What a name and what a ride it’s been so far for multi-platinum rock band, Godsmack. With a moniker like that, you better be as raw and powerful as the name suggests, but what’s in a name anyway? Everything. Your name is your identity; your calling card out to the world and people take notice when ‘God smacks’ you; especially across the face. As aggressive as the name implies, founder, frontman and songwriter Sully Erna lets out a chuckle; “Well it’s just a redefining way of saying, ‘Instant Karma!’” Erna would know; he experienced it first hand before the band’s name became a household word among nü-metal and alternative metal fans. When the band was dirt poor and neither of them had two nickels they could rub together, Erna, guitarist Tony Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill and then drummer, Joe D’Arco, scraped and saved up enough money to shop their material and pay for a photo shoot. “The band was pretty broke at that time but we all showed up,” says Erna through his snickering, “and our drummer comes in with a big cold sore on his lip and I was laughing and teasing him all day and then the next day, I came into rehearsal with a cold sore on my lip and my guitarist said, ‘See, God smacked you for makin’ fun of him!’” A little Blistex or Campho-Phenique would have stopped the spread of that cold sore; don’t forget they had no money, maybe no one could afford to run to the drug store but on the flip side, we’d never have the name we’ve all grown to appreciate, Godsmack.
If that’s what a ‘God-smack’ is, then I’d venture to say those boys were all very blessed because ‘instant karma’ isn’t always necessarily bad and God does have a rye sense of humor. In just under ten years, Godsmack has sold over 20 million records and in honor of the band’s success and the release of their sixth studio album, 1000hp, the band celebrated with the city of Boston and Mayor Marty Walsh, who declared August 6th, as “Godsmack Day”. 1000hp has been a much-anticipated release as the band took four years off since their last studio release, The Oracle, but they did the same with IV. Waiting fans have not been disappointed though; Godsmack has definitely delivered what their fans want to hear. Godsmack has a very commercial appeal; their ‘blue collar’ spirit and vibe resonates with people. Usually, when one listens to any of their hits, even if you don’t become a hardcore fan, it will still leave you with a respect for the band you may not have had before. Since forming nearly 20 years ago, the Boston, Mass. natives have had three of their albums peak at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart and several of their singles have been in heavy radio rotation.
Erna’s vocals treat listeners to a sonic mixture of Steven Tyler and Lane Staley, which he sites as being strong influences. His impressive growl can’t be mistaken but he wasn’t always a singer; he didn’t step up to the mic until he formed Godsmack. Erna’s a drummer and has been his whole life. “I’ve been a drummer since I’m 3 ½ years old,” enthused Erna, “so really my biggest influences came from drummers because that’s what I played my whole life and I really didn’t start singing until 95’ when I put Godsmack together and I really didn’t know what I was doing I just knew I had potential and I had a really strong voice but I never had any formal training so it was just a big trial and error. At the time it was a big experiment to see if I could even do it but as I got more in tune with being a front man, I started to really look toward the people that I thought were great front-men like Steven Tyler and vocally, I thought James Hetfield was very strong and Lane Staley was a big influence; he had a great bluesy voice so I just took a little bit of this and a little bit of that and eventually found my own thing.”
The first single, appropriately named, 1000hp, speaks of their humble beginnings; no one giving two shits about them, then screaming and kicking all the way to the top. Godsmack’s 1000hp was a much-anticipated release among fans. Erna paused for a few seconds to gather his thoughts. “Let me see… I don’t know maybe because we took so much time off?” he muses. “People have been wondering on and off if the band was going to stay together or not, what kind of record we were going to put out, or if we were going to even put one out. I think it was just a lot of things that the general population was hearing over the last four years since we released The Oracle album. But I think with the fans; the veteran fans that follow us, I think they were just craving new music; I mean it’s been a while like four years since we put out a record and I would just assume that if they knew whether this band was still alive or whether we’d all work again together, they were just anticipating what this new album was going to sound like and when they were going to hear it. So it’s nice to know that people are still hanging on and care. The band just needed some time apart to work through some stuff; you know financially and business-wise; just straighten out and rebuild the team and that kind of thing, so we needed the time off but I think too many years is not good for anybody to stay away so it’s time we did something. And it just felt right. The band is at a good place now energy wise, mentally and we just wanted to get back to work.”
Erna feels the second single will be the song, Something Different, and it happens to be his favorite off this CD. “Yeah track 3 is my favorite, Something Different,” explains Erna, “It’s probably going to be the new single on the radio because there’s just something catchy about it and it has a big commercial element to it but still has the raw toughness and power of Godsmack. It’s a good song; it’s something very special, something unique so I’m anticipating that this will be the biggest single on the album.”
1000hp was a group effort as have been the last couple of releases when it comes to writing the songs though Erna writes most of the material for the band as he went into detail about the process, “It is a group effort and I am the main songwriter; I do present most of the ideas and I write all the lyrics and melodies but the guys bring in bodies of music and then we go through it and decide what’s weak and what’s strong, then put them on the table with the rest of the songs and carve it up and try to make sense out of it, write the melodies for it and all that stuff. It’s always a pretty even contribution or at least it has been on the last couple of records. The first three records I wrote on my own but the last two albums we’ve opened that door more to them and coming in with ideas.”
Godsmack has been working non-stop and currently out with Rob Zombie, who puts on a hell of a show so it makes sense that the other acts would follow suit or they’d bore the shit out of the audience. But that’s just the visual aspect, if the music sucks, it doesn’t matter how much you spend, costumes you wear or stage antics you pull, you’ll be listening to crickets chirping in that venue while everyone is out smoking or buying more beer at the bar. Erna loves a good stage show but he also likes to just get out there and play without a lot of distractions happening on stage. Some tours they bring out the big effects and some, they keep simple but for this tour with Zombie; they’re keeping up with the Joneses so to speak. “In the past, we’ve stripped it down to bare bones and just used lights and a P.A. before,” says Erna. “We feel we have a lot of songs that we feel have connected with people over the years so we’d have like a big ‘sing-along’.”
He takes a breath and continues, “The band has a great energy on stage to begin with and we have a lot of interaction with the audience so the band can hold it down without any theatrical production but we also like to put on a big show too and over the years we’ve done both; we’ve brought great video packages, great pyrotechnic packages, great lighting packages and to me it’s all a part of entertaining and we do what we feel is appropriate for the album cycle we’re on and if we feel it needs production then we’ll bring our production and if we feel we’re just going to go out and do a greatest hits package then we’ll do that; we don’t feel that we need a whole lot behind us. We have a lot of faith in the songs that we’ve written and they seem to go over really well with the audience and I think either way they have a really good time.”
“We all come from a background where we grew up on the Aerosmiths, Rushes, Judas Priest that kind of thing; people who put on really big shows, so we always knew that if we got to that level, we’d want to put on a great show and we’ve learned from the best people there are in the business, which were all our mentors when we were growing up. You have to come to a reality that if you want to be in this business, and you want to choose to be an entertainer, you have to be prepared to entertain and give people a bang for their buck so we try to do enough so we don’t’ break the bank and have to pay to play–we still have to support our families and lifestyles so we don’t go overboard to the point where we can’t afford what we bring out, but we do like to bring out some special effects and things like that. On this tour we’re using a really big lighting rig and some cool pyro effects but it’s mostly the songs that usually carry the audience; I mean you could have the best show in the world but if you don’t have great songs to play with it, you’re not going to go too far.”
As much as music has been and is such a big part of his life, Erna has other plans as he ages, though he’ll probably never leave music completely. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing music,” Erna states optimistically. “I’ve been a musician my whole life, I come from a family of musicians; it’s in my bloodline. I can’t imagine not playing music but it’s something I wanted to do in my life but not everything I wanted to do with my life but as I get older and I cross paths with a lot of different things that I like or enjoy that much, it’s just a matter of climbing that ladder to see how much. Acting is definitely one of them; I enjoy acting and being involved with TV, film and things like that. So if that happens and takes off in that direction, sure I would definitely go and pursue that a little bit more but the biggest challenge right now is finding down time to spend with my daughter and the people that I care about back home because those are the things I really look forward to.”
Fame and fortune became his when Godsmack broke big and with fortune comes a different lifestyle; a better life. Don’t be fooled; anyone in this business or the film/TV industry knows the long hours and hard work put in as not everything is a ‘Red Carpet cake walk’ and they’ll all vouch for that, but it has afforded Erna and the rest of the band opportunities none of them might have seen or been privy to had they not been smart enough to take their talent to the limits. Erna has become an entrepreneur; one of his newest ventures is a tequila company called, PuraVida. “As far as business is concerned,” states Erna, “there are a few things that I’m pursuing right now; I’m partners in a new tequila company called PuraVida and that’s growing pretty well right now and getting a lot of exposure; we just won a bunch of awards; Patron and Don Julio—it’s doing very well. We’re thinking about opening up something like an upper scale lounge in my hometown area with some of my family members and stuff like that so there are a few things on the bucket list but you gotta take them one thing at a time and see which ones are doable and which ones aren’t.”
Depending on your age, if you ask a rock star what they’re listening to these days, the answer will surprise you but you’ll still get it; you’ll understand why though at first you’ll tilt you head with a confused smile and say, ‘Really?’ Really. “Yeah, I don’t listen to rock music,” says Erna, “I listen pretty much to everything except…for rock music.” The 8 seconds of silence from both of us was broken by Erna, who laughed first. “I don’t listen to a whole lot of rock music and I think it’s because I write it and play it so much I try to get away from that world. I listen to a lot of old Ray Charles and blues music from the 50s and 60s; sometimes I’ll listen to 50s doo-wop music or I’ll listen to like Jason Aldean; more rock/country stuff but very little rock music unless I’m getting ready for a show or something like that; I might listen to a heavy Pantera album to get going but most of the time it’s a completely different style of music than what I’m used to playing.”
Surprising to hear; you’d think rock music would be the first thing he’d listen to but again, Godsmack lives and breathes the stuff, so little vacations are probably very therapeutic and welcomed but has rock lost its luster? Is rock boring as all hell and even those who play it are jumping ship when ever possible? Is rock… dead? Erna says no. “It goes in and out of lulls but I don’t think it will ever be ‘dead’.” He pauses for a second, “I think if history has taught us anything about music, rock n’ roll is one of those things that will never go away; it’s very cyclical since the 40’s and 50s when they were putting out vinyl singles with a ‘b-side’. I think music in general is very cyclical especially with rock. You’re not going to kill rock music especially when these other things have their moments, and everybody has moments…but a lot of them are just fads that don’t really last too long; some last longer than others but for the most part, it eventually all goes back to the basics and there’s a reason Led Zeppelin is still on the radio 30 years later, and Aerosmith, Rush, Black Sabbath. It was all these bands that kind of paved the way; from the Rolling Stones to whoever.
I can’t imagine that people would say rock is dead; maybe they haven’t heard anything super inspiring over the last so many years but rock music certainly isn’t dead and I don’t think ever will be.”
After a long hiatus, Godsmack is back. For the most part, the ‘Godsmack community’ agrees this is a breakthrough LP where the band has pushed their comfort zone to deliver something new, on fire and coming at ya with 1000HP.