Whilst I appreciate that not everyone is a fan of Godsmack, the Boston based hard rock band that owe more than a casual nod to Alice in Chains and MetallicA, I BLOODY LOVE THEM.
There, I said it.
Having been a fan of the band since I first heard Whatever on a magazine CD, I was excited to learn they had been given a spot at Download Festival and then frankly ecstatic to be given the chance to have some time at a table with frontman Sully Erna. As he’s such a boss, what follows is an unedited account of what happened when an inebriated fan boy met one of his heroes (CD back catalogue signing not included).
OK, first question – Why has it taken you so long to play Download?
Well, that is a good question..err…unfortunately…and I really hate, you know, making excuses, but umm…we had some support problems in the past with our label and people like that. You know, we were coming out here with some of the biggest bands, be they MetallicA or Black Sabbath or whoever and the label just wasn’t embracing and taking care of us while we were out here, so it just became very complicated to continue to tour Europe without a proper support team behind us. Whatever, long story short, we’ve got some new people in place now and we have Spinefarm who’s been kicking ass for us and finally we’re out here doing what we should have been doing 10-12 years ago and at this point the best we can do is continue to move from this point forward and start to recruit our fanbase again and have a little bit more consistency.
I remember about 15 years ago you got announced for the Reading & Leeds Festivals AND a London date as well, then that got pulled at the last minute and I was like “what? I was really looking forward to that…”
Yeah, unfortunately I had some throat problems, some vocal problems and that’s the first time it’s ever happened to me in my career but it happened. I was battling a virus, I got rid of the virus, then all of a sudden I just went blank and the voice went away, so unfortunately as a singer…no voice, no concert!
Do you miss playing drums?
Yeah, you know, I don’t miss it like I probably would if I wasn’t doing this drum battle with Shannon (Larkin, drums), but…
You still do that? (for those not in the know, part of Godsmack’s usual live show involves a second drum kit being wheeled on stage and Sully and Shannon putting on a duel, filled out with some classic rock intros by the likes of Aerosmith & Rush)
Yeah we still do that, unfortunately we couldn’t do it today at Download because we only had a 30 minute set…
I know right…?
…but we still do it at almost every show and it’s the part of the show we look forward to the most. So, I really still enjoy playing drums quite a bit.
Like you said you only had a 30 minute set – How many times did you rewrite your set?
Err no, it was a one timer man!
We just kinda nitpicked a coupla strong songs off the new record…
(interrupting again) My 2 favourite actually!
Oh good…and then we try to pick a song off each album so people can get a taste of everything
I was disappointed you didn’t play Bad Religion, that’s probably my favourite Godsmack song…
But again, when you got 6 songs to do and 21 singles it’s pretty hard!
You planning to watch anyone else today?
Unfortunately, we’re not going to have time, we’re flying to Bulgaria
(way more excitedly than was warranted) REALLY?!?! Shit…
We have to finish doing our press then we have to jump to the airport.
You did that Live & Inspired album a little ways back. A lot of bands do a live album – what prompted you to do the covers portion of it as well?
Well you know Live & Inspired was basically for the fans and we wanted to line up all the songs over the years that they’ve kinda chose to be our biggest singles and (since we’re fans of music ourselves) our theory was “well since we’re giving them the best of the Godsmack songs that they’ve chosen, we want to give them 3 or 4 of our favourite songs, by the bands that we grew up listening to and how much we were fans of that music” so that’s kinda the tie in there.
I remember reading the tracklist and seeing Rocky Mountain Way and thinking “I can see that being awesome”.
Yeah that was fun.
The whole vibe of it is still very Godsmack I think
Yeah love it man!
Although that Good Times, Bad Times cover you did was pretty fucking wicked as well…
Yeah! That was fun you know…
Am I right in thinking you’ve been sober for a while now, is that right?
SOBER??? Hell no I did half a bottle of whiskey before I went on stage!
I thought you sobered up a while back! I remember reading going “oh no not him as well”!
No I’m not there yet, maybe one day, but right now I still love my whiskey
Oh fair play to you man… Can I ask you about your song writing process? Obviously, when you’re recording a new album how do you go about the writing the stuff? Does someone come in and go “hey look guys I’ve got this song…” or do you just jam on one riff and see where it takes ya?
It happens many many different ways. Sometimes I’m just sitting at home and I write a bunch of riffs and I start noodling around with lyrics and melodies, other times the guys will bring in music for me and I’ll start working with that and conducting it and rearranging it and writing melodies for that. Err…there’s been times where I’ve had a complete melody before music and there’s been times where I’ve had all the music before the melody. Such an array of different things that happen when you write.
Do you just let Shannon get on with the drums or do you sometimes go “I’ve got this beat can you try and do it this way?” or do you feedback to him at all? Or do you just go “you’re the drummer now not me…”
Yeah for the most part I do, you know, I trust in him because he was a big inspiration of mine when I was growing up and I really think he’s probably the best live drummer in the world.
He is phenomenal.
I don’t do a lot of work when it comes to that, but being a drummer myself, the mutual respect that we have between each other…he relies on me too, you know, to kinda pick my brain and say “hey, this is the riff you wrote, so where you at with the drum beat?” and I kinda think and sometimes I lay down the basics for him, I never get too technical, but I’ll just kinda give him the pulse and the groove…
Kinda like a demo drum track?
Yeah coz once he knows where it’s going he knows what to do with it. Most of the time he does it on his own, but if me and him are thinking a little bit differently I’ll at least lead him in the direction I’m thinking and he knows where to go from there.
What about the instrumentals? You’ve done a few instrumentals, do you go like “let’s write an instrumental” or do you just go “you know what? I like this how it is, I don’t wanna sing over it.” How does those come about (sic)?
Well for me, the music just speaks to me in different ways and sometimes I hear riffs and I just know there’s no lyrics necessary, I feel like it just needs to be a jam.
Yeah, like The Oracle, brilliant instrumental, I love that…
What’s the rest of the year got in store for ya?
Well, we’re gonna finish up Europe, we end here on the 27th in Romania and we’re gonna go back to the States, take a coupla months off for the summer, spend it with our families, you know our kids are outta school and all that. September/October/November we’ll tour the States, then we’ll break for the holidays and then at the beginning of the year we’ll start working on some new material and then our plan is hopefully to come back to Europe at least the beginning of 2016 and the end of 2016, continue to build the fanbase, play all the hits, all the songs people wanna hear, bring a little more production if we can while we’re working on the new stuff. Then 2017 hopefully drop the new record and beef up for another world tour. We plan on working, we’re gonna be around!
Thanks Sully, I got one final question, which is can I get a picture with you?
Yeah, of course!
There you go folks, big Godsmack plans afoot, although I have no idea where the sobriety thing came from…methinks I may have been victim of an April Fool’s… Anyway, keep your eyes peeled for those tour announcements over at www.godsmack.com and you can read a few words about their set at the festival that day here.
I met Sully Erna. What a dude.
Photo Credit; Gobinder Jhitta/Download 2015