Kerby's Exclusive Interview With Sevendust Vocalist Lajon Witherspoon
By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Friday, May 30, 2003 @ 4:49 PM
One look at the tears outlining the eyes of Lajon Witherspoon during this interview graphically conveys a tangible sorrow that is more profound and meaningful than numerous paragraphs filled with eloquent words and phrases. The loss of his brother is doubtlessly still a source of immense emptiness in his life, yet after only a short hiatus, Sevendust managed to continue to support their latest release, Animosity, while also compiling material for their next offering which is slated for release before the end of the year. Being on the road is nothing new for these tour-hardened warriors either—since the band’s inception, they’ve played hundreds of shows and dealt with a variety of obstacles both internal and external—although none could ever touch Lajon more than hearing that his beloved brother had been mercilessly murdered by a gunman who didn’t cease fire until he had shot his victim ten times.Although the band may be described as nu-metal by their own label as well as by many members of the press, anyone who has actually listened to a Sevendust album has to instantly realize that this group possesses more musical acumen than many of the other bands associated with this genre. In truth they are a quality band that is actually a song and performance driven machine that doesn’t have to rely on images of pierced, Adidas-wearing, hip hop grooving aficionados to sell records. Another added dimension to their sound comes in the form of Lajon’s versatile, soulful voice which remains the vehicle most able to transport Sevendust into a band that can aptly distinguish itself from the myriad of others out there merely trying to cash in on a trend. After touring with groups like Creed and Godsmack who have subsequently went on to experience massive levels of popularity, it almost seems as if Sevendust is now driven to take the next step from mid-level metal band to potential headliners playing large venues. Whether or not they are able to accomplish this goal is going to largely depend on how they decide to present their music on the next disc. They’ve already started by hiring the management team who represents Creed because they like the way that band handled its business on the road during their tour. Whether they eventually decide to go a more commercial route in an effort to elevate their own stature, remains to be seen, but for now, Sevendust remains a metal band possessing a rare blend of talent and potential that continues to give fans hope that the best album of their career has yet to be made. KNAC.COM: Most bands seem to have one or two people who do the majority of the writing, yet with you guys, it appears to be a total collaboration. What do you attribute this to?
WITHERSPOON: Basically just us having a lot of good writers in the band who have a lot of talent. If the music were to only come from one point of view, obviously not everybody would be able to speak. That’s what’s good about this band. Everyone comes to the table with music and lyrics, and it’s great. KNAC.COM: I know that the editing on a DVD can be manipulated to a certain extent, but on Retrospect, it really does look like you genuinely like each other.
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, yeah—we’re brothers—we’re really brothers. What’s funny too is that a lot of bands aren’t like that. They hate each other. With us, we could never take our music for granted, so we make the most of it. We’ve been blessed by it, and its changed our lives. KNAC.COM: Do you think part of the reason you originally got signed was because you weren’t in a position of desperation? Weren’t you just enjoying the act of playing when you first got together?
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, we didn’t start out trying to get a record deal. At first, we were just jamming. We just hung out together and drank beer and smoked a little bit. We never wanted a record deal right away. I mean it was an idea, but we were so young. I was twenty-two at the time, and a record label accidentally came in and saw us--that leads up to now. KNAC.COM: Was the process of creating that first album difficult for you given that you weren’t necessarily focused on recording? Or the idea of recording?
WITHERSPOON: Not really, because you have your whole life to write that first one, so that was easy. The second one was weird though because we were rushed, and we ended up in the studio without any material. The third one, Animosity, was a pleasure to do. We just took our time the same way we’re taking time on our next album. KNAC.COM: Do you think that’s why a lot of bands have a sophomore slump? Is it because they have their whole life to get the material for the first one, and then when the expectations are increased for the second, they just can’t produce the same level of material?
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, you always gotta beat your last piece—it’s hard. KNAC.COM: Well, it’s got to be easier when all the pressure isn’t just on you to write.
WITHERSPOON: It does make it easier. It’s a beautiful process, and there are a lot of great ideas that come out of it. KNAC.COM: You guys played about 462 shows in support of that first album. Can you describe what that type of rigorous schedule does to you?
WITHERSPOON: Mostly it just seasons you and let’s you know that you don’t ever want to go out and do it that way ever again. I don’t know—we just learned a lot about moderation from playing all those shows. KNAC.COM: Off-stage moderation?
WITHERSPOON: Off-stage, on-stage—it was crazy. At the beginning, we learned a lot. KNAC.COM: It’s been said that a Sevendust show is a full contact sport. How are you able to engage in that type of physical aggression night after night?
WITHERSPOON: It’s hard sometimes. We have been off three months writing, and last night was the first night back. Now we’re all hurting. It’s like anything though, you gotta work it back out again. Everyone in the band works out, and if not, we’ve got weights. Everyone tries to stay in shape--even though I’m not in the best of shape right now. KNAC.COM: Animosity has been out for a while now, and when you were interviewed on the DVD, it was obvious that you were excited about the upcoming material. Now that it album has been out for over a year, do you think that you still feel the same way about the songs?
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, definitely, because if the kids give us that energy, then it’s all good. It’s music man, and that’s our therapy up there. Those songs that we wrote can do something for you. We have enough material now that we can pick and choose what we play up there. KNAC.COM: Are there any songs on the set list that you feel obligated to play?
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, Bitch and Black—we gotta play them. People in the audience always listen to the songs we’re playing, but they’re still like “yeah, it’s all good, but where’s Bitch at?” They say that even though they’re enjoying the other songs, but they definitely have their favorites. KNAC.COM: Can you actually pay attention to individual fans when you’re on-stage? Not just the weird ones either, but can you read a variety of people’s non-verbal expressions?
WITHERSPOON: Definitely, I can completely tell who’s enjoying themselves and who might not like us. Then there are others out there who might actually be afraid or nervous to be there, and those you can pick out. Yeah, I can see all that stuff. KNAC.COM: Do you ever act on it or respond to it?
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, there was a lady asleep at one of the shows we did when we were opening for Creed in this big ass arena. We were up there fuckin’ rockin’ out, and I actually walked out to where she was in the arena--where even her husband was rockin’ out to us--and I was like, “you’ve gotta be kidding me. How can she be asleep right now?” That’s when her husband woke her up, and I thanked him. I like to make sure that I can make contact with people—all the people. KNAC.COM: Does it happen often that you look out and get the feeling that somebody out in the audience is too cool to be there?
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, it doesn’t happen too much, but you do always have those guys who are like, “you’re in a band, so what?” What they need to understand is that I’m not up there trying to be something I’m not—this just happens to be what I do—don’t hate. KNAC.COM: Could you honestly say that tonight your level of enthusiasm is the same as it was, say your first couple of months out on road? Is it still new to you?
WITHERSPOON: Hmm, not exactly new… KNAC.COM: How would you describe it then?
WITHERSPOON: Magic, it’s like an old magic now. KNAC.COM: An old magic that you need?
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, I need it. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s like a drug to me, the energy that the band creates and the feeling we put across is what I live for. KNAC.COM: Do you feel you’re providing the same musical contribution for some of the kids today that maybe somebody else did for you when you were growing up?
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, definitely. You know, a couple of my idols are Prince and Stevie Wonder. Their energy is amazing to me and the effect they have on the audience it definitely special. KNAC.COM: How does it make you feel to know that some may put you on that type of pedestal?
WITHERSPOON: It’s cool, but it’s hard to believe people want my autograph--but to me, it’s like “here’s my phone number, call me.” KNAC.COM: At what point did you first start to feel like you were kind of a success at music?
WITHERSPOON: I don’t know. I just feel blessed to be where we’re at right now. Sometimes I wish we could be more successful, but the industry seems to be holding us back. Even with that though, but we still have three gold albums that are about to go platinum, so that’s still cool. KNAC.COM: Has it surprised you at the level of success that some of the bands you’ve gone out on tour with have attained?
WITHERSPOON: Yes. KNAC.COM: Godsmack in particular used to open for you.
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, but when you look at a band’s success, you also have to look at labels and the differences between major labels and independent labels. Some of the labels just don’t provide much support at all on tour, and then they may only put just so many albums in the stores because they think that’s probably all we’re going to sell anyway. Things like that just make it more difficult to reach the optimum amount of people. KNAC.COM: How frustrating is it to have the business side of the industry take up an disproportionate amount of your time while not equally the matching the effort you exude in order to create the music?
WITHERSPOON: I don’t think there is a day that goes by that I don’t think about it or hear someone say something along that line. KNAC.COM: But it’s something you can’t allow to affect your attitude or productivity either, can you?
WITHERSPOON: No, that’s right. We have an obligation to continue what we’re doing. As frustrating as it may be, I have to continue to think that everything happens for a reason. KNAC.COM: In the end, all you can control is what you do, right? How has your brother’s recent death affected you and your view about having a life that is so far removed from the one you live on the road?
WITHERSPOON: At the beginning, it was very hard to go away and come back. You just start to feel like everything is out of place. Now we don’t go out on tours as much—we may only go out for a few weeks at a time and then go home again. We just feel like we’re older, wiser and in more control of our destiny. KNAC.COM: As a new band, did you tend to feel more obligated to do things at first?
WITHERSPOON: Yeah--doing like two shows a day or ten in a row. It was crazy. No one wants to do that again. It was just crazy. KNAC.COM: What’s the biggest difference in preparation between summer touring at radio festivals and special shows where you may only play 30-45 minutes versus the headlining situation where you’ll play an hour and a half or longer?
WITHERSPOON: The good thing is that when that many bands are involved, as in a radio show, we always have a good time with them. When we’re headlining like this though, it’s more of an intimate setting, and we get to play for a longer period of time. Now, we’re just getting back into the swing of things performing and after that we’ll go and get back to work on our fourth album. KNAC.COM: How big was it for Sevendust to perform at Woodstock 99’? Would you say the performance changed your life in any way? Was there any part of you that was afraid of bombing in front of all those people?
WITHERSPOON: Well no, it wasn’t that type of fear, but it was a powerful feeling. KNAC.COM: Was it more like a feeling of anticipation?
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, it’s exciting. KNAC.COM: Is there anything that can prepare you for that?
WITHERSPOON: Nothing at all. Whenever I’m about to go on like that in front of a large audience, I just say, “hey, let’s get through this and touch as many people as we can.” KNAC.COM: Did you have any idea while performing your set that the event was eventually going to turn violent? Was there that kind of vibe present?
WITHERSPOON: No, everything was cool. People were running around naked, and the energy was great. The biggest problem though was that the prices on everything was ridiculous. Water was ten bucks and so was a burrito. That was real sad, but I just look at it like this—if you get a group of people together, one of them is bound to act like a knucklehead and get silly. If you get a million people together, you’re gonna have at least a handful of assholes. KNAC.COM: Of course that overshadows the majority of people who were there to just listen to music and have a good time. Now, the video you made at the Metro in Chicago had you entering the venue from behind a revved up audience and walking through the fans before taking the stage. What was it like when you started having trouble making it up there?
WITHERSPOON: I was a little skeptical that we were going to make it up there even from the beginning because there were so many people and everyone was screaming. I remember walking out there and the crowd was bouncing, grabbing, tugging, and I thought there was no way we were going to make it, but we were running it live, so we had to keep going. KNAC.COM: I guess it was worth it then, since the effect was pretty cool.
WITHERSPOON: Yeah, I just didn’t want to fall, and I couldn’t go anywhere. KNAC.COM: If you picked up a guitar right now and you were going to write a song, what would it be about? What would be on your mind?
WITHERSPOON: Probably…um. It might not be very happy, you know, I just lost my little brother, but today is such a beautiful day. I guess I could just write about being alive and being safe when so many people are unfortunate like our troops fighting in the war. It’s like, where’s Bin Laden at? Where’s he at? What happened to him? KNAC.COM: Yeah and maybe they can explain where the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are located too while they’re at it.
WITHERSPOON: It’s such a scary time right now. I’m not a hater, but with Bush I can never understand what he’s saying. He doesn’t tell me very much. I just hate it though. I hate the fact that people are over there suffering and the fact that that is just the way it is. I can only hope that soon this will be over so that we can get back to going on with our lives and bring all our troops back to safety. Like I said though, I’d still like to know what the fuck is going on with Bin Laden. Why don’t we hear anything about him anymore. KNAC.COM: Do you think performers in any way overstep their boundaries when they make their beliefs public?
WITHERSPOON: No, the thing is, we’re over there fighting for the right to do what the protesters are doing. I also understand that no one wants this to turn into a war over here or anything, but it’s a hard situation. I do know that we need to get behind the troops though. Maybe next time we can learn how to do things differently—like not re-elect Bush again. KNAC.COM: Did we elect him to begin with though? Everyone knows that Florida’s vote was manipulated about ten different ways, so how can we as a country go out and preach freedom and democracy to the rest of the world when we just proved that the integrity of our own presidential election is suspect?
WITHERSPOON: I agree. We’re supposed to be free people, but it’s like we’ve been tied down too long not being able to speak. KNAC.COM: Do you think it’s worse now than in the 60’s? It almost seems like it’s more of a crime to express yourself with a dissentient point of view now than it was then.
WITHERSPOON: I think that we learned a lot from the 60’s, and people still seem afraid to express themselves. KNAC.COM: Do you feel a responsibility to represent your views by specifically stating them through your music or is it enough to voice your opinions in an interview type setting?
WITHERSPOON: Obviously, I state my feelings interviews in a direct way, but in my music I just feel that everything that’s happening is going to influence my writing in some way. It may not be as direct, but everything from the war to 9-11 to my brother being killed will be represented in the songs for the upcoming album. KNAC.COM: How frustrating was it to be out on the road when that incident happened and not be in a position to be able to do anything?
WITHERSPOON: It was the coldest, loneliest feeling that I have ever had. I think about him every day. He was twenty-one years old and was my only brother. KNAC.COM: You had even mentioned in the DVD before his death that you wanted everything for him.
WITHERSPOON: I look at life so differently now. I try not to let little things get to me, but I don’t know…I still believe in the Lord. It’s just a different type of learning for me. KNAC.COM: How does that type of event cause you to question your faith?
WITHERSPOON: Well, my brother was shot ten times. He wouldn’t even hurt a flea. It didn’t make sense, but I just pray every day, and I know I’ll see him again. He’s with me every day. He’s in everything I do—I just try to carry on with the belief that I will see him again.
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