Lajon Witherspoon on Sevendust’s ‘Medicated’
Sevendust are back with a just-released new album, All I See Is War. The band is still very much a heavy rock band, but to hear frontman Lajon Witherspoon tell it, they were feeling a bit experimental. "Not Original" almost didn't make the album - Witherspoon compares it to a Coldplay song. And the singer says that he's planning on doing some solo work at some point in the future. For now, though, he's fully focused on the Sevendust album and tour. We discussed a few of the songs, including "Medicated," a rather timely song for an era where we're finally discussing the opiate crisis. He also discussed the importance of representation in hard rock music.
Next year is going to be Sevendust's 25th anniversary; have you thought about that, or have you been too wrapped up in the album?
I feel very blessed and fortunate, I could never take this for granted, to still be relevant in the music business. I don’t say fans, I say our family., they’re the reason we’re still here. We have a job to do.
The album is called All I See Is War, and the first line on the first song, "Dirty," is: "I'm no stranger to this thing called war."
I didn’t want to turn it into a political thing. But it’s war everywhere. In the song I talk about a passenger ("I'm just a passenger you've never seen before") and I’m not talking about a soldier, I'm talking about a someone on a bus, I’m talking about a kid going to school.
I'd read that you just freestyled some of the lines from that song off the top of your head.
[2000's] “Angel’s Son” came out that way, too. I didn’t have it written down. Sometimes I think those songs are the best. On "Angel's Son," the music just started and I started singing, "I’m just a passenger…" And from there I said, "Now we’re gonna tell a story."
"Angel's Son" must have been hard to write; it was about your friend, Lynn Strait [of the band Snot] who'd died.
On "Angel’s Son," we had the chorus, we didn’t have lyrics. Lynn Strait passed away. When you’re young and someone your age passes away and that’s the first time that's happened... how do you write a song about that? I got to the studio and I didn’t want to let anyone down. They played the song and I just started singing, “Life’s changing, can’t go on without you…” It just came out! I got chills!
Even though it’s about Lynn, it’s about my little brother who passed away, it’s about my grandmom, it’s about my granddad, it’s about your cousin. About your brother.
And fun fact; the video was shot outside of a house, it’s the same house that Christina Aguilera shot the video for "Genie in the Bottle" at.
"Angel's Son" turned a lot of people on to Sevendust, because it's not as sonically extreme. Clearly, you have a voice that could have allowed you to go in a more mainstream pop direction...
I still have my solo stuff, it’s gonna be coming out.
Really? What else do you want to say about that?
Nothing! I’ve got some solo things in the works, which is exciting for me. I put out one song ["Love Song"], and I’ll be doing some more when the Sevendust train slows down, I’ll be working with a well-known producer in the rock world.
I can’t tell you who he is. But he's well known.
Do you often get requests to sing on other people's albums?
I've done that a few times. I sang with a band from New Zealand, called Earthside [see the "Mob Mentality" video here]. I’m also looking forward to working with one of my buddies, Tech9. Me and Tech are talking about doing some work together. That’s someone I look forward to working with, he definitely has his finger on the pulse.
Talk about "Medicated."
[It’s about] A self-medicated person. What gets you through life. What are your vices? What helps you through the day? That talks about a man being medicated.
What inspired it?
Just life, what I’ve seen, people who have left because of addictions. This album, I feel like we had the time to reflect on things we’ve been through in our life.
You're singing it, but you haven't fallen prey to substance problems. But surely you've seen it with other people.
We’ve seen it, we’ve seen it a lot, I’m a true believer in moderation. Kids: have fun, but this is a serious business, you’ve got to stay strong. I’ve seen a lot of people fall by the wayside. I’m not saying I haven’t partied. I party! But keep your head together. Thank the Lord that we’re still here. I would never do anything to take this for granted, I’ve been very blessed. And I feel like I still have a lot more to do, even at 45 years.
Anyone in any touring band has to resist a lot of temptations on the road.
You can get anything you want. I smoke a little bud, I have a couple of drinks, I drink Jägermeister. Someone said that that’s the college girl inside of me, I don’t know what that means! It’s never been something… I like to feel good. I like to wake up and feel good, I don’t want to have a hangover. I like to be able to hit the ground running every day. I have a couple of drinks. Not every day! In twenty-something years in the band, they may have seen me drunk twice.
We were on the road with Henry Rollins, the Rollins Band, we played Lupo’s in Providence, Rhode Island, we were staying at the Biltmore, and we just came back, and I had to walk through the lobby of the hotel, and the guys were like, "Man, we’ve never seen you this drunk!"
I said, "I can do it! I can do it!" But I couldn’t walk. They get me to the elevator, and I remember standing at the elevator, I was like, "I got this, I got this, guys!" And the elevator opened, and that’s when I fell. That was one time I remember I was drunk, but I don’t really get drunk (anymore).
"Not Original" has a bit of a mellower vibe.
That song wasn’t even going to be on a Sevendust album. We said, "This is beautiful, this is different." It reminded me of Coldplay or something. "I’m not afraid to do this at all. Let’s go down this avenue." And "Not Original" turned out to be a heavy hitter, even though it’s a slower song. My vocals are in a different light, which you don’t normally hear when you hear all the guitars. And different is great! We don’t have to always be heavy! We’ve done enough heavy stuff. Let us do some slow stuff.
In the past few months, we've been seeing the effects of representation, and that it matters. Movies like Wonder Woman and Black Panther have resonated because they're good movies, but also because people are seeing themselves represented on screen. I wonder if you have had that effect on people of color, showing them that rock isn't only for white people.
I used to get: "Oh man, you play that 'white boy music.'" And I say, "It’s really not 'white boy music,' if you know the history of rock and roll and R&B." But this [music] is what I like. I sing R&B and I can rap too! But this is what I like to do.
But for a kid to come up to me that’s only listened to rap his whole life, and he sees me with Sevendust and he says, "Man, you’ve changed my view on this, I only thought that this was for white kids." No! it’s not! I’ve turned heads for a lot of people, and it’s really cool to see it. I saw this thing on social media the other day, you could tell it was it was written by a hip-hop kid, he said, “I don’t understand why I like this song so much.” I wanted to say, “Why don’t you learn some history and you might understand why you like it!"