Lajon Witherspoon has fronted Sevendust since 1994, singing on all 13 of their studio albums along the way. We cornered him to talk about life on metal’s frontlines.
What’s the worst thing about being in a band?
“Honestly? Mostly I’ve been blessed!”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Little Richard once told me to never give up and that he was very proud of me… and to always look good!”
When was the first time you felt like a rock star?
“At Woodstock ’99 we got to hang out with everyone; I was on Willie Nelson’s bus doing everything! Ha ha. We also got to go onstage with Red Hot Chili Peppers just as the fires all started, so ended up being rushed onto a bus. I felt like the kid out of Almost Famous!”
What’s been your worst experience on drugs?
“We did a festival and my drum tech Norm came to me with these chocolate-covered mushrooms. So there I am, sitting on the back of the bus like a little bird and the guys came in like, ‘Alice Cooper really wants to meet you!’ so I had to go out and meet him tripping on shrooms! I could not stop laughing – I lost control!”
When was the last time you cried?
“That would have been this month, and the past few months, to be honest. In February we were expecting a baby and unfortunately we lost our baby boy. But there’s a higher power that has a plan and everything happens for a reason so we’re trying to stay positive.”
What things keep you positive?
“My family, my wife – right now where I’m talking to you from, the setting; just sitting here surrounded by palm trees watching a butterfly fly by… you can’t help but smile. Every day I wake up I try to find something to be thankful for and to try and find ways to bring a smile to somebody’s face. It could just be saying hi, but it can mean a lot.”
How’s the solo record coming along?
“I’m still working on it – I’ve got about 13 songs so far. The main guy I write with is Sahaj [Ticotin] from the band Ra and it’s been incredible working with him too. The music is incredible and isn’t too far away from Ra, but going for a radio bluesy thing. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it!”
You recently performed the Home and Seasons records as a livestream. What do those records mean to you?
“We were young, wild and out of control – that rock star feeling was really there. Playing with Metallica at the Silverdome with Kid Rock and Ted Nugent [on NYE 1999] was unreal. James Hetfield gave me his guitar while they played Detroit Rock City… and I didn’t know how to play it – I was trying to figure it out in front of a sold-out Silverdome!”
What are your favourite memories of that time?
“Chino [Moreno] from Deftones came out to record the song Bender at the farm we were recording Home in. We rode horses and I think it was Chino’s first time, which was pretty weird as it wasn’t too long before they released White Pony. Maybe it’s linked – who knows? It was funny to see him on the horse with his Adidas on, anyway! We also worked with [Skunk Anansie vocalist] Skin, who is so incredibly talented. Not a lot of people in the States knew who Skunk Anansie were at the time but turn the page and they had us over in the UK and it was a different world – people would be camping outside venues for three to four days before we’d even get there.”
A year on from George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests, do you see much change in how society approaches race?
“The conversation has definitely changed but it’d be foolish for us to stop now when there’s still so much else to do. I just gotta hope one day maybe we will achieve the level of equality we need; I don’t think any guy who doesn’t like me because of the colour of my skin is suddenly gonna go, ‘LJ you’re so cool!’ – but we do all have to move in this world together, so let’s try to do it in a positive way.”