Q & A: John Connelly of Sevendust Talks Alternative Metal, Financial Woes and Some Close Calls in Iraq

Categories: Interviews
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Sevendust. Surprisingly not completely dust at this point?

For almost two decades, Atlanta's Sevendust has been making a righteous noise, a heady and heavy metal concoction that resulted in three consecutive gold albums, from 1997 through 2001.

But after the departure of guitarist and founding member Clint Lowery, the band's fortunes began to change. Management and label snafus, along with a mounting debt to the taxman, contributed in Sevendust falling from the metal stratosphere.

Fortunately, after a five-year absence, Lowery returned in 2008 and Sevendust was back to form, at least in concert. The band's newest record, Cold Day Memory, is the first to feature the original line-up since 2003's Seasons. Speaking from a tour stop in New Mexico, rhythm guitarist John Connelly sounded like a kid in a candy store as he talked about having the original band back in action.

The music of Sevendust has always been termed "alternative metal." What does that mean?
I don't know. I've been trying to figure that out. It was back in the day. People, for five minutes called us progressive, and then it was nu-metal. Then, all of a sudden, we were playing alternative metal. We are some kind of heavy and some kind of rock and some kind of metal. I'm not real sure of what title we are carrying this year.

You started out as a drummer before becoming the rhythm guitar player in Sevendust. Was that a difficult transition?
I just learned how to beat a bar chord to death and the rest was easy. I just treated the guitar like a set of drums. We are a super-rhythmic band. We have a whole bunch of drummers in this band. It sucks when you really are the drummer and you are in the back and you're in the dark. It's nice to be up front and make contact with human beings. It was definitely a wake-up call, being up front and not having anything to hide behind. I knew that I better act cool or else I would have to go back behind the drums.

Sevendust's new effort, Cold Day Memory, comes out soon. Should fans expect a different kind of Sevendust record?
Well, it's a lot different, seeing that it is the first record we have recorded with Clint in over five years. We got the original chemistry back. The past three or four records that we have done have turned out different without Clint. It's one of those chemistry things. You take one piece out of the equation and the chemistry changes. Not necessarily for better or for worse, it's just different. Fans will hear that original fire we had on our first couple of records.

After Clint left the band, that seemed to cause several financial problems to arise and then things started to spiral.
Some of that stuff was going to happen whether Clint stayed or not. Clint's leaving was just kind of compounded on top of everything. We were out of our record deal, we were dealing with the IRS, and we were transitioning managers. Basically, everything we knew was up in the air. We didn't know who was going to play guitar. We didn't have a label. It was turmoil, but we just put our nose to the grindstone and got focused and got busy. It was cool, but I can tell you that it is a lot cooler with Clint back. It's a lot easier with him than without him.

Did the band every come to the point of breaking up?
We talked about it. The day after Clint left, we were sitting there and we talked about going our separate ways. You can't force a band to stay together. Honestly, the conversation didn't last ten minutes. After Clint left, we went right back in the studio. It was do or die. We had no record deal and no guitar player and we barely had a manager.

Are all the financial problems over?
We're just about coming out of the smoke. We have a couple more stupid-ass payments to a couple of our ex-managers. It's nice to not be getting sued by someone for the first time in six years. We can actually focus on making music.

Was there ever a point in the band's tenure that you said to yourself, "We've made it?"
You know what, we've still not happy with where we are at. In our eyes, even though we do this successfully, we're still out here trying to prove ourselves. We're still out here trying to make better music, have better live shows. As much shit as we have gone through, to have been able to get the original five guys back together again, is amazing. For us, we are still trying to make it.

You've done tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. Were you ever in danger?
In Afghanistan, not so much because the base was so big. You hear things and you talk to soldiers. In Iraq, we were here, there and everywhere. We were outside the wire a few times. We lost three engines of a four-engine plane going across the Iraqi border. Now that was interesting. Those are the things you don't tell your mom or your wife until you are way out of harm's way. We knew that, if we ever got out of there, we were going to have so many killer stories to tell everyone.

Sevendust performs Friday, March 26, at Trees.
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