Sevendust Guitarist Sonny Mayo
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It is not uncommon for a band in the modern musical climate to reach more than one crossroad in their careers. They may have made that climb and did the grass-roots work to reach the turning point that propelled their music into a successful direction. Change is very common in this business, however, and part of success is also being able to - excuse me for borrowing an REO Speedwagon lyric - roll with the changes. Atlanta metal legends Sevendust are all too familiar with the climb to success. From loading up the van and trekking to New York for a near disastrous but also advantageous journey, to playing every nook and cranny in the Southeast and beyond, this hard-rocking act has done the legwork necessary to bringing themselves to the forefront of the modern metal scene. After selling over four million albums and embarking on successful tours, Sevendust was faced with a number of important changes. Also after losing an original guitarist, leaving their record label, changing management, and retooling their production philosophy, Sevendust is emerging from this somewhat turbulent period armed with a new guitarist, newstudio release, and replete with a highly positive attitude for their future. The newest member of the band, Sonny Mayo exemplifies that as he feels he will more than fill the shoes of the departed Clint Lowery. I knew their music very well from knowing them for years,he explains. But the first time I actually played with them after I joined, the only word I could think of was natural.' I might as well have been in the band since day one. We were like five fingers to a fist.
Sevendust is used to change, at least as far as band names were concerned in the early days. The first line-up formed in Atlanta around 1994 with guitarist Lee Banks, bassist Vinnie Hornsby and drummer Morgan Rose from Snake Nation, vocalist Lajon Witherspoon from Body & Soul, and guitarist John Connolly from Peacedog. First performing under the name Rumblefish, the band became denizens of the Atlanta club scene, and soon began to expand their fan base beyond the city limits. Bringing in former Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French to manage them, the band made an infamous but fortuitous trip to the Big Apple in 1995. The journey resulted in the band driving everyone out of the landmark club The Bitter End, and Lee Banks ending up in jail for three days. They also made an important impression on owners of more suitable clubs, as well as folks at K-Rock radio that would gain importance later on. The band returned to Atlanta to record their first demos and experienced their first round of changes. Lee Banks was replaced by Still Rain guitarist Clint Lowery, and the band changed their name to Crawlspace. They also ran into a stroke of good fate, as a representative from TVT Records named Studi accidentally wandered into a club the band was performing at while looking for a strip club. Studi was so knocked out by what he heard and saw that he snagged a demo from the band, and just a month later, Crawlspace inked a deal with TVT.
The band went into the studio with French and fellow Twisted Sister alumni Mark Mendoza as producers to record their first full fledged album. Inspired by the emotion of events surrounding the 1996 Olympic Games which were taking place at the time, particularly the tragic terrorist bomb attack, Crawlspace created an explosive debut CD. One song My Ruinwound up on the Mortal Kombat: More KombatCD which helped gain nationwide exposure for the band. Having to change their name again when it was discovered there was another band who previously had the rights to Crawlspace, they became Sevendust and officially released their debut in Spring of 1997. TVT bought airtime on Fox and UPN to air a half hour concert called Live and Loud.Combining this exposure with a tour opening for The Nixons, increasing radio airplay, and performing for K-Rock flaunting the new music direction for the leading rock station in New York, the debut went gold by the Spring of 1999. One of the bands who performed with Sevendust during those years was Snot, whose guitarist Sonny Mayo developed a friendship with the band and a keen perspective on their success. There really has not been one big break for the band. They have just managed to achieve a certain status and worked hard to maintain it. They just did everything they could and kept their work ethic intense.
Later in 1999, Sevendust released their sophomore effort Home,which climbed to gold status even quicker, perhaps due to their hectic touring pace which included opening for Creed and performing at the Woodstock Festival. The band's popularity continued to burgeon into the new millennium, with the releases of Animosityand Seasonsas well as an unplugged live CD/DVD combo recorded ata 2003 show in Athens, Georgia. As happens with so many bands, however, Sevendust began to hit some potholes. TVT bowed out as their label and founding member Clint Lowery decided it was time for him to depart as well. Fortunately for the band, a new guitarist was available who stepped right in as a replacement for Clint; Snot's Sonny Mayo. We became lifelong friends back when we toured together,Sonny recalls. We've stayed friends and we all went through various changes. When it came time for a replacement guitarist, I was the first name and the last name on the list.With Sonny on board, Sevendust returned to the studio to record their fifth studio release. Sonny was not only instantly enveloped in the Sevendust family as far as knowing the previous songs is concerned, he was also involved in the songwriting for the aptly titled Next.I got to contribute with some lyrics and melodies as well as doing some vocals on the CD. Basically, if you have an idea in this band for a song, you bring it into the other guys and see if it takes, and if it does, it snowballs from there. It grows into what it is supposed to be.Along with a new guitarist, there was another facet to the recording of Next that was different for the band. For the first time in their existence, Sevendust decided to produce the album on their own. When I first got the call from Morgan telling me they wanted me in the band and they were off TVT, he said they were going to borrow some money and go into the studio and self-produce the album. I loved the idea because it gave us all the freedom in the world to do what we want to do without having to appease the higher ups. We know what sounds good and I think we did a really good job. As usual, as soon as the recording was finished, Sevendust hit the road even though the CD was not ready for release yet due to the band's search for a new label. Although he had seen Sevendust perform many times previously in his days with Snot, Sonny could not deny the vibe he felt the first time he hit the stage with the band. It was amazing. It was like going home. I realized that this was where I was supposed to be and it already feels like I have been here for a long time.
While recording Next,the band's new management started shopping demos from the album to record labels. It was a long process and it wasn't until the CD was ready to be released that Winedark Records stepped in. Nextwas finally released on October 11th as the band continued to tour. Sonny noticed at some recent benefit performances that although the CD had just been released, people in the audience were already mouthing the words and singing along as if they had known the songs all their lives. Perhaps that was one of the most important testaments to the success of Sevendust, as their grass-roots way of getting out in the face of their audience has sustained them through the changes over the years. I think this band has always succeeded against the odds,Sonny reflects. They have stayed together and persevered even without a label that was pushing them to the next level. They have been able to continue to do this and maintain, and that is a testament to their work ethic. I think my work ethic matches theirs, and as long as they keep on rocking, I will be there.
Sonny Mayo's advice for musicians: It's really about finding the right formula with the chemistry between band members and sticking together. You also have to keep in touch with the fans and keep them on the level about what is happening with you. Interaction is the most important in those two directions.:->