20 years following the release of their debut album, with 20 million albums sold, Godsmack seems to be one of the last rock bands standing. When Legends Rise is the latest full-length from the group — due out on April 27th via BMG — and its first new album in four years. First single “Bulletproof” has climbed the radio charts, making it likely that When Legends Rise will be another #1-charting title for the Boston natives.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Godsmack frontman Sully Erna by phone several weeks before the release of When Legends Rise. The band — which also includes guitarist Tony Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill and drummer Shannon Larkin — will be heading out on a North American tour with Shinedown, which kicks off on July 22nd in Clarkston, Michigan. In the meantime, tour dates and other Godsmack-related information can be found online at www.godsmack.com.
Check out Godsmack’s new single “Bulletproof” here.
When did you start writing When Legends Rise?
Sully Erna: I started writing around February 2017. I spent the first three quarters of a year exploring different sounds, melodies and musical ideas working between myself and the band and some outside writers, coming up with the collection that we have.
Did any of the songs on the album come from writing for Hometown Life?
Erna: No, that’s completely separate.
So, when you are writing for Hometown Life, how do know you that you are writing solo material versus a Godsmack song? How do you compartmentalize between the two?
Erna: I don’t specifically write for one record. Obviously when I got on Godsmack’s clock I was just focusing on that. I just usually write all the time, that’s what I do, I’m a songwriter. It’s pretty quick for me to identify what’s going to be solo and what’s going to be on a Godsmack album. I open up those folders when the time is right and start working on what I’m working on.
When in the process did the song “Bulletproof” come together? Was it one of the first songs that you wrote?
Erna: Yeah, it was actually one of the first songs. I had some other stuff going on musically, but that was actually the first attempt in working with an outside writer from Godsmack. It came together pretty quickly with Erik Ron, who later I would ask to come and produce the record with me.
Around how many songs did you write for the new album?
Erna: I think we wrote somewhere around 20 pieces and took the best 11.
Check out a webisode from Godsmack’s online series of videos.
Do you have a favorite of the bunch that made the record?
Erna: Yeah, I have a few that I really lean towards, that I really love. A song called “Unforgettable,” different songs for different reasons… There’s a little bit of everything for everybody. I have different favorites for different reasons.
You have Billy Ray Cyrus and Sebastian Bach in the video to hype up the album. Where there any other people you’d tried to get to do cameos for the video?
Erna: No, there wasn’t going to be cameos originally. It was just going to be a self-directed video, a performance, then the movie and the script developed, the more the opportunities came to ask a couple people we thought would fit the roles well to come in and fill those slots.
Is that a sign of more videos to come from the album?
Erna: I don’t know. We’re just taking this one step at a time. We’re promoting “Bulletproof” and getting ready to drop the record in its entirety. I have so many things on my plate that I’ve just learned to keep one thing in front of my face at a time and complete it.
Speaking of that, outside of Godsmack you do have a lot of projects. You wrote a memoir that sold well, you have released two solo albums, you have acted in some movies, you’re a successful poker player… When you started Godsmack, was the plan to just be a musician? Or you had other plans besides being a singer?
Erna: I was just being me and being a musician. But as the career developed and expanded, it led me into situations like when we wrote “I Stand Alone” and had to do a million-dollar video shoot with The Rock and Kelly Hu from The Scorpion King… It kind of opened up that door for me, which is when that acting bug kind of bit me in the first place. From there I just ran with it a little bit more.
Do you ever feel pigeonholed when people just think of you as a singer, though?
Erna: I don’t, no. I don’t think anyone just thinks of me as just a singer. I started as a drummer. I’m a multi-instrumentalist, I play about five different instruments and sing and do some acting on the side. I build our live shows, I write the video scripts, I mix the records. There’s so much I’m involved with, I can’t imagine someone looks at me as a one-dimensional artist.
(laughs) I didn’t mean to imply that you are one-dimensional. Are you still based in Massachusetts?
Erna: Yeah, I live in the New England area.
What is it that keeps you there all these years later?
Erna: That’s a good question. I’m not planning on staying here much longer. Honestly, the simple answer is my daughter. Me and her mom split up in ’09. I was in California for a while, tried to relocate there, it’s ultimately where I want to be. But it didn’t work out, my daughter was so young, I wasn’t going to be the kind of dad that lives 3,000 miles away from my kid. I came back here to help her grow up and be a mentor. Now she’s about a year and a half from graduating high school. She’s going to be going to college out in California. Whether she sticks to that plan or goes somewhere else, I think I’m going to be moving.
Has it been challenging to be a Massachusetts-based band, considering that your management is in Los Angeles and a lot of the music industry is based in New York and L.A.?
Erna: It’s simple because at this level we could live in other countries. Most of the communication is done through e-mail or FaceTime or over the phone. Then when it’s time to physically get together, we all jump on a plane and get to rehearsals and work out everything we have to work out to get ready for tours. It’s really irrelevant where we live now. The band was birthed in Boston. At this level we can live where we want to live.
Here is a live performance of the hit song “Voodoo”.
Being one of the few bands that has been having hit singles for around 20 years, is there anything you are still hoping to accomplish as an artist?
Erna: Yeah, there’s always levels you aspire towards. You need to keep working and doing the best you can to write and perform the best material you’re feeling is appropriate for that time in your career, in hopes that there will be other people out there that enjoy it just as well. For us, we always have work we want to do, whether that’s getting to arena-level all around the world. But it’s also about being a realist and enjoying the ride while it lasts. We know that there will be a day where this band calls it quits, and the new young band comes and takes our spot. But if it all ended tomorrow, I don’t think anyone has any regrets. We’ll give each other a big hug and say our goodbyes, but there’s a lot of life left in the band. We’re very eager and ambitious to work. This is a strong record and we’re going to go out and support it and rebirth this whole career from this point forward.
You make an interesting point about the eventual end of the band and its continued success. When did you realize that you were a career-oriented band and were not going to be reliant on hit singles?
Erna: I don’t really feel like we ever really wrote for the radio or the fans, really. The music that we enjoy writing in hopes that there are going to be other people out there who enjoy it as much as we do. We can’t please everybody and we never will. With this new record, it’s a bit of a departure. There’s definitely some new textures and melodies and material that feels a little more commercial, but when you talk about listening to “Bulletproof” for instance, it’s definitely a little bit more of a melodic sound for us. At the same time, when you listen to the record as a whole, it has quite a variety of different songs that I think will cater to everyone. For us, it’s always about developing songwriting skills and performing and entertaining without jeopardizing the integrity of what Godsmack was built on.
So in closing, any last words for the kids?
Erna: Yeah, we’re looking forward to going out on the road with Shinedown. We’re going to try and make this a world tour. We’re going to be taking it to every country we can around the world. I know we’re going to be starting with the States and Canada, we have Europe and Australia and South America and Japan, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. If you don’t see your country or state on the itinerary yet, just keep an eye on it. This is just the first leg, we have many more tours coming up after that. Just keep an eye on the website and eventually you’ll see the tour expand into everything.
Check out the muisc video for “Generation Day” and get your rock on.