Interviews Music — 27 April 2014
Sevendust’s Morgan Rose ‘Loves New York,’ To Play Highline Ballroom on 5/4

Nearly a decade since the release of 2004′s “Southside Double-Wide” which featured a collection of heavy songs performed live in a stripped down and acoustic setting, avid fans of the metal band Sevendust have been asking for something similar- a fully acoustic studio record for them to sink their teeth into between albums.  The band, who has as loyal a fanbase as any group in any genre, contemplated several different options to satiate this audience desire, before settling on the recently released “Time Travelers & Bonfires,” a twelve track, full-length album that combines 6 newly written songs alongside 6 acoustically re-worked takes on Sevendust classics.

The new release marks the tenth studio album for Sevendust, whose self-titled debut in 1997 immediately took the metal community by storm.  This new album is clearly a departure of sorts yet still managed to debut at number 19 on the Billboard 200 and at number 1 on Billboard’s Top Hard Music Albums chart.  Though the band is unplugged, the performance allows fans to really take stock of Sevendust’s unique vocal harmonies and lets the deep, sultry vocals of frontman Lajon Witherspoon shine in a way that they’ve never really been able to do previously, because their music is typically so heavy and so fast.  Though the acoustic album had initially been considered a novelty, as you’ll read below, the response to date has been overwhelming and the relentless touring creature that is Sevendust is already mapping out a third leg of shows on this run, titled “An Evening With Sevendust.”  Locals can rest easy- the band has announced an intimate show on Sunday, May 4th at the Highline Ballroom, and one which almost certainly will be sold out.  Tickets are available here.

LocalBozo.com was fortunate to speak with Sevendust founder, songwriter and drummer Morgan Rose for an exclusive and candid interview.  Listen above as we discuss the concept behind the release of “Time Travelers & Bonfires,” New York City as the band’s second home, utilizing a PledgeMusic campaign funded by fans’ money to get this album made, thoughts on releasing a live Sevendust record and whether the acoustic shows are less physically taxing on his body.  The interview is a must-listen for any fans of Sevendust- and if you aren’t a fan, well, Morgan Rose just might have the ability to talk you into the building to witness one of rock music’s best live bands doing their thing in a rare and intimate setting.

- Jane Van Arsdale

The audio has been transcribed for your reading pleasure below.

LocalBozo.com:  Morgan, let’s get into the new album.  We’re a week into the release of “Time Travelers and Bonfires.”  It’s got six new songs and some re-recorded acoustic versions of Sevendust classics.  How is the new album being received and how satisfied are you with the finished product?

Morgan Rose:  The response has been overwhelming.  I mean, we went into this thing looking at it as a novelty and looking at it as something special for the people that support the band and you know the people that support us have been asking for an acoustic record so we kind of looked at it like this would be just for them, you know?  And we’d do it together.  When we threw it together, the idea was to do an EP and it took on a bunch of different ways- we looked at it a bunch of different ways.  We were like ‘well, should we just do six of our own songs- the old ones- and do an EP?  Should we do six new songs?  Or wait, we’ll do a full length, we’ll do six new, six old and we’ll let the people pick the old ones and we’ll knock out six new songs and that should be done pretty quick and we’ll get them involved and have a good time with it.’  And now, it’s just taken off.  The shows have been huge.  They’re expecting a pretty high week at Billboard.  I don’t know what the number’s gonna be but I’ve heard some crazy ones, and we’ll see where it lands but this thing that started off as just as I said, as a little thank you to our people has turned into another album cycle.

LocalBozo.com:  Now you mentioned there’s been a lot of clamoring for a new acoustic album since 2004′s “Southside Double-Wide,” but as a band that’s built itself off of its incredible live show, was there any talk of doing a full on live album rather than an acoustic one or was this always the plan?

MR:  Well this was the plan, as I said it kind of took on three different options that we were looking at.  But during this, like we’re filming for a television show tomorrow and when we heard about that we were like ‘man, we got approached by somebody about doing another live acoustic DVD’ and, you know, with the DVD and everything with it and we were like ‘okay, why don’t we talk about doing- because the other thing everybody’s been asking for is a live DVD of us playing the heavy stuff- so we were like ‘maybe what we should do is we should double this thing up.  We’ll do the acoustic live and then we’ll do the heavy live and we’ll double it up and do a two disc set of us in both formats.  So that’s what we’re talking about doing now, something to maybe tide everyone over in between the end of this acoustic cycle and the next heavy cycle.

LocalBozo.com: That certainly sounds like the best way to please everybody.

MR:  Yeah, you know, I mean it’s just another show for us so it’s not like- I mean we’ll do a little bit of post [production] on it to make sure everything’s dialed in but we’re a pretty live band.  We try not to use too many tricks so it should be something that’s pretty easy to do and then maybe while we’re in there doing some post we’ll throw a song or two on there, you know- heavy stuff- just to put a little cherry on top.

LocalBozo.com:  You guys have been doing a good amount of press leading up to the new album and tour- obviously everybody’s talking about the PledgeMusic campaign.  It was a massive success for Sevendust, which took all of two days to raise the money to create the new album.  What is that like for you guys just to know that there’s so much support for a record before it’s even made?

MR:  The people that support this band, that have been there for so long- we know the strengths and we don’t take it for granted.  I’ve said this a million times but I’ve said if you take our best thousand and you put them up against anybody else’s best thousand, we’re just gonna kill everybody because we just have this loyal base of people- and we don’t like to call them fans- it just feels strange, you know?  We’ve never called them fans, we’ve always called them friends and supporters and they have become family to us because now it’s turning into generations coming to see us where people that were, you know, twenty years old coming to see us at the beginning are now 37 years old and now they’ve got their 16 year old kid with them and the kid is into it.  And then his friends are into it.  So the demographic is widening and so when the idea came with Pledge, the people that were running this were like ‘how much money would you need to do the record?’  And we’re like ‘well, we can haul ass through it if we do it like this’ and they were like ‘okay, well we’ll put the money up at this.’  And I was like, ‘that’s going to get hit in no time man.’  And what nobody really knows is that they actually changed the pledge number because it got hit in a few hours.  You know, everybody thinks it was a few days but really, the number was hit in a few hours.  The minute that thing went up, it was like- it crashed the server.  So we were like ‘I told you, you know?’ I said ‘we’re not trying to get rich off of this.  We’re not trying to make money on this thing as far as, you know, from the people, in that way.  We’re trying to do the best record that we can do without using any machine other than the most important machine- which is the people.  So whatever it costs for us to be able to live up there long enough to be able to have the studio, to be able to travel back and forth- that’s what we need to be able to do the thing.’  So they upped the number immediately.  Then in two days, that number was hit and I’m like ‘you guys are not understanding what I’m telling you.  These people are serious business.  I mean, the people that support Sevendust- those people are hardcore.’  So, then it was done.  Then it was like well okay, these people really want to see this thing.  So now, instead of it just being us just doing a record- it started off as ‘we’ll do an EP,’ then it was ‘okay we’ll do a record,’ then it was ‘okay, I guess we’re gonna go on tour with this thing’ to ‘I guess we’re gonna have an album cycle.’  I mean, we thought we were done in a few- I thought I was gonna be done off this whole cycle for the year by now.  And now it’s turning into- they’ve booked the second leg and they’re getting ready to book a third leg of it so half a year of being home just turned into half a year of being on the road.

LocalBozo.com:  To the surprise of no one, the band has mapped out a pretty extensive acoustic tour that runs through the end of June right now.  Are you finding this run of shows to be a bit less physically taxing on your body and for you especially, on your voice?

MR:  Oh yeah.  Yeah.  This thing is a cakewalk.  I mean, I had a stomach virus for two days and didn’t eat for two days and went up and it was nothing.  I still play hard and the guys have to sing, I mean- I don’t do any of the screaming obviously so I don’t have to mess with any of that and there’s some backups that I sing, but overall- it’s a really emotional show.  There’s been nights when I’ve cried up there.  There’s many nights where [frontman] Lajon [Witherspoon] cries up there.  We’ve played shows where I can just see dozens of people in the crowd falling apart and it’s not during “Angel’s Son.”  Yeah they might have emotional ties to that but there’s other songs now.  And there’s old songs that aren’t even really- they weren’t built to be- they’re not ballads, you know?  But the lyrics, they’re so clear now just doing it acoustically- you know, we do a version of “Disgrace” and every night I’ll just sit there and I’ll just have my hands over my face because when we wrote that song- that’s a long time ago.  And it brings you back to that place and you look at your life and it’s like ‘Wow, man.  This has been a long ride man.  This has been an incredibly long ride for a bunch of little rednecks from Georgia that had like 150 people that gave a damn about them.’  And now we’ve got this family of people that we see on the road and you know, you have a lot of time to think about this stuff out here and when you’re on stage, you have– when you’re playing heavy, you’re in the moment.  When you’re doing it acoustically, you can actually absorb what it is that you did.  You can sit there and listen to what Lajon is singing.  I never heard a word of what he’s singing when we’re playing heavy.  I’m in my own world, you know?  Now I sit there and I listen to him and I’m staring at him and I’m like– some of these songs, there’s a lot of pain involved when we wrote them, so it brings that back.

LocalBozo.com: You mentioned the screaming- you’ve got two great singers in the band with Lajon of course and Clint Lowery on guitar, but you’ve carved this little niche for yourself as the drummer that’s mic’d up and you add in your own vocals to the band.  Sevendust as a band, would be incomplete without you screaming on track after track.  What or maybe who, inspired you initially to become so involved vocally?

MR:  Oh my God man.  I actually haven’t been asked that question a whole bunch, but lately it’s been a little bit more than it had been in the past.  That thing started a few bands before I put Sevendust together and really the only reason why I ever did anything like that was in practice.  And I would be writing melodies with the singer and at the time I hadn’t worked on singing and playing drums together so it was hard for me to reach over with a boom stand and sing into this microphone and try to play the drum part at the same time.  So we got one of these headset mics and I had seen Tommy Lee use one and it was no big deal, you know?  I had never wanted to use it.  I had never wanted to sing.  I just wanted to write the melodies with him at practice.  So then we started doing that and then it turned into– his range was a little bit shady at times so it would be ‘well, why don’t you just sing that part there?’ And I’m like ‘Man, I don’t want to sing,’ and I kind of got pushed into singing the part and then gradually, band to band, you know, it got a little bit heavier and then we got Sevendust together and I had been singing a little bit.  Clint has a beautiful voice.  Lajon obviously has a beautiful voice.  And Clint has developed this really low-heavy one but for the longest time, he didn’t do a lot of heavy vocals.  You know, he did a little bit but it was his lower heavy one and this crow-like screeching one I did and we just put it into the mix.  It was nothing that was– we didn’t think anything of it.  We just were like ‘well, that will fill up space.  We’ll have three different voices that will fill up space.’

LocalBozo.com:  And now it’s hard to imagine any songs without your trademark screams.

MR:  Yeah, I hate it man.  I mean it’s like– I actually regret it bad because it’s like, it doesn’t tax my voice as much as what people think.  It’s actually the more exhausted my voice is, the better when it comes to that vocal.  But the sketchy stuff comes when I’m doing the back-ups to like [Black Eyed Peas'] “I Gotta Feeling” or something and it’s gotta be sung and my voice is a little bit ragged over screaming a bunch.  Now I’m realizing that singing screeching like that for so long did a lot of damage to the vocal cords so I can’t really sing the way that I used to be able to sing.  I had this– they used to call it ‘The Crow,’ was the screamy one and then if I sang anything, they called it ‘The Sykes’ or ‘The Bro.’  And that was like John Sykes’ voice.  That was the one that I would sing with so now that one’s kind of leaving me and I’m gonna be stuck with the screechy crow voice for the remainder for the most part.

LocalBozo.com:  How is the acoustic studio material translating to the live show as far as the musical arrangements?

MR:  Well, we brought our friend Kurt from Architect Studios who had done a lot of programming on the record and had played keys on the record and all that.  And he also played bass and did a lot of programming on the [Rose side project] Call Me No One record and he also worked on the “Black Out The Sun” record, you know, so we were going out with this and we didn’t have the means to bring an orchestra out or anything like that, so one day we were like ‘Maybe we should just bring Kurt out here. It’s not like this is a heavy show where we’re gonna have an Iron Maiden like deal, with six guys on the deck, you know, getting in each other’s ways.  Iron Maiden can pull it off because they’re playing in front of 190 million people a night and we’re playing a place that holds 900, five guys on the deck is enough, you know?  So we were like ‘Maybe we should bring him out and let him handle all the stuff organically, because we didn’t want to track all of it, you know, because without it, it made the songs empty.  We didn’t want it to be– we did an acoustic record the way we wanted to do it.  We didn’t want this traditional acoustic guitar, bongos, vocals, maybe a string arrangement here and there and leave it.  We wanted it to be a different type of acoustic record so we didn’t want to run all the tape on it and have all these keyboards and stuff flying all over the place and nobody up there playing them.  So we asked him and he said yeah and I think he’s still the arrangement.  He’s made the show.

LocalBozo.com:  The band makes a stop locally here in New York City at the Highline Ballroom on Sunday, May 4th for “An Evening with Sevendust.”  New York has been almost a second home for the band over the years- what are some of your memories of playing in Manhattan?

MR:  Tons.  I got all the memories.  I mean, we started out as a band that people thought was from New York.  I mean, we’re from Georgia.  We played New York thirteen times on our first record and I was so naive that when we went back on the second record and played it six times, I was like “Man, can you believe that we only played New York six times on this album?”  And people were laughing at me.  They’re like “You’re supposed to go through once.  Maybe twice.”  You know, you can’t keep doing that when you reach a plateau and what we had done in New York was– I remember playing CBGB’s before we had a record deal.  I remember nobody being there but I was able to say, I played CB’s, you know?  I remember when we did get a deal, one of the first shows that we played there was at Coney Island High and again it was about fifty people there and we thought we made it.  Fifty people in New York and a lot of them knew the music and loved the band and we were like ‘God, this is amazing.’  Next time we go through, I think we played Coney Island again and sold it out- a few hundred people.  And then it went to — I’m trying to remember where we went after Coney Island high — but basically, it was a quick shot to– by the time we played there the thirteenth time, we were headlining and selling out Hammerstein [Ballroom].  So basically in less than two years we went from playing in front of fifty people to playing a sold out Hammerstein show, headlining on one album cycle.  And I was in love, you know?  I was like, my family is from New York but I was brought up in the south and there was nothing better than to sit there and look out at the crowd in the Hammerstein Ballroom.  That particular show that we played there, there was a band that was opening up for us and I won’t say who it was.  But I can tell you that the loyalty was built early with this band and that I heard the chanting going on and I was doing a photo shoot.  I said “What is that?  They’re having a good show.”  And at Hammerstein, we were on the roof and I opened up the door and looked down and the entire floor was sitting down on the floor with their backs to the stage and their middle fingers up  and they were chanting “Sevendust” while the band was playing before us.  And I was like “Wow.  We got some loyalty.”  I was like– I wanted to tell them “Come on man, take it easy on these guys.”  But at the same time though it was– I don’t know– it was a semi-euphoric feeling that they loved us that much that they could really care less about seeing anybody but us.

LocalBozo.com:  I’m pretty sure I was at that show and it was pretty remarkable actually.  You guys also played not long after 9/11 in New York and that was a really special scene.  I remember a bunch of the Yankees were there at the time, some New York firefighters- that was a really special scene.

MR:  Yeah man, we’ve just had some really special amazing times in New York.  When we played there after 9/11, that was a huge huge deal, you know?  I remember somebody throwing up a New York Fire Department t-shirt and Lajon putting it on.  We have a love affair with New York City and it is home for us.  We’ve got a few places that we really love but– you know, we’ve lost a lot of– times have changed where the promotion that you get out of radio- to think that there is no more MTV and KROCK support like there used to be for a band like us in New York is sad because, they were going nowhere.  Those people were leaving nowhere.   And they are there.  I mean, we’re gonna play to a sold out room.  It’s not gonna be Hammerstein this time around but we’re gonna play to a sold out room in New York.  They’re gonna sing every song louder than anywhere else in the country.  We’re gonna cry onstage because we love it there so much.  And then we’re gonna roll out and talk about it for a little while.

LocalBozo.com:  Anything else you’d like to leave for the readers of LocalBozo.com?

MR:  Thanks a lot- when I saw that this was in support of that show, I was excited.  We can’t wait- we love New York and I can’t wait to have some real pizza and some real food and to see all of our people there.

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