bill bodkin speaks with Clint Lowery of Sevendust …
There’s a beautiful sense of chaos in every Sevendust song. When I first heard them on WSOU 89.5 in the mid-1990s, I was captivated by the mammoth yet beautifully melodic lion’s roar of lead singer Lajon Witherspoon. On songs like “Black,” “Bitch” and “Too Close To Hate,” he enveloped your eardrums with this massive voice that could reach the heights of heaven and the depths of hell within a single voice. Complementing his vocals was this impenetrable wall of thunder created by drummer Morgan Rose and guitarists Clint Lowery and Johnny Connolly and bassist Vince Connolly. Their music was wonderfully heavy and melodic — forever separating themselves from their hip-hop-influenced contemporaries. And while they may have reached Billboard and MTV dominance, their reign was brief. And while they crashed and burned in a sea of Jenko jeans and chain wallets, Sevendust remained the constant.
Today, the band, celebrating almost 20 years together, are still aggressively touring and recording new music. Their sound is still as captivatingly aggressive and melodic as it was when they first burst onto the scene in the ’90s. They’ve remained the band to listen to — they always produce those headbanging singles you have to download the moment you hear them on the radio. They’re the band it seems every wants to tour with. In essence, they’ve become the standard bearer of what good heavy metal is supposed to be.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with guitarist Lowery about the band’s longevity and balance harmony and havoc in their sound.
Pop-Break: Sevendust has been around since mid-’90s. Many of your contemporaries come and gone, but you guys are still touring, putting out albums. What do you think has kept the band relevant, that keeps people coming out to live shows and buying albums?
Clint Lowery: I think there’s a hardcore fanbase that is the foundation for a band like us that’s been around for a while. There’s just a core that will not sway and will always stick around, and we physically have the opportunity to thank them. Once you get those types of relationships, they stick around. Another part of it, I’d like to think is that we put out good music. We try to do sincere music. Our live show I think is good — we put a lot of energy into it. We’re not just up there staring at our toes. We really try to give people a show when they come. We don’t have the resources a lot of these other bands have so we give it our all. I think it’s a bunch of different variables. We’re just thankful to be here. Some bands have bigger than us and have gone away or some bands have had a little bit of success and completely disappear. For us, to have this pretty mild success and make a living at this is a success in our eyes.
PB: Your new record, Cold Day Memory debuted at No. 12 on Billboard Top 100. This is something not a lot of bands in the hard rock and heavy metal genre are doing these days. What was the band’s reaction to this achievement. Were you taken back by the reception, in terms of sales, to this record?
CL: That isn’t a trend — that is the core fanbase of this band. That is about 25,000 strong that will go buy a Sevendust record because they’re emotionally invested in the band. I don’t think it has anything to do with anyone’s marketing ploy or anyone’s label or anyone that tries to take credit for it. It’s about the people that we’ve been face to face with through our touring over the years. [It's something] that we’ve earned our sacrifice of being out here all the time. And we’re very proud of that. We expected it [the record's debut position] to be that, it’s generally what it is. In 2003, if you would’ve sold 27,000 records or whatever it was, it wouldn’t have gotten you anywhere close to the top 10. But because of the situation, the landscape has changed, but our core fanbase has stayed the same. Us being higher on the chart makes no difference — we’ve actually sold less records than we did before. There was a time when we were selling 62,000 [records] a week. Selling to our core fanbase is what got us to that number. We give the credit to them, it has nothing to do with anything we’re doing. We’re trying to put good music, but they put us in this position.
PB: In 2003, Sevendust released Seasons, which was produced by Butch Walker. This was the last studio record you were on for Sevendust until Cold Day Memory. Can you talk about the difference between those two records in terms of producing and recording the record.
CL: It was a different time and era for us. Seasons was cool. Butch Walker wasn’t the typical fit for our band, but we have history with him. He’s from Atlanta, he did the first demos the band ever did when he was cutting a name for himself as a producer. He did record “Black” and “Bitch” when we first tracked those. So we had history with him, and Butch was more of a song guy. The record company wanted us to work with a guy who was going to get us on the radio. In our minds, Butch was a much easier pill to swallow, because we knew Butch and we liked Butch as a person. Rusty Cobb was a big part of that session as well — he doesn’t get a lot of credit for. Cold Day Mirror, to me, was fresh. It had been three albums for me and I was really excited to be back in there doing it. Technology is a lot different now, there’s a lot of short cuts in the recording process. Johnny K had an absolute different approach [producing the record]. The two albums are very different. I mean, there’s similarities, the tones, the characters, Lajon’s voice — they’re all going to tie into a certain sound. Seasons was obviously us trying to get on radio. Cold Day Mirror we were trying to too, but we were trying to keep the essence of the band in tact.
PB: How do you think Cold Day Memory stand out from the rest of your catalog?
CL: You always want to think your latest record is the best — you know, I think it’s cool. There’s always a little bit of pressure somewhat to get on the radio, and I think that’s been one of the downfalls of our band. I think naturally we’re going to have some sort of commercial aspect because of Lajon, but when we try to force a certain type of template with our band, it never seems to be sincere. I think that we just need to stay true to what we do. We play really aggressive music and the contrast that I that works is Lajon’s voice laying over this style of rhythmic, percussive music.
PB: You’ve been playing with Lajon for so long. The band produces some really hard, brutal rock ‘n’ roll but have a lead singer who has such a wonderfully melodic voice. Do you find it hard to balance that dynamic?
CL: I embrace it. I write a lot of the melodies and lyrics. I write songs for Lajon’s vocal. The ideas I bring to Lajon vocally I try to keep him in mind when I’m writing it. I even sing like him when I writing, trying to simulate his vocals. He has his thing which he does very well and has this really identifiable voice. Sometimes, the more melodic he sings over the heavier music — I think it’s cool. I think it’s something we should do more of. One of the goals on Cold Day Memory was letting him sing more and getting rid of the backing vocals that [drummer] Morgan [Rose] and I would do. Lajon doesn’t like to do the heavy vocals that much, he likes more of the singing so we try to fill the gaps in. I like the contrast — that’s what separates us from 1,000 different metal bands.
PB: In your opinion how has the band’s sound evolved since that first, self-titled record?
CL: Again, technology is always going to be a part of that. Just the things you can do the programming, the overall sonics — there’s so many things you can do. I think that influences us a little bit. Sometimes, it can make you seem a little bit lazy with the editing process, you don’t hash out ideas the way you used to. If you play the first record to this last record you can see how we’ve involved from a production aspect. You can tell we’re test driving certain things like Morgan doing this aggressive singing in the background. In the beginning, it was very sparse. We then found our formula and stuck to it. We evolved but certainly haven’t changed the sound of the band. I think we could take more chances musically if we were brave enough to do it. I think we’d evolve even more. Even a band like us that’s been around forever, we could do some new things and take a big step ahead and find out what this band could be good at. I think this next record has to be a heavy, aggressive record. Once we did “Angel’s Son” [a song in tribute to the late lead singer of Snot, Lynn Strait], we showed the world we could more of these melodic songs, so I think we need to embrace the heavier side more. Still keeping the melody, but keeping it aggressive.
PB: You guys are a very aggressive touring band. I doubt there’s many bands left you haven’t shared a stage with or opened up for. What bands that you’ve toured with have you learned the most from?
CL: As far as bands we tour with, we take away little bit from each band, especially if they’re successful and they’re out there doing it. It’s mostly through conversation — we’ve talked with the guys from Metallica, from Megadeth, from Pantera when Dime Bag was still around. Dime, he influenced the hell out of everything we do. Riff-wise, my personal playing. He was the biggest influence in terms of raw talent. You could only hope to be as good as that guy. He was incredible. He was the biggest for me personally.
PB: And finally, what are your plans for the next year?
CL: We’re going to take off of most of touring next year. We’re going to do our own things for a little while and then we’ll do a new Sevendust record in that time.