An Interview With Sully Erna: Marching To The Beat Of His Own Drum

Godsmack frontman Sully Erna is back at it again, this time on the solo circuit.

A four-time Grammy nominee and three-time Billboard chart-topper with Godsmack, Erna is fresh off the heels of his second solo album, Hometown Life, a follow-up to one of the best releases 2010 had to offer, Avalon. While Avalon focused heavily on a tribal, world music feel, Hometown Life slows it all down and lets Erna experiment with the piano and acoustic guitar.

I recently caught up with Sully to discuss all things Hometown Life, Godsmack, and his upcoming tour, which hits a number of venues in our area (dates below).

You recently had an album listening event over here in New York City. How did that go?

It went great, it was really fun. I got to meet some of the staff from the new label and that kind of stuff and play for some people that did write-ups and things like that, some media people. It was pretty simple, pretty easy.

Now, Hometown Life greatly differs from your first solo album, Avalon, in that it focuses on the piano and acoustic guitar, as opposed to the tribal aspect. Did this come naturally? Was this a conscious decision?

Well, yes and no. I mean, it was just one of those things that… I consistently write music over the years. I don’t ever really stop writing, but it’s not like I sit in the studio for eight hours a day and write music either, so things just happen sporadically, and when an idea comes up, I work on it, and if it’s something I feel is a good song and I don’t necessarily think it’s right for Godsmack, I’ll just kick it to the side and then I revisit them later, when I feel I have enough material to do a record.

And so, in this case, I just thought it was important to take another left-hand turn and not make it sound like Avalon. Just like Avalon was a departure from Godsmack, I wanted to make sure that this record had some separation from Avalon and not have the same kind of textures to it, where Avalon was very earthy and tribal and that kind of thing, and this was a lot cleaner production. This is a little bit more focused on the songwriting and orchestration.

The symphonic strings really jumped out to me as well, as opposed to Avalon.

Yeah, and Avalon had a lot of strings in it as well, but it was just a little bit more eclectic. It was a little bit more cinematic feeling, where this one felt a little more orchestrated. A little bit more symphonic, like you were saying.

The Motown-like “Turn It Up!” really caught me by surprise. I see your father played trumpet on it as well. How did this all come about?

Well, it was just a song that I was working on that, I don’t know, I had the original idea, just had the bassline idea for it that opens up the song, and then from there I started showing it to my members and we started to work on it and jazz it up a little bit and it just became really kind of swanky and bluesy, and I just knew right away that that wasn’t going to be something that had strings on it. It felt more punchy and funky, and I knew I needed horns.

And obviously, when I thought of horns, it was just a no-brainer to invite my dad into the song. He’s a good player and he’s been playing his whole life, although he was a bit nervous—he hadn’t played in a while. It worked out great and it was a memory that we’ll both be able to share now and have with us for the rest of our lives.

Was that the first time you collaborated with him?

Yeah, well, it’s the first time we’ve ever had the opportunity to work together in that capacity because he’s just always … he’s from Sicily, he’s an old-school Italian, he’s been playing trumpet in a little Italian band and things like that, so we never really recorded in the studio before or played a big live show like that, so it was a first for him.

“Father Of Time” is the one track that sounds a little bit like an Avalon leftover, perhaps sounding a little like “Seven Years,” in my opinion. Is this accurate, or did you start brand new and fresh with Hometown Life?

Well, I had the idea for “Father Of Time” a while back. It was probably more toward the tail end of Avalon being complete, and as I started to write a new batch of music, there were songs—”Forever My Infinity” and “Father Of Time”—that kind of musically were written. “Forever My Infinity,” especially, that was something me and Lisa [Guyer] worked on right after we had been touring with Avalon, so that was one of the first of the new stuff that still had a little bit of that type of feel to it. And “Father Of Time” was definitely a little bit more earthy in that sense as well, so those have a little bit more date on them than some of the newer stuff, like “Blue Skies” and “Hometown Life” and “Different Kind Of Tears.”

How are you gearing up for the upcoming tour? I see you’re going over to Bulgaria in a few weeks, just before you kick off the U.S. dates.

Yeah, that’s a couple of shows that were offered to me that sold out really quickly, so I’m gonna go to Eastern Europe and knock those out, and then come back and start the States tour on the 26th [of October]. So it’s kind of simple, I’m taking a couple of guys with me. We’re gonna do a more stripped down, intimate, acoustic version of these songs, bring it to a much more intimate capacity and small theaters and large rooms and things like that, so I think it’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be more of an “evening with/storyteller” type of vibe.

Now, on the Godsmack front, I noticed that the band recently left Universal/Republic. You were with them since the first album came out in 1998. What was the reason behind that?

You know, just exploring. Our contract was up and we wanted to kind of get out and see what else is available out there. It was just important for us to kind of explore options. We’re still exploring, we’re not really sure what’s gonna happen with BMG and that kind of thing.

I just felt like it was time. Things felt like they were kind of a little bit stagnant at Universal, so I thought it was a good opportunity to just kind of explore a while instead of re-upping the contract. Get out there, see what’s available. We’ll see how that goes once we get deeper into the cycle with them.

Do you have any idea when the next Godsmack album will be released?

We’re hoping the top of 2018 because that’s gonna be our 20th anniversary of the first album, so we really want to kind of just wait another minute and time it appropriately. That way, we can do a big world tour off of it and theme it around the first album and that kind of thing. That’s the plan, you know, hypothetically. But hopefully we’ll be in the studio late next year and dropping something by early 2018.


Catch Sully Erna at The Space At Westbury in Westbury, NY on Nov. 1, the Gramercy Theatre in New York, NY on Nov. 2, the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, PA on Nov. 4, Resorts Atlantic City in Atlantic City, NJ on Nov. 5, and Nov. 25 at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ. His new album, Hometown Life, is available now through BMG. For more information, go to