Backstage Interview: Godsmack's Sully Erna Talks New Music, Loving Les Pauls
Godsmack are known for their heavy, metal-leaning tunes such as “I Stand Alone,” “Straight Out of Line” and “1000hp.” The next phase for Godsmack, though, will take the band in a different direction. As frontman Sully Erna describes, Godsmack are looking to stay true to their sound but also reinvent that style to reflect where band members are today.
“We feel that on this new record we’re going to write next year, we may just completely take a drastic turn in what kind of style we want to pull out,” Erna told Gibson.com backstage at Louder than Life festival in Louisville, Kentucky.
“I think we want to get away from being lumped into the metal crowd,” he added. “I think we’re coming a lot more back to our roots now, so on the new record, I think we’re going to try to mix things up and get to a place where we’re not going to hurt the integrity of the band but maybe go in a more rock ‘n’ roll direction.”
Erna spoke with me more about Godsmack’s new sound and his beloved signature Sully Erna Les Paul Studio.
Congratulations on Godsmack’s latest album, 1000hp. How important was the break between albums – 2010’s The Oracle and 2014’s 1000hp – to the band?
I guess to a certain degree, it was pretty important. We didn’t plan on taking off four years. There just happened to be four years between The Oracle and this record coming out, but we were working on it for some time during that. There was probably a good two-year span we took off where we separated. What happened was The Oracle came out, and then we toured on that record. That was about 18 months of touring, and then after that, we took some time off, so it was probably about two years. I think it was critical at that point, because the band was coming into a challenging time in our career where there were some crossroads we faced about who we were going to work with. We were rearranging everyone on our team. The band needed some time apart to restructure, and there were those moments where I wasn’t sure if I was even going to do this anymore. I was focusing on some solo stuff, and there was a lot of weird, dark stuff following us around. As they say, time heals all wounds, and I think once we were apart, we realized, “Okay, the band is still good.” We have a really special brand, but we had to restructure, and that’s what we did during that time.
What’s it like being back and having such a warm response to 1000hp and your live shows?
It’s great. There’s obviously still work we want to do. The band is a very aspiring band. We all have the mentality that we all want to reach new goals. We look at bands like the Foo Fighters, who are at a stadium level, or Metallica, who has had this great 30-year career selling out stadiums across the world, and we try to aspire towards that. It’s not that stadiums are our end goal, but we know there are other levels we want to achieve.
Let’s talk guitars. Are you currently rocking your signature Sully Erna Les Paul Studio?
Oh, yeah. Every show. I use the signature because I really love the work we did on that. It’s a very friendly guitar for me to use. I really love playing that guitar. I play several different Les Pauls, too. I play a hollow body at some point in the set.
What makes Gibson guitars the right fit for you?
I’ve always envisioned that guitar as one of the coolest guitars in rock ‘n’ roll, because I grew up with bands like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, and it always looked like the cooler guitar to play, when you see people like Joe Perry and Jimmy Page slinging it down around their knees. For me, it was a visual thing at first. I always thought the guitar looked great. That was something that really attracted me—the body style and the shape of it. As I’ve played them over the years, I really feel like it’s one of the strongest guitars out there. It has a really tight sound. It can be clean when you need it to be clean. It can be as heavy as you want it to be. It really has multiple purposes. I think Gibson, in general, has a really great line of Explorers and hollow body guitars, so to me, they have everything in their collection that I like.
Do you have some favorite Gibson acoustics, too?
I do! I use a J-45. It’s my favorite acoustic. I love that guitar. It’s really reliable. It has a great sound to it.
What can you tell us about the next Godsmack album?
We’re always writing, so even on this tour, we have a jam room set up at every show, and we usually get in there during the day when we have nothing going on, and I’ll sit there and noodle around with the riffs. The band is writing, and I think we’ll probably start really getting together to arrange everything and start recording by early next year—maybe spring. I’m going to do some solo stuff in the winter time out in Europe, so I think right around May we’ll start getting this together. We’re hoping to have it recorded and ready by the end of the year. If not, definitely by the very top of 2017.
Photos by Anne Erickson