Before O’Brother, Baroness or Mastodon, Atlanta’s Sevendust put Georgia on the hard-rock/heavy-metal map.
Originally formed under a different name in 1994, the core membership—vocalist Lajon Witherspoon, guitarists Clint Lowery and John Connolly, bassist Vince Hornsby and drummer Morgan Rose—has changed only once in the last 19 years: Lowery left in 2004 to form the band Dark New Day with his brother, Corey, only to return four years later.
That doesn’t mean the band hasn’t weathered its fair share of difficulties, including early resistance to its soulful approach to metal, lack of support from record labels, bankruptcy and sheer exhaustion from a relentless touring schedule. But Sevendust perseveres: It recently released their ninth LP, Black Out The Sun, on its own 7Bros. Records (via Warner Music Group’s Independent Label Group). And the band is currently on a nationwide co-headlining tour with Coal Chamber.
GMM recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Witherspoon and Lowery to discuss the evolution of Atlanta’s rock/metal scene, Sevendust’s longevity and what they’ve learned from nearly two decades of ups and downs in the music business.
You’ve been around nearly 20 years. What was Atlanta’s hard rock/metal scene like in the early ’90s?
CLINT LOWERY: It was a very different landscape. Everyone was doing shows together and helping promote each other. There wasn’t any social media, so it was completely by word-of-mouth. Back then, it was unified because you had to lean on each other. Every generation, it seems like there’s one band that pioneers this new sound, and a lot of other bands form their versions of it. Bands like Korn were starting to open up doors.
It seemed bands like Follow For Now, Stuck Mojo & Sevendust brought a soulfulness to the scene that was very representative of Georgia’s musical history.
LAJON WITHERSPOON: You just named one of my favorite bands in the world, with one of my favorite singers—Follow For Now and David Ryan Harris. I can’t believe you even put us in the same bracket! It was an incredible time to grow up in Atlanta. I felt like it definitely was a movement.
Was there any resistance to this unique blend of styles?
LAJON: Our family and friends embraced it, but I don’t think the radio did at first. It was a long process. We hit the road and didn’t turn around. But it was really cool to come home and hear ourselves on the radio station and get that respect. It was an honor to be from Atlanta.
What does it take for a band to last 20 years and not want to kill each other?
CLINT: This band was put together based on friendship. We’ve all been in bands where one or two guys were always difficult, or had an ego issue. Obviously we wanted people who could play and were skilled at their craft. But the primary thing was, is this person cool to hang out with? It served us well. We live in a metal tube—a tour bus—and we have for a long time. We’re all weird in different ways, and it’s just about learning each other’s personalities, staying out of the way when it’s time to stay out of the way, and being assertive when it’s time to put your boundaries up. Ultimately, it’s about loving and respecting each other.
During the years without Clint, Sevendust went through some rough times, dealing with label issues and bankruptcy. What did you learn as a band from those struggles?
LAJON: We learned how to take charge and really start taking care of our business. That’s what’s happening now, and things just keep looking up and up. When we were young, we didn’t really care about anything but getting out on the road. That was our dream—to stay away from the house for a year. We didn’t have families then. Now, we’re not only artists, but we’ve learned how to be more business-minded.
Clint, what was it like for you to be on the outside, looking in? And what was it like coming back?
CLINT: It’s kind of like when you’re in a relationship with someone and then you leave. There were a bunch of different emotions involved. I had a unique opportunity to really appreciate what this band is. When you’re in it, it’s hard to see how powerful the Sevendust machine is. From the outside, I could see how the band affects people, and the loyalty the fans have. I got an opportunity to get away from it, to miss it, and to see how hard it is to start a band from scratch. When I returned, I was very thankful. I had a chance to take a deep breath and try some other creative things, and then come back home.
It’s been three years since your last album. After 15 years of relentless recording and touring, was there a strategy behind taking time off?
LAJON: It was just time for us to take a break, and thank the Lord we did. We were able to work on different side projects and then go back in and be focused. We worked together like a band at the beginning, like when we started as kids. We didn’t have any material. We went in and just jammed on a new song every day, and we finished the record in a month. It was a beautiful experience.
What were you hoping to accomplish with the new record? How does it progress your sound?
CLINT: The goal was to capture the initial spirit of when we first started. I thinking having a little time off helped us achieve that. The record has an old-school feel to it. We produced it ourselves, and we arranged and wrote all the songs in the studio. It was a really cool experience, just on a friendship level. Musically, I think it represented the friendship that we have and the original sound we started out with.
LAJON: We’re not afraid to talk about our life experiences, and life has definitely changed for all of us as we’ve gotten older. We wrote some of the most melodic songs we’ve ever done. I think we got off the beaten path and created an incredible piece of music.
What are your plans for the future?
CLINT: Our plan is to take this album through the typical year-long cycle it takes us to tour around a few times. That’s the concentration right now. Lajon has talked about doing a solo thing, which I think will be healthy. I think we’ll all go and do our own individual things, and after a while we’ll do another Sevendust record.
Lajon, what sides of yourself do you want to explore in that solo project?
LAJON: This is something I’ve been working on for a while. Sevendust is my #1 priority, but it’s exciting for me to work on a different album. I look forward to doing anything from R&B to country. I love music, and I’m not afraid to showcase my voice in different ways.
How would you like to see Sevendust continue to develop?
LAJON: I just want to keep writing great albums and stay in good health. There’s still so much to do, to build relationships with the people who have supported us all these years—and to continue to rock!