Godsmack’s Sully Erna: ‘I Can’t Worry About If the Metalheads Are Going to Love Everything I Do’
After a four-year break between albums, we'll be getting a new Godsmack disc this year. When Legends Rise is on schedule for an April 27 release and has already yielded the ready-made rock single "Bulletproof" as well as one of the year's funniest videos.
We recently had a chance to chat with Godsmack's Sully Erna about the When Legends Rise album, which was borne out of a transitional period in the band's career. Erna discusses some of the album's key tracks, including the rare Godsmack rock ballad "Under Your Scars." We also chat with Sully about his "cousin," director Salvatore Pasquale, that awesome "Bulletproof" video and the band's "can't miss" pairing this summer with their old friends in Shinedown. Check out the chat below.
"When Legends Rise" is a fitting title for the record. Kind of a fresh start for the band and a fresh start for you in your personal life. Can you talk about what that title means to you personally and how it applies to the band at this point in your career?
Every record I think my biggest challenge is always trying to find the direction I'm going in lyrically and the topics that I'm going to write about. I've learned over the years, I don't really pick up a pen too often unless something is affecting me on an emotional level and it's gonna be pure and honest. I kind of struggled to find the content about the direction I'm gonna write in, but when I wrote "Legends" it really became the theme that runs through this record.
It's metaphorical. It's certainly not meant to be an egotistical statement more than it's metaphorical for the changes in our lives individually and for me personally, that is happening especially over the last couple of years where I decided to just cleanse out a lot of negative things, a lot of negative people. You know some of those people being long-term friends of mine and you know certain family members that I just started realizing that was here for the wrong reasons or at least representing themselves that way and it really was time for me to stop carrying other people's problems and their crosses.
You get to that point in your life where you just want to start living your life and not living in these black clouds that everyone else is surrounding themselves with. Sometimes you have to kind of burn it down to the ground and rebuild it from scratch. That also goes for the band and where we are in this stage of our career, wanting to reinvent this band, wanting to grow with our maturity level and this record... I think the music on this album I think is a reflection of where we're at in our lives personally.
My drummer is certainly going through a cleanup phase himself and getting sober and whatever. So, I think it's a combination of all those things that just made me think about, you know, a rebirth. That's really what this is about. Sometimes the biggest and best things happen even though you feel like you are on top sometimes you gotta take it back down to the beginning and rebuild it the right way. I think that's what "Legend" is about.
Talking about a rebirth, the approach on this album is a little different as well. You've worked with some outside writers on this album to give some fresh perspective. Can you talk about making that decision to maybe bounce some ideas off different people here?
Well, I came up with that decision when I started on my solo records. I found that when I worked with a group of people that came from different backgrounds and different inspirations and different musical styles - I found some real magic in some of that solo writing and I wanted to take that same approach and apply it to Godsmack.
When those songs hit, we were proud of them and it's great but I'm not gonna limit myself to that and especially at that growth phase when we want to expand and explore. I think it's important that we reach out to people that also have a great track record and have a great catch for melody. I was curious. I wanted to experiment on this record.
I wanted to reach out and see what other people thought we could sound like and what they thought a direction was that we could go in and I found some really beautiful pieces in there because of that, that I don't think I could have ever found if I wasn't working with some outside people. So, it was a real perfect collaboration to be presented with some different styles of music and things that I could think of outside of the box for some different melodies and lyrics.
One of my favorite tracks on here is "Under Your Scars." It has that beautiful piano open and I'm hearing strings too. Great song and a nice change of pace for Godsmack. Can you talk a little about that track and a little bit about where that comes from?
Being kind of a deep person myself, you know, I'm kind of the person that if you're going to be with me as a friend or in a romantic level or whatever, I have that depth. I really enjoy good deep conversations and I like deep topics at times. Not all the time but I'm really that person as well as a jokester and someone who is always goofing around. That one for me, it became some of my favorite lyrics as far as the depth of the meaning behind it.
Because we all have these experiences where sometimes you meet someone that you really love, whether that's a friend or a girlfriend or whatever. And just because of the baggage that we carry, we all have gone through war, at times, in relationships. Sometimes you come into a new relationship guarded and a bit reserved. Little things make you want to turn your back and head out.
That song is really about letting the other person know that, 'Hey, it's OK that you have scars. I'm willing to live with those as long as you're willing to live with mine.' That really is what that song represents. But again, after working over the years on some solo material and some bigger, more orchestrated and composed pieces. I obviously spend a lot of time either playing the acoustic or the piano. I have so many more different inspirations than music, not just rock, that I wanted and I felt like if we were going to expand, if we're going to explore and stretch our wings a bit, why not introduce the first real ballad if we felt it was strong enough?
It took me a long time to put that together because I wasn't sure if it needed to be acoustic - if it was going to be a rock song - and when I transposed the music into the piano and slowed it down, it really started to feel like that epic kind of "Dream On" / "November Rain" style ballad where it continuously grew and grew until it became this real big epic piece at the end.
I thought it was beautiful enough to put on the record. For sure it was going to shock some of the hardcore fans, but again I can't live every year worrying about that and wondering about if the metalheads are going to love everything I do. We never really considered ourselves a metal band even though we've been lumped into that category so many times, and probably rode the line of metal at times, but we've always been a rock band. Again, it's time to stretch out a bit and I think the music on this record is really a reflection of where we're at in our lives personally.
Well, hey, if Sebastian Bach says you're a metal band and wants to blow shit up...
The "Bulletproof" video is awesome, one of my favorites this year. How did you get Sebastian and Billy Ray Cyrus and how fun was it to include them?
Oh man, I had such a blast. Sebastian, I've known for quite some time and we've been good friends over the years. Such a good, pure and honest dude. Such a true friend and really - just a great guy. My manager was managing Billy Ray and as I was writing this script and it kept developing and kept going into much broader direction than becoming a short film. If you know anything about comedy, it's that they say comedy is just reality exaggerated.
This is really some of the topics we've had ... time to expand the fanbase. It's time to go in a different direction. Then when I started to think about directors pitching us ideas, and how ridiculous they've been, I just wanted to play off of that. And Sebastian, obviously represented the metal side of things perfectly and Billy Ray was such an awkward twist, he was so good in it. Everything just fell into place.
I spoke with Brent Smith a little bit earlier, and I know you guys are doing the tour together. So here's a serious question, maybe a bone of contention all summer: Who is the better director: Brent Smith in the "Asking For It" video for Shinedown or Salvatore?
Oh my god, come on! That's not even close, man. Nobody can hang with [Salvatore] Pasquale. This guy is - he is gonna upstage everybody. This dude is a maniac, he's out of control. He's wired on way too much espresso and his character is much bigger than any director I've ever seen. So, for sure, Pasquale wins, and will win every time.
Brent said the same thing.
He's down with Salvatore, he thinks the video is awesome. How long have you known the Shinedown guys and what are you looking forward to in terms of the tour?
Man, everything. With these guys, they've been real close friends of ours over the years and I'm just personally so proud with that band, what they've done and how much they've grown over the years. What great songwriters they've become and performers and I think that rock needs a tour like this. They need two records like these. The lack of music that's been happening over the last so many years is just to me, shocking.
It's starting to feel very jaded and uncreative and I don’t want to say that we're going to carry the flag here, but I really do feel if I may brag, that this could be one of the best rock tours of 2018. The music is compatible, the bands get along great, the show is gonna be phenomenal. I know me and Brent are both putting a lot of time and discussions into building something that is going to work for both of us that will please both our audiences and universally as a package. I think this is gonna be a very, very strong tour. I would be shocked if people miss this one.
Obviously, you want to promote the new album and everything, but it has been 20 years since your debut disc. With the tour coming up, will there be any special nods to the debut to mark the anniversary?
The answer is no. There was talk about it at the beginning but when this record completed itself, the passion and the love that has gone behind this thing and how strong we feel it came out, I just don't want to have anything overshadow that. I think the focus needs to be on this music, on this record and the rebirth of this band.
We decided that's something that we're gonna privately celebrate amongst ourselves but maybe we'll revisit that idea doing some special for the fans in the 25th year. Right now, this is all about When Legends Rise.
Listening to this album, stuff like "Every Part of Me," "Just One Time," "Eye of the Storm," I'm hoping to hear those songs live. Have you thought about what's going into the set list and how you're gonna roll out the music off the new album?
[laughs] it's another challenge I have to put myself up against. It's becoming more and more difficult. I'm certainly not complaining, we could have worse problems but with 23 top ten singles, it's hard to stuff everything in there. We just need to focus on this record, we need to play a good chunk of it but still honor some of the bigger singles we've had in the past and give the people the music they want to hear.
For sure, we went out and did this greatest hits tour over and over again and we've fed these audiences with the singles along the way. So I'm encouraging people to spend some time with this record. For one, I really think they're going to love this album. I have a lot of confidence in believing that, this record has a little bit of something for everybody and it won't disappoint them. We plan on playing this stuff live. It may not be the whole record, but we'll play a chunk of it and mix it in with some of the other stuff that we've had a lot of success with. The fans have determined what songs they like the most.
'When Legends Rise' will be in stores April 27 and is available to pre-order via the platform of your choosing. Godsmack's tour dates, including the summer run with Shinedown, can be found here.
Watch Godsmack's "Bulletproof" Video
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