“Godsmack’s Sully Erna’s talks solo album ‘Avalon.’” – Interview

They say never to meet celebrities that you're a fan of, but I highly recommend talking to them on the phone, specifically if that celebrity is Sully Erna from Godsmack. I've interviewed a bunch of different artists, but growing up a Godsmack fan, Sully was going to be my biggest. I was nervous because he has to stop what he's doing to talk to me. Holy shit was he one of the nicest guys I've talked to. Fresh off of the release of "Oracle" the Godsmack front man took the time to talk with me about his upcoming solo album coming out called "Avalon."

Zoiks - You've got a new solo album "Avalon" coming out on September 14th. If you had to describe the album, how would you do so?

Sully Erna - Wow, you're right at it, there's no messing around with you. That's a good question, because creating this thing was such a journey and it was just trying to figure out what it sounds like, and then as each song came out…they're very different from the next. Every song could be a different genre of music, but for some reason when you listen to it as a whole body of work it just works and connects really well. I would have to describe it as more intellectual and eclectic, hypnotic and tribal, because it was all done with hand drumming. Sometimes we just hit these pockets, these grooves where it just kind of puts you in this trance. It's still got really beautiful melodies, I think, and some great compositions and some amazing musicians that were on the record with me. Yeah, so I'd have to use words like that, eclectic and tribal and very intellectual at times I guess.

Z - You've been working on it for what seven years, on and off, is that right?

SE - Well you know…no, I haven't been thinking much about a solo record, I just had some songs over the past seven years that I kicked to the side because I knew they'd never be quite right for Godsmack, but I really liked the songs and I didn't want to just throw them away. I was just like I'll eventually record them someday for something. Godsmack took that two year break and I found myself with a lot of time, so I thought why not try to put this together. Of course over the last several years I've grown musically as well and then I pulled in some musicians that I really thought would bring in some authenticity to these certain styles I wanted to use, like with more of the Native American drumming. My percussion player, he's from Dead Can Dance (Niall Gregory), he's from Ireland. He's proficient in Brazilian drumming and Australian drumming…all hand drumming. Then reeling Lisa (Guyer) into this project who has this four octave range, then we have this Bulgarian cello player Irina (Chirkova), everybody plays at such a level and much more beyond what I have been as a musician, but it was really great to bring in these different inspirations from different parts of the world and having that to add to the process as well. It's been a really great experience making this record.

Z - Godsmack has become such a huge band that has a definitive sound that the fans want maintained. Do you feel restricted in anyway working in Godsmack and has that had anything to do with the versatility in "Avalon?"

SE - You know there was a point in time when I was starting to feel choked, but now what's happened is it's come around full circle, because I've realized that over the years I've always had this other style of music in me and that's why you've heard songs like "Voo Doo" and "Serenity" and pieces like that come out of me, because I really have this whole kind of primitive vibe that I love to pursue, this world music kind of stuff. I've now identified what Godsmack is. I also utilize this solo stuff as my vehicle to present those other kinds of music that are inside of me. There's a whole different kind of art that I love to create. Now I have this vehicle to exercise that through, also at the same time maintain the integrity of what Godsmack is, because Godsmack is just a big power monster that is just raw and tough and in your face. This is more like…if there is a masculine and feminine to my art, this would be more of the feminine…a strong female, very powerful and Godsmack is the masculine.

Z – Do you think this is your most personal work?

SE - Without a doubt man, I have literally slit my wrists open and dumped it into this record. Everything I have known in this life, from the time I was born until now is reflected in this record. I have never been so vulnerable (laughs), I mean it's all there. Hopefully people will appreciate the honesty in it.

Z - Are there going to be any live shows or a tour that go along with the album?

SE - Man, I hope so. I definitely don't want to just stop it here at a record. I have to finish doing some runs with Godsmack first. I'm not sure what this is live yet, that's what I'm still trying to figure out, I have so many different, great ideas for this project that I don't know if it's a special event project, like awards shows or if it's going to be more theatrical production in theaters. I'm not sure yet, it's a little bit premature to say, but the hope is for sure to get it out there for people to see live, because I for sure want to play this stuff live.

Z - You're one of the stand out front men from your generation. How much different is that guy on stage from you?

SE - Oh, he's way different (laughs), my personal life is fairly mellow and grounded, or at least I try to keep it that way. The guy on stage, for Godsmack at least, that's the demon inside of me; it's definitely a completely different animal, much more aggressive. There are hints of that in me, in my life; I just think that a lot of it has just inched away, because I was raised in a very rough neighborhood, very tough surroundings. The downside is that really scarred me for a lot of my life, but the upside is that it taught me how to hold my chin up high and how to stand back up when life keeps beating you down at the knees. I think that is what gave me my edge to become the front man that I am. That aggressiveness, you can't be too timid in this business or you going to get stomped on, so that really helped a lot. Now I've kind of identified the alter ego, that's me on the stage and the type of entertainer I chose to become. The person I am when I'm with my daughter and hanging around the house, with my dad, family and friends is much more playful and light hearted.


Z - You also put out a book a year or two ago called "The Paths We Choose." I liked it a lot, for many reasons, but it was a lot different than your typical rock n roll story.

SE – Yeah.

Z - What made you decide to write it?

SE - I never planned on writing a book, it was just one of those things that when I was touring so much and away from home for so long I was really missing some of my friends. So I'd call them up and we'd talk on the phone and we'd just kind of reflect on some of the things we did as kids, we'd get some great laughs out of the conversation. We'd be like, 'remember when we did this, and remember when so and so did that.' Some of the stories are so unbelievable to me as I looked back being older now thinking, 'Wow, I can't believe that was me and the shit I pulled and how I didn't end up dead or in jail at times.' While I was doing it, I was note taking the stories and writing them down so that when I was 80 I could remember them and tell me grandkids, 'hey look what your grandfather used to do' (laughs). The more I wrote down a story, the more I would start to organize them by dates and then I realized holy shit, I'm making a book here. Then I started to organize it in that sense. Eventually a publisher thought it was really great and thought there was something special there and wanted to publish it. So he helped me kind of polish it. I never in my life thought I was going to have a published book, that's for sure.

Z - You also addressed depression in "The Paths We Choose." My friend also suffers from depression, it just came out of nowhere. It was something I didn't understand. While reading your book I immediately recognized that you were going through the same type of thing. What made you decide to share this with the world and how are you handling these days?

SE - As I thought about the really wild and funny stories, or sad or whatever it was, for me it became therapeutic, it really helped me heal, getting a lot of these things out of my body, forgiving myself for some of these things I did when I was younger or things that I thought I was at fault for or whatever. It helped me heal my relationship with my dad which was really bad for awhile. I think the main reason why I chose to publish it and share the stories is because there is a great story there. I never looked at my life that way until I wrote it out and I thought, wow, here is a kid from the streets of Lawrence, which is one of the toughest cities, "Time" magazine quoted it as one of the most violent cities in America at one point. I was able to overcome all of these obstacles that life through at me and found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not just to know it was a mother fucker getting there, but I wanted it to be inspirational to people that are still struggling, living in the ghetto or have a dream. There are a lot of great artists out there that are just poor and can't find their way out of trouble and are involved with the wrong people. They're called faggots and pussies because they want to dance, and because of their surroundings they're not allowed to. I want it to be an inspiration to people to know that no matter how hard life is, if you're focused enough and prepared to accept disappointment over and over again but are willing to stand back up and fight for it, that you can get your dream. You can find a way to get out of that and actually accomplish it and be successful. That to me is the message in the book. Look what I went through and look who I was, but look where I am now, and if you stay focused and never give up, you can get there.

Z - Did writing "The Paths We Choose" influence "Avalon" or vice versa?

SE - Not so much, it's becoming an inspiration to take the live show into a certain theme and have the live show and the music become inspirational and have it be about experiencing the gifts that are given to us, with music being one of them, and how powerful it really is. This record really is about the music, it's not about the pyro or stage diving or all the crazy shit I do with the other side of me. This is about bringing it back to the music and having the music be important. So to close your eyes and take a deep breath and enjoy the experience, that's what I'm hoping people get out of this album.

Z - Looking back at your career, what band or artist has been the most influential?

SE - There's been several and they're all just as relevant: Rush as a drummer, Metallica as a lyricist and vocalist, Steven Tyler as a front man, Dead Can Dance, they taught me how to bring my spirituality into my music and how to get back to the primitive roots of percussion. There have been several different inspirations and influences that have made me what I am today.

Z - What do you have going on for the rest of the year?

SE - Godsmack runs at the end of September through the beginning of November in the states and then we'll take the holidays off. We'll revisit this again at the beginning of the year and hopefully if the record's doing well I'd like to take this solo thing out for a little while even if it's just for a couple weeks, three weeks just about and see how it does and then I'm sure Godsmack will go back out in March and April.

Z - That's all I have, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk.

SE - You're welcome, great interview man, I really appreciate the time.

I really admire Sully's passion for music. His solo album "Avalon" comes out on September 14th and I'm really excited to pick it up. I have only been able to hear a couple snippets of it, but from what I've heard it sounds great. After the interview I continued to talk with Sully for a little bit and he mentioned that the album is so different from the snippets that I heard. "Avalon" covers a lot of ground. If this interview has peaked your interest in "Avalon" then head over to www.sullyerna.com  to preorder the album. You can also follow Sully on twitter at https://twitter.com/SullyErna.


Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.
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