In “Denial” of Sevendust

14 07 2007

by maddness

It’s a shame when the entertainment world skips over something good. I sometimes wonder how many good bands, shows or movies there are out there that I have never heard of, or have judged right off the bat and refused to watch based on some cultural stereotype. For those of you that have heard the heavy metal, yet extremely soulful sound of Lajon Witherspoon’s vocal stylings already know the sort of hypnotism the music puts you under.  Nowhere else will you find a heavy metal scream that rivals Jonathan Davis of Korn, yet can hit a soulful sound that compares to that of R&B star Seal (ok, a stretch, but you get the idea).  Witherspoon, the lead vocalist for the southern hard rock band Sevendust, has been behind the mic for six of their albums, plus an acoustic album and the band has yet to lose its popularity, despite taking one of the most unusual and bumpy journeys possible for a rock band.

In 1995, Sevendust officially formed in Atlanta and it wasn’t long before their self-titled debut had the metal world buzzing about the new guys on the scene.  Their second album, Home featured Witherspoon’s ability to carry a tune without even the simplest musical instrument behind him.  A singer (or someone trying to be one) once told me that you know someone can sing if it sounds good with no music, or just a bassline; so listen to the heavy metal duet “Licking Cream”, and confirm this assumption…it’s guaranteed you will be adding this little number to your library.  The appeal of Home was unique, in that it was heavy enough to keep their metal following, but featured enough harmony that it had commercial success written all over it as well.

Selling out tours was a given at this point, as they quickly gained a reputation for being very interactive with their crowds, in addition to their unique style, mixing heavy metal, southern rock and harmonious soul.  Lajon was quickly gaining a reputation for his pipes and drummer Morgan Rose began showing up as one of the scene’s best drummers (for this one, listen to the intro to “Enemy” off Seasons.  I dare you to not get pumped up) The band was committed to constant touring, each show not lacking the energy of the last. Listening parties, poker tournaments and charity events everywhere from Indiana to Athens, Georgia gained the band a strong following in some small market areas. The constant performances in the Southern states became a stepping stone for other bands and gave them a chance to play in front of a packed house. Bands like Staind, Nickleback, Incubus, Godsmack and Limp Bizkit would put on a good show opening for them, get noticed and make a career move that Sevendust was never willing to make; changing their sound to get airtime. However, by 2003, Sevendust watched each of the above mentioned bands go platinum at least once. While the audience numbers never sufferred and the loyalty remained among their contingent of fans, something to prove surfaced.

In a frustrated attempt to prove they were more than a stepping stone to fame, the band signed with TVT records, a move they would surely re-do if given the chance.  TVT had the vision of taking Witherspoon’s appealing voice and turn the band’s sound into a more modern-friendly rock sound.  It was said by the band that TVT wanted to go in a direction similar to the likes of the White Stripes or the Strokes. The powers that be were obsessed with moving the band in a certain direction, not considering their lack of a choice to follow a certain path provided them with their own style. With a new website, logos, merchandise and image, TVT began publicizing the album Next months before its release. When they had reached their previous Billboard high of #14 with Seasons, they were expecting improvement, not an identity crisis. Besides an appearance on the Saw II soundtrack, songs from Next didn’t make that much noise outside of the diehard fan.  Before the album had even hit the shelves, there were rumors Sevendust already thought TVT was more interested in putting a heavy metal band with an African American lead singer in the commercial limelight, caring less about their unique sound that sold out their constant shows year after year.  The band realized this and would fix it, but were also forced to deal with other problems.

Following the dissention with TVT, came a change in band management, a return to old logos and imagery, but most importantly, the departure of Clint Lowery, lead guitarist and song writer.  The reasons were cloudy and controversy surrounded them. Lowry, who had been a founder of the band left to play with his brother in side project, Dark New Day. Sevendust felt stabbed in the back by a friend, after it was evident he backed out of a commitment, leaving mid-tour. Ironically, Dark New Day is one band many say have a ‘Sevendust’ sound. Assuring they would return to a Sevendust sound of their own, the band recruited Sonny Mayo, formerly of the heavy metal band Snot.  Fans already know the link between Snot and Sevendust.  The death of Snot’s lead singer, James “Lynn” Straight, prompted for Sevendust’s most popular and emotional song, “Angel’s Son”.  Sevendust always considered Snot as an extension of their music family, so the Mayo choice was a no-brainer.  However, this move brought up a weird theme among critics that Sevendust’s only successful commercial song needed the emotion of a tragic death to succeed.  No denying that the appearances of Korn’s Jonathan Davis, Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath, Disturbed’s David Draiman, and Incubus’s Brandon Boyd in the video aided its success, but the song was so appreciated that even Jay Leno made a distinct request to have them perform it on the Tonight Show.

Immediately following the break up with TVT, Next was taken over by a start-up company, Winedark Records, only to have the ball dropped even farther. However, after the addition of Mayo, the designs for Alpha had already begun. The band was ready, and so was someone else. Asylum records, part of Universal, is now ready to make things as they should be, and is linked up with Sevendust for their latest release. Alpha features a return to more of an classic Sevendust sound. It’s darker, but you can still sing along, which is hugely present in the track “Driven”.

The truth is, Sevendust is probably right where they always will be; a talented band who has potential in multiple directions. Go extremely hard and achieve heavy metal dominance. Follow the trends and they could sell some albums. They seem content right where they are, just playing their sound and their own style in the middle of many genres. You can find them at your local arena show still packing in 20,000, or at smaller venues, playing their accoustic set, which appears on the release Southside Double Wide Acoustic, Live from Athens, GA. Whatever your style is, chances are you will hear a good show from a band who has survived a long journey and is definitely worth the price of admission. I had a friend see Sevendust last week in Madison, WI. I asked everything an intuitive mind wants to know. “Did they play new or old stuff?” “Anything accoustic?” “How long was it…was it good?” Her one sentence answer was plenty. “You should’ve been here”.



2 responses

16 07 2007
Soylent Ape

It was always frustrating to keep seeing Sevendust on the verge of mainstream success, but never quite making it. They also had really bad luck with management and labels. I hated to see Clint leave, because he was so integral to their sound.

16 07 2007
Soylent Ape

…that’s probably why Dark New Day sounds so much like 7D.

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