May , 2013
By Scott Dworkin
Returns With New CD Black Out The Sun
JAM Magazine Interviews Guitarist John Connolly
Photos courtesy Sevendust Facebook
There's no doubt that Sevendust has seen its share of triumphs and tragedies, both personal and professional over the years. But the one thing that has persevered over all these obstacles is the band member's intense drive and determination to succeed. Their undeniable patience, and relentless touring over the years, has finally paid off with perhaps the biggest album of their career, Black Out The Sun.
Most bands that go on hiatus, with members branching off to do separate projects from the main body, almost always end up hurting the one's they love the most - themselves. In the case of Sevendust, the opposite was the case. Band founder and guitarist John Connolly recorded an album with friends and released it last year that drew rave reviews. His battery mate, Clint Lowery produced several bands during the downtime, and even co-wrote tunes for others as well. Drummer Morgan Rose produced and also sat in on other projects. Despite this extracurricular activity, no one ever lost focus on what was the singular most driving force in their lives - Sevendust!
JAM: The new album, Blackout the Sun,is definitely a bit different from what I'm used to hearing from the band. It still sounds like Sevendust, but there seems to be something different about the music this time around. Am I off track with that observation?
John Connolly - Well that's cool you feel that way - and good to hear! On each record, we try to do different things. Sevendust albums have a certain kind of sound to them that's hard to explain.
All our past recordings have had a ‘go to' song that sort of lays the groundwork for the rest of the album. It was no different this time around.
JAM: It seems that the five of you took more chances this time out than on previous efforts, especially the mid-tempo changes you hear on various songs.
Let's face it, L.J. (Lajon Witherspoon, lead singer) sounds like L.J. not matter how the music is presented. On this record, as opposed to what we've done in the past, we all decided to take all the little things we do in songs and just pushed it forward a bit. We wanted to do something slightly new, yet it would still feel familiar to Sevendust fans. When you have a voice like Lajon's, it identifies every single song we play because it's so recognizable. Musically, it was a challenge to us all to push the envelope and take the music into uncharted territory.
JAM: The lead single, "Decay", was a great song to release because it sort of sets the stage for the mystery that lies ahead. And that's exactly what Black Out The Sun is - a totally unexpected turn of events from Sevendust that you've pulled off brilliantly.
Exactly, and thanks for saying that. The song was No. 1 for almost a month on hard rock charts. It was the perfect lead for this record because it not only got everyone's attention. That song also prepared people to expect something totally different from the band. "Decay" literally jumped all over the place and really got fans prepared for the release of Black Out The Sun.
JAM: There's no doubt the strength of "Decay" really drove sales of the album upon its release.
That song just kept growing and getting played on stations across the country. It's actually kind of funny though, that the one complaint we've had about the song, believe it or not, is on the business side. The labels, our management, they were worried the single was actually moving too quickly up the charts. In the past when we released an album, these same people would call and say they were worried the lead single wasn't moving fast enough. They wanted to know if we could juice the song up a bit by rerecording it. Now they were telling us to slow it down. I just laughed.
JAM: The music business is perplexing these days. It's like you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Whoever heard of a band's label and their management worried about a hit single peaking too soon off an album that hasn't been released. They should have been excited as hell, not worried.
I totally agree. Listen, the label wanted a hit single, and for the song to get airplay, they just thought people would lose interest in the album before it was actually released.
JAM: The tremendous success of "Decay" took a lot of people by surprise.
It really did. The band knew it was a great track, and we expected it to crack the Top Ten. The fact it hit No. 1 and stayed there was the big surprise. From a business perspective, I think our management and the label was sort of hoping the song would level off in the teens, until the album was released. When it jumped to the top and stayed there, it was an unexpected turn of events for them, and a proud day for the band. I have no problem with the way events unfolded. I'm just happy the fans dig it and someone is actually playing hard rock on the radio.
JAM: The Internet has turned the "music business" model upside down and inside out making it extremely difficult these days to predict what it takes to get your music noticed.
You're right? These days it all doesn't make much sense. Every time someone thinks they know the game, it turns out they don't have a clue. All of us are just really, really happy at how well the song turned out, and how well the album itself has sold and been received by our fans. The crazy thing about "Decay" is the song was written years ago for our last album, Cold Day Memory.
JAM: Most bands don't revisit music they wrote in the past. Why this song?
What typically happens when you're writing for an album is someone will bring in a piece of music to the band. Then you all start working on it. For whatever reason on this song, we stopped what we were doing. Next thing you know, something happens in the studio and the band started working on another piece of music, and that song ended up being shelved. Stuff like that typically happens when you are putting an album together. I'm assuming that at the time, we figured at some point we'd go back to the song, but it just never happened.
JAM: Was this just a happy accident then?
In a sense, it was. While finishing up the mixing stages on Black Out, we thought it was done and didn't need anything extra on the record. Someone then was going through a backlog of the music we had, and pulled out the tape of the song. We all heard it and thought, "What's that?" This riff on there really kicked our ass, so collectively we thought it would probably take us 30 minutes to get the whole song worked out. So we went ahead and got the music going then wrote lyrics to it. We figured the tune would at least be a good B-side tune, or maybe even a bonus track on the CD. Half-way through the recording of the vocals, Lajon is just smiling like crazy. I asked him what's up, and he said, "This song is a monster!" That was one of those ‘stop the presses' moments. I had been thinking the very same thing that the tune should be a single on our album.
JAM: Funny how music that looks like trash can turn out to be treasure. "Decay" may very well go down as ‘the' classic Sevendust song.
No kidding! You never know what's going to turn up on an old hard drive until you actually start going back through your catalog of forgotten songs and listen!
JAM: You released a solo effort, Projected, before working on the new Sevendust album. Other members of the band were involved in side projects as well. When writing music for these other musical endeavors, how do you determine what songs could be Sevendust material and what's not? If you think about it, you could have discovered "Decay" on an old hard drive while you were writing the Projected album.
When we set a date to meet up for the recording of the next Sevendust record, we really didn't bring home any music at all into the studio. This record was pretty much done when we all sat down in a room together and started playing. Even though we share ideas between us when we're in-between albums, this time out, we actually came into the studio with very little complete material. We all just had bits and pieces of music we'd been playing and started from there.
JAM: The band members live in different parts of the country. I'm assuming you're always sending ideas to one another even when you're not in the studio. Does any of the music ever got lost in translation working this way?
It could if we let it, but you have to understand that this band is always writing, whether it's for Sevendust or some other project. It's a sickness we all share if you get down to it. Lajon now lives in Kansas City. The only ones that still live in our home town of Atlanta are Morgan and Vinnie. Clint lives here by me in Florida, so we are always together in my home studio cooking up something. We all have our recorders on because you never know when an idea will hit.
JAM: Is that normal for this band to literally start from scratch and construct an album?
No it isn't. Don't get me wrong, we all came into the studio with some cool riffs to work off of and some complete song ideas. We had some demos to work off that we used as a framework for ideas to build the album on. Most of the compositions on this record were spontaneous moments that just happened while we were jamming. Honestly, when we finally all get back together after a long period of separation, we're ready to go!
JAM: From concept to completion, Black Out The Sun seemed to come together rather quickly. Apparently the time off you all spent away from one another did this band a world of good.
We recorded the entire album in eleven days. I mean, who records an entire album in eleven days anymore? When we had all the music recorded, that's when it hit us like, "Oh shit, now that the music is all done, we don't have any vocals." Lajon had his work cut out for him. That said, I personally think we did some of our best work because of the way this entire record came together.
JAM: Counting on spontaneous combustion to create music in the studio can work two ways. You can go in, complete a couple of songs, and then come to the conclusion that what you're doing isn't working out. Or you can be fortunate and everything works out.
Well, you're absolutely right with that observation. If the vibe isn't there, and it isn't working for some reason, it can be a bit disheartening going back to the drawing board. Fortunately, that did not happen to us. The spontaneity you are talking about really comes down to the group of musicians you are working with. But again, you never know about vibes and the affect it has on your creativity. For instance, Animosity (2001) is probably the one record that took us the longest to get together. We were in way too many studios, had a big budget and it seemed like that album took forever to write.
JAM: Was it the vibe, or other factors that hindered the progress of that album?
It wasn't delayed on our part. It was because of all the suits we had to contend with. The ‘powers that be' sat around and said, "Well this mix isn't right and you guys should finish that demo and you need to go and re-record this and blah blah, blah, blah, blah!" So we spent a ton of time in studios working on these little things they said needed fixing. Don't get me wrong, it was a great record for us, but to this day, we still haven't recouped what it cost us to make it. The funny thing about Black Hole is we totally completed that album in a month for a 20th of what it cost to finish Animosity, and things were a lot cheaper back then. We already have a hit single on radio, and this record will probably end up selling better than Animosity. Once again, in this business, you just never know.
JAM: This album has already garnered quite a bit of attention for Sevendust. Is it conceivable the band could be on the road for a very long time?
To answer your question bluntly, yes! We kind of had a plan mapped out when we finally released the record, like routing, venues, etc. We are even planning on going to places we haven't been to in a very long time, which is going to be great.
JAM: You are starting off your tour with a solid bill that also features Coal Chamber, Lacuna Coil and Stolen Babies. Every one of these bands will try to kick your ass before you get on stage. But you probably already know that.
(Laughing) Yes I do! The entire first week of our tour was sold out. The vibe on the road has been incredible. There's a part of me that loves playing the 500-seat club that is completely sold-out where everyone is going nuts. The vibe is incredible. But I'm not complaining about our decision to go out and play the 1500 to 3000 seat venues. The more people the merrier.
JAM: I know most rock acts consider the arenas the pantheon of actually "making it" in this business. That situation, however, doesn't seem to apply to Sevendust.
I'd be lying if I told you that selling out an arena is a bad thing. We sat down and said, "Look, let's don't be stupid here. Let's go into places we can fill up that keeps everyone happy." The state of rock, and the economy itself, is still a little weird, if you know what I'm saying. More than anything else, we wanted the fans to be happy. No matter what the state of the music business is like these days, we still play for the fans.
JAM: The cost of a concert ticket can certainly take a chunk out of your budget when you consider you have to pay for parking, concessions and even band merchandise.
We know that a lot of people are still not in a place where they can afford to go out and spend fifty dollars on a concert ticket every week. You have got to give fans a great package at a reasonable price. That's why we chose to initially play in some markets we've never hit. I'm assuming the other bands with us probably haven't played there either. Our intentions, from the very beginning of this tour to the end, was to make sure the fans experienced a great show from the opening act to the headliner. You just can't go out by yourself these days and expect to get fans to come out, time and time again, just to see you without giving them a good reason. That's why we ask friends like Coal Chamber or a band like Lacuna Coil, to join us. We're giving fans an excellent night of entertainment without suffering price shock when they purchase a ticket. So far, it's worked out great for everyone.