In the two decades since their formation, metal veterans Sevendust have not shied away from the evolving music industry. Using the ever-growing trend of crowd-funding to finance their 10th studio album (and their first that is completely acoustic), Time Travelers & Bonfires, they reached their monetary goal within just days of starting the campaign, and ended up surpassing it completely, marking a new era for the Atlanta-based five-piece.
Calling from California, frontman Lajon Witherspoon gushed over El Cajon’s beauty, having spent the afternoon golfing before gearing up for a show that night. Upon learning that The Aquarian Weekly office was based less than 20 minutes away from Architekt Studios in Butler, NJ, where the band recorded the full-length disc, Witherspoon became audibly excited, sharing his love and evident attachment to the area. Witherspoon took time to talk about the inspiration behind the new album, support from the fans, and why a small town in New Jersey was the perfect place to create.
Why did the band choose this particular time to release an acoustic record?
10 years ago we did the acoustic run with Southside Double Wide: Acoustic Live, the live DVD we came out with, but we only did 14 shows. It was something we had never done before. That was 10 years ago. So all these years since then people had been saying to us, “Hey, we never saw that show!” or, “We had to drive a million miles to go see you guys because you only did 14 shows,” and they just kept talking about it. When we had a band meeting a little over a year ago to talk about the next move for Sevendust, this came up. I said, “You know what would be a good idea? Why don’t we do an acoustic album and try to do something with crowd-funding?” Because we had heard of some other bands trying it.
My honest opinion was that I wanted to try to do something to break away from the machine, which I consider the music industry, and get a hand from our family and friends to support this album. And with that being said, they met our goal within 72 hours. I had never seen anything like it. We had the opportunity to not only be hands-on with everybody but everyone has a little part of the album. Normally, a band goes in, you do an album, and it comes out in a year. This time, these people are a part of it; [as an incentive] they got to be in the studio with us. I also signed over 500 handwritten copies of lyrics. Things like that we had never done before.
How did the band choose the songs from discography to re-record as acoustic?
Well, we asked everyone what they wanted to hear. It was very hard. But we felt like we got the majority of the songs that everybody wanted to hear, so we re-recorded six old songs, which I think sound completely brand new, and then we wrote six new songs.
Was it strange or difficult to re-imagine those songs acoustically?
You know what, not “difficult”—I wouldn’t say “difficult.” We didn’t go in with any written music so the same way that we recorded the songs are the same way we play them. I’d start playing a song like “Black,” and I went through a time where I’d be like, “Oh my God, how am I going to translate this?” And I promise you, something came out and I felt the music in me, just banging along to the beat. I think growing up with these songs and living with them for so many years, if anyone could ad-lib and create a different version to it, it would be us. So it was easy for me to slow it down and put more soul on these songs, if that makes sense. It really was an experience.
Was writing an acoustic album different than writing a normal album?
No, not really. Normally a song starts acoustically anyway. So us being a band we just got together, sat in a room and wrote. That was fun. I think it’s harder when we are away from each other writing music than when we are together as that initial band when we were 21-year-old men—you know, I’m 41 years old now—but we have that feeling when we get back together.
Why choose to record the album at Architekt?
Because there’s nothing else around there, except for restaurants. My good friend Chef Eric, who won Chopped, the Food Network show, is right there in Jersey. It’s all we need. We’d go into the studio from 12 noon until 12 midnight, every day. It’s just a great community.
They have the School of Rock next door, so us being fathers and parents it was so cool to see these kids coming into the studio and looking at us like, “Oh my God!” And then we’re looking at the teens like, “Oh my God! You’re playing guitar, you’re playing piano!” So overall, it’s just a great compound for the energy that we’re trying to put out there. Actually, Kurt [Wubbenhorst], one of the owners of Architekt, is out here with us. He did keyboards and loops for [2013’s] Black Out The Sun, and he also did the keyboards on Time Travelers & Bonfires, so we brought him out here. He’s got his own studio in Jersey, so it’s great, it’s a little story.
Why turn to crowd-funding to support your music?
Well, it was something that we had never done before and we had heard so many cool things about it. And like I said before, I don’t want to wreck the record label or anything, but it was the first time in our lives that we were able to take it out of that machine. To me, it made the album mean even more to us because the fans did it; they put their dollar into it. The fans have a part of it. It’s much more special to me that way.
With crowd-funding becoming more and more commonplace, do you feel like crowd-funding is changing the music industry?
Yes, I definitely think it’s the future. Where are the record labels at anymore? When I was a 21-year-old man and I signed a record deal, it was awesome, but I lived a nightmare the whole time. Regardless, it was a dream of mine that came true. But those days are long gone, so I figure I have to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry and go with the times, and that is definitely what is going on right now.
With that being said, some of these bands that you have out there on Facebook and Twitter don’t even have a record label but they have a million hits already, so I guess you have to take direction from them, right? (Laughs) I’m from the ’70s, I’m old school, but I still try to keep my finger on the pulse. Anybody out there in this world, in the music business, you need to be a businessman and a businesswoman, but you got to keep that passion. You have got to do business, but still keep your passion.
Why choose the name Time Travelers & Bonfires?
That’s just something I always felt like we were. We are in a different place every day of our lives, and we move people and we change lives and we go back in time. And these songs that we revisited, we went back in time with them but we brought them back. It just felt like it fits. All of us are time travelers, and it makes sense because we all grew up together. We’ve traveled time together, so that’s why I call it “time travelers.”
I like that a lot. In context, it makes a lot of sense.
Thank you! So do I (laughs). It’s so cool, it’s so crazy! It’s weird but they get it, you know? (Laughs)
What are the band’s plans for the upcoming year?
Well, we’ll go home for a second. I work with a band out of Connecticut, Earthside, as well. And I did a score with the Moscow Orchestra with them. Now, the next move for that is that they’re getting ready to take a tour out, and I’m not going to be able to perform with them. But I want to do a video, and they’re going to put me on the screen on the stage, and I can’t tell you too much about it just yet, but I’m so excited. The gentleman who wrote the song graduated from Yale; it’s a 10-minute long song. Earthside was recording in Sweden, but I only had a few days off, so I booked a studio in Iowa then went and did the song. And I tell you what, I can’t wait for everyone out there to hear the score; the music I did with the Moscow Orchestra and this band because it is incredible. I’m so proud of this because it took me outside of my box further than I’ve ever been before. So that’s going on, and then we’ll get back and do a second leg of this Time Travelers & Bonfires tour.
Sevendust will play at the Highline Ballroom in NYC on May 4, the Electric Factory in Philly on May 10, the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, PA on June 7, and the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on June 8. Time Travelers & Bonfires is available now. For more information, go to sevendust.com.