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INTERVIEW – John Connolly of Sevendust, February 2013

| 22 February 2013 | Reply


You always wait to see if you will get to talk to a member of a band you love when they have a new disc dropping.  I was so excited when I was confirmed to speak with Sevendust songwriter and guitarist John Connolly in advance of their latest disc, Black Out The Sun.

ToddStar: I’m ready to go if you are?

John: Yep, sounds good man.

ToddStar: Awesome. Well first of all I really want to thank you for taking time out for us today, we love Sevendust and we appreciate you taking time for us.

John: Absolutely, it’s my pleasure to be here man.

ToddStar: Let’s talk about the new album. Black Out the Sun getting ready to drop here shortly.  I can’t stop listening to it since they let me run the stream of it, I wish it was a download so I could put it in the car, but…

John: Sorry.

ToddStar: This thing is awesome, man. What can you tell us about the disc that the normal Sevendust fan might not know at first listen?

John: Just the fact that we did it really fast. We basically didn’t bring anything in. We usually bring tons of riffs, tons of ideas, tons of demos, you know between Clint and myself there might be anywhere from 35 or 40 different things to sort through, and try to figure out which direction you want to go. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, especially when you’ve got a lot of time off. The ideas just kind of pile up and pile up, just because, you know, we never really stop writing. We always just kind of… I’m never really on or off when I’m working on songs. It’s just kind of like an on-going thing. But this time we said you know what, regardless of how many demos we got in the can we’re going to go in, we’re going to try and do this in a month and we’re going to do it together from scratch. We had a couple of riffs and ideas that we kind of lean on and maybe use to fill a hole or something that we built at the studio, but I’d say 98% of the record was pretty much put together and written there together, in the studio. It was kind of unusual for us to take that approach. Usually we have a good bit of preparation and we do a bit of pre-production. Sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes I think you can give yourself too much time, and that’s kind of one of our biggest concerns was we wanted to kind of work a little bit more just off your instincts. Don’t over think things, don’t second guess stuff, do it and kind of commit to it and then move on. Some of our best songs we’ve had too much money, too much time, and we… sometimes we write and then sometimes the re-write is not for the best, sometimes you’ll take a song in a weird direction or something like that. But on this record we didn’t have to rush, we had the extra time, and it definitely helped. It helped the songs because we didn’t overdo it, we didn’t over think it. We didn’t tear down something that was perfectly good. It happened fast. I think it was about 28 days we were up there. Just a little over a month.  We’d take one day a week off, which we’ve done before in the past too, and that’s always been a huge help. One day a week off and if you don’t have it every day, you know, sneak back to the house the day beforehand, you always get a nice little two day break to go home and see the family and stuff. But yeah, it just happened really fast this time for us, which was kind of the plan, but I was also kind of one of the nay-sayers who was like, you know what if we don’t get it, if we only get six or seven songs it’s not the end of the world, you know, we’ll hop back in for another couple of weeks, but we didn’t need it. We really didn’t  We were finished in that month and we said okay, well there’s the record. We’re pretty excited about it, you know?


ToddStar: There’s every reason to be excited about this thing. I can’t wait until it hits the mainstream and everybody knows what I’m talking about when I say ‘It’s going to blow your minds.’

John: Right, right, well that’s cool man, I really appreciate that. We kind of had that feeling when we were finished, but you never know when you’re that close to it in the studio you’re like… I don’t know what it’s really going to do until we start playing it for people who have never heard it before; someone who is going to hear these things for the first time. But the reaction so far has been really, really positive, which is good.

ToddStar: Awesome. It’s obviously got that Sevendust sound; same writers, same vocalist, you and Clint still on guitars, you’ve got Morgan behind the kit and we’ll get to that in a minute, but in what way sonically do you think this album is different from the last couple?

John: Sonically, you know, it’s a tough thing. We… I don’t know. In some ways it is one of our favorite sounding records. I love the way Mike pulled it all together in the mix, not to say that the riffs weren’t good, but he had a handle on it from the word go and he kind of knew where everything was and he kind of knew his own method to his madness, so it’s pretty easy when we get there. Sometimes it takes a little while for them to get their head wrapped around it, but he didn’t need that because he had done all the engineering. I don’t know, I mean I think we borrowed a lot from… you know, we did a couple of side projects earlier in the year and we got to experiment around with some different things, and the sonic side of things was one of the ones I really want to push the envelope with, you know, just something that I hadn’t really done for a while. I think going for that bigness, I think we realized on this record that we were going to need to go for that again too, it wasn’t going to be a matter of fact, or a low-fire watered down kind of a vibe, it was going to have to be something that had some balls behind it. I think Mike latched up on that right out of the gate. We sound better when we sound big, and the bigger the sound of the record I think the better it turns out. Some people love Home, they think it’s one of their favorite records, but I think sonically it’s one of our worst records, but it’s funny, some people hate it and some people don’t. At the end of the day, I think it was just a big record, something we wanted to make sound as big as we possibly good. Mike definitely hit the nail on the head.

ToddStar: Now it’s been out and I don’t know if you’re one of those guys that sits and listens to it once you’ve turned it in and you’re ready for it to drop.

John: As soon as I get out of the studio I don’t want to hear it at all. At that point I’m like okay, it’s already done, there’s not much we can do about it, I hope it’s good. Then usually about a week after that your friends are like come on man, let me hear this thing, and then you start playing it for people and that’s when you start feeling better about it, but you have to take breaks from it, especially when you’re as far out in front of that thing as we were this time, not releasing it until almost April and finished in October. That’s a long time, but it’s the time that made the most sense, for us to be able to get all the tour completely down, set up, get the art work done, to get everything in place we had enough time to be able to pull it all off. We gave ourselves a little bit of a cushion too. Because there’s always those weird as shit moments when you’re making a record, you know, oh yeah, that’s right, you forgot my deadline was three weeks ago, you know?

ToddStar: Looking back, are there any songs you wish you guys had tweaked or maybe done a little differently, or are you happy with the…?

John: The way the songs are on the record right now absolutely, 100% yeah. There were a couple of last minute tweaks on a couple of songs that at first I wasn’t too sure about, and now I’m really sure because people are talking about them being singles. They weren’t talking about these songs as singles before. If a song kind of has that vibe about it, if it’s kind of leaning that way then I’m all about it. Get to the point and make it a single. There is nothing wrong with a single, especially if a song was set up that way. If you take something that is ten minutes long and you’re trying to chop it down to a 3 min 30 second song it’s one thing, but if you’ve got something that’s really close and you make that last minute… what if we just changed the music on the chorus? Have the vocals exactly the same, try something different, we tried it and it worked, and I listened back to some of the other ones, I mean you always sit there and thing, you know, if I had had a whole week on this song, where would it have gone, would I have wrecked it? Sometimes like I said, too much time is the worst enemy.  These instincts seem to have served us pretty good, so I think the more we rely on them I think the better the song writing usually ends up being.


ToddStar: The music sonically, you guys have been consistent from the first release until now, are you still finding that after sixteen years plus together as a group that you guys are growing as a band?

John: Absolutely, I think so. I mean people ask what the record sounds like point blank, so many interviews that I’ve done have been like ‘what does it sound like?’ and I tell them it sounds like a Greatest Hits Sevendust record of songs you’ve never heard, because it sounds like our career, it sounds like everything, it doesn’t sound like one record or the other records, you know sometimes you do records that kind of have a same vibe or same kind of a thing going on between them. This one is all of that. Its representative of pretty much every record that we’ve ever done, but I think whatever it was special about those particular songs, or a style of a song that we might have done on one of those records, we’re still pushing the envelope to do a better version of all of them. We have our go to’s, we have certain tempos that we work in, certain kind of areas of heavy that we feel comfortable with. I think a lot of it sounds very similar. It sounds different because we’re pushing forward trying to do new things on top of it, but at the end of the day it’s still very Sevendust. I don’t think anyone is going to buy it and go ‘Wow, this sounds like a Foo Fighters record’. It sounds like us. Even in the softer moments, I don’t think there is any doubt who it is. I think as we grow as people we’re always looking for a newer, cooler, better song. We’re always trying to improve the band for sure.

ToddStar: I think you have done that with this disc and I like your analogy that it’s kind of the greatest hits you never heard, because this really does kind of encapsulate the sound that you guys have brought from beginning until now.

John: It’s just got everything on there. It’s got throwback from Home, it’s got throwbacks from the first record, it’s got stuff from Alpha and Cold Dead Memory type things. It’s just a little of everything. It’s like a sprinkling of this and that and everything, and you could make an argument from probably any of those songs to be on any of our other records.

ToddStar: So this thing drops in April, touring season is about to begin. How do you plan on mixing this in? Do you plan on going heavy with the new material, or are you just going to sprinkle it in a little bit?

John: We’re going to have to sprinkle it in. We had every intention of doing four or five new songs, but we’d kind of like there to be a little bit of mystery when the record actually drops. Two songs now, and the only reason we do two songs now is because every night we go on Facebook and there are no less than fifteen HQ quality versions of our song. That’s kind of what our dilemma is. As much as computer, social networking and Instagram and all those things have helped us in a lot of ways, it’s kind of made it to where if we do it one time live, twenty million people will see it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but YouTube is a funny thing. So we decided to do two now, and then when we’re about to drop the record we’ll add a third one, and then once the record is out we will do whatever we want. We’ll probably be doing at least four or five songs ultimately.

ToddStar: Any big tour plans? Any big packages lined up?


John: No, we’re feeling things out. We’re building everything all the way up until I think the beginning of June. We’ve got the festival shows Rock on the Range and Rock Fest. We’ve always got a handful of those things. I think we’re going to be doing the Lunatic Luau in Virginia. We’ve got a couple of baby shows around them and stuff like that, and then after that we’ve just got to look at the big sell out tours, Mayhem or Carnival of Madness, one of those things. It will be one of those for sure, but we don’t know which yet.

ToddStar: What was the last CD other than yours that you listened to?


ToddStar: Seems to be a popular one.

John: I was on a big Lamb Of God kick for a minute, and a buddy of mine who was a big Lamb Of God fan too, he turned me on to them, and I don’t know, it’s really cool stuff. Super, super heavy was, even though he’s got more of a… you know, a death metal, black metal vocal style, you can really understand what he’s saying which for me is a big deal. That’s why I love Randy from Lamb Of God too. Everyone is like what? You can’t understand what he’s saying! I’m like I can! That’s at the top of the list right now.

ToddStar: Trust me it took me a long time and a lot of practicing to figure out what Randy was saying half the time too.

John: And now it’s like what do you mean you can’t understand that? It’s perfect!

ToddStar: If there was one piece of music in the history of time that you wish you had been a part of, whether it was writing it or playing it John, what would it be?

John: Wow, that’s a tough one. It’s so hard to pick one.

ToddStar: I thought maybe it would be Devil Dog or Death Chant.

John: Right, there you go. No, I’ll trade both of those in for one though.  I don’t know man, that’s a really tough question. My gut tells me it would probably be something off one of the early Zeppelin records. For me, just to be able to see those four actually do it in the studio, as big a Rush fan as I am, I think there is a lot more mystery to what made Zeppelin tick. Being around for Rain Song, Stairway to Heaven, something in that neck of the woods would probably be a dream come true, just watching it happen. Probably watching Stairway to Heaven go down. That’s not a normal song. That’s something that you know… of course the first time you, imagine the first time you hear Stairway to Heaven, immediately you go okay, that is one of the most beautiful pieces of music you’ve ever heard, and then it just takes you on a journey. So probably that one. I think that would be the most fascinating.

ToddStar: Good choice.

John: I can imagine what the looks on everyone else’s faces were at the studio when this was happening. They had to have known, right?

ToddStar: You hope so!

John: Someone has got to have gone ‘ahhh, I don’t know about this song man, this sucks,’ and everyone is like oh whatever, we’re going to do it, and there was a big argument over it. It’s a power ballad!

ToddStar: Sure, sure. I’ve got one more for you but before that I wanted to clue our readers into when they see this interview, I mentioned Devil Dog and Death Chant, you ever been tempted to get back behind the kit? You were the drummer…

John: I do every now and again. I’ll do it over at Mark Tremonti’s house.  He’s got a cool jam room and an electronic drum set. Sometimes it will be him playing drums, sometimes it will be me playing, sometimes it will be Flip playing. But yeah, I get back there every now and again and crack a beat. I don’t miss the not song writing part of it. That part has always stuck. Writing the song was always the ultimate goal and I was like ‘dammit’, but yeah, I get back there and see if I can still ride the bike. It’s always pretty shaky.

ToddStar: For those who don’t know you were the drummer in Peace Dogs and you guys had an album that I actually have in my collection.

John: That’s crazy. Actually somebody gave me a copy of that not too long ago and I was like ‘Oh, good lord that’s what not to do sonically’.

ToddStar: Listen man, I know you got a lot going on so I’ve got one more for you if you don’t mind. What’s the meaning of life, John?

John: Happiness. Trying to make it from point A to point B and be as happy as you can. Too many people are worried about the destination, I think they get too hung up on where they think they’re going to end up and it’s not about that at all, it’s about the ride. It’s about every minute that you are going wherever you are going. I think a lot of people miss that sometimes, they’re so busy on getting where they are supposed to get to and they waste all this time not focusing on the fact that… you know, try and live in the moment, even in your worst day there is always something beautiful about life, even in the dark, tough times. It’s always hard when family is sick, or you lose a family member or whatever, but you know, it’s here and now. Every waking moment, and I think a lot of people miss it.

ToddStar: Couldn’t have said it better myself. Well John, I appreciate it. We can’t wait until we can share Black Out the Sun with everybody, and can’t wait to see you guys out on the road. You’ll see me out front in Detroit when you guys show up here and until then safe travels, and we’ll see you in Detroit in the summer.

John: Alright, thanks Todd.

ToddStar: Thanks John.

John: Have a good one.

Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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