Sevendust Frontman Lajon Witherspoon Talks Homecoming, Solo Record Plans, Military Shows, and Fans
Lajon “LJ” Witherspoon, lead vocalist for Sevendust -- On stage, a raging bull, all muscle and ferocity. On a couch, he’s the polar opposite with a calm energy and warm smile. His deep enjoyment of whatever he talks about is worn clearly on his face at all times. It’s easy to see why he’s been devoted for the better part of two decades to making Sevendust the titan band that it is. Backstage with him for an interview before a hometown gig for him, a Nashville, TN tour stop with Asking Alexandria, he made me feel tall, and not just because he was about two inches shorter than my 5’9”. Something about his infectious happiness just makes you feel so good.
On October 5th of this year, when Sevendust played the Ride For Dime memorial concert in Nashville in honor of Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell, Lajon spent nearly 5 hours after the show interacting with the concert-goers, not out of obligation, but out of genuine interest and respect. That’s just one show in his extensive tour life. That’s just how he is. With a set list that included songs like “Decay,” “Strong Arm,” “Denial,” “Splinter,” “Face 2 Face,” and “Alpha,” Lajon and the band were about to give Nashville something special once again.
During our interview beforehand, he detailed the band’s VIP program, which involves actually playing on stage with the band, his memories from earlier years in Nashville (his hometown), comfort foods, playing shows for the military troops overseas, and a little about his upcoming plans for a solo record, which I could tell he had been mulling over excitedly for some time.
Frank Serafine (Progressivity_In_All): The last time that we interviewed Sevendust was a couple of years ago on a nice football weekend when you guys were about to dig into some lobsters with your fans. (Read the 2011 interview with drummer Morgan Rose here.) Have you guys been doing the meet & greet/meet & eat thing?
Lajon Witherspoon: Actually, it’s been a meet & greet/soundcheck party. It’s cool. We get up there and do a soundcheck and a lot of times, what we have now, is a Platinum VIP. More than likely, what will happen is a girl or guy will request a song and actually get to play it with the band at soundcheck. So it’s been really interesting. We’ve never really done anything like that. It’s been fun.
A couple of the people have actually played real good, and they can really jam. It’s fun to get up there and see them fulfill, not necessarily a dream, but a bucket list wish, maybe. To be able to play with the band and jam with them and actually get into it with them, it’s really cool.
Frank: That’s fantastic. So they actually get to play an instrument on stage with you?
Lajon: Yeah! A couple of guys played drums. Another guy the other day played guitar and he was great -- he played ‘Praise.’ It’s cool. A different side! (laughs)
Frank: Cool. It sounds like you’re trading playing the headlining spot for a chance to really connect with your fans.
Lajon: Oh, it’s cool. We haven’t opened up for a long time and it’s an experience. We’re normally the ones who have to wait until the end of the night before we can do anything. It’s cool to be able to play a 45- or a 30-minute set and then watch some bands and hang out. I don’t have a problem with it. Also, for us, on this tour, we’re diving into a group of kids that probably don’t know who Sevendust is. They’re more Asking Alexandria fans or All That Remains. We kind of teeter on the line of the same type, but it’s new to us.
Frank: It’s kind of hard to believe that, after 17 years as a band, that somebody DOESN’T know Sevendust!
Lajon: Yeah, these kids are like, “Who are those old dudes?” (laughs) “Who’s that guy that looks like he’s my dad’s friend?”
Lajon: I am your dad’s friend! He’s got our album! (laughs)
Frank: What’s the coolest thing a fan has ever said to you?
Lajon: The reason that they do music is because of us or because of my vocals. Everyday, I find someone saying something that, to me, is like a blessing -- either we’ve changed their lives or helped them get through something. I think that we’re no different than anyone else, that we’re just able to put our emotions on a canvas that’s open for more people to see. I think we all deal with the same problems, it’s just that I get to go out and preach about mine every night.
Frank: You’ve said in several interviews that this last album wasn’t so much about problems that you were facing, but about where you’re at in life.
Lajon: Yeah, definitely. I think this album is definitely where we’re at. The things that we’ve gone through. The people we’ve lost. Just growing up as men. I just turned 41, thank the Lord, and I’m the youngest in the band. You know, we’ve definitely grown up and we’ve seen a lot. I think that by being thrown into the business that we’ve been thrown into, for whatever reason, and it might not be the truth, but I feel like that we’ve dealt with seeing more people leave. We’ve seen more people pass because we’ve met so many. So many people over the years that we’ve grown so close to.
It’s not just this immediate family that I used to have -- it’s this worldwide family that I have now. It’s been a lot, but it’s been incredible. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.
Frank: Is it always a unique experience coming back to Nashville, since this is your hometown?
Lajon: Yeah, you know, it’s hard. Today, I had to call my daddy and my momma and talk to them, because, with me losing my little brother here, it’s still hard. Coming down to the downtown area, I just remember being a kid and not ever really coming across the bridge to come down, but when I came down, it’s always cool. It’s always sentimental when I come here because I did grow up here, but I never really got to experience this side of it because I was a kid. My memories are more back down there at Warner Elementary and Dan Mills and Dellwood. Being across the street from Meg’s and Silverdean Apartments, where I lived. Shelby Park, getting stung by a sweat bee on my lip! I remember screaming and running to my dad, like, “Whaaat haappened?!” My face was swelling up!
Lajon: And I went to my grandma’s house. That was the last time I was here, before the show. I buried her. My step-grandfather, LC, was a big old dude. He was cool. He’d always hang out at Diddly-Doo’s, a little bar right down the street. He was like “I gotta come over there. I’m gonna fix that lip for you.” I remember him putting some tobacco, and some whiskey or something -- he gave me a shot of whiskey and put it on my lip, and I was like “Hell yeah, I’m a man! Let me get another shot of that!” (laughs)
Frank: (laughs) That’s the Tennessee way to do things!
Lajon: Just those types of memories are always good. Me and my dad and my little brother hanging out. My father had his disco band here. The reason I do music is because of that. I can’t help but always have a nostalgic incredible vibe when I come here. I can’t believe I’ve never been here! (referring to War Memorial Auditorium)
Frank: This is a crazy venue. It’s one of the oldest venues in Nashville, because this was the first symphony hall for the city.
Lajon: Really? This is my kind of spot. Is it haunted?
Frank: I’d bet you so. I could find something.
Lajon: Oh, for sure. I think I just saw a ghost looking at us… (laughs)
Frank: How much of the place that you are right now in life are you saving for your solo album? Because you talked, earlier on in the year, about your solo record. How much are you saving for that?
Lajon: What do you mean, ‘saving’?
Frank: What kind of material are you working on, I mean?
Lajon: Oh man, I’ve got some cats that I’ve been tapping around with and playing with. It’ll definitely be more soulful, but it will be rock too. I might even dive into some country -- Aaron Lewis is trying to get me to come to Nashville. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about, too. I just love music. Sevendust has always been my priority, but I just feel, as a 41-year old man, and we’ve all gotten to do our different albums and stuff, that it’s time for me to do some other things.
Sevendust is always my baby, but I definitely want LJ to get out some different things that I have on my mind and some things that I think will flow better on a different album, if that makes sense.
Frank: Oh, it totally makes sense. Yeah. Along with the side projects of the other guys, are you going to count that as a side project, too, and do separate tours for that, or…
Lajon: I don’t know! (laughs) You know how that stuff goes, where people go, “Ehhhh, what happened on THAT stuff?”
Frank: Well, you’ve got your own record label, so it’s not like you can’t!
Lajon: Yeah, exactly. I don’t know. It depends on how other people would respond to it. I would always love to play out, but I’m not looking at it to be some big thing, like “oh god, here’s the next big thing, LJ’s getting ready to go out as The LJ Project…” I’ll just see what happens. I might just put it on iTunes. Who knows? I’m not expecting this big tremendous whirlwind, even though I would hope a lot of people would enjoy it. It’s just something that I will do for fun. Music is my outlet, anyway, so it’s my therapy.
Frank: Well-said. Having some distance from ‘Black Out The Sun,’ because it’s been six or seven months now, and having to road-test these songs, which ones do you find resonate with you more?
Lajon: Well, the ones that we haven’t played resonate with me more. We’ve just got to get down the line and get down on some of the newer songs. “Till Death” is great. “Got a Feeling,” “Decay,” all of them, but I would like to do “Picture Perfect,” and I would like to do “Black Out The Sun.” “Nobody Wants It” -- I want to put that in the set.
Frank: I want to hear that.
Lajon: I think that the album is so deep, so we still have time to add and put other songs in. I still believe in the days of you listening to the whole album and not hearing one single and then wondering “what happened to the band?” Automatically waiting to hear a new album. I believe that this album is strong enough to give each song a chance. Everything’s a single. Every song on this album’s a single.
Frank: I tend to agree. In most of the reviews I’ve found online say that this is one of the most complete metal albums in recent years.
Lajon: I think we actually hit it on the head with this album. We went in, we didn’t have any music written. We just wanted to go in and be a band, and that’s what we were able to do, and I think that’s the magic that we were able to create with this album.
Frank: Fantastic. I know that you guys have done some concerts for the troops before, too.
Lajon: Mmhmm. We’ve been to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, everywhere. In South Korea, we stayed in a hotel, but when we were in Afghanistan, it wasn’t a hotel. It was a tent. Bombs and stuff going off. You know how a lot of times when you go into the ocean and you really feel how small you are? You get in a tent in Iraq, and you hear a bomb go off like it’s right down the street. Because it is really right down the street. If you compare where you’re at to a block away from where the bomb is at. It sounds like a shotgun, but it’s not a shotgun -- It’s a MORTAR. You really feel like, “Wow, what do I do? If I started running, I still wouldn’t get home!” (laughs)
You really realize there ain’t NOTHING that you can do! (laughs) So it’s an amazing thing. For me, those shows are the most important. You go over there, and you’re looking at an 18-year old kid with a gun, an M-16, looking at you, like “You know, man, I was at the House of Blues in Chicago last year in the front row.” You’re looking at this kid who’s ready to go to war and fight, so it puts everything in perspective, too. I don’t have a lot to complain about when you think about stuff like that. I’m very blessed.
Frank: Right. I just hadn’t heard too many interviewers ask questions about those shows, and I always wondered about your reaction to them.
Lajon: They were incredible, man. It’s the BEST. I remember that everything is non-alcoholic Beck’s until you run into the Special Forces guys, and of course, they always have the good stuff. You get to be buddies with those guys. It’s always an experience. The joy that they show for you just being there and showing up? It’s like, “Are you kidding me? Thank YOU guys for what you do.” The camaraderie is just incredible. It’s a brother- and sister-hood.
Frank: No kidding. To wrap it up in a southern style, what’s your favorite comfort food when you get down here?
Lajon: I had squash casserole and baked beans today.
Frank: Aw man.
Lajon: It was awesome, and a chicken sandwich from Puckett’s [Grocery]. Woooo, it was nice. My grandma would have some black-eyed peas, some cha-cha, some turnip greens… I’m an old-school kind of guy.
Frank: You’ve been to Monell’s?
Lajon: No, what’s that?
Frank: Oh man. You can eat exactly like that, except Super Bowl portions.
Lajon: So, tell me, where is the boot store where you can buy one pair of boots and get two pair free?
Frank: It’s right down here on 2nd and Commerce.
Lajon: Will they be open tonight?
Frank: Yes. They’re open for awhile.
Lajon: I think I’m going to walk there and get me three pair of boots -- Two pair free. Well cool, thank you very much, brother, are you staying for the show tonight?
Frank: Of course, are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss this.
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