in the audience, then seeing the kid grown up with a wife and kids, it’s a family affair. To him, it’s crazy to watch the fans grow up and bring their families as they grow. “If it wasn’t for those fans, we wouldn’t be where we are so, thank you very much” Witherspoon says.
Growing up, Witherspoon not only had his dream of being in music but he also played football and was on the wrestling team in school and was even offered a wrestling scholarship at one point but then, he got in the band and really started focusing on the music. Not so much the desire to become a rock star but just to get close to that. “I never thought I would still be doing it or talking to you about it” Witherspoon says. “After all of these years, I still love it and I am still excited about it and this tour with Godsmack as well as the new album. Getting ready to go out onstage with Shinedown and Breaking Benjamin, it’s just great.” Aside from their tour with Godsmack, Sevendust will also be playing the Aftershock festival in Sacramento, CA on October 24th and 25th. When it comes to whether he enjoys playing a festival or a concert, Witherspoon loves to play festivals because you get to play with bands you haven’t played with before and see friends and he loves the environment. “Intimate concerts are great and so are arena tours, like we are doing with Godsmack” Witherspoon tells us. “I like the fact we are supporting in this tour and not headlining and it’s nice to play a 45 minute set and then be able to hang out afterwards. To be able to say I played a 45 minute set, then took a shower and then relaxed and watched Godsmack play last night was great and I even was able to go out and eat dinner by myself which was also great.” Getting on the subject of what style music Witherspoon would do if he didn’t do rock music anymore and he said he would be living on a farm with horses and his wife wants a pig. He said he would do country music or blues if he wasn’t doing rock.
Sevendust has toured with so many different acts such as Creed, Ozzy and more over the years and Staind, which Witherspoon mentions he is incredibly fond of all of those guys. “Out of all of the bands, we have played with, I love it all and I look forward to the bands that we are going to play with, there are so many that I would love to tour with. Three Days Grace is a band I would be interested in touring with one of these days” Witherspoon adds. They are just starting their tour with Godsmack and played Detroit recently and Springfield, IL then onto Kansas and Montana and Kentucky. Witherspoon said they will be playing the Louder Than Life festival this coming weekend, October 3rd and 4th which he tells us is a treat because his birthday is on the 3rd, so Happy Birthday Lajon Witherspoon! After that show is done, Witherspoon is looking forward to going home and spending time with family for eight days before they pick back up and finish up the US tour dates and then onward to Canada. As a fan of Metallica, it was the most exciting thing to Witherspoon when they toured together. “You think about getting this local gig and then next thing you know you’re getting a record deal and playing a stadium with one of your all time favorite bands, we were in heaven” Witherspoon beams. Witherspoon also enjoys the bands he has played with at Ozzfest. When he met Lemmy from Motorhead, Witherspoon recalls they were hanging out and Lemmy was wearing a Speedo at the time but imagine this kid who is just in awe of this guy and he brought him around and saw all of the gear Lemmy wears which was his best memory. Lemmy inspired Witherspoon to be comfortable and to even collect oddities and to this day he thinks about how blessed he has been over the years with the people he has met and worked with. Witherspoon also wanted to share another story about how Lemmy mentioned he was a fan of Sevendust and that just stuck with him over the years.
Outside of Sevendust, Witherspoon also has a solo project in the works. “Sevendust is my baby” Witherspoon proclaims. But he does want to do the solo album not necessarily to steer people away from the music he loves but to be able to give him the opportunity to showcase another side of him musically. Recently, Witherspoon worked on a piece with a band called Earth Sign and is dabbling on projects with different artists. Family is one thing that is important to Witherspoon and their support means everything to him. “Even though we aren’t touring as much as they did in years past, being gone for six months and missing out on seeing our kids, thankfully we are able to go out for a month or two and pick the shows we want to do and allow ourselves to have more time with our families.”
Seasons is one of Witherspoon’s favorite albums that he has recorded with Sevendust, it was a lot of fun as far as he is concerned and working with Butch Walker on one of their other albums was really cool, as Witherspoon put it. Mainly, he is excited about the new album Kill The Flaw, but with Seasons Witherspoon recalls how it was a fun album to record and they were young and they recorded it in Atlanta they had that angst and passion and they still have those qualities even today.
Among the changes in Sevendust over the years, lead guitarist, Clint Lowery had left the band for a short period of time and Witherspoon can understand how everyone needs to take time away and find themselves and he was always welcomed back in because they were like a family and are like a family. “We started together and the seed was planted and Clint was a seed and we had to take that seed out for a little bit but then it went back in” Witherspoon says. Lowery has been sober for eight years now and the time off did him good and he was able to come back to Sevendust better than ever. Witherspoon commends Lowery for how incredible he has become as a person and that he briefly toured with the band Korn and they were happy for him and they still kept the vision going despite missing Lowery in the band. At that point, it was a family affair having grown together so it different and it was fun and it almost felt like a breakup but he needed that time to figure things out. “I remember a day when we were rehearsing in Atlanta and we were doing something and I knew Clint was at the same studio and we ran into each other in the hall and hugged and started crying” Witherspoon tells us. It was like he never left when he came back into the band according to Witherspoon. “Like Daryl Hall and John Oates, let’s do this” he concludes.
To bands who consider Sevendust as their musical influence, Witherspoon said that is the ultimate compliment and all he hopes is that those bands make it too and that everyone shares the wealth in every direction. “What more could you ask for and be more passionate about” Witherspoon asks. To have someone come up and say they are the reason they play music, it is like a dream. It is an amazing feeling.
As we conclude this interview, Witherspoon is ready to welcome his new baby boy into the world and to slow his life down a bit once this tour is done. In March 2016, Sevendust plans to head to Australia and he is looking forward to rocking everyone over there and meanwhile seeing how the new album does and hopes for the best. All in all, it seems that Witherspoon is living the dream and Sevendust is just getting started, and it is safe to say we haven’t seen nothing yet and it will be exciting to see Sevendust continue to raise the bar and to continue to influence rock music and their fans.