CD reflects Sevendust's growth

Band finds following by touring 'like crazy'

Sevendust guitarist John Connolly is waking up in a strange place this morning -- his Atlanta home.

After spending the majority of the last four years playing heavy rock and sleeping on a tour bus, Connolly slowly is re-acclimating himself to the joys of domestic bliss.

"It usually takes about four or five days for me to get comfortable sleeping in a bed again. It's an adjustment. Your body gets used to a schedule and then you come off the road, and you're ready to do a show and be up at a certain time. All the sudden, you don't have to do anything according to a schedule for a change. But it's nice to get a break every now and then to be able to recharge your cells."

Connolly's cells undoubtedly will be fired up for the coming Tattoo the Earth tour, featuring a hard-core lineup of thrashing metal that includes notables like Slayer alongside hot new acts like Slipknot.

"We know a lot of the bands on the bill," Connolly said, "so it should be another summer camp."

Doing the festival thing

Sevendust recently finished a 3 1/2-month stint opening for Creed, a band that falls on the lighter, poppier side of heavy rock.

"It was a bit of a change for us," Connolly said. "The difference between the Tattoo tour and the Creed tour are night and day. It took us a little while to figure out our set. But it's nice that we can tour with a band like Creed, or bands like Slipknot and Slayer, and seem to survive in both of those worlds. When we said we were going to do the tour, people were freaked out, but honestly it was one of the best tours we've ever done."

Touring is one thing Connolly knows a lot about, having been part of just about every major hard rock bill over the last several years, from Ozzfest to Warped.

"One thing we've learned is that heavy bands and sheds (amphitheaters) don't really go together," the guitarist said. "Ozzfest was really special to us because we had already toured with all the bands on that bill. We'd done shows with Limp Bizkit, Megadeth, Ultraspeck, Snot, Incubus, so when we got to Ozzfest, we knew everybody. It literally was summer camp. That's what we called it.

"The Warped tour was the biggest surprise. I didn't want to do the Warped tour. It's a punk tour, and I didn't think people would get us because our sound is so different. After the second or third show, we realized what a good thing that was. On Ozzfest, we sounded like all the other bands on that tour, on the Warped tour we didn't sound like any of the other bands and that worked to our advantage."

From road to studio

Sevendust made a commitment early in its career to focus on its live show and play as often as possible.

"Touring a lot was a conscious thing when we started," Connolly said. "We were a little heavier than the norm. Generally, if you're a band that's a little heavier than what's considered acceptable to radio or MTV, it's always really important to build your following from a grass-roots basis.

"We basically took the blueprint of bands like Metallica, who took five albums before they did anything that was considered commercially accessible. They just got out there and toured like crazy."

Still, all tour and no play makes Sevendust a very dull band and the effects of road life began wearing on the group after months of back-to-back gigs.

"Once you hit month 12, you start looking at each other like, 'OK, it's time to start thinking about getting off this bus. Once you hit about 18 months, that's really the melting point. That's when you have to pull the plug.

"Regardless of sales, 18 months of touring is enough for a record. We did 21 on the first one, so we overshot by three months. The only reason we did the extra three was the money was too good."

The exhausted band barely had time to catch its collective breath before it was rushed into the studio for a follow-up effort.

"It took about eight or 10 weeks to write it and the actual recording of it took just under two months. But, it's kind of tough because you've got your whole life to write your first record, then you've got to come up with something that's better than that in four months.

"You always get that thing stuck in your head when you make a second record: The sophomore jinx. How are we gonna make a record that surpasses the first one? Fortunately, it worked out. The crowds have been great, the shows have been great. It's a little bit of a relief. There was a lot of stress when we went in for the second record. We didn't have a lot of time to write it, and we'd already committed to tours right after we got out of the studio. I think we kind of shortchanged ourselves on how much time we really should've taken to make that record."

Working with veteran producer Toby Wright (Korn, Alice in Chains, Fishbone, Primus) made the process significantly less stressful and "Home" is a masterful, nuanced work that pointedly underscores Sevendust's growth as a band.

"People thought we got (Wright) because he did the Korn record," Connolly explained. "That really wasn't what sold us on him. It was the Alice in Chains stuff that he had done. We really wanted to take Lajon further than we got to on the first record. We really wanted to push him as a vocalist. Toby's really good when it comes to vocal melodies and arrangements and stuff like that.

"The only thing that kind of sucked was the fact that we had to do it in such a short amount of time. It would be nice to sit down with him for six months and really work on a record and get it exactly where we want it."

Encountering skinheads

Having former Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French for a manager hasn't hindered Sevendust, either.

"We are the stress in his life," Connolly said, laughing. "But with Jay Jay that was the biggest part of it. We weren't just getting the suit-and-tie side of it. We were getting the musician side of it, too. He was on the other side of the fence for a long time. He listens to us because he knows what it's like to ride around on a tour bus for nine or 10 months at a time.

"A lot of people take that for granted. Our record company president has never been on the road, so he really doesn't understand it. He thinks we're just riding around on a tour bus being in a rock band, but it's a little different than that."

Fortunately, being a heavy rock band with a black lead singer hasn't proved as difficult as some would think, with one notable exception.

"People think that we must have problems when we go to places like Alabama or Mississippi, but not at all," Connolly said. "The one time we had something happen was in Ventura, which is just north of L.A. We ran into a bit of the skinhead Nazi thing. Just a bunch of 14-year-old kids who didn't know what they were doing. It was more of a fashion thing.

"It was real unfortunate. It got a little ugly onstage so we walked off. We did about five songs and just said, 'This is a little too much to take. We don't have time for this.' So, we apologized to the people that didn't have anything to do with it and we left.

"The one thing that I've learned being out on the road is that there's a lot more stupid people than I thought there were. Rowdy and crazy is one thing, but close-minded stupidity is another."

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