Interview: Godsmack's Sully Erna Talks New Album, Near Breakups, and Not Being Nu-Metal
By Richard Bienstock
It’s been 16 years since Godsmack released their self-titled debut, and in that time they’ve become one of the biggest bands in hard rock, with a slew of hard-charging hit singles like “Whatever,” “Straight Out of Line,” and “Crying Like a Bitch,” and millions of albums sold. Their new release, 1000hp, which introduces a wider range of textures and colors into the band’s trademark aggro-rock sound, looks to continue their long-running success. Lead singer Sully Erna recently took some time to talk to Revolver about 1000hp, the future of Godsmack, and how the band relates to the metal world—and to one another.
REVOLVER 1000hp features plenty of old-school Godsmack-style hard rock, but the band also branches out into some different areas.
SULLY ERNA I totally agree. To me, songs like “1000hp” and “FML”—which has a bit of a Nirvana punky thing in the choruses—are in one category. Then there’s “Generation Day” and “Nothing Comes Easy,” which are more epic and weird and unique and artsy, that are in another category. Then there’s straight-up songs like “Locked & Loaded” and “What’s Next” that are in the same category. And it’s kind of funny how the songs are paired up like that. I think that was one of the benefits of everyone in the band having their own stuff when we came in to do this record. Because somehow we weeded through all this music and found a way to make it work. And in some way it brought a uniqueness to the album.
Hard rock and metal has moved out of the mainstream over the past decade, and yet Godsmack’s last three albums—Faceless, IV and The Oracle—each debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200. What’s the secret to your success?
ERNA I wish I knew the answer to that because I’d just keep doing it! What I can say is we kinda made a rule when we first started this band to just honor the music. To write for the music rather than our own egos or self-esteem or anything like that. Because all the guys in this band are really talented and can play so much further beyond what we deliver on the albums. But we always had an understanding that we didn’t want to write that kind of music. We just wanted to write really good, melodic songs, and it didn’t matter how fast the guitar player played or how intricate the drum parts were. It was more about getting the best music out of us. We just assume that if we feel really strongly about this music then there will be other people who feel the same way. And so far we’ve been right about that.
Musically, Godsmack sits in an interesting spot in that you’re a modern-day rock band, but you broke through in an earlier, pre-Internet era. Do you feel more a part of current music, or more like a classic act?
ERNA Well, we certainly never considered ourselves an Internet band. But then it also always really bothered me that when we came out, it was during a period when the Korns and Limp Bizkits and all that was blowing up and, no disrespect to those bands because they made a huge impact on the music scene, but we got lumped into that category and I used to hate it because I knew we weren’t that. And our first record was definitely a hybrid of so many different influences that I was personally listening to at the time. I was listening to Alice in Chains. I was listening to Nine Inch Nails. I was listening to Pantera. I was listening to Metallica. It’s no wonder that record was kinda all over the place. But I think as we started to go down the road we began to identify our strengths. We knew we weren’t going to be a rap-rock band. We knew we weren’t going to be a techno band. Our roots rely on what we grew up listening to. The Sabbaths. The Aerosmiths. The Judas Priests. That kind of straight-up hard-rock/metal sound. And even with that, we never really considered ourselves a metal band. We always rode that line, but we never put ourselves in a metal category. Most of our stuff, it’s more traditional hard-rock music. And that’s who we are, man. We’re just a hard-rock band.
Godsmack has been a band now for almost 20 years. Have there ever been times where you guys were on shaky ground with one another?
ERNA Oh, yeah. This band has almost broken up several times. At first it was just the learning curve of having the band hit big and being on the road relentlessly. That first tour lasted, like, three and a half years, I think. We were robots. We were machines. All we did was tour, tour, tour. That’ll destroy anybody. It starts to break you down, and then what you do is you’re so exhausted that you start drinking and self-medicating in order to keep going. Because the show must go on. And that creates a lot of drama. So we fought a lot. At one point we brought in therapists and everything to work with the band. Because we lost the brotherhood. We lost the love for the music and for each other and we were fighting so much. It was just a mess. Luckily for us we got over some of those mountains.
In 2010 you recorded a solo album, Avalon, and a few years before that the rest of Godsmack got together with [Ugly Kid Joe vocalist] Whitfield Crane and did a record under the name Another Animal. What happened there?
ERNA There was a lot of tension around that. After the IV record there were times when Tony [Rombola] was really bent with me because he got to a place where he started to write more, and he wanted more of his stuff on the records. And I was just like, “Okay…but, you know, it’s still a band here. And me being the main songwriter, don’t think I’m ever not going to write music.” So we would pick half of his stuff and half of mine and try to make a hybrid of it. But for some reason he would take it personally when I didn’t pick this song or that song of his. And so then the guys went and built a fucking record [Another Animal] off of stuff that we didn’t use but could have probably revisited later. And that created a lot of shit. Because Avalon, that was completely different. It was a complete disconnect from Godsmack. It wasn’t even the same style of music, nor did I want it to be. But I felt like those guys were doing shit where I was like, “This is kinda not cool. You’re competing with us. What’re you guys thinking?” And that created a lot of static. It wasn’t good for a while. But again, we went through it, had it out and talked things through. And we realized that we have a really special brand here and it would be foolish to not get past this stuff. Because really, it’s all just egos and bullshit getting in the way. And now? We’re getting along better than ever. We’re tighter than we were when we first met. And that’s the god’s honest truth.
You’re going out on the road soon as the headliners on the Uproar Festival tour. What else is in store?
ERNA The band’s gonna hit it hard now. We’ve taken enough time off, and we’ve regained our strength and we’re ready to work. We’re going to probably do two records back-to-back and I’m sure stay out on the road for the next four or five years. Which could be great or could be a fucking disaster! But I think if we pace ourselves, which we’ve learned to do, and don’t just grind it to the bone we’re gonna be okay. More than anything though, we’re just looking forward to getting out in front of the fans again. We can’t wait.
The title track and lead single off '1000hp' is available now on iTunes, and pre-sale bundles are available at Godsmack.com. The band will headline the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival later this year--see dates here. The album pre-order will be live on iTunes July 22.