Interview: Sevendust on returning to Australia, Justin Timberlake and celebrating 25 years together

It’s now 25 years since iconic alternative metal titans Sevendust formed in Atlanta, Georgia, and they’re going stronger than ever. Following the release of their highly successful twelfth studio album “All I See Is War” last year, the band has gone full throttle in what feels like the dawning of a new era for the five-piece. The announcement of an upcoming Australia & NZ tour this month has fans rejoicing and eagerly awaiting Sevendust’s return to the stage Down Under. Sam Wolstenholme had the great honour of sitting down with vocalist Lajon Witherspoon ahead of the tour to get his thoughts on performing in Australia, wrapping up a sold-out tour with Tremonti, Lajon’s musical influences, and signing with Rise Records and the power of social media to propel bands ever further in this digital age.

Hi Lajon, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us!

It’s a pleasure to talk to you, I can’t wait to get back to Australia!

Yes, so this will be Sevendust’s first tour here in Australia since 2016. Excited to be back?

Oh my goodness, I count down the days because of how incredible it was! You know, the last time we were there, it took us so many years to get back, and this time, with the right people working with the band, it’s a pleasure to be able to come back so soon, to be able to rock it out and build the relationship that I think is incredible that we have started over in Australia with everyone.

That’s so great to hear! It sounds like you guys are feeling just so energised at the moment.

Well you know, we were able to take a break and take some time off. We were able to get back home and be daddies, be husbands to the wives – like I’d go to the Daddy-Daughter dances, and get yelled at to take the trash out and wash the dishes, that sort of thing. So it made good for us when we got back into the studio.

Absolutely, and I’m sure that will show when you hop back up on stage over here in Aus. So what kind of set list can fans expect this time round?

Oh, I don’t know what to say about what they can expect! It’ll be really exciting because lately it’s been really fun for us since the New Year, having to relearn the “Home” album that we haven’t done over in 20 years! So that was really fun to learn that whole album, and to bring some songs back into the set that people haven’t heard, or haven’t for 20-something years. So we might pull in some of those songs, as well as a few other surprises that we have.

That sure sounds exciting to me! On the topic of performing, what do you personally enjoy most about performing?

Oh wow, no-one’s ever asked me that question! Well, I enjoy the energy, I enjoy the magic; I enjoy the sounds, the smell, the angst, everything about it. Even as a little kid, when my dad was in a band, the feelings that I got when I was three years old and the instruments felt so amazingly powerful and big – it still gives me that feeling, even today as a 46-year-old man. So, for me, it’s just a magical experience every time we get on that stage. You see the eyes of, well I don’t want to say “fans”, the family that’s out there, and the energy that they’re giving you back, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s a feeling that is serenity to me, where I don’t worry about normal things that we all worry about, maybe health bills or whatever! But for that hour and 45 minutes, or however long, you know, I’m in that world, so that’s where it’s at. It’s a great feeling, and I think this world would be a crazy place without music, so that’s our serenity there, on that stage.

You guys have toured with Tremonti in the last few weeks, and soon with In This Moment. How’s that all been going?

Oh so the Tremonti tour was incredible! It was great to finally tour with Tremonti. We’ve been friends and family for over 20-something years, so what a pleasure. It was a great tour – I think pretty much all the shows were sold out, and the energy was great every night, and hopefully in the future, I hope it’s okay to say, we look forward to maybe going out with Alter Bridge, which would be awesome. We’ve known those guys too for a million years, they’re our family too, so it’s just a really good time to tour with them.

And of course, we’re excited about the In This Moment tour in the States, which is going to be a great run. In This Moment will be headlining, and it’s always cool for us if we’re not headlining, because we get to do our set and then get to actually watch a band, hang out, go see what’s happening in the town, and I love that. So yeah, really excited about that tour too.

Awesome! So do you have any particularly memorable touring stories, anything that’s stuck out over the years?

Well, Australia – I mean, every time we’ve gone there, the energy has been contagious at every venue we’ve been at. I’ve never experienced a place like Queensland – visiting Surfers Paradise, I thought, wow, I don’t want to leave! We never want to leave any place in Australia when we get there. I want to stay, let me get residency here! I’ll bring my kids, my kaftan, everything! But no, all the experiences there are something that you remember because for me as a kid growing up, it was a place I always wanted to visit. And to be able to perform in Australia!

You know, it’s so funny, our old security guard Jake, he’s now doing security for John Mayer, and they’re over in Australia right now, and two days ago, he sent me a picture and it said “I love seeing you guys everywhere”! There was a poster of us about the show and everything, and we wrote back and told him it was great to see that and we couldn’t wait to get back over there.

Changing tack a little – your voice is so soulful and unique in the metal world, and a lot of celebrated artists cite you as one of their influences. Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?

You know, there’s so many! I get inspired by the guy on the corner singing and playing the drums, you know, I get inspired by my three-year-old son trying to sing a song. But if you’re talking about old-school inspirations and things that I grew up with, it’s people like Stevie Wonder, Thin Lizzy, Ozzy of course. Growing up, I was never listening to just one type of music – I was listening to country to RnB to jazz, you name it. I felt like I could listen to everything because as long as it had conviction and they believed in what they were singing, I believed it.

I still kind of listen to everything – the other day I was at Justin Timberlake. A couple of the guys who used to work for us now work for him, they got a couple of good gigs. I put a post on social media, and of course you’ve always got some knucklehead that has to say “Oh my god, you listen to Justin Timberlake, what’s wrong with you?”. Of course I didn’t say anything back, but you know, other people were fighting with him saying it’s great that I listen to other music. I almost wanted to say something, but now I’m at the point where I don’t. But I would be foolish to only listen to metal music, I would think. I love all music, and I think I would be foolish to not let my kids experience all the different types of music that there are in this world, because there are so many beautiful things and so many people have so many things to say.

Look, I’ll listen to metal, some of the darkest metal you’ll hear, and yeah, you’ll see me at a country show too, I love it all! Like, I love music, that’s me, that’s always been me. And I wanted to say to the guy that wrote that on my page, you must not know me, because I’ve not changed. I’ve been going to Timberlake concerts since day one!

Absolutely, and I think that’s a great way to look at it! Now, you mentioned social media, and Sevendust have recently signed to Rise Records for the recent album. Tell me about working with a social-media savvy label like them.

Well that was one of the reasons they stood out so much to us while courting the record labels. I forgot that record labels even signed bands anymore! The way I look at it, it’s like a new girlfriend – it was cool to have a few different chicks liking you, and you had to pick which one you wanted to stay with! And Rise seemed like the best fit at the time, and they’ve done great. They’ve done videos, and they’re killing it with the socials, they definitely have their finger on the social media world. So I think I can speak for everyone in the band when I say we felt that that was an avenue that we definitely needed to go down in a bigger way, and it’s definitely helped. It’s been great to work with Rise, and I hope to continue the relationship, which is definitely a great partnership right now.

Catch Sevendust on tour with special guests RedHook (AUS only) and City of Souls (NZ only) later this month. Tickets available at http://mjrpresents.com/sevendust/.

23 April – Powerstation, Auckland, NZ
25 April – The Tivoli, Brisbane, QLD
26 April – The Metro, Sydney, NSW
27 April – The Forum, Melbourne, VIC
29 April – The Gov, Adelaide, SA
30 April – Amplifier Capitol, Perth, WA

Many thanks to Sam Wolstenholme for providing this interview.

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