It has been over 20 years since the release of the first Godsmack studio recording and 20 million album sales later, Godsmack is still performing at a high level, both commercially and critically. The band’s most recent full-length, When Legends Rise, entered the Billboard Top 200 album chart in the top ten at #8 with four #1 placements on other U.S. charts: Top Rock Albums, Top Hard Music Albums, Top Independent Albums, and Top Alternative Albums. The single “Under Your Scars” follows “When Legends Rise,” the second #1 from the LP, and last year’s #1 hit “Bulletproof,” which was both nominated for “Rock Song of the Year” for the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Awards and statistically the most-played song at U.S. rock radio in 2018.
Yet frontman Sully Erna has also made time for other meaningful projects since the release of When Legends Rise. Earlier this month, Erna announced the creation of The Scars Foundation to support ongoing mental health struggles facing so many. With the rise of suicides, bullying, addiction, abuse, and so many other challenges, The Scars Foundation is dedicated to providing resources and tools to educate and empower people on a global level that struggle with these burdens. Every donation to The Scars Foundation will include a download of Godsmack’s “Under Your Scars.”
I had the pleasure of speaking with Sully Erna about The Scars Foundation and what else is coming up for Godsmack, which also includes guitarist Tony Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill, and drummer Shannon Larkin. More on all things Godsmack can be found online at www.godsmack.com, while The Scars Foundation keeps a digital home within the Godsmack website at www.godsmack.com/scarsfoundation.
Audio from this phone interview with Sully Erna will be appearing on a future edition of the Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz podcast, as produced in association with PureGrainAudio.
In this short video clip, Erna presents “The Scars Foundation Call to Action.”
Where did the name of the foundation come from versus the song “Under Your Scars?” Did you have one before the other?
Sully Erna: Yeah, the song started developing after going through a relationship. The situation I was in, realizing the person I was dealing with had some like hidden scars of their own, emotional baggage that they were dealing with. Sometimes when you push the wrong button, those things surface, and instead of them surfacing in a way where you sit down and talk about it, they just kind of run the other way and disappear. It just started me thinking about, you know, it’s too bad this probably happens a lot throughout the world with people that other people care about. So the song developed for me with the storyline, that first and then I started to have some music that I was composing around it, and then it started acoustically and then I transposed it into piano.
I think that’s what kind of inspired the whole thing. And then it just kind of developed from there, you know? I was trying to make it more of a song of hope. I was trying to identify the problem in the song lyrically to let people know that, like, you know, these things exist. But at the same time, I wanted to be uplifting, and let people know that it’s okay that you have that stuff. We all have that stuff and you should show it loudly and proudly because it’s what makes us who we are today.
I think that’s kind of how the progression went and how long had the foundation itself been in the works for. All that was something that I started developing after the song was written and after the record was done. But I had been talking about doing a non-profit for years and I just couldn’t quite figure out where to go and what the non-profit was going to be about because I had never been luckily affected by anyone who passed away from AIDS or cancer or things like that. I was just thinking, “Where’s my expertise lie and how can I help and give back for all the success I’ve had and the good things that have come to me?”
The album When Legends Rise dropped on April 27th, 2018, via BMG.
Then I started thinking, “You know, I was the same person. I was this troubled young punk and was a bully at times or I’d get involved in a lot of drugs and crime and had anger issues and all that stuff.” I started thinking, “You know, these were mental illnesses for me that I had to battle most of my life and still kind of do at times with anxiety and things like that.” I’m like, “You know, there there is where my expertise lies. This is where I can help because I’ve lived it and I have a lifetime of experience with it. And I got past it and I learned how to balance it better.” So that’s what spawned the whole idea.
Then I started thinking about the song and the connection to the song. I thought, “You know what, I want to do this a little different. I want to create something that doesn’t just target one category but targets every category that funnels people into depression.” So, whether it’s depression or whether it’s addiction or bullying or PTSD or suicide prevention, those are the things that I thought was important about maybe starting to tackle. And that’s when I started really developing the Scars Foundation.
So, you are of course the main face of the foundation, but who are some of the people that are working with you on the foundation?
Erna: Well, obviously my band is one hundred percent behind this and is a true believer now because we all have our scars, we all have our imperfections and our things that we’re insecure about or embarrassed about physically or emotionally. So they became a big role in this as well and supporter of it. But, you know, I also brought on this executive director named Naomi who’s been really behind this thing because she has a lot of expertise in these fields. She knows a lot of people in the professional fields of these categories and it’s helped connect the dots for us to some other partners that we’ve taken on like MusiCares and the Grammys to help artists because, obviously, artists are very special people… They create brilliant music and stuff that we want to preserve and keep them around longer for.
But also, you know, with regular people in general, the regular people that work at UPS or FedEx or whatever, we want to connect with a lot of different organizations like the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, who we’re working with. I’ve worked with Mark Wahlberg’s foundation and the Recovery Centers Of America. There’s another organization that’s based on military veterans called 22Kill that focuses on a lot of them with PTSD and things like that. So we’re going to continue to develop this and grow and add more organizations to it and try to touch as many categories as we can. But obviously, as we ramp up, we want to not try to go too big too quick and just make sure that we can do our job effectively.
This is the latest football-themed music video from Godsmack for “When Legends Rise.”
Of course, there’s no one way to run a nonprofit, but what sorts of events do you see going on? Do you intend on doing galas or concerts or benefits or compilations? Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Erna: All of it is open to discussion. We’re going to create events that are going to specifically be based around the Scars Foundation to raise money for whatever category we’re targeting that month. It could be suicide prevention, it could be addiction, whatever it may be. We’re going to create events, we’re going to donate proceeds from our downloads or our merchandise, we’re going to do public speaking. I’m going to be speaking at high schools. We may create like 5K color run races or things like that.
So we’re going to try to do as much as we can on (the) uplifting level and then try to touch people on an emotional level as well and try to get more celebrities involved to speak at some of these events and things like that. So right now we have a blank slate… We’re just going to figure out what’s for us and then just take it from there and continue to build a catalog of different types of events that we can get people to participate in.
All of that aside, what does the next year or so look like for you in terms of touring and recording? Do you have other projects that you can talk about at the moment?
Erna: Well, right now I’m just hyper-focused on Godsmack. We have this record that we feel really good about. It’s reacting very well, and right now I know tours are booked until summer of 2020. So there’s still quite a road ahead of us. But we’re really enjoying the ride so far… As always when we’re out on the road, we’re always writing or doing something. So I don’t know when the next record will be written or ready to go. But right now we’re still at the beginning cycle of this record and we’re going to see it through.
Let’s take you back over 20 years for this classic music video for “Voodoo” from the band’s self-titled debut.
It’s been 20 years, or maybe even 21 years, since the first Godsmack hit and you’re still at as high of a level as possible when it comes to rock bands. Does that ever surprise you given how many phases of rock that you’ve seen come and go in these last two decades?
Erna: Yeah, you know, I like to just think that we’re very lucky in that sense. But at the same time, we’ve worked extremely hard… I mean, it’s a tough road to stay together for over 20 years and there’s a lot of obstacles and challenges in itself. It’s like being in a marriage. You just hit your highs and your lows… It’s like people view you as bigger than life at times, or there (are) so many things that are available at your fingertips from addictions to egos to that kind of thing. It can really kind of consume you and you have to be stronger than it and you have to get to the other side and start respecting the other people that you’re working with and understanding when people need space; getting through those ugly moments that break most bands up.
So I think we’ve done a really tremendous job over the years. During times that we really didn’t know if we were going to make it another day and we got past that stuff, and now we’re closer than ever. We’re really tight and we’re healthy in a good headspace and working well together and everyone knows their place and their responsibilities. And that I’m super-proud of, and so I know that now it’s just up to us on how long we want to stay together. As long as our bodies hold up and our mental state of mind, we plan on being out here and making music for people.
So in closing, any last words for the kids, Sully?
Erna: Just that we appreciate everybody supporting us and taking the time to come to the show. Still supporting live music, that’s so critical these days in a world that’s based on digital and YouTube and social media, when it can get really easy to get lazy and sit home. The one thing I can encourage people, and I know for sure, is that no matter how great technology gets, you will never be able to replicate the energy that you get from a live show through a computer screen.
So, we continue to encourage people to come out and experience the events live, whether it’s your favorite band or whether it’s a UFC fight or a football game. There’s just something magical and electric that happens when those lights go down and that performance hits the stage and everybody should experience that.