Much of this story takes place at what Lajon calls the "Murder Bar," which inspired a song on the album called "Murder Bar." The place is really named Roar Of The Crowd, located in Haskell, New Jersey across the street from their hotel. It's where they heard stories from locals that would make their way into the songs the band recorded at marathon sessions in Architekt Music Studios, close by in Butler, New Jersey.
Lajon, who is one of the more soulful metal men we've encountered, told us about the evolution of his spirituality, the Sevendust songwriting process, and some of the unusual characters they came across while making the album.
Lajon Witherspoon: It was a little bit of music that was left over from Cold Day Memory, our last album. At the end of the process for making Black Out the Sun, the song was played on the computer. I said, you know what, we've got to add this little piece of music. We listened to it, and it was so easy for us to record, because we were in the studio from 12 noon to 12 midnight, and we had two rooms where we could jam. And just by listening to it for a few minutes, we were able to get on the instruments and we started jamming it. And then "Decay" came out. That was one of the last songs we wrote on the album, but it turned out to be the first single. We couldn't believe it. It was like, wow, that's weird. But cool.
Songfacts: Do they always come that easy, though?
Lajon: No. I think what made this album come easy to us is we were able to get away from each other for a little while, take a break, get back to our families, build our relationships at the home. Go down our different avenues musically and do different things that we wanted to do. When we got back together, it was like, Hey, we missed each other. We went in with no music and no ideas. We just jammed every day and that's how we came out with it.
Songfacts: Was the album a rejuvenating experience?
Songfacts: There's a song where you sing about not wanting to know the truth, where people don't want to know the truth...
Lajon: "Nobody Wants It." One of my favorite tracks.
Songfacts: What were you thinking about when you wrote that one?
Lajon: Just people not wanting to hear the truth, the elephant in the room. It's always there, and nobody wants it, nobody wants to hear the truth, nobody wants to say the truth, "One minute left in hell/And everybody's running scared," [singing] "Nobody wants it," it's like, just tell the truth, you know, we're all running from the truth.
Songfacts: Now, is that political truth, moral truth?
Lajon: I think there's moral, political in everything. I'll let people take with it what they want. But it's rounded: it's scattered to the world right now.
Songfacts: One of your older songs is "Prodigal Son." Is that somewhat spiritual?
Lajon: Yeah, definitely. When I wrote that song, I was staring over the back of my balcony into these woods, and the moon was right there. I felt like I could touch the sky. The moon was so bright, and it was just a weird night.
I feel like you have to believe in something. Not to get all wound up in Christian stuff, but I am. I believe in the Lord, I pray every day. I'm a Baptist. I was able to put in a little bit of my growing up beliefs into a song and tell a story and it was really cool to be able to do.
Songfacts: But a prodigal son is somebody that wanders away from the faith. Is that something that's happened in your life?
Lajon: I don't think I wandered away, but as a younger man, I definitely got involved with more of the worldly themes.
You have to come back to your faith. I might have got off the beaten path there for a little while, just with the way that I wanted to live my life. It's cool now, but we all moved around. I look at my life and a lot of people say, "Man, you got wild." I say, "Okay, when you were in college you drank and partied. That was the same, I was just doing it on a tour bus. So we did the same thing, but I was under the microscope doing it."
We stopped doing all that and grew up a little bit, but "Prodigal Son" was definitely around that time where things were going on, but it was a cool story.
Songfacts: One of the things that I notice about your music, especially with the lyrics, although I wouldn't say that they're specifically religious in any way, but I notice there's not a lot of cussing, which I hear so much of in metal. Is that intentional, that you don't put a lot of bad language on your songs?
Lajon: That's a great question, because at the end of this album, we were looking at it, we're like, "Are we going to have to put a sticker on this?" And then I remember [guitarist] John Connolly looking up and saying, "Man, I don't think there's one cuss word on this." We looked at each other and I said, "You know what, that's because we didn't have to cuss to get our point across."
It wasn't even thought about until after the end of the thing. There wasn't even a bad word, but the album's so deep, the words are still cutting without having to use a F-bomb or a S H I T. And I think that shows a level of maturity: we're not afraid to get our point across and be grown men about it.
Songfacts: I have a good friend that told me one time the reason why he doesn't cuss is because he has a better vocabulary when he doesn't - he can think of so many other words. It actually makes you sound smarter.
Lajon: Exactly. I believe in that, too. And you know what, I've always been the guy, even since I was a little kid, who's making up a cuss word. Where's that jackoff at? You know what I'm saying? [Laughing] Why can't another word mean 'shit.' Can we make up our cuss words? Where's the guy that's like, all right, The F's bad but the B's not.
Songfacts: Whoever that is deserves a swift kick in the backside.
Lajon: Yes, sir. I agree with you. [Laughing]
Songfacts: I wanted to talk a little bit about how you write songs. You said "Decay" came from sort of a jam. Is that how you normally write as a band, or is it different every time?
Lajon: No, it's different. On a lot of the previous albums, John would get home and he'd write some stuff and send it over to Clint [guitarist Clint Lowery] and me. Everybody does their little part, they write their music. But for this album, we consciously made the decision when we said, "Hey, guys, see you later, let's take a break. When we get back in the studio, we're just going to set up as a band and do it again."
We hadn't done that in a long time because we were taking out blocks and going in the studio and writing and coming in with stuff. But this time we just did it like the first time we did an album, and it was so refreshingly exhilarating. Not a bad pressure, a great pressure. It was incredible to have a group of guys that I like. The writing process was fun, because we all write, we all have ideas, and everyone gets a chance. It's a cool working environment.
Songfacts: The title of the album is Black Out the Sun, named after one of the tracks. How did you come up with that title and write the song?
The album just kind of fell together. With everything that was going on - the Murder Bar being across the street from the hotel, the people in the community that we were hanging out with, being in the studio from 12 noon until 12 midnight every day, working Saturday and then going right back in on Sunday - it all accounted for this album. There was a gallery across the street and a pizza shop. That was our home, man, and we were dirty, we were down there with the people - we were locals. It was really cool. It was a good time for us. I think everything happens for a reason, and for whatever reason in this game, we played it right on the timing.
Songfacts: That's interesting that you talk about being with the people. Because lately I've been taking public transportation here in Los Angeles, and you get to know a lot of different kinds of people that you don't really see if you're just hanging around music business people.
Lajon: It's very important. Like the lady that was across the street from the hotel beside the Murder Bar at the laundromat where we put on our little TV show every day. She was a character. That was someone that I looked forward to going to see, just because of the stories that you would hear.
The guy at the Murder Bar that sat at the bar was the janitor for the local high school for the last 40 years: Carl. He'd sit at the end of the bar that wouldn't really talk to anybody, and I found his story out. I would wonder why everybody that would come into the bar would be like, "Oh, hey, it's Carl. Oh, Carl was the damn janitor. That's my buddy." Carl would open up and tell me stories.
And I remember one young lady that would hang out with us, she's tall, she's like 6'5", and I remember she was at the end of the bar, the Murder Bar where Carl once sat in the evening, and him looking around. I'm like, "Man, Carl, they said they know you." He said, "Yeah." And after she left, he started talking. He said, "Man, she was a superstar basketball player." And I was like, Oh, my God, he remembers. And he doesn't open up too much to these guys, but they probably barred him when he was in school working.
I looked forward to talking to him and hearing his story, telling me about these kids that he remembers that are here behind him drinking at the bar that are 40 years old now. It was like from out of a movie.
Songfacts: Yeah, it's interesting, because I just got back from Las Vegas, and I was riding the bus there, too. This shoeshine guy got on the bus, and shoeshine guys are talkers, because they have to talk to people all day. So he's telling me this story about how he got to Las Vegas and how he started doing his job. There's something about spending time with real people that you realize everybody has a story to tell.
Lajon: Every single person, man. I'm looking out the window right now talking to you. This guy walking down the street right now with his headphones, singing. He's got a story. Yeah, people are beautiful, I love to meet people. I'm the guy that's like, Hey, how you doing? And I get the look, where I just moved to recently, it's like, "Hey, how are you doing," it was like, "Well, I was fine until you said hello."
Songfacts: How is it different. You said that you moved from Atlanta to Kansas.
Lajon: Oh, my God. My wife tricked me.
Songfacts: How did that go about? Was that her idea?
Lajon: Well, she's got family in Baldwin. But, you know, it was time for a move. The Overland Park area, if you look it up, Overland Park is a very beautiful area. It's one of the top school districts. My youngest will be starting kindergarten in the Blue Valley School District, and I'm really excited. We're building a new house right now, it'll be finished in like a week. Change is going to come, change is good, and I just felt like it was time to make a move. And I'm happy. Even though I don't like the snow as much.
Songfacts: Let's talk about turning 40. I'm a little bit over that. Has that changed, like when you write songs now, are you a little bit more reflective?
Lajon: Oh, yeah. Oh, my God. With "Black Out the Sun," we didn't think that Clint's dad was going to pass away. We didn't think that my grandma was going to pass away this year. Morgan's [drummer Morgan Rose] grandma too. Things happen, but you don't expect it to happen to you, and it does.
I'm a true believer. After my little brother was killed, I was like, That stuff don't happen, and I was like, Oh, yes, it does happen. It changed the way I look at life - I'm not afraid to write and to let people know what's going on. That's my canvass, that's my therapy: those songs, telling those stories. It helps. Yeah, we were able to let go on this album, so we weren't afraid to write the softer song "Got a Feeling," to a heavy song, "Till Death." And I think it definitely reflects the age that we are and the things that we've gone through in life. The lyrics to "Got a Feeling," I don't think I'll be happy until it's completely over. It's a different way of saying, "Hey, I'm happy now, but I don't think that we'll honestly truly be happy, at least we've been told, until we are in Heaven." So that's just a little throwback on that.
Songfacts: Wow. It's like a lot of people say that you can only really be happy when you're young. What would you say to that? I don't want to suggest that you're old.
Lajon: I'm happier now. I wish I was a little bit younger, but, man, that's a beautiful time. I've got two beautiful kids, a beautiful wife. A career. I can't believe that people still want to hang out and hear Sevendust. It's amazing. I would never take life for granted; moderation with everything that you do, I'm a true believer in that. So people just keep us around.
Songfacts: It sounds like life is good for you and I'm happy for you. I hope this tour goes really well - you've got some great bands with you. So be safe out there and I have a feeling that you're going to become the coolest guy in Kansas.
Lajon: Oh, man, thank you so much. Thanks for a great interview, because a lot of them are really silly. This has been cool.
July 10, 2013. Get more at sevendust.com.
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