"I miss the times when music wasn't so computerized"
It seems that Sully Erna, one of the most recognizable voices in the rock scene for the last couple of decades, has found the perfect balance between his solo career and Godsmack. His latest album, "Hometown Life", was released a few months back, his full-time band is set to return sooner rather than later, and by the time you read these lines, his European solo tour will have started. Despite tight schedules, bad luck and some technical difficulties, we had the chance to have an all-around talk with him, covering topics from the creation of his solo music and the challenges of being in a band, to vinyl records.
How are the rehearsals for the solo tour going? From what I saw online, you won't be singing alone.
The first show is on the 14th. So far we've been practicing, but that's all over now. I leave tomorrow for Italy, where I'm going to visit some friends and family and then I'll go to Belgium to start the tour.
I also saw that you won't be performing only solo songs, but some Godsmack songs too, so will it be like a best-of set?
I think I'm going to try to do a little bit of everything. But, you know, we'll see how each show goes and how the audience responds. We have a lot of fun stuff planning and we're looking forward to it!
As a whole, I think "Hometown Life" might be the most optimistic album you've recorded so far. Is it a reflection of how you feel the last couple of years?
Yeah, whenever I write it's like a snapshot of my mind, what I've been through. The record is very personal in that sense; it's definitely more raw and vulnerable than "Avalon" was. But that's just what came out of me this time. I never plan on writing a certain way, I just write what I feel, and that's the stuff that came out for this record.
The new tracks have your own signature style, but at the same time it sounds like you're moving forward; it feels really natural. Was it as natural writing them?
It's natural, because I just like music. I don't have a chain on writing a certain style or genre. I just write what I feel and then I sort it out later. If I'm writing one day and the song comes out really heavy and it feels like something for Godsmack, then I put it in a folder for Godsmack. But if I'm sitting on a piano and writing some beautiful ballad, and I like it but I know it's not right for Godsmack, then I put it in a different folder; and when I get a break (on my schedule) I record all those extra songs that I know I can't do with Godsmack and that becomes my solo music.
So, as a multi-instrumentalist and a vocalist, what's your preferred way of writing music?
Usually it's with a piano or a guitar, an acoustic guitar. I really enjoy writing music that way, because I feel like a lot of times when you write music with big, heavy electric guitars the song can get lost. For me, if it translates on a piano or an acoustic and it still sounds great, that's how you know it's a good song, and then you can make it better by adding more production. But I like to be able to sing it with just an acoustic guitar and know that it still sounds really good.
One of my favourite songs from the album is "Turn It Up"; I really did not see something like that coming. How did you come up with it?
How did I come up with the horns and trumpets and all that? It's just that, when I write music, usually I write something simple first and when I see what kind of vibe it has, then I know what other instruments to add; I just hear it in my head and I have to search for those instruments. If I know that it's a song that’s kind of blues or jazz, I know that horns will be the best instrument for that, and then obviously I'll go and find horn players. If I hear that it’s cellos or violins, then I'll go and find string players.
On that specific song I had my dad play on, but I didn't write it just to have my dad play. It turned out that I needed horns and he's a trumpet player. It was a really great opportunity for me to have him on the record and immortalize that, so we can always have that. It's a very special memory for both of us; it's the first time I got to play music with my dad, original music, so it was a very special time.
A couple of months ago you released an emotional video for "Different Kind Of Tears". Can you give some more information on its creation?
When I wrote the song, it wasn't written for that specific topic. I just wrote it about someone who experiences pain, a very deep kind of pain, and feels alone, like the rest of the world doesn't understand him.
When opportunity came to make a video with the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, it was very easy for me to say 'yes'. That's the kind of life I came from, and the song made sense to make (a video) with that kind of charity. We worked close together and we did a very powerful video for it and I hope that it brings more awareness to the younger generation, to keep them away from these very dangerous, life threatening tracks.
"Hometown Life" was in the making for almost six years. Is it difficult to maintain a balance between Godsmack and your solo career?
I'd say it's pretty easy to balance it, because Godsmack works for a while and after that we take a break. Then on that break, I usually have a bunch of stuff written and I go solo for a while; and it's nice because it gets me out of that headspace, it helps me breathe a little bit. And by the time I'm tired of doing the solo stuff and I've regained my energy then I've got Godsmack to write records and go on tour with those guys.
It's really the best of both worlds!
Godsmack have been around for two decades and you've had a consistent line-up for 15 years now. How do you manage that?
With a lot of work, a lot of talking, a lot of fighting, a lot of growing over the years; it wasn't easy at first. We definitely had some moments when we thought we were going to break up. But instead of being selfish, disappointing the fans, and taking our career for granted, we went out and got some help. We worked with people and found our brotherhood again, we chose to grow up, do the right thing and appreciate this band and how important it is.
You've been around for a pretty long time, but is there an artist or a band that you'd consider opening for?
There's only a couple left. We've had the honour of opening for some of our childhood hero bands, like Black Sabbath and Metallica, but at this point I think it's important that we stay on top and do our own (headline) shows. If there was a choice, I would love to go on a tour with AC/DC, I think they're iconic and that would've been great.
I'd also love to go with the Foo Fighters, because I'm really good friends with Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins. I think it'd be a great show, very powerful, with two really high-energy rock bands. I've actually talked with Dave about it and he's considering it, and we'll see what happens in the future! It may happen, we don’t know, it's ultimately up to him, it's his choice!
That'd be really great! Is there any new music that you listened to and thought that it has been influenced by Godsmack?
Not really. When I write I try to not listen to other bands. It's important for me to try and stay original and if I find myself being influenced by new music I sometimes I end up writing the same way, so usually when I start writing I shut off all the music.
I meant it the other way, actually. If you listened to music by some other band and thought that "hey, they've been listening to Godsmack".
Oh, I don't know, I never thought of that! I guess I never listened to music that way, so I really don't know. It'd be up to other bands to say that they have been influenced by Godsmack.
Having seen the music industry for as long as you have, would you say the changes it's been through these last years were for the better or for the worse?
It's definitely gotten better. There was a time when it was pretty bad, but we've come a long way since then; everybody knows his place, everybody has respect for each other and we're all getting along better now than ever, so things are very good now for us.
So, if you had to choose between tapes/cassettes and mp3s/downloading music, which would it be?
Oh, I'm a big fan of vinyl, still!
Yeah, I didn't mention that, 'cause vinyl's easily the best!
Yeah, vinyl's the best for me, too. I'm not a big fan of cassette tapes; CDs are good, but I just love to listen to vinyl records. We've been lucky enough to have a couple of records out in vinyl, as well. I know it's a small market out there that's coming back a little bit, but I don't think it will ever be like it was, and I just miss those times when you could create that kind of music. It was real art, it wasn't so computerized. So, I'd definitely go with vinyl.
Have you started discussing or even composing music for the next Godsmack album?
Yes, we are almost done; we're going to start recording in the middle or late October and we're hoping to have the first single out on the radio by January, probably late January. We're going to try and have the record out for everybody by April, and it'll be followed by a world tour.
Is it safe to say that it'll come in vinyl, too? Any special plans?
Oh, I don't know! I'd love to see that, but it's really up to the record label.
And something that I just have to ask you; have you ever thought of recording a sequel to "The Other Side"?
Yeah, we talked about it and when the time is right we're definitely going to do it. We haven't really been working on acoustic stuff right now, but I'm sure that at some point we're going to revisit that again and maybe do another acoustic record.
Thank you very much for your time, it great talking to you! Hope to see you sometime soon, maybe in Greece!
Thank you! It would be nice, we've never been there!