It was the hammer of the gods. The thunder of demons. And for a crowd of hard rock loving, fist-raising fans in Biloxi, it was heaven. Sevendust, a metal-leaning, powerdrill of a band out of Atlanta, is the epitome of hard work finally paying off. Formed in the mid-90’s by guitar player John Connolly, bass player Vinnie Hornsby and drummer Morgan Rose – with vocalist Lajon Witherspoon and guitarist Clint Lowery joining soon after – they forged ahead even when things looked bleak. That fierce tenacity mixed with a massive sound and eye-opening lyrics is what finally elevated them above all the hundreds of other young bands struggling to get their music heard.
Coming into Biloxi with Lacuna Coil and Avatar in tow made for a very loud and very interesting ticket. Avatar, hailing from Sweden, brought some spectacle with them via lead singer Johannes Eckerstrom’s evil King Diamond-like make-up and growling vocals, although drummer John Alfredsson and guitar player Jonas Jarlsby were the true showstoppers with their down-in-the-dirt explosive grinding. Although not exactly a new band, having formed in 2001, they are still building up a fan base on American soil. Their latest recording Black Waltz
came out last year.
Lacuna Coil, on the other hand, has been gaining in popularity at a rapid pace. Last year’s trek on Megadeth’s Gigantour and the catchy single “Trip The Darkness” from their Dark Adrenaline
album, has done wonders to propel this band from Milan, Italy. Fronted by both Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro, this mixture of vocals sets them apart from peers like Halestorm and Paramore. Despite their broadening success, it wasn’t an easy road. With Milan famous for it’s discos and nightclubs, rock music was hard to find and even harder to pursue as a band. “It’s actually not easy when you want to try to do something with a band playing this kind of music,” guitar player Cristiano Migliore told me last year. “It took us like ten years before we were able to do this as a job.” Bandmate Maus Biazzi agrees: “In terms of music, it is not easy at all because Italy doesn’t have this huge background in terms of rock & roll. There is a lot of dance music, pop music is pretty popular, and the sad thing is they are closing a lot of rock places.”
Like Sevendust, Lacuna Coil has had to fight to make a name for themselves. Scabbia is one of the best female metal singers in the genre, hitting high notes while still retaining their sense of lyrical emotion. “Kill The Light,” “Intoxicated,” “Spellbound” and “Trip The Darkness” were all highlights, despite the absence of bass player Marco Zelati, who is still recovering from an injury. “He still has issues with his tendons and ligaments on both arms,” Biazzi explained before their set in Biloxi. Instead of bringing another bassist in to take his place, the band gathered up the original bass tracks and have interspersed them into their live set. “It’s because we had no time really because before this tour we had another one and was like two months long and then there was the Christmas break and then we went back to the States again,” said Biazzi. “This is a pretty long tour. It’s like three months and it’s not easy to find another guy to replace him – well, I don’t like to use this term replace – but it’s better if we stay as we are with just bass tracks … But we miss him a lot and it’s different, even the sound is different, but what else can we do.”
Sevendust was a force to be reckoned with once they took the stage. The trio of “Denial,” “Ugly” and “Bitch” were unbelievably strong, Witherspoon spitting and snarling like a beast from Hades. Hornsby and Rose were demons of rhythm on “Strong Arm Broken.” And Connolly’s solo on the new song “Till Death” was sharp as a razor while Lowery’s gentle intro to “Angel’s Son” paid homage to his father who passed away last year.
“Can you feel the energy in here?” Witherspoon asked of the crowd and was met with a resoundingly loud approval. If you ever want to see a band who has come this far yet has never lost the hunger of struggling and believes in a show that is nothing less than 110% every night, then Sevendust is your band. They never lay back, they never let up and they never stop playing with an insatiable thirst for the music.
With a new album coming out on March 26th called Black Out The Sun
, Sevendust has pulled out all the stops and created one of their best recordings of their career and I was able to talk with Connolly about the new album a few days before their show in Biloxi.What was it like working on this album compared to the other ones? Did you do something different?
Everything was different on this one. We decided we were going to self-produce, which is something that we had done before. We did Next, Alpha
and Hope & Sorrow
but we hadn’t had a chance to do it with Clint since Clint had been back. Clint came back right at the Hope & Sorrow tour so this was our first time that we actually got the original five guys to self-produce. We did it over a very short period of time and we also made a conscious decision to not bring much music into the studio at all. We’ve been doing this so long, for so many years, that you kind of get in the habit of doing certain things in a certain way. I mean, we all get in to our writing mode and we start riffs and ideas and then you show up to make a record and there’s forty pieces of music to sort through, which is a cool way to do it. Typically, we would do that, listen to the riffs, listen to the songs we want to work on, get them up and going in pre-production and then when we hit the studio we’re just recording, basically just mapping out stuff that already existed.
This time we didn’t bring anything in. Obviously it’s cool to have the well of songs sitting there in case you get stuck or in case you need a part or you need an intro or just something to finish up something that you were actually going to make there in the studio. But we wrote it all together right there on the spot. Each day was a different song and then once we had our record we moved into vocal mode. So it was a very different experience for us for sure cause it wasn’t like we didn’t have a shortage of ideas. You know, we always show up with a ton of riffs, tons of demos, but, I don’t know, there was something different about it. I don’t know which is better or which is worse but it has a different vibe when we all come up with stuff together on the spot. Some of the best songs on Cold Day Memory were ones that just showed up. We thought we had the record written and then all of a sudden we just kept pressing forward and those were the best three or four songs on the record to come together. So we said, alright, let’s try it, let’s try a whole record like that and let’s not bring in anything, let’s not be prepared, let’s not give ourselves so much time that we can second guess things and over think things; just enough time to be able to get everything done but not so much time that we would go in and wreck it (laughs), which we’ve done before.Was it more stressful or more exciting to do it that way?
I think a little of both. It’s always exciting when you’re trying new things and when you can kind of see the picture but you can’t see the full picture; it’s always a little nerve-wracking. You got to kind of trust your instincts. But I think that is probably one of the best things that we have going for us besides what we do on a live stage. Our instincts, at least for Sevendust material, is pretty strong. I think we all know where we stand, what will work, what will not work. Sometimes it’s tough. We’ve run into songs years ago that theoretically was great up until we got to vocal mode and then something’s just not clicking, something’s not sticking. And it’s always a little heartbreaking when you find out in the mix when there is basically no time to fix anything. So yeah, it’s always a little nerve-wracking and exciting just kind of trusting your instincts and going, “Ok, I know this is going to be great. I don’t have any way to prove it until we actually do it but I think it’ll be awesome” (laughs)
You did Projected and then you went right into Sevendust. Did you notice a change in your sound from having worked with a different bunch of guys?
Sure, I don’t know if it made me approach the Sevendust thing any differently other than working with a different drummer obviously has a very different vibe and a very different feel to it. But the stuff we do in Sevendust and the stuff that we write together with Morgan and LJ and Vinnie, when we put those vocal melodies together I think we know that LJ is going to knock it out of the park. Sometimes it’s tough because you know what you’ll sound good singing but you’re not 100% sure he’ll sound good singing, cause stylistically we’re just different people. He’s such an amazing singer that if you give him something basic, sometimes it just doesn’t sound good. Sometimes he needs something just a little more unique and more him because he’s got the ability to do things that nobody else in the band can do. We can all sing but he IS a singer. There’s a big difference (laughs) We can get the job done but he can go and do pretty much whatever he wants wherever he wants.
But yeah, I think the side projects, they make you appreciate what you can and can’t do in either one of the situations. I think for me it just gave me a little bit more security and moving ideas forward and stuff like that. If you’d write something, you’d sit there and go, Ok, I know I sound good doing it but him sounding good doing it are two different things. But I think we’re getting better with each record. We know what works and what won’t work. It’s always tough when you write something for somebody else and they have a great voice and they sing it and it doesn’t sound right. I mean, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and you just don’t know but these side projects definitely give you an extra outlet, an extra place to theoretically run it up the flagpole and then sit back and look at it and listen to it and go, ok, now I don’t have to imagine it so much, now I at least have an idea of what that is like when you do it with your voice or LJ would do it with his voice. So it’s cool.Tell us about the title track “Black Out The Sun.”
That was an interesting song. When we got to the studio that was kind of our we’re just going to knock this one out, kind of get this one together, just to kind of get the feet wet, kind of get things flowing. Morgan wasn’t even there that day. We actually had one of our engineers play drums just to kind of get a piece of music up and working. We were even joking about it, “This is just going to be a bonus track or something. It’s not going to be anything major.” So we got it together and once Morgan got back in town we went back through and actually learned it and tracked it again with him and got the whole thing sorted out. So we had this great piece of music that everyone was saying was going to be a bonus track and from that point the song had kind of been hanging out for a while. Usually what will happen is we’ll get twelve pieces of music and Clint will grab one, I’ll grab another, Morgan will grab a third one; sometimes we’ll team up together, sometimes me and Clint will sit down and work on one or sometimes it will be me and Morgan, and LJ will come in and say one word and all of a sudden we’re off to the races. And that is kind of what happened with this one. LJ had one line that he kept singing and it was “black out the sun” over the chorus. I’d been working on two or three different songs at the time and I hadn’t had a chance to get to that one. Then I remember Clint grabbing it, and Clint had lost his father last year, and that was kind of one of those songs I think at the end of the day knew that he was going to do as a dedication to his dad. And it worked, worked with the whole black out the sun thing. LJ didn’t draw the two together whatsoever but Clint did and ironically enough when the song was finished, we all sat there and looked at each other like, yeah, bonus track my ass (laughs). That’s the title track.
But the same thing happened with “Decay.” “Decay” was a bonus track too. “Decay” was not supposed to be anything other than just something to fill the record out. That music had been hanging around since Cold Day Memory
and Johnny K [producer] said he didn’t think it was strong enough to put on the record so, you know, we just kind of put it on the backburner and no big deal. We’re great at doing that. If a riff is great and two years later we hear it and we know it, we’ll always work it back up. Same thing happened with “Decay.” I swear, “Decay” and “Black Out The Sun” were supposed to be the bonus tracks (laughs)
Who wrote “Memory?”
That kind of started out as a little piece that Clint was doing. We all ended up playing on it, doing the whole Judas Priest harmony thing, but I think we were working on “Faithless” at the time and he was just kind of noodling around in the middle while we were changing some stuff and we just hit record while he was just noodling around; cause he wouldn’t have remembered it. We went back and were like, I think we need to go ahead and do this up front as the intro and he was like, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” Then we played it for him and he was like, “Oh, ok.” So always be careful what you’re playing in the studio cause it’s probably always getting recorded (laughs). We had talked about how the side projects both had intros and were kind of similar and I was like, “You know what, I don’t care. I like intros.” It’s a guilty pleasure so it’s something kind of cool to set it up because I think eventually we’re going to be opening the show with “Faithless.” We’ll probably go with the first song and use that as our actual walk out intro.What songs have you already incorporated into the new set?
Right now, “Decay” and “Till Death.” Those are the only two we’re doing.
So your plans for this year is pretty much touring?
Oh yeah, tour-tour-tour and tour some more
Any chance of doing more with Projected?
Yeah, well, right now it’s a really weird period for us because Erock [Eric Friedman of Creed] is in Europe with Tremonti and then as soon as they get back Scott Phillips and Mark get back into Alter Bridge mode and I think they’re going to record in April and then they should hit the road in September. But I’m really, really, really, really pushing for a Sevendust/Alter Bridge/Tremonti/Call Me No One/Projected tour. I would love to be able to give that a try. What we’ll probably end up doing is we’ll do like a co-headline situation where they do an hour, we do an hour and then the openers would do somewhere around thirty-five minutes. For us, theoretically, I’d be playing just about as much music as I would doing a full Sevendust set but I’d just be splitting it up into two shows. I think there is a possibility that we can make it happen. Interview with Lacuna Coil’s Maus Biazzi.I heard that you have a new guitar.
I made this new deal with Schecter Guitars like one year ago and I wanted to move out from ESP. I don’t know why, just for change, you know, and they seemed to be very kind and very gentle with me. So we decided to make a signature series so I was like very happy about it and I start thinking about how to design the guitar, which kind of changes I wanted to have and after about six months I gave them the first prototype and it took like three or four months to get the guitar and for me it’s a great result, you know. There are some little changes that I wanted to introduce, like for example the compound radius fretboard, which was something unusual for them because they didn’t have any specific guitar like that and apparently they actually bought the machinery to make that happen. So I did some little changes, little bit there, little bit here, modifying also a little bit of the hardware of the guitar. Otherwise I wanted to keep the same color. So it’s a good mix. It must feel good that a guitar company is making you a guitar.
Yeah, yeah, it’s awesome. It’s like a dream that comes true for me.When did you come into Lacuna Coil?
I started playing in this line-up since 1999, so the band is still the same since 1999. When I started with this band, they were in the process of releasing the first album, the first full-length, but they asked me to join the band before a tour, a tour was coming right after the showcase. So I actually played the showcase of the album, and then since that day I started going on tour and a lot of stories, a lot of stuff (laughs).
What was it like growing up in Milan? Cristiano said there was an abundance of dance music and not so much rock or metal
From where I’m from was a little bit tough because back in the days, especially in the 80’s, I lived in a not very kind neighbor. Now the situation is completely different. They are rebuilding a lot of new neighbors in the city, especially because of the expo, 2015, so Milano has changed as a city and development is something like more European right now. In terms of music, it is not easy at all because Italy doesn’t have this huge background in terms of rock & roll and yeah, he was right, there is a lot of dance music, pop music is pretty popular, and the sad thing is they are closing a lot of rock places. For example, there was one very famous in Milano and a lot of bands, even from the States, played there back in the days. It was called The Rolling Stone. It was nice historical place in Milano that closed up. It’s now a parking lot or offices, I don’t even know. But we try to keep on rocking with some other places.Who did you listen to growing up?
Well, the bands that I was listening to were more like Iron Maiden, Sepultura – and my mom remembers that, unfortunately (laughs) – Pantera, Megadeth, this kind of bands. I’ve been influenced by these guys, especially Pantera because of Dimebag Darrell. Still for me, my favorite guitar player of all time. He is still my best, for me, the best guitar player.When did you start playing guitar?
I started when I was like fifteen, more or less. Now I’m thirty-five. Getting old (laughs)So you wanted to play guitar because you loved all this music or you had music in your family?
No, actually, the story didn’t go like that. It was something I was forced to do. For example, ok, you’re doing your elementary schools, and you have to choose an instrument, and Italy is like that. I did some and then I got tired of it and my mom was like, “Wait, why don’t you try guitar, classical guitar” and so I tried but I was like too young to understand and the teacher was very like, she was a bitch (laughs) She scared me all the time because it was hard for me, so I left the instrument. I didn’t want to play anymore. Then after several years I was like, you know what, I probably should go back and try to learn the guitar because I like it. And then I started by myself and for one year I had a private teacher. Then he had to leave because he moved to Vancouver. So I continued by myself, developing what I wanted and approaching even different styles. For example, ok, I play in Lacuna Coil but also I like jazz music. It’s very different. Jazz is hard. Is hard to play and hard to learn (laughs)
What was the first concert you went to?
The very first one I’ve seen in my life was Megadeth and Corrosion Of Conformity. It was very back in the days. I remember they played at the Forum in Milano. I think was sold out, the Forum is the arena, so you’re talking about 12,000 people, and I went there with my little girlfriend. It was my first show and I saved the money in advance to buy for both of us the tickets and when I showed up, giving her the ticket for the show, she was like, “Aww, really” (laughs) So it was a good time. It’s been probably more than twenty years so I just remember that was great and since then I started following metal and rock every day, you know.
“Trip The Darkness” has done so well for you and the video is very interesting. Do you like doing videos?
No, honestly, no. I don’t like making videos. It’s something fun sometimes if you’re intrigued by the story and you don’t know how it’s going to happen after the final cut and blah, blah, blah. But I’m not very fan of making videos or photo shooting or that kind of stuff. Something related still to the music but not my business. I don’t like it. I prefer playing live. I don’t have to pose (laughs).
When is Lacuna Coil going to record another album?
As soon as we finish with this I think we’re going to have a break and we’re maybe going to the summer festivals in Europe and then I think, I don’t want to give you false information, but by the end of this year we’re going to be in the studio recording a new album.How much input do you have in the writing and creating of songs?
It depends because for example this time as you will see tonight, Cristiano, the drummer, and Marco, the bass player, are not on this tour for different reasons. The drummer because he recently got a baby and so he is taking care of his newborn at home. He didn’t want to take him away. And Marco for a different story, because he still has issues with his tendons and ligaments on both arms. But he’s started working on songs, at least to have four or five songs to work on by the end of this tour. So it’s not like he’s home doing nothing and blah, blah, blah. He is doing something. He’s putting ideas together, like recording some songs to present us something.
So he can record when you’re ready.
As soon as we finish the tour. But of course there is a big difference between like playing when you’re sitting down in your home, relaxed, and when you have to stay on the bus for three months and play live one hour and then, well, in South America we’re going to play one hour and a half. Usually the Dark Legacy tour was two hour show so it’s not easy to recover your arms, your hands, when you have to play pretty much every day. That’s why.How much longer do you have on this tour?
We’re going to stay in the States till the end of April but there is a break between because after the 26th/27th, we’re going to South America to do some headline shows and then we’ll be back again to the States. We do the SXSW and then continue not this tour but another one with Cold Chamber, including Sevendust and another opening band. Are you happy where you guys are at this point, that you’ve made it so far?
Oh yeah, yeah, I think we made a big result for an Italian band because I don’t remember any Italian band like playing with Ozzy or Type O Negative or Anthrax. We’ve played pretty much with everybody and for me it’s a huge step, especially from where I come from. Yeah, I’m happy, and happy about where I’m at right now. It could be even better, it could be more but I cannot complain all the time cause the music business is collapsing and the economy is crashing right now. I’m happy for what we have and happy to be on tour again, which it’s becoming a little bit rare, it’s hard to be on tour. So thank you to everyone.