Sevendust has been putting in their time since 1994 to develop a sound that is outside of the usual black and white metal-tag. With their seasoned sound, emphasis on clean vocal melodies, and heavy programming, they completed their 13th album Blood & Stone. Though they established a clear path for themselves on their earlier releases, they have opted for a different route this time. The path carved for Blood & Stone was driven by guitarist John Connolly and his humble experiences with piano.
With a dense catalog of nearly 200 songs spanning over 26 years, the band could be forgiven for a few incidents of writer’s block. This term lingered with Connolly, though he never experienced writer’s block for himself. Instead, he worked to find ways of preventing it in the first place. For Blood & Stone, that meant reverting to some alternate songwriting methods, like using piano instead of guitar and recording open jam sessions and then purposely forgetting them.
“As I started thinking about writer’s block, I opened a Pro-Tools session and grabbed my guitar and found a drum beat. As an ex-drummer, I like to dive down that rabbit hole. It keeps it fresh,” Connolly told American Songwriter. “And then I’ll just open a session and hit record, no agenda, nothing, just going fishing. I’ll play for twenty minutes, sometimes an hour. And then I’ll shut down the session, and I won’t come back to it for a couple of days. After that time passed, I go back and listen, and 9 out of 10 times, there’s a song in there.”
Writing on piano expanded the range in which Connolly could explore, though anything he captured with piano, he would always re-write later on guitar. “I wanted to use [the piano] as a tool, not a part” Connolly said. “The cool thing about piano is you’re not as boxed in as much, like you are on a guitar.”
Sevendust has always been willing to experiment with their music, even recording a cover of Soundgarden’s “The Day I Tried to Live,” which peaked on Billboard Hard Rock charts at No. 19 and gave Blood & Stone immediate exposure. Still, everyone remained uncertain about the song, even as the release date approached. They all thought, “Are we sure we want to do this?” Connolly recalls. They hesitated because of their deep respect for the late Chris Cornell. “It’s Chris Cornell, and we didn’t take that lightly,” Connolly says. “If you’re going to cover Chris Cornell, it’s almost like covering Queen, you have to do it right and respectfully, while also putting your stamp on it.”
Sevendust’s cover, established in large part by vocalist Lajon Witherspoon’s unique approach, embraced a key-change that not only better suited Witherspoon’s natural vocal range but also offered a new spin on the beloved favorite. “We knew our limitations. We knew Chris’ vocal range was phenomenal, and we knew we weren’t going to do an exact cover of it in a way a tribute band might,” Connolly explained. “I think how we did it in a different key, was a happy medium for us–and LJ crushed it.”
Many of the songs from Blood & Stone begin with an electronic sample or other programming feature, further evidence that the band refuses to limit itself. “Against the World” is the heaviest example, with passionate and defiant lines like, it’s you and I against the world, I’m not going to let you down, it’s what we’re dying for, and crashing riffs balanced with delicate ambient notes.
“A lot of that is the things we throw into the demo that are more to inspire: loops, pads and stuff that guides you into a direction or is something to lean on,” Connolly said. “And sometimes it will let us see where the vocal melody needs to be. But a lot of these things ended up sticking around because it’s already there when we need an intro. And sometimes you get attached to these things, I say ‘it’s just a placeholder,’ and everyone shakes their heads, ‘no that’s the part,’ but sometimes you have to be talked off the ledge because what your knee-jerk reaction is is what it needs to be.”
With a varying tracklist pulling Sevendust in different directions, producer Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette stepped up to steer the project towards the finish line. Elvis’ expertise always lends a hand when Sevendust is worried about making their pop-sensibilities too evident. When the band first began, Sevendust had very little draw to pop-music formats. But as they matured as songwriters, they began to appreciate the pop-structure and the importance of strong, repeated choruses. They now work to incorporate these elements into their songs without letting them overtake the original sound.
“Sometimes we just go off the deep end of the pool,” Connolly laughed. “It’s cool to have a producer like Elvis where we can take the hands off the steering wheel and say ‘hey I don’t want to wreck this, help me drive the car,’ and he says, ‘yeah man, you need to hear that chorus again.’”
With the diversity of Sevendust, it’s not surprising that each member also has his own side project, and after the cancellation of their 2020 Australian tour, each member had the opportunity of exploring these projects further. But their fans will be happy to know that they are still committed to each other and to Sevendust as a whole. They have spent the last few weeks rehearsing the new album and preparing for a livestream on Blood & Stone’s release day, October 23.
“We want to be prepared and grind it out, because this is something we haven’t done before,” Connolly said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s the best we can offer our fans because we have no idea when we can tour. Each one of us has different things going on though. Vinnie and myself just finished a record for a side project we have called ‘Projected.’ Clint released an EP in May. LJ is working on a record, and Morgan has a record coming maybe next year. We’ve all just been doing what we do.”