Anyone that’s heard a Godsmack song or seen them live has felt the energy drenched, gravel pitched growl of Massachusetts native Sully Erna. From his early years, drumming his way through life to his first major band, Strip Mind, to Godsmack’s late‘90s beginning, Erna has launched a deep lunged, gruff-growling hard living attitude through the mic whether in a vocal booth or in front of screaming crowds worldwide.
From childhood to modern day, Erna’s life has been entrenched in music, from classical to hard rock to metal and many genres and styles in between. Erna’s expressed great pain, emotion and anger through an electric guitar but also has music inside that can’t be delivered in front of the Godsmack banner.
In 2010 Erna released his first solo effort Avalon. A record filled with multiple influences and a rapid departure from anything associated with the front man at the time. A long-term project infused with Native American influence, Middle Eastern vocals and prominent acoustic presence. Erna led listeners on a journey of stripped down music, heavy in lyrical prominence, emotion and personal storytelling.
From the opening unplugged jangling strings, bongos and tribal movement of the title track to the hope searching downtrodden piano keys of Broken Road that reached out like decrepit memories still touching the heart signaled Avalon was an entrance into another musical world of Erna’s creation, ending with the shaman’s dancing shadow on Cast Out (Spirit Ceremony).
Hometown Life is another departure from both Avalon and Godsmack. Erna lyrically going back, retracing life steps to his hometown, childhood haunts and early musical beginnings in a rallying call to his roots. The first single, Different Kind of Tears is an acoustic, country influenced tune about inner feelings not seen or shown to the public.
The first leg of the Hometown Tour starts Oct. 26 in Atlantic, GA hitting the east coast on 18 stops, before finishing in his hometown of Boston. Central and West Coast dates will follow in 2017 with a trip to Europe.
On Godsmack material compared to solo work, “We’ve had the Voodoo’s and the Serenity’s and those kinds of songs,” Erna says. “When I do something like this it’s the way that I see it, it just takes that music further down the rabbit hole. I love playing all music.” Erna was raised on jazz, blues and other genres, not rock. “A lot of stuff written for Godsmack was written when I was younger, angrier and didn’t understand the world. It came out more aggressive and that’s the kind of music I wanted to be involved in. There’s a whole other side in what I do. I love a lot of different styles of music. It’s a balance of what I need to be for me, Sully Erna and for Godsmack.”
On the song Hometown Life “It was actually the last song written on this record. Over time I take bits and pieces of melodies and music and at one point I’d do another solo record but it’s one of those things, when it’s ready, it’s ready. Some things were newer and I had time to work on a solo album. I also had some scrapped leftovers from Avalon I was working on. It was pretty much all put together and then I was kinda scrolling through my voice notes and ideas I’ve stored away in my folder that I keep and I came across this. We worked on it and completed it musically. The guys that I use in the solo band totally remembered it as a cool piece.”
“On the first record Avalon I had a song called 7 Years that was this big epic piece of music and I said ‘why the fuck do I want to write a song about it, it’s too long, it’s crazy’.” Erna visited a personal situation for the lyrics. “Seven years, that’s a nice title for a long epic song, so it worked out.”
On the inspiration for Hometown Life, “So on this one, what else is epic in my life and I started reflecting on where I came from and I drove by the old broken down house where I grew up. It actually started making me think of who I once was, where I came from and what I am now and the journey it took to get from there to here. That really kinda gave me the content to write that piece.”
Erna’s been working over show details and set list ideas. “It’s definitely gonna be a stripped down acoustic, intimate evening vibe. Just bringing out a couple members. It’s about showcasing the songs, not the production. I may trickle in a few things at the end.” Some acoustic Godsmack, covers and material from Avalon and the new record could be on the agenda each show.
The double drums jam started in 2002, when they did the Rolling Rock Festival. No dueling drums this tour but Erna remembers the idea beginning with him playing percussion on some bongo drums and a timbale in 1998. “That’s when we decided to take this idea with the drummer as kind of a jam. A big dueling drum battle with two full drum kits and rotating drum riser. That started on the Faceless Tour in 2003. Probably one of our favorite tours.”
Concerning The Scorpion King, Erna thinks Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has come a long way as an actor. “The last one he did with Kevin Hart Central Intelligence was great. I think he’s good, I like his moves.”
The lyrical concept behind Father Of Time is a concept Erna came up with trying to find a way to slow time down. “Can we kind of preserve it? Not have it go by so fast. I’m sure everybody from the biggest stars in the world to the most basic people struggle with the same thing, if they could just have a little longer.”
The constant recording/touring schedule makes it go by even faster. “Not only does it make time fly but it feels like it ages you a lot quicker.” Erna remembers being young when the first Metallica records came out noticing the physical changes the road put on James Hetfield. “I remember [when] Ride The Lightning came out, he looked twice as old and then Master Of Puppets came out and he looked even older. Every time I saw his picture he looked 10 years older than the last album, and now, I’m starting to understand exactly why that happens. The road kicks the shit out of you and ages you even more, visibly.”
Erna discusses the Hetfield comparison. “I hear that a lot and we toured with them.” They’ve shared the stage a few times. “He was like, ‘dude you sound just like me.’ I’m like, I don’t try to. It’s the vocals chords I got when I was born. I wasn’t a singer, I played drums my whole life and singing was an experiment. We were gonna write a few demos for my own songs just to kinda scratch the itch. I was tired of following everyone else’s direction as a drummer and not getting anywhere, so I said fuck it, I’m gonna do my own band.” With rough beginnings Erna kept trying, practicing his vocals. Their first studio release was recorded over a weekend for $2600, sold 5,000,000 copies and here they are. “I’m still trying to figure shit out.”
On Erna writing another memoir. “I’m sure at some point maybe. I’m not sure how it ends yet. So I don’t know how to write it, I guess I could because it’s been 20 years plus. I never really wanted to write that book about being a rock star, even my own autobiography, it’s not about drugs, chicks and all that shit. Everyone’s written that book and I figure what’s the fuck’n difference. We will, at some point.”
Erna’s done so much but there’s a few bucket list items left to do like surfing and touring in South America, particularly Brazil.
Erna’s met most of his music idols including Black Sabbath, Metallica, Neil Peart and Aerosmith. If the chance ever came they’d open for AC/DC.
The next Godsmack album is tentative for early 2018. Being the 20th anniversary of the first album, they’re shooting to write and record late 2017 with a world tour based on the theme of the first album planned.
As for recounting backstage stories Erna jokes. “You’ll never get that outta me, never.”
“We’re pretty happy with everything. We’re just gonna continue to do our own thing and have fun and ride it as long as it lasts, that’s all you can do.”