Sevendust seem to have the Midas touch. With a run of three gold albums, kicking off with their eponymous debut in 1997 and continuing with 1999’s Home and 2001’s Animosity, they’ve sold out shows across the globe and been solid mainstays at festivals including OZZfest and Woodstock. Their new release, Kill the Flaw, follows hot on the tail of their previous acoustic work, Time Travelers & Bonfires, returning to their harder sound and angsty riff-making. Their hit single, Thank You, has garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance, and 2016 also sees the guys heading back to Australia after a 6-year hiatus. These shows promise to be energetic and filled with the band’s ol’ skool mayhem. Thanks to our good friend, John Howarth of Bullet Proof, we recently had the pleasure of chatting with the band’s eminently likeable frontman, Lajon Witherspoon, about his love for Australia, the new addition to his family, and his history with and deep admiration for the legendary Lemmy Kilmister.
SR: Congratulations on the new addition to your family, baby Kingston. That must’ve been the best Christmas present ever.
LW: Well, thank you very much. I was just looking at him! (Laughs). He’s a sweet little guy. I can’t believe he’s here, you know? What a blessing and thank you very much for saying that.
SR: You guys just played New Year’s Evil in Dallas with HellYeah. What was that like?
LW: It was great. For me, it was a little crazy because we’d just had the baby. Also, it was a late offer for us to do it. We love HellYeah and Vinnie and everybody, so it was cool. So what happened was that we flew in the night before the show, played the show, and then we flew out the next day. But, man, let me tell you, I was able to get there early enough to catch Islander. Red Sun Rising is a new band that I really like a lot, and Nothing More played, which is another great band that I love. But then we went on and what a beautiful night. We played at a place in Dallas called The Bomb Factory and the crowd was crazy. We went offstage probably about 15 or 20 minutes before midnight so we were able to rock out and watch HellYeah. It was a great night. And I was on a plane the next morning – I was at home by two in the afternoon, holding Kingston…back to reality…back to his schedule (laughs).
SR: Great that you got to see HellYeah’s set.
LW: Oh yeah, I got to see half of their set. Then I was able to get back to the hotel, pack up and head on back home. They rocked it. It was a great show. I think they brought in the new year a little late, but the spectacular way they did it was great.
SR: Which tracks from Kill the Flaw are getting the most satisfying reception live?
LW: Well, we went out on tour with Godsmack and then we went out with Shinedown and Breaking Benjamin. Oh man, great run. We had a great time. It was a beautiful tour. We put Thank You in the set and Not Today and they went over very well. I think Thank You, being the single, was very cool and then Not Today, kind of going outside the box and giving them something a little heavier, kind of crossed over well. I love playing both of those songs and I can’t wait to go deeper into the album in April and also when we get to Australia. We’ve got so much stuff to play and it’s going to be fun. I look forward to it.
SR: I love Thank You. Great song.
LW: Can you believe we got a Grammy nomination for it?!
SR: Yes, it’s brilliant. How does it feel? How much do you care about stuff like that?
LW: Ah, I used to not care about it until we got it (laughs). You know, I work with the Grammys. I actually spoke to the Grammy committee and for the kids and the school of rock and had the big Sevendust thing with the Grammy behind me. And I’m like, ‘It would be amazing to one day get something like that.’ You know? But if we never did… You know, I did say that at the end of the day at least we’ve got a nomination and that’s something no one can ever take away from us. One of my baseball playing buddies said, ‘Well, that’s like the World Series!’ I was like, ‘Okay, ‘cause you’ve been to the World Series, so that’s cool.’ And it is the big league and we’ve been doing it long enough. I hope I don’t get up there and do a Little Richard and go (puts on Little Richard voice), ‘Well, it’s about time!’
SR: You’ve described this album as being filled with lots of angst. Tracks like Forget and Torched are good examples. What contributed to that feel?
LW: It’s a good question. You know, we had to take off a year before that to do that acoustic album and tour. So we were really itching to get back into the studio and hit hard and put the acoustic guitars down and not pick one of those up or be in range of a thousand miles of one for a little while. So I think we went in with the mindset of not having any music written, but talking to each other and going, ‘We’re going to hit hard. It’s going to be heavy and let’s just go in and have a good time.’ And that’s what we were able to do with this album. Me, John, and Clint lived in a house together and I can’t believe it. I mean, we were in a state of emergency. There was so much going on in New Jersey at one point in time. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? A state of emergency?’ We couldn’t fly home, there was so much snow. But anyway, it was good for us because we were focused and we didn’t have anything else to do, anyway. In Butler, New Jersey, there’s not much partying going on anyway. We were in the studio from 12 noon until 12 midnight, Monday through Friday. We’d take off Saturday but come right back on Sunday.
LW: Yeah, it was like crazy, but for us to have this house this time… Oh, it made a world of difference, because me, John and Clint could go back and throw ideas back and forth – melody ideas… and put them down when we had to. But not only that, to get up and be able to cook your own breakfast… And not only that, but we had a really nice set up. I think the maid was a little shady because we cleaned the house. She said she cleaned the house, but I know she didn’t. It was fun for us to clean it. It was kind of a way to unwind. We’re all grown men, we all have families. For me to be able to come home and do that? I liked it! I liked to clean up. Those guys know that I also have a case of OCD, and I wore that little spray mop thing out.
SR: The tidiest man in rock.
LW: Exactly. It gets weird, but you know, I like to be clean.
SR: And you guys did all the production side of things yourselves, as usual. Being together in that house for so long and having the same line up after all these years is pretty incredible. Are you surprised by these bands that seem to have constantly changing personnel line ups?
LW: Ah, you know, I don’t know. I can see it. But we’ve always just been brothers, you know? We were brothers before we were in a band – we liked each other, you know? We were like, ‘Hey, that guy’s a cool dude and I love what he does.’ For me, at least, it still goes back to when I was, I don’t know, maybe 20 or 21 years old before we signed the record deal. I remember saying, “Hey, man, wouldn’t it be cool if one day we had this band together and we all had kids and wives and they were on the side of the stage and coming on the tour bus with us and stuff?” Guess what? It happened! And, oh my God, my wife’s like, “I’ll never ride in a tour bus again! I’m sorry, I love you guys.” Who would’ve ever thought that would all happen? (Laughs). Man, it’s been great. I’ve loved every moment of it (laughs).
SR: Living the dream.
LW: You know what? I think living the dream with a few nightmares…but I guess that’s what keeps the blood flowing, right? Because you’ve gotta have some nightmares in there. God knows we’ve had a few of those.
SR: Yes, I know in the early days you certainly had your share. But how was 2015 for you, overall, aside from the release of this new album?
LW: It was great, let me tell you. You know why? Because we got new people in the organisation…and I think people who really care about the wellbeing of the band and not just the money that they’re going to see from the connections that they make from the band. Understanding about time and the fact that these people have families…that this guy has a wife and two kids and a couple of dogs and would like to see them once or twice a year. So, it’s been a blessing to have that time and respect from the people who are working with you know and to really reflect and think, ‘Wow, we really did miss a lot, but we’re working really hard and looking at what’s going on for us right now.’ So, something is going right for us now. And for us to finally get back to Australia, because of the people we have working for us now…are you kidding me? It took this long to have the right people, so there’s no turning back, you know? And if there’s anything you can do to help me get a residency in Australia, look into it.
LW: This is something we’re going to have to talk about. People ask us why we haven’t been to Australia. It’s not like we didn’t want to go there. Are you kidding? As if I wouldn’t want to be in one of the most beautiful places in the whole world, and be there all the time. My dream is to build a relationship so that we can be there and come back and back and jam…and do the Soundwaves without douchebag making us look bad.
LW: And we want to do it for the right reasons. Luckily, we have those people now and I can’t wait to get to Australia and see everyone and give everyone a big hug and bond and enjoy these relationships and just rock out.
SR: Well, Soundwave is finito as you are no doubt aware. Anyway, this will be your first tour down under in six years, right?
LW: Yeah, absolutely.
SR: I know you keep up with social media and Twitter and so on. Do you keep in contact with your Australian fans, personally?
LW: Oh, yeah. I always talk to my Australian mates and buddies and beautiful people and say that, yeah, I can’t wait to get there. I say I can’t wait to have a beer with you and sit down and talk and it’s beautiful. I say it all the time: the energy in Australia, to me, was contagious, and I couldn’t get out of it. I still have that feeling from six years ago in my heart and soul now. So, I can’t wait to get there and rock again and walk around and say hello. To me, it’s a beautiful time and you learn. It’s good. I can’t wait.
SR: March isn’t too hot, either. January/February are a bit hot, but by March it’s getting a bit cooler.
LW: I can take it.
SR: Oh, you don’t mind the heat?
LW: No. I’ve got a funny story. Where’s the water in Brisbane? We were right near the ocean.
SR: Gold Coast?
LW: Yeah! We were in this big hotel and saw Rob Zombie walking – from our room. We were like, ‘Oh, there’s Rob Zombie. Cool. He’s out in the day time.’ Anyway, only kidding. (Laughs). Anyway, I remember walking down and Metal Mike, our light guy… He’s what you’d call a day time drinker. And I remember it was hot and he was wanting to get some cold beers to take back to the room. We were walking up a little bitty hill and it got to the point where it looked like he wasn’t going to make it. I remember he had Jack Daniels in a plastic bottle and he was turning it up and gulping it down. And, before he put the top back on, he looked at me…and he was sweating. And it made him sweat more. He looked at me and said, ‘Would you like to have a sip?’ And I said, ‘Was that refreshing?’
LW: I said, ‘Was that refreshing to you? Are you kidding me?!’ It was a thousand degrees and he was drinking from a hot plastic bottle of whiskey. (Laughs). But we had so many good times in Australia. But I remember that like it was yesterday. Not only that, but the people that we met – the parties and the excitement.
SR: You’re known for being a high-energy performer. You must get a great work out, even in the duration of one gig. What do you do to get your energy up before a show?
LW: Yeah, you know, I listen to all kinds of music. And we do our little rituals. John, of course, is playing his guitar. And Clint might pick up his guitar. I might be singing along with some of the music that I listen to. I’m pretty much the DJ in the room. Before we go on, we always do our prayer together, as a band. That’s something we’ve just grown up doing together. We can’t do a show without doing that. But yeah, I do feel that our show is a workout for us. There’s never a time that we get on that stage and give it our all, or at least try to.
SR: Along with countless other artists, you recently Tweeted your acknowledgement of Lemmy’s passing. You also posted a photo of yourself with him and your little girl. How did he influence you and your career?
LW: Wow! Oh my God, what a great question. I can’t believe you asked that. Well, that actually gave me chills when you said that, too. Okay, Lemmy. This is a crazy story. Of course everyone knows who Motorhead is. Years and years ago, the first time we went to London, we played a place called The Barfly. This is a tiny, tiny place. I remember sitting in the backstage area and the couch was, I guess, the bench out of a truck – the seat. We were sitting back there and somebody that worked at the club said, ‘Hey, somebody wants to come in there and see you.’ I was like,’ Who’s that?’ ‘Lemmy from Motorhead.’ What?! I’m a kid! I’m a kid at the time, so I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ He came in and he sat beside me in that dressing room and told me about how he liked Sevendust and how he liked the band and how we should never mess this up. He introduced me to Alice Cooper. I remember one night we went to the Astoria. He went, ‘I’m going to introduce you to one of my friends.’ I’m like, ‘I’m with Lemmy! I’m hanging out with Lemmy!’ I’m a young, black kid from Nashville, Tennessee in the rock world, and Lemmy’s getting ready to introduce me to some guy. Then I was like, ‘Oh, wait, Alice Cooper! Oh, okay, wow!’ (Laughs). Not only that, then it goes on to being at Ozzfest and hanging out with him and him telling stories. I remember one time it was an off day and we were at a Holiday Inn or whatever kind of hotel it was. It was so weird, because he was laying out in a pair of Speedos and it was the weirdest thing we’d ever seen in our lives. (Laughs). After that, he saw me and said, ‘Hey! Come to my room! I’ve got something for you!’
I went to his room and for me, it was like a museum of rock. I remember the white boots by the door and all the stuff that he wore. And I remember this, because to this day I collect it… He said, ‘Oh, man. Don’t be weirded out. I collect all that shit.’ But it was funny because he wanted me to know not to be freaked out because there was an Adolf Hitler helmet there. And I was looking at the white boots, going, ‘Let me try them on, right now!’ But he was so great and always so cool to me. And it just so happened that we were in L.A with my daughter. She has an acting thing that she’s doing and I’m so proud of her. We were going to get mozzarella sticks. And, of course, we were in town and Lemmy was actually playing The Roxy that night, just with his solo thing. And he just happened to be there and it was so good to be able to see him, and for him to meet my daughter. He said how pretty she was and gave her a hug. You know, that just melted my heart: for her to meet a legend and that he was always so gracious. You know, he didn’t have to be that way. He was Lemmy, you know? But he still lived in the same apartment. Oh, I remember – I’ve been to L.A several times – and a photographer friend of ours called me over and said, ‘I know you guys are right down the street…and Lemmy just lives right underneath me.’ And still, even knowing him and seeing him, walking past his apartment I’m like a kid, going, ‘I wonder if he’s in there? The lights are on. Oh my God!’ I know that there’s a monument of cool shit to look at in there. But he was just a magic person and it’s very sad and unfortunate that he’s gone, but his legacy will definitely continue to move people, you know? His music…and him…and his stories. I know I’ll never forget him coming to tell me not to mess up my career, because he felt like I had something good. Oh, also, what really tripped me out was that he told me was Jimi Hendrix’s tech, too. He was actually Jimi Hendrix’s guitar tech.
LW: Yeah, that was pretty cool. He did all the cool stuff.
SR: Well, you’re coming down to Australia in March. You’ve got a breather from now until March, right?
LW: Yeah, man. We’re off. We’re going to go to the Grammys in February.
SR: I’ll have everything crossed for you.
LW: Thanks. Well, yeah. Maybe we can come home with it. That would be crazy! It’ll just be fun to go down there and be part of it. I think the wives are more excited about walking down the red carpet. I’m like, ‘You know how long that takes? Like three seconds. And we’re going to be there at three in the afternoon. So, whoever it is that you think you’re going to see, they’re not going to be there yet. Somebody will probably drop something on your dress before that.
SR: Don’t rain on their parades, come on.
LW: (Laughs) Exactly! I’m like, ‘Your hair’s gonna be…’ No, I’m sorry. (Laughs)
SR: Do you have a message we can send out to your Australian fans ahead of your tour?
LW: Yes. We cannot wait to get back to Australia and see everyone and rock it out and just build that relationship that we have so desperately been waiting to get back to. I dream about it. I can’t wait and it’s going to be like Christmas for me, all over again!
Sevendust Australian & NZ tour Dates
Fri March 11th – The Studio (Auckland)
Sun March 13th – Capitol (Perth)
Mon March 14th – The Gov (Adelaide)
Wed March 16th – Coolangatta Hotel (Gold Coast)
Thur March 17th – Eatons Hill (Brisbane)
Fri March 18th – 170 Russell (Melbourne)
Sat March 19th – Metro (Sydney)
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