In more than six years of heavy-duty rocking, Sevendust have learned how to craft tunes that are rhythmically complex and musically challenging. More importantly, they've finally learned that it's often better to take a simpler, more direct approach to songwriting.
Their fourth album, Seasons, is packed with a combination of teeth-gnashing riffs and commercial melodies that are varied enough to remain compelling, but rarely distracting or overindulgent. As effortless as the tracks on the record sound, the bandmembers had to exhibit great self-restraint to record such straightforward material.
"We're the type of band that plays a riff, and if it goes on too long we feel like monkeys with cymbals," drummer and songwriter Morgan Rose said. "It starts to bore us, and that's the problem that comes from worrying too much about being a decent player instead of just worrying about making songs as good as they can be. This time, we made sure that the fans know the choruses after playing the songs because they've heard it three times in three minutes."
The formula seems to be working. "Enemy," the first single from Seasons
(see "Rock And Roll Beef: Sevendust Rip Into Ex-Coal Chamber Frontman On 'Enemy' ")is performing well at radio and the album has sold almost 100,000 copies in two weeks. Part of the credit for Sevendust's more streamlined, mainstream sound goes to producer Butch Walker, who previously played in the power-pop group Marvelous 3, and produced albums by Bowling for Soup and SR-71. Because of his experience as a songwriter, Walker was able to not only critique Sevendust's new material, but also offer practical suggestions.
"A lot of producers listen to something, then say, 'Nah, that's not good enough, try again," Rose said. "You're sitting there going, 'Well, what are you looking for?' and a lot of times they'll just say, 'Well, I really couldn't tell you, but it's not that.' And that sucks. So we purposely got someone who is very musically oriented and knows about song structure. He gave us a lot of practical suggestions and showed us where we were stomping on ourselves and how we could move parts around and simplify things to make the songs better."
Some of Sevendust's older, more stubborn fans were surprised by the band's choice of a producer, and hold Walker responsible for the album's emphasis on hooks. But that's oversimplifying the situation. Rose said Sevendust decided to turbo-charge their choruses before hiring a producer, and specifically chose to work with Walker because they had a history with him.
"Butch was really understanding of what our band is about because he was in the studio with us recording demos before we even got a record deal," Rose explained. "He's the guy who produced "Black," which is one of our biggest songs. He also did the heavy sh-- like "Born to Die" and "Wired," so we didn't even think twice about working with him again."
There's another major factor that may have contributed to the sense of clarity that echoes through Seasons. After years of dangerous partying, Sevendust have cleaned up their act — at least a little.
"We don't go running around saying, 'Yeah, we were Keith Richards last year and now we're Amy Grant,' " Rose said. "But we were a little out of control and we were able to dial it down a notch and focus on what was going on. It's pretty amazing to do a record sober. Of course, this leaves the door wide open for people who don't like the record to say, 'Go back to drinking' or 'Do drugs.' But I can tell you this — it was a lot easier to work without having to worry about where you were gonna get high."