On his ninth birthday, John Connolly received his first guitar, a cheap little acoustic his parents gave him. Although he immediately took to the instrument, tragedy occurred when he broke a string, thus putting a quick end to his career as a child prodigy.
"I couldn't figure out to play the damn thing, let alone change a string," Connolly says then laughs. "I was so frustrated that I put it down and swore never to pick it up again. After that, I switched to drums." Almost true to his word, the Jersey-born, Atlanta-raised Connolly sat on a drum stool for 15 years before finally rediscovering the guitar in the early 90s. "Although I love drums and still play every once in a while, I was frustrated by how it limited my involvement in the songwriting process," he says. "I knew that if I wanted to write, I needed to play something that had a melodic element to it."
These days, Connolly can not only fix a string, he's also quite proficient in the art of speaker-shredding, as proven by his work with the Atlanta-based neo-metal band, Sevendust. His counterpart, Clint Lowery, is the melodic half of Sevendust's raging attack, and unlike Connolly, he's been playing guitar for close to twenty years. A native of North Carolina, Lowery grew up during "the shred era," listening to players like Steve Vai and George Lynch, while cutting his teeth in a variety of local metal bands. Originally, he, too, wanted to be a drummer, but he couldn't afford a kit. "I remember sitting at home, waiting for my mother to arrive, hoping that she had gotten the credit approval for a drumset," he says. "She came home with a guitar instead, and I've been playing ever since."
The combination of Connolly's beat-breaking rhythms and Lowery's fluid guitar lines has catapulted Sevendust to the top of the loud rock heap. Over the course of the past two years, the band has played over five hundred shows, including the main stages at OZZfest and the Warped Tour, as well as a smoldering performance at Woodstock 99.
With its new album, Home, co-produced by the band and Toby Wright (Korn, Alice In Chains), the guitar duo reveals a surprising sense of raging pop and hummable melodies beneath an ear-bruising wall of distortion. The result is pure ear candy, all creamy in the middle and jaw-breakingly crunchy around the edges. "You always want your second record to be better than your first," says Connolly. "We worked real hard on this and I think we've got a good thing going." Talk about an understatement.
Guitar.com: Now that Woodstock's come and gone, are you surprised by all the reports of violence?
John Connolly: Not really. When you put that many people together in one place at one time, anything can and will happen. But having said that, I didn't see anybody get crazy or out of hand, and to be honest, we really had a great time there. Unfortunately, the reports that followed diluted the experience for us.
Guitar.com: Did you sense a potential for disaster?
Connolly: We played on the last day, and when we went on, the crowd had already been out there for two days and was pretty rowdy. There was definitely a certain energy when we walked out onstage, but it was nowhere near as crazy as all the people that got trampled during Korn's set, or all the people who tore down the barricades during the Limp Bizkit set. Of course, the fires started happening not long after we got offstage, so we got blamed for that, even though we had nothing to do with it.
Guitar.com: Clint, what will you remember most about being there?
Clint Lowery: My mother and father played in a band called Plant and See during the 60s, and they always wanted to go to Woodstock, but never did. Right before we went onstage, I phoned them and they were so happy for me. It was like they were living vicariously through me. It made me feel like I had accomplished something.
Guitar.com: So they must be pretty supportive about you playing music for a living?
Lowery: My father wasn't into the idea at first. He had struggled with music for many years and wanted me to have an education. Once things started happening and he realized that I was determined, he became supportive. Then after I gave him a gold record, he became real supportive (laughs).
Guitar.com: Does anybody else in your family play?
Lowery: My older brother plays bass. He used to be in Stuck Mojo and now he's playing with some of the guys from Life of Agony. We played in a band together for about eight years. My younger brother sings, plays drums and plays guitar.
Guitar.com: Do you ever get together and jam?
Lowery: Oh yeah, we're like the Partridge Family. My dad still plays guitar and my mom plays piano and guitar and sings like an angel. She's like a cross between Janis Joplin and Grace Slick. We actually write songs together, or play the songs from my parents' old band. Sometimes the neighbors will come over to the house and we'll just kick it. I definitely want to do a side project with my two brothers. We'll be the evil version of Hanson.
Guitar.com: John, what did your parents say when you told them you wanted a career in music?
Connolly: They weren't real happy about it. I think they had aspirations of me being a doctor or a lawyer or something like that. Let's be honest, there are no guarantees involved with the entertainment industry and my parents come from a conservative background. However, they were supportive because they knew I wasn't doing it to be rebellious or to try and piss them off, I just loved music and wanted to play.
Guitar.com: Did you tell them it was their fault for giving you that acoustic guitar?
Connolly: Absolutely. Even though things with the band are great, they still give me shit to this day, saying, "We never should have bought that for you." If only they had known.