Led by the multi-talented Sully Erna, Godsmack has become a worldwide phenomenon. Originally known as The Scam, the group formed with bassist Robbie Merrill, guitarist Lee Richards and drummer Tommy Stewart. Their self-titled debut album, which featured hits such as “Voodoo” and “Keep Away,” sold quadruple platinum and from that moment on, Godsmack erupted. By releasing The Oracle in May 2010, Godsmack joined the ranks of the elites, becoming one of only a handful of metal bands to have three consecutive albums debut at number one on the Billboard charts.
But it’s not all about Godsmack anymore. A Massachusetts native, Sully decided to pursue a solo career and take the metal show down a notch. It’s a huge departure from anything he’s ever done. His solo act features female vocalist Lisa Guyer, multiple percussionists, a cellist and others. His debut release, Avalon, went on sale last year and is available through his website.
Sully will be playing at a few local shows in the next few months. The first takes place Thursday, June 16 at the Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center. It will be part of his intimate, Avalon solo tour. He will also be performing as the mainman of Godsmack at the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival on Wednesday, July 27 at the PNC Bank Arts Center. I interviewed one of the biggest names in all of heavy music for the conversation below.
How has the reception been during the Avalon tour?
It’s been really good, man. It’s been about 10 or 11 shows [so far] and we’ve been out there for about three or four weeks already. It’s doing well, I haven’t seen one bad review yet and I haven’t heard anything negative.
For me, I critique myself more than anyone else does, and it’s still in the development stage so the audiences we’re drawing are relatively small, anywhere from 500 to 1,000 seats. But that’s kind of because this is a really intimate show, so I guess it kind of works.
Obviously, for me, I’d love to see it grow bigger. I don’t think this is necessarily an arena type of thing. I don’t think I would want it to go past live theaters but I’m really happy with how the show has kind of unfolded and how people are hearing it and feeling it the way I was hoping for them to. So thus far it’s been all positives. I’m happy about that.
How different is it performing solo as opposed to playing with Godsmack?
Oh boy, it’s actually really relieving (laughs). It’s not a physical show like Godsmack is. It was funny, we were talking about it about a week or so ago because right in the middle of this tour, Godsmack had two shows to do, so the solo project kind of sat and waited for me to complete those, but it just so happened that the second Godsmack show was at the exact same building that the solo show was playing in, just in a different room.
So all the solo band members got to come see Godsmack, and they [hadn’t] seen Godsmack yet. And they were like, “Wow, what a difference; just in your dressing room.” Like in the solo thing, it’s all tapestries and incense, and it’s very laid back and mellow.
Godsmack’s locker room is like an NFL locker room, all you can smell is Bengay with knee braces. It is more of a full contact sport, much different.
Where did you first meet Avalon singer Lisa Guyer, and what was that like?
I’ve known Lisa for about 18 years, I think. And I met her through a mutual friend of my sister’s. She’s a local in the New Hampshire area and I’ve just known her from hanging out, being a musician and she’s always been a phenomenal blues singer that I’ve always admired. And I never would’ve put our two voices together if someone would have told us that it was us two that were going to do a project together.
Even she couldn’t believe how well the voices meshed, but yeah, it was just one of those freak things. I needed a female voice on this Godsmack song that I did on the fourth record called “Hollow,” and it was then that I realized how well our voices went together.
Do you play songs primarily from your Godsmack catalog or solo album?
No, it’s all Avalon. I’m not mixing the two in any way. Sometimes for an encore I may do “Serenity” or something like that because it’s more of on a personal message from me to the audience and the fans that have supported in this that are transitioning with me into this solo band.
But it’s not like this is the sign of the beginning of the end. I’m not leaving Godsmack, I’m not breaking Godsmack up, this is just something else I enjoy doing.
I’m a musician and I don’t always like to play hard rock music. I play the piano, I play guitar, harmonica, and I just love experimenting and creating. That’s what this is. This is just another side of me that I need to explore just as much as I need to release through Godsmack.
Do you feel fans are more into the Avalon type of setting or the hard rock shows of Godsmack?
It’s funny, I don’t know. I mean, every night I hear great things from the audience, I hear some people say that they loved this better than Godsmack and I hear other people say that they really enjoy it but they don’t really compare it in any way, nor should they, because this wasn’t supposed to be a competitive act against Godsmack.
So it’s funny, I don’t know. I mean, I just think that as I grow, my audience is growing too, and I enjoy growing with them.
While growing up did you think you were going to be a drummer, guitarist or something else?
I always knew I was going to be a drummer. I started playing since I was literally three years old. I also have quite a musical background.
My father played the trumpet and my grandfather, for instance, was a composer in Sicily. But it wasn’t until I was about 25 or 26 that I started playing guitar and then Godsmack came up a little after that. And then we were trying to find a vocalist for the band but after a little while I just decided to try it and I stuck with it.
What has been your best moment on stage throughout your career?
Man, one of them would have to be when [Black Sabbath guitarist] Tony Iommi came back to my dressing room and asked me to sing with Black Sabbath. That was a really big moment for me.
Another was also getting to sing with [Metallica vocalist] James Hetfield a few times on “Sad But True.” And then another big moment for me was when we received our first gold record.
Your last three albums have gone to number one on the Billboard charts, is that a big deal to you or do you not really pay attention to that sort of thing?
(Laughs) Oh that’s a huge deal! We put a lot of hard work into it, you know. When we record music we don’t think about how well it’s going to do on the charts but we’re very grateful that they have done so well.
Are you looking forward to the Mayhem Festival and if so, anything specific about it?
Oh I’m very excited for it, just getting to crush the stage and being able to perform double drum solos because we haven’t done that in a little while. The sets are relatively short, only about 60 minutes or so for us because Disturbed are kind of doing a co-headlining event. But it’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to a nice summer.
Is there a city you’ve got your eye on more than others?
The hometown area is always the best, but Detroit is just pure insanity, as are places like Indianapolis.
Do you have any plans for after your tours are over?
I think I am going to be taking some time off to be with my daughter like I do after every tour. And then I may possibly go on an international tour with Godsmack in the fall, maybe around the end of September or October.
If that doesn’t happen, I may just do another solo tour and try to go to places like the Midwest and the West Coast.
The Avalon 2011 tour with Sully Erna will be at the Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center on Thursday, June 16. For more information, log on to sullyerna.com.