Two decades later, metal band Sevendust relishes Grammy nod

NEW YORK -- If Grammys were handed out for sheer persistence, the metal band Sevendust would have a bunch by now.

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The quintet from Atlanta is celebrating two decades together this year with its first Grammy nomination. The nomination is for a song that is, appropriately, named "Thank You."

"This is a big deal. I feel like it's going to push us to work even harder," said Lajon Witherspoon, the band's lead singer and co-songwriter. "I think we're on the right avenue right now."

Sevendust, known for its melodic approach to metal, has put many miles on the road, supporting everyone from Metallica to Creed. The band finally got the attention of the Recording Academy for last year's "Kill the Flaw," its 11th studio album.

The music has elements of classic metal, thrash, southern rock and even some soul, led by the fearsome instrument of Witherspoon's voice, one of the most flexible and exciting in music today.

"Music is music. I never put a label on it. I just feel I'm a rocker," said Witherspoon, who also recently sang with the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra for a side project and who has embraced Sevendust's acoustic side.

"I'm sure there are people out there that would say Sevendust isn't heavy enough, but I don't believe everything has to be always breaking walls down," he said. "I've been onstage and felt like Britney Spears compared to some of the bands that we've played with. But we still get out there and rock it."

Sevendust hits the road as a headliner this spring starting April 26 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and wrapping up May 28 at the Rocklahoma festival in Pryor, Oklahoma.

Sevendust's lineup -- which also includes Clint Lowery on lead guitar, John Connolly on rhythm guitar, Vince Hornsby on bass and Morgan Rose on drums -- has been remarkably stable over the years, with the exception of Lowery stepping away for a few years.

"We don't really ever fight. There's no reason to. We're grown men," said Witherspoon, who welcomed his third child in December and just celebrated his 12th wedding anniversary. He is well versed on car seats and diapers, yet onstage can deliver the lyric "All the things we loathe, we become it" with full-throated power.

At the Grammys, Sevendust faces off against Slipknot, Lamb of God, August Burns Red and Ghost. Though the winner won't be televised, Witherspoon and his family will proudly be on the red carpet.

For a guy who watched the ceremonies as a boy, he wouldn't miss it, especially as a way to thank his wife for all her sacrifices while he and his band crisscrossed the country. "This is for the wives," he said.

Witherspoon was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, and sang in his church choir. Even his grandmother sensed there was a showman in the youngster. "I wanted to perform," he said, laughing. "I was rocking my gown."

Though he sang in R&B bands, by high school he was hanging out with the long-haired kids listening to Guns N' Roses and Black Sabbath. Able to wail and growl, he gravitated toward metal, an often rare genre for an African-American.

Witherspoon says he doesn't see racism at Sevendust gigs these days, but years ago on tour with Slipknot he saw "a couple of knuckleheads" in the mosh pit give the Hitler salute, oblivious to what it meant. In melancholy moments, he suspects his race might have slowed the band's rise.

"I've always wondered if I had not been a black man in Sevendust, would it have even gotten bigger?" he asks. "At the end of the day, I'm glad that it took this long because we're still here."


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