Godsmack: "We want to remind people what real hard rock music is."

Godsmack are one of the most enduring hard rock bands of the past two decades. Exploding out of the suburbs of Boston during the height of the nu-metal era, their street-level rage rock transcended label or trend and their 1998 debut album rocketed to platinum. They followed with three consecutive Billboard 200 chart-topping follow-ups and a decade and half of gruelling tours. After a four-year hiatus when it appeared the band might have imploded, they've returned with a new album, 1000hp, a new sense of urgency, and a gameplan that involves conquering the UK and Europe one riotous gig at a time. But first, a homecoming...

August 6 was declared Godsmack Day in Boston, by none less than the city’s new mayor, Marty Walsh. Team Rock talked to Godsmack main-man Sully Erna minutes before the batttle-hardened band were honoured.

This is pretty crazy, man. The mayor is coming to proclaim today Godsmack day in Boston?

This is really unexpected, for me. But it sure is a proud moment. It’s really nice to have not only the town that you grew up in, but that birthed Godsmack, to have them recognize us, that’s just amazing.

Have you actually met the mayor? Is he a Godsmack fan?

I haven’t, but I’ve heard he’s a music guy, so it wouldn’t surprise me.

We’re all the same age. Seems possible.

Maybe that’s why we’re here. Maybe the mayor was listening to Godsmack twenty years back.

So today you’ve been revisiting your old haunts.

Yeah, we’ve been doing this documentary [coming exclusively to TeamRock.com soon - Ed.] and we showed ‘em the new headquarters that we built and then we went back to the very beginning of Godsmack days. We went to the old rehearsal room where we used to practice. It was fun going back there.

Your new headquarters are just outside of Boston?

Yeah, just over the New Hampshire line. We built a studio there and recorded the album. It was a great vibe, relaxed, with no distractions from the outside. It’s a place we needed anyway. It’s a warehouse-slash-recording space. We’ve got all our staging and wardrobe and cases in there, everything we need for the road. It’s also a cool hangout place. It’s something we should’ve done ten years ago.

You guys originated in Lawrence, Massachusetts?

I’m from Lawrence, but the band started in Methuen.

I lived in Lawrence for a month about fifteen years ago and it was tough, man. I lived right downtown, where all the gun shops, pawn shops, and rooming houses were.

It’s a tough place. I lived there for eighteen years, and it wasn’t fun. Time magazine once named Lawrence the most violent city in America. Thinking about it now, it’s no wonder that we came out sounding hard, aggressive, and tough, because that’s always been my background.

What was your relationship to Boston when you were coming up? Did you play the rock clubs in town?

Oh yeah. Basically we picked a sixty-mile radius and focused on that. We played anywhere we could in the area. It was tough for us, at first. Nobody knew who we were and we had to build this all one fan at a time. Even though we all had full-time jobs, we’d be out late at night working on the band. Like if Korn was in town or something, we’d be in downtown Boston flyering all the cars for our next gig. We’d print our own CDs and t-shirts and sell them out of the trunk of our car, things like that. Anything we could think of, really.

Was there a moment for you guys when you realised you had made it?

Yeah, I remember after our first record came out, we were having dinner at an Italian restaurant in the North End in Boston, and our old manager, Paul Geary, came down and presented us with our first gold record. And that’s when it first hit me, like, ‘Oh man, we just took this thing to a whole new level. 500,000 people in the world bought our album!’ That felt pretty amazing.

The new record seems to have kind of a triumphant vibe to it, songs like 1000hp and Life Is Good seem more positive than usual. Is that on purpose?

No, not really. Nothing was premeditated. We just went in there and worked as we usually work. Everyone brought in their songs and once we started playing as a band, songs like 1000hp and Something Different came out of it, and it just reminded us that this band really does have something special when we’re in playing a room together. It’s really magical and it’s something we’re very proud that we’ve built over the past two decades. There was nor premeditation of what direction we were going in. That’s just what came out this time around. There’s even some hints of a punk influence in this one.

It’s been four years since the last record. How was life for Godsmack the past few years?

I’ve been working on some solo stuff here and there, and we were just taking a break in general. Its was a matter of time before Godsmack got back together, but it was a tricky few years for us. We had been touring for fourteen straight years at that point, and there were some questions raised about whether the band was going to continue. There were a lot of problems in the band at that time, not so much with each other but with the team that was surrounding us. There were financial difficulties and things like that, and it put a lot of weight on us. We were starting to wonder if this band was going to keep going. But in hindsight, it’s obvious that the band just needed a break. We just needed some time off. We’d been working too hard for too long, without any breaks in between. But now the band’s getting along better than ever. We’re strong emotionally and physically and we’re ready to get out there and maybe even do a couple albums back to back and maybe stay out on the road for the next four years.

During that hiatus, did you ever envision a life after Godsmack?

I didn’t at first, but I certainly do now. I started to think about what I want to do after this is over. But when that is, we’re not sure. This is kind of the rebirth of the band right now. We may have five years left in us, we may have fifteen. But I’m certainly thinking about my daughter, her future, and where I want to be after this is all over.

Has Godsmack’s success brought you satisfaction?

It works both ways, really. At first it was very satisfying, but it was more fun in the beginning, it was like getting to go out for recess after being cooped up for a long time. But then as it goes on, it becomes a business. You start to feel the pressures and stresses of everything that comes at you, and then you become this machine out there. It certainly does strip away a lot of the innocence behind the reasons you started playing music in the first place. But after you go through so much turmoil, challenges and complications, if you’re strong enough to fix those things and get to the other side of the mountain, the love of the music starts coming back again.

Is it harder to tour now that everyone’s got families?

No, it’s not harder, we just have to be smarter about it. In the past, everyone just got burnt out. We were doing seven shows in a row with one day off, or nine in a row, or eleven in a row. You do that for three, four, five years in a row, you take a couple months off, you hit it again for another three, four years, you just can’t survive like that. You lose sight of who you are as a person. I don’t think touring is going to be a problem as far as family and friends go, I just think we need to balance it a little bit better. I’ve learned that that’s the key in life, balance. Anything in excess is not good. So now we hit the road for a few weeks, and then take a few weeks off. You get better longevity that way.

Seems like this time around you’re really focusing on taking the band overseas.

Yeah, Europe, the UK, for sure.

That’s where all the rock fans are at this point. The US no longer seems like the home of rock n’ roll.

Well, it’s been diluted over the past several years. The stuff that’s out there now is almost a facade of what true hard rock music is. No offense to the bands, I’m sure they’re great at what they do in their genre, but when I’m watching an awards show and they give ‘Best Hard Rock Band’ to Imagine Dragons, it’s just like, ‘Wow’. There’s no one out there carrying the torch for authentic hard rock music right now and that’s one reason that I’m really happy this band is going for it again. We just wanted to remind people about what real hard rock music is and what it sounds like. To all those other bands, all the best, but go back to your ‘alternative’ categories where you belong, and we’ll take care of the rock department.

Most of the bands you came up with have flamed out over the years. When the first record came out, it was in the middle of the nu-metal movement.

But we were never a nu-metal band. We just got lumped in with them because that’s what was going on at the time.

So why do you think you’ve lasted, when most of those bands either broke up or became irrelevant?

Because we were never part of a trend. We never did rap metal just because that’s what was happening. We’re not a country-blues band, we’re not a hybrid of anything. We’re just a straight-up, American, Joe Workboots rock n’ roll band. We’re not part of a fad, and we never have been. I think people are clear now on who Godsmack is and what kind of music we play.

Right on. By the way, are you in a feud with Nikki Sixx?

No comment.

Ken McIntyre

Classic Rock contributor since 2003. Twenty Five years in music industry (40 if you count teenage xerox fanzines). Bylines for Metal Hammer, Decibel. AOR, Hitlist, Carbon 14, The Noise, Boston Phoenix, and spurious publications of increasing obscurity. Award-winning television producer, radio host, and podcaster. Voted “Best Rock Critic” in Boston twice. Last time was 2002, but still. Has been in over four music videos. True story.