Vocalist Lajon Witherspoon took some time out of his daily lockdown, to talk to Overdrive about switching record labels, the inner workings of this new album and the decision to cover a Soundgarden classic.
OD – Let’s start off with this new album, tell me what it’s like to release an album during a Pandemic when you can’t play any shows to support it?
LJ – It’s been incredibly weird, to say the least. We should have been to Australia with Steel Panther already. The world changed overnight and with that, we were told that we will not be doing anything until 2021 at the earliest. We were talking about not bringing this album out until 2021!
I believe that music is a healer and hopefully this album can get people through this crazy time. For us not being able to tour is just so strange. I can’t believe what’s happening but that’s just how things are right now.
OD – How did your live stream event go?
LJ – It was great to be able to see the guys as it had been something like seven months since we’d all been with each other. How crazy is it to be in a room with three crew guys and a few camera guys that we’d never met before? And when we finished each track there was just [sound of one person clapping]… it was so strange. [Laughing].
I had to learn a couple of the songs again for the stream. When we do an album, I tend to put it away and let it breathe and then when it’s time, I’ll have to go back and go over my parts again, especially before we go out on the road.
You know, this whole situation has made me very grateful for what I have been able to do with my life. Someone asked me the other day: “What would you do if you didn’t play music? And for the first time in my life, I really had to ask myself that question: “What would I do?” I had a different job I’d be signing all day on the job [laughing].
I do feel that things will return to normal eventually but I thank the stars that Sevendust has and is an established band and we can get through this but my heart goes out to the smaller bands that are just starting off and really depend on being on stage, night after night. It’s a very tough business to be in during normal circumstances, so this is just a nightmare reality for so many people.
OD – Packed with 13 tracks, this is a huge album, with a lot of different emotions, arrangements laced throughout, it’s evident that there was great care taken in putting it all together. For you personally, how do you feel it fits into the bands’ discography in terms of evolution?
LJ – The reason this album sounds so good is all credit to Elvis [Baskett] our producer. This is our second time working with him. He’s just a musical genius. We essentially moved into his house to live there. We are eating, sleeping music all day. The place is a magic house with guitars from floor to roof and the stories under that roof are just unreal.
It was a really easy fun experience. I loved every minute of working on ‘Blood and Stone‘.
OD – When did the creative process start for this album because, in light of the way most bands work these days, this is quite soon since the previous album, ‘All I See Is War’, which was only two years ago?
LJ – This album definitely shows a huge amount of growth with us as songwriters. Every album we do shows that but this time around we just clicked into this really productive pattern that made things seem so effortless in some ways.
We’ve been together for so long now that we are comfortable with each other and know what will fit and what will not fit our sound. We are playing around with a lot of collages and patterns, time signatures on this album. We’ve done the ‘HEAVY‘ and we can do that all day long. On this album, we’re secure with who we are as artists.
OD – You’ve also got a new home now with Rise Records, do you feel that things are a lot more stable now?
LJ – Yes.. totally! I really feel like the band has a home with good people behind us doing the right things. We could see the changes almost immediately from behind the scenes to the PR that was being looked after on social media etc.
Also, we started shooting videos again, which was awesome. I feel that put a fire underneath us and in some kind of weird way, it was sort of like a new beginning for us. That’s when the pandemic kicked in and suddenly took the wind out of our sails.
I still feel pumped about it all and remain positive that we will get things back on track and be able to celebrate when we get back out there for live shows. I’m just so glad that we managed to get this album out before everything was shut down. I would be going crazy if we had to sit on this album for another year. My wife would probably kick me out of the house [Laughing].
OD – This being the bands’ 13th album, when you look back on that timeframe, does it take you aback that Sevendust are one of the lucky ones’ that has survived the business and you’re still doing what you love?
LJ – We’ve been around for so long that we realise that we owe it to the people that have supported us and we are determined to keep going no matter what. And as soon as we can, we’ll put another record out and get out there on the road to promote it. This job is a gift and we all know how lucky we are to be able to do this for a living. We don’t take anything for granted.
OD – I want to get your opinion on the aspect of touring in Europe, would you agree that the band would have liked to make it a more regular part of your touring schedule?
LJ – Absolutely! We are planning to get to as many places as possible. The reason that we didn’t get over to Europe as much as we wanted to in the past was because of the previous deal we had. Now that we’re with Rise Records, the plan is to take our shows to Europe as much as we can as well as other parts of the world that we’ve not had the pleasure of performing in before.
OD – When Sevendust formed it was during the golden era of Nu-Metal, Ozzfest, Woodstock ’99 etc, do you miss those days as things have changed dramatically?
LJ – That whole era was incredible. It was a different feeling! I remember playing Woodstock back in ’99 and we had just come from the Warped Tour. I was hanging out with Willie Nelson and was watching Red Hot Chili Peppers doing their thing with the socks and I was like: “Oh my God, this is wild!”
Things were burning and blowing up and I remember security running up to us and shouting: “You gotta get outta here! Get on your tour bus and haul ass, outta here, they’re getting ready to burn the place down“. I remember ducking down on the tour bus leaving the festival and it was the closest moment in my career to feeling almost famous. [Laughing]
Those were the days. There was so much excitement. From Ozzfest to Lynn Straight [SNOT vocalist] coming out of the giant Limp Bizkit toilet on the stage during their performance and running all over the place. It was such a different time for us and for that whole scene. It was just such an electric time to be alive and in a band. I feel that when things return to normal, it’s gonna be one hell of a party!
OD – Let’s talk about the Soundgarden cover. This track ‘The Day I Tried to Live’ is taken from their ’94 album ‘Superunknown’ I’m sure this was a huge album for you when it came out back then. Was there any hesitation in covering that track or was there any others that you were considering?
LJ – We’re not knowing to do cover songs and because we were all just so relaxed, Elvis suggested about doing a cover song, so we were open to the idea to see where it would all go and so, everybody started bringing their ideas to the table and Morgan [Rose, Drums] was saying: “Hey, let’s do ‘My Sharona’?” and I’m just not having that.
So, Elvis came in one day and then suggested Soundgarden’s ‘The Day I Tried To Live‘ and to be honest, any Chris Cornell song would have been awesome. So, the next thing was figuring out who was going to sing it, because I just didn’t think I would be able to do it justice.
I pushed that song to the very last thing that we worked on for the album and just gave it everything that I had. I was flying out at 5 am the following morning and just wanted to get it over with. [Laughing] I knew that I couldn’t out sign Chris Cornell and also knew that there was no point in doing it exactly the way the original was recorded.
What I did on that last night to record was to really think about how that song made me feel, how I felt when I had seen him performing that live and also him as a person, a father, a son, a friend. Someone who had given so much to the world and is sadly not with us anymore. He went far too early.
I just thought about all of that stuff and how he died and what his family might be feeling and then I just went into that vocal booth and sang from the bottom of my heart, which is the only way I know how to sing. It’s a different feeling when it’s someone else’s music, lyrics etc. I wanted to do it justice and make my own interpretation of it. My body just resinated and went with the flow from what I was feeling in my heart.
OD – Of all the tracks on this album which one is your favourite and why?
LJ – So, that’s a really hard question! [Laughing], Hmmm… I’d have to say ‘Criminal’ and ‘Dying To Live‘, oh, and then there’s ‘Love‘ also because Clint [Lowery, guitars] and I really get to play off of each other at the start of that track. Man, I love all the songs on this album, Why do you have to ask me for a favourite? [Laughing].
This album is just so special to me as it was a period in our life that was just before this whole lockdown kicked in and marked the new beginning for us. I’m just in love with the whole album and I hope that people out there connect with it and feel some of the good vibes we’re putting out.
OD – Craziest tour memory ever?
LJ – Oh, man. There is so many to choose from. Well, one that comes to mind is that we were on our way to Australia with Ozzy. We were sitting in this place and it’s just us [Sevendust] and Ozzy’s people. That alone is mind-blowing stuff, man! [Laughing]
Anyway, we’re on the place, and we’re in the coach area, and I remember the stewardess approaching me with an anxious look on her face and she tells me that there’s a big guy up the front of the plan with a tophat and a huge biker chain hanging from his wallet and he’s looking for me.
The next thing, Zakk Wylde comes strutting down the aisle with a grin on his face and taps her on the shoulders and she screamed when she turned around. He was laughing and saying; “Where have you guys been?, I’ve been looking for you!” He’s standing there in all his leathers, chains and beard, looking like a total rocker and the steward was so freaked out by his appearance. We were in fits of laughter as she scooted away. [Laughing]
Blood and Stone is out now on all popular streaming platforms, order online or from you your local record store.