An Interview with Lajon of Sevendust
By Alyce Hayes
We’ve reviewed Sevendust’s latest album, Time Travelers and Bonfires, and reviewed/photographed the Chicago stop of their extensive tour, An Evening with Sevendust (currently on its second leg), so we thought it was time we brought you an exclusive interview with lead singer Lajon Witherspoon. I managed to get LJ to take a little time from the insanely busy Sevendust schedule just hours before their show in Green Bay, Wisconsin to chat about, well, keep reading and you’ll find out. For a man with such amazing vocal prowess, someone who can capture an entire spectrum of emotion and bring to it an intensity unrivaled by any other vocalist I know, his speaking voice is incredibly laid back and warm. I detected no sign of road weariness as we spoke (perhaps the result of a consummate professional mustering energy from some secret reserve), and in fact his high spirits and quick wit kept our conversation peppered with plenty of laughs ~ and his honesty and humility kept it nothing less than genuine and captivating, and now I get to share a good portion of it with you.
FW: I’ll start out with the almost obligatory question: how is the tour going?
LW: I can’t complain. It has been a magical experience. The way we went about it ~ we kind of took it away from “The Machine” and did a pledge ~ Our [Sevendust] family out there really supported this album. They had more to do with it; they’re closer to it. It’s a whole different vibe. A whole crowd of people that may have even had their names put on the album.
FW: What convinced you to create another acoustic album and produce it yourselves?
LW: People would ask, “Hey, remember Southside Double-Wide?” which was ten years ago, and we only did a handful of shows, so they’d say, “We want to see that again!” Sevendust has been doing this for so long, we wondered what we could do to change it up, still be progressive and continue to do how we do. When the idea came up, we had a meeting, and I remembered seeing a few bands do the Kickstarter/pledge thing. And ~ I had never seen anything like this before ~ in 24 hours, we made our goal. It was incredible. I never underestimated the Sevendust family; I just didn’t expect it to be so easy.
FW: It’s weird to think about ~ 20 years!
LW: We’re old, man. [Chuckles]
FW: Right. And there’s the consideration of remaining relevant. But what about the electricity and dynamics on stage? Has any of that changed at all for you over the years?
LW: The stage is still my serenity; it’s still magic for me when I’m on stage. Now[adays], the wife might yell at me five minutes before we go on, or the baby’s screaming, but, as a 41 year old man, it’s still an emotional rollercoaster ~ especially for this album. And I still do the same thing before a show: an hour or two before, I play weird, crazy music. I don’t think about what’s going to happen…I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.
FW: Sounds more like feeding off the energy of each audience rather than having a set plan regardless of venue or crowd for when you get out there.
LW: There you go!
FW: The emotion you convey during performances is incredibly powerful. Are you aware of that, and if so, has it always been that way for you?
LW: It has always been emotional, but as I’ve gotten older, more things have happened. The door to certain emotions that had never really been tapped into is now being opened. I never knew what it would be like for my little brother to be killed ~ it has definitely changed. There are emotions that I can’t control when I’m on stage at times. The songs pull things out of you ~ sometimes, I love the way music breaks my heart. I’ve always been emotional, but even more as I’ve gotten older. Life changes, I have kids now ~ kids make you soft, for sure, and I have daughters.
FW: Most of us want to believe (and prove) that music breaks barriers. As a person of color (and a woman) in the metal community, I may get a funny look here or there, but I have not yet encountered any real adversity. What about when Sevendust was still coming up? Were you ever confronted/threatened by any racially motivated negativity?
LW: I remember, years ago, being on tour in Arizona with Slipknot, and while we were performing, rocks were being thrown onstage. And I don’t want to give any credit to the group of kids they were, but I believe they were skinheads at the time. I don’t think they even realized what they were doing, because they were dancing and enjoying the music. It was confusing for me to see, and I think it was confusing for the kids who weren’t leaders, following a bunch of knuckleheads with hate in their hearts. They didn’t really understand it, throwing up the “Heil Hitler” gesture. It was so odd. But then, ‘Batman,’ one of the security guards for Slipknot ~ huge dude, bigger than all of the kids ~ got out into the pit and started tossing them around, and they stopped. It was a beautiful thing to see. But that’s something you deal with in life, and I don’t have the patience or time for ignorance. You just have to move forward, you know. I just think, “Know what? Don’t come to the fucking show. You don’t see me at KKK rallies.” [Laughs] But since then, nothing weird has happened.
FW: What about touring with the same guys for so long ~ what’s the general vibe and has it changed since you were a young band learning how to co-exist on the road for months at a time?
LW: We’ve been together for so long… we’re brothers, we’re family. We know how to do it. Sometimes, these long tours can get kind of old. We’ll be ready to go home, and things start to get a little weird, but we always make it through [Laughs].
But when it comes to being away from family, Lajon seems to luck out. Since the second leg of Sevendust’s tour began, he has had several opportunities to see his family, thanks to some shows in relatively close proximity to his hometown and to a “network” of friends. He stays in contact with many other musicians ~ he mentioned Mark Tremonti and Scott Phillips of Alter Bridge ~ whose families will get together with his own when the opportunity presents itself. “It’s almost like a support team,” he said. The increased scheduling flexibility he enjoys now was a long-time goal for Witherspoon and the rest of the band.
LW: It’s really cool to see the ladies, wives and kids that are growing up together, still be able to hang out when we’re on the road. This is happening ~ the dreams we had of our kids playing and being together and us being around them, and bringing them to shows, it’s definitely happening.
Given that they still love what they do, are still loved by fans for what they do, and somehow manage to keep expanding the boundaries of what they do, those dreams having become reality simply further ensure that neither Lajon nor any of the members of Sevendust plan to stop any time soon. Some people have practically made bets on the band’s time left in the music industry, but Lajon pays them no mind. “Sometimes I feel like we’re at the beginning. We have so many things to do, we still have this area we haven’t touched,” he said, reflecting on their time in the business.
FW: As a veteran (and I mean that in the most positive sense of the word…you’re not old, man!) still going strong in the industry, do you have any lessons or suggestions for someone aspiring to build a career in music?
LW: When I got into this, I was so passionate about “just the music,” and I realized that you also need to be a businessman/woman, if anything, in this business. Still stay true to yourself, but also keep your finger on the pulse, and know exactly what’s going on. There are so many people that take advantage of talent, and they take the luster out of the dream that you have. But stay passionate and know what the hell is going on. Stay focused, never give up, and get out there and let people see ya! Show your joy, that’s what builds it.
And with those words, Lajon made it completely unnecessary for me to sum up what he is like as a human being and a musician, and what a joy it was to speak with him.
Special thanks to, of course, Lajon, and also to Amanda Cagan