For Sevendust, 2020 has been a busy year with the release of their thirteenth album, Blood & Stone, through Rise Records (read our album review here) Despite the lockdown stopping the Atlanta rock juggernaut in its tracks, drummer Morgan Rose has kept busy with the release of his new solo EP, Controlled Chaos.
We caught up with Morgan to chat about the EP, how it felt to bring himself out from behind the kit for the EP and, of course, the awesome new Sevendust album.
How are things?
Morgan Rose: “Everything is pretty good thanks, all things considering.”
It’s been a pretty strange year for everyone but, for you, in particular, it’s been a busy year?
“Yeah, it’s been strange. I got sick… I was in the hospital a year ago yesterday. Got through that and got a clean bill of health on February 28th. Flew to Los Angeles in March and was only supposed to be there for three days then the world went crazy (laughs).”
How has that affected your year?
“It’s crushed our business as far as touring obviously. Sevendust had a record and we just couldn’t wait any longer. It’d been over since we’d recorded it so, we’re already getting tired of these songs and we haven’t even played them yet. We were supposed to be in Australia in July or maybe earlier? We were also supposed to do the Slipknot cruise (Knotfest at Sea) in June. The record was supposed to come out sometime in August. We had also opened up some time because (guitarist) Clint (Lowery) had a solo record and we had toured for a while so the stoppage was welcome.
I wanted to go home and get my world together but it really did a number on his solo thing. He did one tour with Alter Bridge and then, boom!, the pandemic hit. He really took it hard and then, with us, we had to get the record out. It’s funny because the record comes out, it’s the highest-charting record of our career and then we can’t tour it.”
As well as the Sevendust record, which we’ll talk about later, you also put out your own solo record Controlled Chaos. Was that something that was always planned for this year or did the pandemic bring that on?
“The solo record was something that I had talked about for years but Sevendust is such a train. It’s just constantly either recording or writing or touring. I had thought that I had missed my opportunity because Clint was taking every minute that he had of spare time while Sevendust was still working to work on his solo record. He can do a lot of that on his own like program drums, record music and demo his stuff, record bass, sing on it, he’s pretty much a one-man band right there. With me, I did not do that at all. I would avoid all music when we would have breaks so, the pandemic hits and he’s doing his EP after the solo release. I went into a studio in Los Angeles because my girlfriend is an engineer out there and I went and played drums on it. He had decided that he wanted to not have organic drums on it, he wanted to go with programming.
He said to me that I needed to do this solo thing but all I could think was that the world had shut down so who would I collaborate with now? He told me he had a bunch of songs because Clint just writes and writes and writes. If it fits Sevendust great. If it fits his solo thing, that’s fine. He doesn’t care. He just writes constantly and he’s super-diverse. He told me that he had some stuff that is left of all of that which I might be interested in. He sent me a song which ended up being ‘Clarity’ and I went into the studio and tracked the drums, wrote some words and melodies, and sang it and that was it. It was going to be one song done. That was in April and, by the time I had got back a week later, my manager had sent the song to Rise Records and they wanted to do a deal. I had one song and now I had to do a record.
I phoned him up and asked if he had any more songs lying around and that’s how it got started. It was really quick. The music was demoed out on his end so I knew what to sing on. I threw some drums on it, wrote some words that were close to me, and put myself out there. The whole thing was knocked out in ten days.”
Moving out from behind your kit, how challenging for you was this EP and what did you learn about yourself from the experience?
“I try to keep my mind as clear as because I’ve had my issues handling life. I was in a bad place five years and slowly got myself back on track. Right before I got sick, I was probably the happiest I had been in my life. Even when I got sick, thank God I was mentally prepared to handle a near-death experience. I was grateful to be alive, I was happy as could be, new girlfriend, everything is fantastic. Pandemic happened and I was lucky to be prepared mentally for this. If this was back five years ago, I don’t know if I would have even survived this thing because I was super self-destructive. I ended up putting most of what I used to feel like into words and what I was.
It was therapeutic on one end and rough to go back and remember what it was like to be so broken because I was in a really bad spot. This pandemic brought up some things where I reverted back to some, not self-destructive, but some of the tendencies that weren’t real good for me. My girlfriend has dealt with it and continues to deal with it, God bless her. I’m good. It’s nothing that is broken but it’s just that if you don’t have the diversion of touring or recording then, I think I ended up underestimating where I really was. I thought I had it all figured out then they go ‘why don’t we take away everything you know and see if you have it all figured out now!’”
On a personal level, how helpful has it been to take a break from the music industry and the machine that is Sevendust?
“Yeah, it’s got a blessing and a curse all over it. I’ve worked more during the pandemic than I ever did in my life. I’ve been all over the country producing and co-writing and playing drums on stuff. It really hasn’t done anything to me financially or anything like that. I’ve done a lot of it but it’s sparingly… I’ll go here and there. What got me going was being able to provide something for other people. I don’t care about the megalomania rock stardom or anything like that. I don’t need the attention. I will tell you that it made me realize that I did need to contribute to society. To me, that was what I was put here to do. I look out at a crowd and see them singing or jumping or clapping or reacting in a way that you know that this is an event or an escape for them and you’ve provided them that escape and that makes you feel good. Having that taken away, it took away a large part of me.”
Have you thought long-term about Morgan Rose the solo artist?
“There are all kinds of fantasies but I never had delusions of being a guy with my foot up on the monitor singing to people. I also never wanted to be Phil Collins sitting in the back with that stupid microphone that I have to wear and doing a whole set with it. If I ever do anything with it then it would probably have to be someone else singing it and me playing drums may be to come out and sing ‘Exhale’ or something like that. As far as anything that involved drumming and singing, I wouldn’t be interested in anything like that. I know I’m going to do more of it.
At the moment I’m in the process of doing a super interesting cover that I think will trip people out. Eighty percent of people might hate it but that’s cool. This is my thing. This is what I’m into. The beauty of writing songs in a solo situation for me is that the people know anything about me know about me from Sevendust. They get Sevendust. I’m always going to provide what I do for Sevendust whether it’s drumming, lyrically, screaming on stuff, whatever that is. I don’t need them to love my record. You can’t please everybody. I went in a direction that was probably very different to what people expected and that’s what I wanted to do. Maybe I will do something heavy because I’m all over the place? Maybe I’ll do something industrial or something with no drums on it? Maybe it’ll be a folk record. Who knows? I’ll definitely be doing more of it though.”
Onto Sevendust then. Thirteen albums in and another album loved by fans and critics…
“I think that’s we’re actually getting better songwriting wise. We still somehow have a pep in our step for the live stuff too and that’s what we’ve always prided ourselves on, being a good live band. I think these solo things help out with the band. We’re not the type of band who just likes to do the same thing over and over yet some people have accused us of sounding like Sevendust. You can’t look at ‘Splinter’ and ‘Angel Son’ and say that they’re the same band, it just isn’t even though it is.”
Some people have used that as a stick to beat you with. How does that feel?
“I don’t really understand what we could really do other than what we do? The one thing that we have done and we’ve stuck to our guns on and that is staying away from the formulated idea. We could easily do songs with lyrics that would reach the masses about drinkin’, and partyin’, and girls but it’s just not our band. I know if one of us walked in the room with that idea or a big heavy song the rest of the band would wonder where the hell we had been hanging out. Don’t get me wrong, I like those types of songs but it’s just not us. It doesn’t fit what we do. We have this mix of influences within our band and it made us sound like us.”
You mentioned, on a personal level, how much of a rollercoaster journey it’s been. What kept you going through that to be able to write 13 albums at such a high level?
“Some of it, in all honesty, it’s as far from politically correct as you can get. I try to stay away from certain topics but, as far as the band goes, I’m pretty open. We love each other. We’re super close as brothers because we’ve been together so long. We care about each other immensely but that is part of what keeps us together. We want to kill each other also half the time but that should be normal. I would expect nothing less. There have been moments where we’ve been forced. There have been moments where it’s been well-documented that we’ve made some pretty stupid decisions in our business over the years. You get to a point where you look at this loyalty that the band has and you realize you have to deliver for them. We’re not phoning a record in ever.
The minute that we get creative all the other stuff goes away. We can’t even phone in something when everything is falling apart behind us. Sometimes you’re dealing with stuff that you can’t talk about but you want to kill people then, next minute, you’ve got to record an album. You have to watch all this stuff going on behind the scenes with other people and you can’t not do the record because it is the only thing that keeps you sane.”
And speaking of sane, let’s finish off with your hopes for 2021…
“I hope the world opens up sooner than later as we want to get out and tour the Sevendust record. We’re not 20 anymore so these years are important like they are for everyone. For us, we want to get out there and wreck shit so let’s get going as soon as we can.”