In 1965, Bob Dylan was booed and called a Judas for daring to plug in his guitar and go electric. Sevendust, the Atlanta metal veterans, heard only cheers when it pulled that trick in reverse by unplugging and going acoustic.
The band's ninth studio album, Time Travelers & Bonfires, is a completely acoustic production, half new songs and half reworked songs from its catalogue. Instead of being seen as a betrayal to the heavy and loud sound upon which the group built its reputation, the record has been embraced by enough fans to reach the top spot on Billboard's Hard Music Chart.
The success encouraged the band to go on an all-acoustic tour which Sevendust guitarist John Connolly was excited to speak about with New Times. The gracious Florida resident opened up about Sevendust's future, the aforementioned transition, and why he dropped the drumsticks to pick up a guitar.
New Times: When did you first fall in love with music?
John Connolly: It probably goes back to when I was a kid. I walked into a record store and saw KISS Alive 2. I hadn't heard the music, I just saw the cover, and I was fascinated. I talked my Mom into buying the record, and I got into all the firebreathing and all that good stuff.
Years later, I really seriously got into music. I started out as a drummer. Most of the drummers I was gravitating towards were the typical guys. I knew music was going to be a big part of my life. Transitioning to guitar was another of those eye-opening moments. It was the natural frustration of any drummer. Back then, drummers didn't get any respect.
There's a lot of great songwriting drummers, Morgan Rose is one of them. It was frustrating, in my old band, I was always trying to get my foot in the door and you have three other guys, so nobody wants to hear the drummer's music. They have plenty of songs on their own. For me it was an end.
I didn't want to stop playing drums. I wanted to walk to them with a song, sit down and play it for them and it be accepted. The first song I brought to my old band they didn't like it. I left them, recorded it in demos, and it ended up being the first song I worked on with Morgan and Lajon and that song was "Black."
Did you get the feeling when you first worked with them that Sevendust would last this long and be this big?
We all had that sneaking suspicion something special was going on. It's so tough to bet on yourself especially when the odds are stacked against you. There are so many bands and so many cities, and back then it wasn't so easy to get heard. The internet was in its infancy, CDs were a blip on the radar. It was all about cassettes and passing out flyers. It was all word of mouth.
We were stubborn. We played a lot of shows and wrote a lot of songs. The first record we had 30 songs and "Black" at the time wasn't one of our favorites since it was the first one we worked on. When it came time to record, that was the last one we did. When the producers heard it, they looked at us like we had 8 heads and said, "You wouldn't know your 'Back in Black' if it bit you in your ass."
Your new album Time Travelers & Bonfires opened at number one on Billboard's Hard Music Chart.
Yeah, that was a trip. We did not expect that at all.
Should an acoustic album be considered "hard music"?
That was part of the surprise. It was more of a novelty, and I use that term loosely because even in our super heavy electric set we always have that acoustic element. Even going back to that first record with a song like "Prayer." But yeah, going number one on something that wasn't even a full record, with only six new songs and the rest reworkings of old songs, it was such a cool thing.
Were there challenges in reworking old electric songs into the acoustic form?
The biggest challenge was trying to get the list down. There were 30 songs between the five of us that we wanted to do. We could be doing this for every song, which is a nice spot to be in now that it worked. Not that we're saying every other Sevendust album is going to be acoustic for now on, but maybe we can do this every three or four years. Take songs that people aren't familiar with or maybe just the diehards and give them the acoustic treatment. If you're going to rip off somebody, might as well rip off yourself.
Was there any backlash from fans with you guys going acoustic?
Everyone was cool with it. Even the diehards, because it wasn't like it came from left field. We'd done acoustic performances since 2001. It wasn't like we're Slayer doing an acoustic album where people would be like, "Wait a minute, they're selling out or getting old." We've done this our whole careers.
Were there any bands that previously went acoustic that inspired you?
Sure, Alice in Chains. They were a lot more geared towards it, but they were hugely influential for us. We've got friends now in a million different bands and we ask what worked for them. A lot of people would be surprised to learn a lot of Sevendust's music starts from acoustic guitar. We might just be sitting around watching television and get an idea while watching football and start hashing it out acoustically, later you go into the studio and actually plug in the guitar. So a lot more times we have to process it from acoustic to electric then vice versa.
You're based out of Orlando these days?
Yeah, the band's based in Atlanta, but we've all spread around. In 2001, just around the time I got married, we fell in love with Orlando. There were so many people down here we knew. Only two guys in Sevendust are still in Atlanta and they're 45 minutes apart. So we all take advantage of ProTools which enables us to pass files along.
How much do we rehearse? The answer is almost never. We do a day or two to get the gears set up. Then we hammer through the songs to make sure we remember things like transitions. It drives the crew crazy, because we start a song and then stop and go all the way to the end and play the last ten seconds of the song and transition into the next one. They all look at us like, "When are you going to play the full set?" The first day of the tour.
Is Sevendust working on new music?
Sort of. We never aren't working on music, but it's not pedal to the metal right now. The idea is for us to record in January and February. We're kind of getting some ideas and building up a pile of things, but the last couple records we haven't come in to the studio super prepared. We had a lot of fun showing up and going, "We have no idea what we are playing today."
Sevendust with A.Z., at 7 p.m., Tuesday, November 11, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $30 at the door. Visit cultureroom.net.