November 25, 2014 Interview – Sully Erna of Godsmack
Over the course of the past twenty years one of the most easily recognized names in Hard Rock has been Boston, Massachusetts’ own Godsmack. With a list of chart topping hits, featuring crushing rhythm guitars and lyrics arenas can scream along with, the band has traveled a long road to the top. After years of relentless touring, a two year hiatus seemed like it may be indefinite, or possibly the end of the band. After soul searching, putting life into perspective, and some much needed rest, Godsmack made an epic return in 2014 with their six studio album, 1000hp, as well as live shows lined up for the foreseeable future. Recently we sat down with founding vocalist/lyricist Sully Erna for a retrospective look at the ride of Godsmack, their return to the spotlight, rekindling their friendships, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Godsmack has been on an amazing run over the past two decades. You have achieved a series of multiple platinum records, had twenty Top Ten Rock radio hits, toured all over world, and really established yourselves as one of the premiere Hard Rock bands of the 2000’s. Seeing you took a long road to get here with other projects, how does it feel to have reached such amazing heights?
Sully Erna – It is great, but I do not think we are ever really where we want to be. I think when you are an artist it is a constant struggle to always try to be better than your last album; to accomplish some new levels that you have not achieved yet. Plus, we have a lot of work to do still; there are some countries that we have not been to yet. We really need to start touching over there and acquiring a fan base. We probably have a fan base there, but we need to service that stuff and really make sure that we are pretty much balanced everywhere. There is always something that we are looking forward to accomplishing. We are at a comfortable place and we are very grateful for our career, but you can never get too comfortable. When you get comfortable you get lazy, when you get lazy you go backwards. We try to make sure that we always go forward.
CrypticRock.com – Right, that is a good outlook to have. Like you said, when you get comfortable you get lazy; the music industry is constantly changing and there is lots of new things going on, so you want to keep on top of your game.
Sully Erna – Exactly, that is something you have to do. This world is changing constantly so you cannot keep your eyes closed and just expect to always be on auto pilot. You have to work every single day and you have to work very hard to get the things you want in life. Whether you are a musician or a cop, it is the same grind, just different careers.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly and Godsmack certainly is living proof that hard work and persistence does pay off. Now the debut self-titled album was in fact released independently, then you were signed to Universal and Republic Records to which the same record was released through the label. Seeing that record really exploded once it had mass distribution and support behind it, what was that time like for you when all that started to happen so quickly? It must have been a whirlwind.
Sully Erna –Yes, it was interesting because when you are in it you do not realize that you are that new band that has the buzz going around town. You are so focused on booking another show, thanking people for the venue, making up another hundred T-Shirts, another hundred CD’s. Then the next thing you know we had sold over twenty-thousand CD’s out of the trunk of my car and we are the band that is selling out all the clubs in New England. It is still a very surreal thing. You do not feel like you are that band and you do not have that record deal yet. I started playing when I was three and a half years old; I was in bands by the time I was 11 or 12. Then when all that starts to happen, when you go through so many decades of that, I went through so many ups and downs, disappointments, promises, hopes, and you are this close so many times and then it falls apart. Then when it really starts to happen, you are just waiting for a tree to fall on your head.
There was a good period of time that we were out there working under a label, the record was performing, and we were starting to see the crowds getting bigger and bigger. I do not think it really hit me personally until we were in Boston one day and we did a show, I think it was Boston Music Awards, we played and were honored for an award. The record label manager was there to take us out to dinner and I remember going into this little Italian restaurant in the North End where they pulled out our first gold album when the record went gold for the first time. I think it was then that it made me think, wow, I actually sold 500,000 records. At that point it was a wake up call and that is when the work really began.
CrypticRock.com – It is unbelievable. Like you said, when you are involved in it, you are just plugging ahead and you are just not really thinking about it. Now in recent years you took some time off from Godsmack and took on a solo project with 2010’s Avalon. That was really something different being primarily acoustic based as well as featuring a lot of worldly musicians. After plugging away for so many years with Godsmack, was that something you had been yearning to do for a long time?
Sully Erna – Yes, it was something that was on the back burner and on my bucket list. Eventually, I knew I would get around to it when we took a break, and that is what I did. I had a lot of material built and I knew it was not quite right for Godsmack. They were beautiful songs I wanted to release and it was a very personal album to me. I did not really care who critiqued it. I was not looking to sell a million copies. I just wanted to make sure that, as an artist, I released the different kinds of music that I also enjoy playing. A lot of this just happened when I am at home, sitting with my daughter, sitting at a piano, doodling around on an acoustic, and that is what that was about. Again, I did not really care if it sold two copies or two-million. It was about me; it was very personal. It was really the first time that I cracked myself open and exposed myself in that way. It was a really great experience and I will continue to do that whenever I take some time away from Godsmack. I will always put out some stuff on the side, do some solo touring because I like to work, and I like to be out there playing music.
CrypticRock.com- That is great that you are going to continue to do that. It really was a special collection of songs. You did a really great job with that. Now, you did in fact decide to revisit Godsmack. There is an understanding that there were times you felt perhaps a new Godsmack record may not happen and it was up in the air for a while. What was inevitably the turning point that brought on the return of Godsmack?
Sully Erna – I do not know if there was a specific turning point; it was just time. We needed time away from it. We had been touring straight since 1998, we went all the way through 2011, and we were just exhausted. When you are that tired it clouds your judgment and then you make bad decisions. The company in itself was kind of feeling weak and falling apart because we had a lot of internal issues with management, record labels, and business managers; people were getting a little too comfortable and lazy. It was making us reflect on our songs, wondering if it was the band, and wondering if we wanted to continue doing this. If we are not growing and we are not moving forward then we stop, and we have always made that promise to each other. We are not going to be the band that is going to be playing till we are 65 years old and playing in night clubs. That is just not the way we want to live and we want to do this at an “A” level for as long as we can. When the day comes when we cannot, then that will be the day that we change it up and do something different, but it was not us. It was time; we needed some time to flush out some problems, get healthier financially, mentally, and physically. We changed up the game, put a new team in place, and then after so much time went by, we started talking again. We wanted to sit in a room, hear some music, write a little bit, and see how it felt. It was just really obvious, once we got in a room together again, the chemistry was still there. We just needed to dive in and get back to work. We did not plan on spending that much time away, but we certainly needed it when we look back at it. It may have saved the band by doing it. We may have preserved another fifteen years to come at this point because now the band is in a great place, everyone is healthy again, ready to work, and the result of it is a really strong record that we have put out.
CrypticRock.com – You are correct. Obviously the time did work out for you because the new record 1000Hp, which was released at the beginning of August, is hard-hitting and features a lot of great songs. Being it had been a while since you had written Godsmack material, what was the writing and recording process like for this new record?
Sully Erna – It was actually pretty painless because, by the time we got together, over the years everybody in the band had wrote a bunch of stuff and I had wrote a bunch of stuff. We got together, hashed through it, put it all on the table, and filtered out which ones were strong and which ones were weak. Then we wrote some stuff together inside the room. All in all, it was a very painless approach because, like I said, we all came back fresh and decided to work again. It was not a long grueling process; we flushed out the material, we wrote about twenty-five songs, picked the best eleven for the album, and that was it. We built a new headquarters; we leased out some warehouse space, which we should have done ten years ago, instead of spending money on all these self-storage units to store our gear. Now we have everything under one roof, along with a recording studio and everything else, and it was a very comfortable process.
CrypticRock.com – From what you are saying, it basically sounds like this is a kind of rebirth of the band and that is a great thing.
Sully Erna – Yes, it is. At least now the band feels good, we are ready to work and we have a lot of shit to do, so we are going to be out here doing it.
CrypticRock.com – Another impressive feat Godsmack has achieved that many other bands usually have not is the core has been yourself, Robbie and Tony from the beginning, along with Shannon for a decade. What is the key to keeping the line-up so strong and consistent like it is?
Sully Erna – Probably just making sure that we keep each other in line, because as you know, I am sure you have heard it a million times, when a band first starts there are so many things that get thrown at you. When you go from 0 to 100, it creates a lot of problems because the demand for the band is so high and you are constantly touring. I remember doing nine shows in a row and one day off, then eleven shows in a row and one day off. That was going on for years. When you are working that hard, you are that tired, the shows have to go on, you are playing on a very high level and so you medicate with alcohol and drugs, or whatever it is that is going on, that can really cause a lot of animosity, confusion, hangovers, and pain. That is not a good way to communicate, and it is no different than a marriage, communication and trust is the key thing out here. You have to swallow your pride and be vulnerable. You have to humble yourself and keep an eye on each other too so the egos do not get out of line and that kind of stuff. For us, we have been lucky that we have gone through all those moments. There were times when we were playing and we did not talk to each other for weeks when we were on the road. I would not even leave the dressing room till I heard the intro playing and the band was on stage. That was because we did not know how to communicate and we were still learning how to handle this kind of lifestyle.
The good thing was that I am proud to say that when we hit those moments we reached out, we got help, and we worked with people that help us re-establish our brotherhood. Along the way we still had our things and our arguments; you just learn how to give each other space. Through all that help that we got, it had given us a lot of tools to learn how to handle those moments. Now that we are a lot older, people have families, children and things like that; we understand this to be a business. We are stuck with each other, it is a long-term relationship, and it is important that we do that for the fans because I was never a fan of being a fan and having member swapped out and going to see Aerosmith with Steven Tyler and Tom Hamilton, because everyone else had just quit. I really am proud of the work we have done. This band has paid a lot of passion in areas that a lot of bands usually do not. People just say, “Fuck You” and people just walk out and they forget about what is on the line here. There are people that have been following us for two decades and they have invested their life in us. I think it is wrong to just quit on them because you cannot keep your own ego in check. It takes a lot of humbling and transparency to keep the band healthy and strong like this. I am happy to say that the band is getting along better now than ever. We are in a good place mentally and physically. I think we have weathered most of the storms, and now when shit happens, you kind of know when to step away and give someone their space; we handle it a lot differently.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that is something that comes with experience like you said. A lot of people, no matter what type of business it is, whether its music or you are running a company, people need to keep their egos in check and know that it is about the bigger picture. You in fact released a memoir, The Paths We Choose, back in 2007. The book covers the first thirty years of your life and does give readers a good insight of who you are, where you come from, and the road you have traveled. Seeing this book leads us up right to the point Godsmack broke, can we expect a new book in the future?
Sully Erna – I get asked that question all the time and I do not know how to answer it because the book I wrote is the only life that I have known. People ask when is there going to be a sequel and I do not know the answer to that, it is a tricky question because from 0 to 30 I know exactly how it played out. From 30 to 60, I do not know, I am still living in it. I do not know how it ends yet, if it does end, or when it is going to end (laughing). I am sure at some point the band will probably do an autobiography, or I may just do a second part and kind of take it from the point I got signed until the present, or when the retirement comes. I am not sure, again, I am still living through that chapter in life so I am not sure when I will write that.
That first book, I did not plan on writing it. It was not meant to be a book. I was just writing down stories about me and the band members that were funny so that I could remember them and tell them when I went back home. I wanted to remember the stories when I was eighty so I could tell them to my grandkids. The more I organized them by dates I slowly started realizing that I was making a book. It was not one of the things on my checklist. It just kind of happened. I never considered myself a novelist or anything like that (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Yes of course, completely understandable and that has got to be a difficult question to answer. It is just that the book was so phenomenal and has some really touching moments in it. It really gave people a good idea of who you are and is a great book. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Sully Erna – I definitely grew up on Horror films and I was a big fan. I am not quite as into them as I used to be when I was younger. My drummer definitely is an avid Horror movie fan; he owns a tremendous amount of Horror films, he does reviews for Bloody Disgusting. For me, growing up, it was probably when I was about nine or ten years old; I thought I was watching the circus and then this girl starts levitating off the bed and then I realized it was The Exorcist (1973). That movie scared the fucking shit out of me. To this day I think that was the only time I had seen it and I still will not watch that movie again today because it was so scary. I put it on my bucket list to watch it again one day, but I tell you that movie scarred me for life. It was brutal, even my drummer who has seen five-thousand movies said it was scary and it is even creepier now because it was made so long ago; the film was old and it just adds to it. I was a fan of the Hellraiser and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Omen franchises, along with Amityville Horror and all of those old classics. That is what kind of sucked me into all that stuff. Today I am living life differently and like to laugh a lot so comedy or action movies I enjoy a lot.