An August 1999 cover of Maximum Ink features a startling portrait of Sevendust front man Lajon Witherspoon. He’s a death-eyed, metal gargoyle; all tattoos, abs, sweat, and voyeuristic camera flash. But on the phone one Sunday in January, he put forth a surprisingly amiable disposition. It was noon that we spoke and there wasn’t a hint of hangover in his demeanor. On the subject of sharing songwriting duties with his bandmates, he descended quickly into Stage 1 bromantic sentimentality.
“I’ve always said it would be egotistical and selfish to presume that all of our lyrics could come from one person, especially when I see my brothers `his bandmates` cry and go through things,” he said. “A lot of times we’re the only ones that have each other out here. If you’ve got something on your heart, I damn sure know about it. And you know what I’m going through.”
The familial dynamic is hardly surprising, even if every member of Sevendust look like the bruising, anti-social, alt-metal rockers that their music portends them to be. The year 2011 marks 17 years of their playing together. When Sevendust formed in 1997, they had already been playing for three years as Rumblefish.
The years weren’t always kind. In 2005, Sevendust signed with Winedark, a record label that would implode the following year, leaving them without distribution, booking, or advances, and putting the band in debt to touring crews and creditors.
Then they found out their accountant hadn’t paid $120,000 in taxes. Drummer Morgan Rose told Revolver magazine in April 2007 that the band’s debt was close to a million dollars.
Last March, rhythm guitarist John Connolly told the Dallas Observer that the band “still have a couple more stupid-ass payments to a couple of our ex-managers,” before remarking that “it’s nice to not be getting sued by someone for the first time in six years.”
Underscoring the years of long financial turmoil was the absence of guitarist Clint Lowery, who left in 2004 to play in his brother’s band. He returned in 2008, prompting Sevendust and many critics to call their latest Cold Day Memory a return to form.
“We were talking about it the other night,” Witherspoon told the Current wistfully. “We were like, ‘Man …we’re one of the bands that still have the original lineup.”
Cold is something of a relic of music past. It sounds like ’90s nu-metal, when the country’s biggest worry was the president getting a hummer while on the horn with a congressman. The songs are Mack Truck heavy, full of staccato guitars and drums juxtaposed against soaring, layered choruses and frequent synth passages. As pissed-off as half the tracks are, Sevendust stick to a pop format (like many of their nu-metal contemporaries). “Unraveling,” the first single off Cold,could become a revenge ballad if slowed down, transposed into a country key, and sweetened with some slide guitar. Tellingly, the video features a clip of Witherspoon crying tears of happiness during a show. The song itself shifts from feelings of desperation and loneliness to hope and valor in seconds flat. It’s music for metalheads when they’re feeling complicated.
“`We like` not feeling like we have to be the heaviest band in the world,” Witherspoon said. “We can write about everything because we’re fathers `and` husbands.”
In 2008, the reunited Sevendust took their music to U.S. troops overseas, first in Afghanistan, then Iraq in 2009, and South Korea last year. Witherspoon described the band as being “in the mix” while touring the war theatres. The band had to adjust to wearing safety equipment and sleeping in tents as mortars rang out in the distance.
“It’s scary … to fly in a Black Hawk over to a hub with 300 hard, kick-ass `soldiers` who have been alone a long time, sitting in a half blown-up building,” Witherspoon said. “In Afghanistan, those guys came hard. I mean, there was M-16s up in the air and I was like, ‘Wait a minute! Put your hands down!”
Witherspoon now views providing the U.S. military with metalicious entertainment a sovereign duty.
“Any time they ask, we will come,” he said.
But touring for the troops, along with surviving financial trials and getting Lowery back, put things in perspective for Witherspoon and the band. They never achieved the ubiquity and success of similar bands from their “time.” Think Nickelback.
Think Creed. Think Limp Bizkit. Thankfully, they’ve never achieved the same level of public disdain that those bands suffered either. Witherspoon is just happy to still see as many faces as he does at the shows despite the recession and, after trying since Sevendust’s inception, to finally be on a tour with Korn. He’s also thrilled that the band and crewmembers now include wives, husbands, and children.
“It’s a family reunion, every night.”
Monster Energy Music As A Weapon V
Feat. Sevendust, Korn, Disturbed, and In This Moment
7 pm Wed, Feb 9
Illusion Theatre at the Alamodome
100 Montana St