Interview by: Robert Cavuoto
Pictures Sourced from Sevendust Facebook Page
As Sevendust approaches two decades together as a band, they have received another milestone in their illustrious career. The band has received their first-ever Grammy nomination for the song “Thank You” off of their latest CD, Kill The Flaw, for Best Metal Performance. The band is nominated alongside August Burns Red, Ghost, Lamb Of God and Slipknot in the category. The band will find out if they won on February 15, 2016, the date of the 58th annual Grammy Awards.
Sevendust is comprised of Lajon Witherspoon on vocals, John Connolly and Clint Lowery on guitar, Vince Hornsby on bass, and Morgan Rose on drums.
I caught up with guitarist John Connolly to discuss the bands longevity, their struggles, the Grammy nomination and what it takes to create a Sevendust masterpiece.
Robert Cavuoto: Congrats on the Grammy nomination for the song “Thank You” as the Best Metal Performance. Tell me about your initial reaction when you first heard the news?
John Connolly: Thanks, it came as quite a surprise. I initially thought it was a joke. I was getting all these emails and thought someone was playing some elaborate prank. It didn’t sink in for 4-5 days. Don’t get me wrong we were all super excited about this but we were looking at each out like “Is really for real?” With the excitement of all our families it finally started to sink in on how cool this was!
Robert: Were you relived that you weren’t up against Jethro Tull [laughing]?
John Connolly: [Laughing] Yeah and luckily Jack Black didn’t put out an acoustic CD. I’m a fan of all the nominees; there is a good selection of bands. I think the Grammys finally took notice and said “we have to be legit about things”. I was super thankful to be included in such a nice crop of options. I wake up checking Facebook every morning making sure it’s still up there [laughing]. When a lot of bands out there are trying to figure out how many iterations of guitar players, bass players or drummers that have been in their band, we are looking at each other with the original five guys and we finally got recognition from the Academy!
Robert: “Thank You” is such an inspirational song, what can you tell me about its creations?
John Connolly: In typically fashion, most of the really good songs in history the songwriters will tell you that the song came real easy. That it fell out of nowhere right in their lap or the song wrote itself. With Sevendust it’s the complete opposite! For example “Black” was the first song I ever wrote. It was the oldest song in our catalogue. By the time we got a record deal, the last thing we wanted to do was to play that song. When we were in pre-production, we kept burying it on the list of options! Thank God JJ French [guitarist for Twisted Sister and former producer for Sevendust] insisted on hearing every song we had. It was the last song we played for him and I remember him saying to us, “You wouldn’t know your “Back in Black” if it came up and bit you in the ass! That career defining song.” He was dead on. Fast forward 18 years and there is a song called “Decay” that we tried to get on Cold Day Memory that we struggled with. It didn’t have any lyrics and people told us it was too basic, too stock, and run of the mill. When it came time to do Black out the Sun, we felt really good about the CD but thought it would be nice to add extra songs for B-sides and imports. We were going through some of the hard drives and we stumbled across that piece of music and thought we could finish off in a half-a- day. Sure enough we finish the vocals on it and Vince came out of the control room and I asked him how it sounded, he said, “That’s the single!” I’m like get out of here and he says, “Dude that the vibe I get from that song!” Exact same thing when we were working on the new CD, Kill the Flaw, “Thank You” was the first piece of music we were working on but it had an odd chorus, not the chorus that is on the recording. It had a little more pop sensibly too it. I thought we should ditch the chorus but everyone wanted to give it a shot as it was. Low and behold we are working on the CD and its dropping down on our list. It dropped from first to fifth to tenth to dead last. When we finished the CD, I said, I bet you if we change the chorus this song will be the “Decay” of this new CD. We changed the chorus and an hour later the lyric fell right into place. I don’t know what it is about this band as we have so many songs that come together so quickly, but the ones we struggle with work out the best. I guess it’s about the amount of time we have to spend with them.
Robert: What was the issue with the original chorus?
John Connolly: It was too hard to write on. It had more of a Nickelback vibe to it I warned the guys from when I brought in the I think this chorus is going to be too much of a challenge to put the Sevendust stamp on it. Everyone loved it and thought it was different. Sometimes different is good and other times different is not good. We struggled with it and everyone took a crack at writing lyrics for it and we all kept running into that same dead end. We figured if we don’t get it done, no big deal. It’s just the usually Sevendust perils of our struggle. I’m really glad we got it.
Robert: You touched upon the history and longevity of the band, what do you attribute that too?
John Connolly: The band formed in 1993 and Clint joined in 1995 so this is actually the 20th anniversary with the five of us together. Our first release is 1997, so that might be the real 20th anniversary. When the 15th anniversary came up I remember reading online and asked my wife, is this math right [laughing] as I couldn’t believe it! I think it’s just a mutual respect we have for each other, when Clint left that separation period was needed on both sides. He needed to step away, take care of his business. and find his path again and we needed the same. Instead of letting that moment in time define the band, everyone was up for the challenge. Clint went to play with his brother in the band Dark New Day. We put out three records during that time and when he came back it just felt like that original chemistry. We enjoy making music with each other and we still have that excitement from the first day of rehearsal. When we made Kill the Flaw, it was just like that first day. We don’t look at it as being together for 20 years; we just enjoy jamming with each other. Were brothers and fight like cats and dogs but we have each other backs – were family.
Robert: I guess if everyone was always on the same page it would make things boring?
John Connolly: There are five very strong personalities, musicians, and songwriters. Everyone brings a completely different element to the band with their musical preference. If there is a day I’m not feeling it or if I I’m on the verge of writers block, I’ll hear someone play something and I’ll snap out of it. It’s a pleasure to know that any one guy could write the whole record by themselves and we would be more than happy to go in there and play it.
Robert: Every band has their highs and lows, what would you consider Sevendust’s darkest hour?
John Connolly: I would say the initial separation from Clint as it was just a jarring thing. Initially we all felt like that but we got over it quickly. I guess we never got over it completely. I think we all secretly knew that he would come back or hoped he would come back anyway. I think it was just that constant struggle on the business side, the dealing with attorneys and ex-manager. It felt like there was a dark cloud over us no matter what we did. All we wanted to do is to make music and you spend a third of your day doing business like going to court and in mediation. It just all hit around the same time. We were still making records that were charting and doing well touring and then having to deal with all the nonsense. Somewhere in that period between all the lawsuits and the split I would have to say it was our lowest point. That was one of the biggest differences in making this record; we could have a completely productive day without yelling at people or getting emotional over something that happened 10 years ago. It’s nice to be in a place where we are all together and have none of those distractions. Everyone was very clear and focused. For as long as we have been a band, it’s hard to reinvent that wheel, you don’t want to rip anyone off or write a song you wrote a decade ago. It’s not like anyone is going to play or sing differently but you want to challenge and impress yourself. It’s cool when you can impress your fans, but when you hear the final mix and everyone is excited that’s the kick for us. I don’t know how we always manage to do it but somehow we do. For this record we said let’s make it as much of a Sevendust record that we can but modernize it. We just took our first step and thought hopefully it will fall into place.
Robert: How does Kill the Flaw rate for you personally and which are your top three Sevendust records?
John Connolly: It’s hard not to say the first record because we didn’t think it would do much. We liked it but we are realists. The first record will always have that special place. Alpha was a record we completely reinvented ourselves because we didn’t use any programming or editing software. We played all of our instruments live for the recording. The amps were in the rooms with the drums and if I screwed up the last bar or the song, we would have to go in and redo the whole song rather than use ProTool. Then there is the new record, we approached it the same way we did on the first record and did it old school. We laid low and didn’t get on social media posting videos from the studio. I know fans were disappointed, because we have done it so many times in the past. We just went in completely undistracted.
Robert: You streamed Kill the Flaw prior to its release, in this crazy new world of the music business where everyone is experimenting, what prompted your decision to do that.
John Connolly: We were trying to think outside the box. We know that streaming is a big part of the industry now; I can’t say I’m 100% a fan, but I know we have made a lot of fans from it. As a vehicle to getting fans, it works. We are still building our brand and our fan base even 20 years in. It’s about getting more exposure and getting more people to turn their heads your way. So we decided to stream it. Instead of going out on a headlining tour like we have done, we decided to opened up to bands like Godsmack and Shine Down. It threw a lot of fans a curve ball. It’s good to mix things up and do things differently once in a while.