Courtesy of Revolt in Style
Show date and interview: November 13th
Location: The Palace, Los Angeles, CA
Imagine…if you will, performing onstage… it’s a sold out show, and you’re a part of the headlining act.
A virtual sea of adoring fans is there, looking up at you; cheering their hearts out, singing to every word of every song you’ve created (on the CD you had to borrow money from a friend to record and distribute – just to give people a clue you existed as an artist on the face of this planet.)
So much press is there, your tour manager has to separate the photographers into 4 groups – with a shoot limit of 2 songs per group.
Next, imagine your face gracing the television screen on popular late night entertainment show segments – or the making of your third video (which premiered online as the “Artist of the Week” spotlight on MTV’s “Total Request Live.”) The first two singles on that (initially) “borrowed money” CD of yours (quickly approaching double platinum status under the Universal label) are receiving “A” rotation (the best) on nearly every major “heavy/alternative” radio station across the United States, and beyond.
Your band name is now – well, a “household” name.
Finally, imagine remaining kind and cordial – genuine – through it all.
The “regular guys” of the band, Godsmack, (who played main stage at Ozzfest this year, then immediately jetted
off to play the last day of Woodstock, and have most recently toured with the likes of Ozzy [Osbourne] and Black Sabbath – and the beautiful, talented women of Drain STH) don’t have to imagine any of that. THEY’RE LIVING IT.
“It’s a dream come true,” says Robbie Merrill (bassist.) “I remember attending Ozzfest last year with my girlfriend, watching the other artists [and legends] perform – thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could be here next year – only as artists… not just a part of the crowd?’ This year, I’ve performed on the same bill with some of the people I’ve looked up to so much of my life. It’s amazing to me. I still find myself in awe of it all sometimes.”
Godsmack is a band that has seemed to come out of nowhere.
Actually, they come out of Boston, Massachusetts. The members, Sully Erna (lead vocals), Robbie Merrill (bass), Tommy Stewart (drums) and Tony Rombolo (lead guitar, backing vocals) range in age from 31 to 36, and have been at this whole music-making gig for some time now.
Godsmack is no over-night sensation. “We’ve worked our asses off.” Robbie comments. “I don’t know if you’re aware of it or not, but we sold like 10,000 copies of the record on our own. We put it out there for 2,500 bucks,
but never made any money to speak of until we got signed. It was just a matter of putting it all back into the pot to keep it going. We gigged like three nights a week for about a year and a half to two years – and we got lucky with one of the radio stations back home (WAAF – and DeeJay, “Rocko”) The next thing you know, they’re playin’ us; and then he (“Rocko”) comes to see us a couple months later. From that point on it was like ‘Godsmack, Godsmack, GODSMACK!'”
Sully and Robbie (co-founders of the band) eventually reached the point where they decided there wasn’t a whole lot more they could do on their own and vowed if they weren’t signed by the fall of ’98, they’d just hang it all up musically. Luckily for all of us, they were signed by Universal Records in May of the same year.
The band has received much recognition. However, attention has not focused solely on their musical talents and commercial success. As Godsmack continues to grow as a unit in popularity, so does the public’s intrigue with regard to Sully’s spiritual beliefs. He is a practicing witch of the Wiccan tradition.
(“Wicca” is a spirituality based in nature, focusing mainly on the ancient rituals and principles of white witchcraft.)
At every show performance, large pentacle banners are hung prominently onstage, draped across the risers on either side of the drum kit, creating obvious visual impact. But Sully insists, “For the most part, I keep it pretty much to myself. I’ll talk about it and share my beliefs if I’m asked about it – even try to educate if I can… as long as there’s not sarcasm in the conversation.” He adds, “It’s not my thing to push anything on anyone else – I always hate it when other people do that to me, but I do try to promote understanding. So many people have such misconceptions of what the religion is really about.”
Enter “Voodoo” – Godsmack’s third single off the album and latest video. The song is based on the cult classic,
‘The Serpent and the Rainbow.” The video incorporates into it a traditional Wiccan ritual; complete with famed Salem Witch, Laurie Cabot (Sully’s mentor and spiritual advisor) and members of the WLPA (The Witches’ League for Public Awareness.) Sully explains, “It was important to me to paint an accurate picture, ya know? But I wanted to show people glimpses of other forms of alternative religions…” he trails off, looking for his beer.
Bottle found, and a dry throat quenched, he adds, “People can take it for what it’s worth. In the end, I think it’s important for each person to find what it is that’s important to them – as long as they feel fulfilled and it doesn’t harm anyone, I’m down with that.”
To create “Voodoo,” the band enlisted the talents of director Dean Karr (Marilyn Manson, Dave Matthews Band), and Hollywood special effects masterman ‘Screaming Mad George’ (Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist 2.)
In the video, a wolf-like sprit touches on several different non-traditional spiritualities; Wicca and Voodoo being two of them. There are advanced pyrotechnics, a Medieval castle, swamps – even “mud people.” Robbie reflects on the making of the video, “It was so cold out those nights – everyone was great, though. The director was amazing… but it was very draining. We shot the whole thing in two nights’ time.”
Indeed, Godsmack has been one of the busiest bands around for over a year now.
On the subject of the pressures of being on the road, Robbie states (matter-of-factly), “It’s a business. You learn to adjust real quick – ‘cuz you have to. But ‘ya know, this is what we’ve all been working towards, and it’s different every night; a new crowd, new venue, new city. I’m doing what I love… we all are. The real pressure is putting a second album out there that people will enjoy and respond to as well as this one. And it’s not easy to write new material on the road; you’ve got the gigs, the interviews… and then when you think you’ve got a couple days off, they call you to go shoot a video or something. That’s pressure, too. But, I can’t imagine NOT doing it now. When I do have some time off, it takes me like a week to adjust to being home!”
The other band members seem to agree. Tommy says, “I love the part in the show where I take a couple minutes’ break from the drums to crowd surf and just get a little crazy!”
Tony adds, “The immediate response from the crowd is the best! I like being up there and feeling the energy from everyone. Certain shows we do (the all-ages ones), there are kids out there half my age, and I’m jammin’ onstage having as much fun as they are!”
To date, I’ve seen the band perform live three times. The first time, they both surprised and impressed me.
The second time around, I just enjoyed the show and was happy they’d made it to Ozzfest.
This last show, at The Palace in LA, totally blew me away.
Everyone present was there to see Godsmack (unlike the crowd at Ozzfest.)
There was love in the room, and that made a difference.
Who knows? It may be a “magickal” thing; Sully and the rest of the band (regardless of their spiritual foundations and beliefs) can certainly captivate a crowd and bring the energy level in the room to an incredible fervor; from the
middle of the first song, to the last note of the set, bodies were flying over the barricades in cart-wheel formations at intervals of about every 20 seconds! (Can you say, “DUCK?!?”)
As insanely intense as it all was, (I haven’t seen that kind of pit action since Metallica was here!) no fights broke out, and respect in general reined throughout the entire show.
In addition, this was an evening performance, at a beautiful venue. (The guys played a daytime slot at Ozzfest.)
The lighting was the best I’ve seen in ages. It definitely added to the atmosphere of the experience. During one song in particular, “Situation”, there were pauses where Sully outstretched his arms and sang (almost pleadingly) to the crowd. The lights came over him in a kind of star-like formation. It was amazing; people just stopped, looking on.
Other highlights of the night included the drum/ percussion jam between Tommy and Sully (Sully is a drummer, not a vocalist, by nature), the extended guitar riff (during “Moon Baby”), Tommy’s crowd surfing, and the band’s new song “Awake.” It seems Sully’s a little happier camper now than when he wrote the lyrics to the first album, and much more evolved spiritually. Don’t get me wrong – this one’s not any less rockin’ than the others; the band’s trademark “in your face” punch and crunch intensity is still there. It’ll knock you socks off.
If anything, it’s more “rounded.”
I noticed, too, during the after party, that periodically Godsmack’s band members were nowhere to be found.
I went on a little independent search to discover they were out amongst the crowd, signing autographs and greeting the fans who weren’t privy to the VIP room following the performance.
“Regular guys…” through and through!
In closing, I’ve got to give mention to the opening act on the bill, Godsmack’s comrades from the band, Reveille, (also based out of Boston, Mass.) They did an awesome job! (Lot’s of energy – and good, tight songs.)
This band, in comparison to Godsmack, is just starting out – catch ’em live if you can. They’re worth seeing.
And to the security staff at The Palace – thanks, guys… for keeping me an my photographer safe, the free bottled water and for being phenomenally cool all the way around! You worked hard that night – kudos to all of you!
Also, a huge thanks to Krista Mettler of Universal Records for making my presence at the show possible.
Lady, you rock!!! (Keep on Smackin’ – hehe!)
Peace Out – Jenn “White Horse” Richardson