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INTERVIEW: Lajon Witherspoon of SEVENDUST (April 2014)

Nearly two decades into its career, Sevendust still is finding ways to keep its music fresh and exciting. This year, it’s with the (mostly) acoustic album “Time Travelers & Bonfires” and the accompanying “Evening with Sevendust” tour. Funded by the fans through PledgeMusic, the record features six new songs and six new versions of tunes from the extensive Sevendust catalog. It’s a must-have for any fan of the band. Vocalist Lajon Witherspoon recently checked in from the road to discuss the album and tour with Live Metal’s Greg Maki.

LIVE METAL: This acoustic side of the band has been around for a while, and you kind of teased it with the tour 10 years ago. Why was this the right time to fully let it out and put out the studio album?

LAJON WITHERSPOON: It’s been a long time. When we did that tour 10 years ago, we only did 13 shows. There was a big buzz about, and for all these years, people have been asking for us to go back and retouch that. We were able to do that by doing this Pledge thing that turned out to be amazing.

Why did you decide to go with PledgeMusic to fund it?

We thought it was closer to our—I don’t like to say “fans,” I like to say “family.” There were so many things they could do to be involved that we’ve never been able to do, as far as coming to the studio, Facetiming with us, going to dinner—we’re doing that all the time on this tour. Certain people have bought the package where we play at their house on this next run. So there’s a lot of things that are different from any other album that we’ve ever done.

I think this acoustic format really showcases your vocals really well. Did knowing you would be up front a little more change your approach to it?

Oh, of course. We were doing some of those songs 10 years ago, and I think over the last 10 years, if anybody could abbreviate or change a melody or reconstruct one of those songs it would be us. It was easy, because it’s our music and it’s what we’ve always done. I definitely feel like my voice is under the microscope more, which I like. A lot of times, electrically, even though you can hear it, I don’t think a lot of people can hear some of the tones in my voice because a lot of times it’s being overdriven by electric guitars or whatever might be loud. So this is cool. We’re able to step back, show people we can tone it down, but our acoustic show is not like any other acoustic show. We still bring it. We throw it down at that, too.

I remember watching the DVD that came with the “Cold Day Memory” album and there was a segment talking about, I think it was called “the zone,” the area that you set up to do your vocals. Did you have a similar setup for doing this?

Yeah, the zone is always with me. I have a really cool zone onstage right now. Actually, I seem to get down even more with that. (laughs)

You went back to Architekt Music (in Butler, New Jersey) to record this album, just like you did “Black Out the Sun.” What about that studio appeals to you so much that you wanted to work there again?

It’s a good energy. We go in the studio from 12 noon to 12 midnight. That’s how we get down, from Monday to—we take off Saturday and come back on Sunday, because that’s the way Sevendust has always worked. It’s just a great place. The people are great. There’s a school going on during the week. It’s really cool, us being parents, to see the kids come in and them see us and get excited. They don’t even know we’re as excited to see them as they are to see us. It’s a good place.

With the six new songs, knowing they would be mostly acoustic, was the approach to writing those any different from how it is with a normal Sevendust song?

Yeah, we sat down and said, “Let’s make sure that we make this not a regular acoustic album. Let’s have driving music, as well.” “Bonfire” is a rockin’ song. “Come Down,” that’s another. We kind of made a note to make sure we still kept it Sevendust.

It’s mostly acoustic, but there are some electric guitars in there on the album. I know it’s not your department necessarily, but was there any discussion or debate about whether to include that?

Yeah, we wanted to keep the element of it’s still pumping. We have keyboards, we have lutes and everything. It definitely explains the whole thing behind time traveling and revamping these songs and bringing them back to life. It all kind of fits together in my crazy mind.

For the older songs you recorded, the fans helped pick those out. Were you surprised by any of the choices?

Yeah, some of the choices didn’t sound as good when we would break it down and put it in that acoustic format. But for the most part, every song that everyone picked was beautiful, and we thought that we did a good job on. So we just picked the bulk of what most people liked, and I think we did it. These old songs actually sound new to me again. (laughs)

What was it like going back to “Black,” which is like the original Sevendust song and doing a new version of that?

It’s incredible. It was even cooler doing “Crucified.” What about “Karma?” We never even played that song live. It was really awesome breaking that one down. Actually, every song on this album is incredible and means so much. It’s a very special album.

You touched on it just a little bit, but what is the meaning behind the album title?

I just felt like we time traveled, and they guys all got on board with that. And the bonfire, it comes around to the acoustic side of things. But when it comes to Sevendust’s “Time Travelers & Bonfires,” it’s not the regular. It’s really an experience. We’re trying to go back in time, but we also bring you back to the future. (laughs)

You’re doing the acoustic thing on tour right now. How has the tour been going for you?

Every night’s been incredible. We actually sold out in my hometown of Kansas City. It’s just been a really good vibe about what’s been going on. I think people are coming out. It’s an evening with us, and they’re having a really good time. We’re laying it down.

Your shows are so full of energy. What is it like sitting down onstage most of the time?

I don’t really sit down most of the time. I always haven’t been able to do that, so I’m still standing up and rocking it out. (laughs) I’ll sit down for a minute, but then I’m up running around.

Looking ahead to the future, do you see more of this past this album cycle?

Definitely. I feel like we had our reservations about it first, but now it seems like it’s incredible and people need this, they want it, and it shows a different side of us, shows the true side of Sevendust and what we’re really capable of doing. I feel like not a lot of bands can do it. Maybe they can do it but not really follow through, and I think we’re able to do it thanks to all those people that supported us and gave us the energy to be able to do it.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Just thank you to everyone out for the support for “Time Travelers” and just for the support of being in the Sevendust family. We love you, and God bless you. I can’t wait to see everyone out there, all those time travelers.


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