Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon: “I try to make my metal as soulful as I possibly can”

Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust
(Image credit: Press)

Nice guys finish last, they say. With nearly three decades in the music business and 13 Sevendust albums under his belt, metal’s nice guy Lajon Witherspoon proves that old adage spectacularly wrong, regardless of the odd drama the industry has thrown at him. As Sevendust unleash their new record, Lajon reflects on the highs and lows of his tenure in music, including his musical roots set in soul, funk and country, attending the Grammys, and winding up on national news in association with a murder trial in 2008.

Metal Hammer line break

Metal takes hold of you young

“My father played guitar and bass in a disco band, so music was always playing everywhere. I grew up listening to R&B, gospel and rock. I started listening to country when I got older, then it turned when I was about 13 when I heard Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and Jimi Hendrix. I fell in love with metal and it seemed like I got on a ship and it just never stopped.”

Nashville’s musical history is infectious

“It was incredible growing up in Nashville around not only my family that played music but also all the country artists. Everywhere you go, there’s music. I enjoy it even more as an adult because I couldn’t get into many places as a kid. Last time we were staying in Nashville, we went down to go out and walk the streets but we didn’t leave the hotel because the guy playing in the bar was better than anyone we’d ever seen!”

Soul and metal are very similar worlds

“My first band were Body & Soul. We were a funk rock band and we opened up for rock and soul bands like Mother’s Finest. We played all the places in Atlanta, Georgia. We thought we were playing metal just because we had a double kick bass! I still try to make my metal as soulful as I possibly can. Soul and funk definitely have the same camaraderie as metal; I can go to a metal show one night and an R&B show the next and still have the same amount of fun and see the same passion. For me, music is a healer. I think this world would be even crazier than it is right now without music, song and lyrics.”

No two gigs are the same

“My first gig was crazy! We played at a private high school’s talent show. I remember being so excited about performing because the lead singer of R&B band Cameo’s son went to the school, so Larry Blackmon was sitting there watching me perform. I feed off the energy from people so the show must go on even if they’re looking at you wondering what the hell you’re doing. We’ve had that a few times. We opened for Creed a few years ago and we came out onstage to people looking at us like, ‘What the hell’s going on? Why is the black man with dreadlocks yelling at us? Did he say a curse word?’”

Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust

(Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Set an example

“I try to be a positive role model, not just for black kids but for every kid out there, because I’m a father. I definitely have a positive outlook and I plan on continuing to be focused on welcoming people into the metal community that might be afraid and think it’s not cool. It’s definitely cool, there’s every walk of life here and that’s what I love about it. I make light of it but it’s a serious thing. I believe there’s racism everywhere, but I haven’t seen it in my 20-something years in Sevendust. If you haven’t seen Sevendust and we’ve still been around 20-plus years, it’s more than likely you know there’s a black guy in the band and you might not come to the show if you don’t like that. The band and I have been very blessed and it’s been an incredible experience for me, I’ve been very lucky. If there’s anything I can do to promote the metal community, that’s exactly what I’m going to do because I’m gonna be around for a long time.”

Metal runs in the family

“My son is four years old and he thinks he’s in a metal band right now! I love my kids doing whatever they want; I want to introduce them to music and I find it beautiful that they love all kinds of music, from metal to country. They’re playing ukulele and Kingston has a full-on electric Fender amp guitar that he rocks on a continuous basis in his bedroom beside his drum kit. That probably gets played at 7am at times but we’re allowed since we [were] in quarantine.”

Dreams can come true

“As a young man, I remember saying to the band, ‘Wouldn’t it be crazy if one day we had kids and we were married, we had a tour bus and our wives and kids could come out?’ All those things happened years later, it’s still hard to believe. Staying together takes respect, the love of the music and each other, letting each other breathe and keeping things equal. I feel a lot of bands don’t take things equally and that tends to tear things apart – when you’ve got one guy driving a Ferrari and another riding a bicycle to the studio.”

Your band is your family

“Sevendust is a family and I feel like we started something we can’t stop! I look out in the crowd and see people my age that started  with us when they were 20 and now they have three kids. Some of them are older and have their grandkids coming out for shows! What more could you ask for to still be relevant in this industry? It’s very beautiful to still be acknowledged; I’ve always said you can either love or hate us, but you’ll be damned if you can ignore us.”

Album #13 is a breath of fresh air

Blood & Stone shows a band that’s been together for a very long time and has grown. I think it shows us that we were able to take a break and get back to life, be with our families and be husbands to our wives. It reflects on this album that we were able to unplug for a minute, so this one shows a whole different side to us, it’s a very well-rounded album. There are some different things we haven’t tried before – I really wanted to sing on this album and I got the opportunity.”

Bad press is… bad press

“We can’t help Casey Anthony [suspected killer in 2008] liked Sevendust, then that mean lady Nancy Grace went after us on the news, what a nightmare! ‘They wrote a song about the little girl, it was a message!’ No, it’s not, we don’t know the girl. I’m sorry it’s a terrible thing that happened, but what the fuck were they talking about us for? We’re just this band from Atlanta, Georgia trying to make it and all of a sudden the press are like, ‘Oh my god, these devil worshippers!’ I don’t even know what ended up happening with that, I feel like we need an apology. Of all the bands in the world, we’ve done everything upfront and I hope that we’ve been nice to everybody, but to be labelled with that was crazy. They say even bad press is good press but that was not cool!”

Solo albums take time

“A solo album is something I’ve always wanted to do and it’s always been in me. Now I’ve had time to slow down so I’ve been able to work on it in my little breaks here and there. I’ve been working with a good friend of mine, Sahaj Ticotin from the band Ra – he’s such an incredible human being and partner to work with. There’s label interest, which I think is really funny – you forget that the days of record deals aren’t over and some people are still signing acts. It’s fun for me to go through the whole process of people listening to my jam and telling me if they like it. I’m getting ready to write another batch of three or four songs, I have about 10 right now that I feel are very strong. When the Sevendust thing settles down, I’ll start leaking that stuff out.”

The Grammys are surreal

“Our Grammy nomination was such a pleasure and an honour. A lot of people say the Grammys suck but whatever, you have your opinions. For me, as a young man growing up and watching the Grammys on TV with my parents and grandparents, then to be a part of it in 2016, it was incredible. Me and my wife were sitting two rows behind Stevie Wonder and I said, ‘Are you freaking kidding me? He can definitely hear me talking about him right now!’” 

Sevendust’s latest album, Blood & Stone, is out now