Sully Erna: “Avalon” is the Calm Before the Storm, Godsmack is the Storm – Interview

One of my favorite interviews since doing this has been with Sully Erna, talking about his solo album “Avalon” before it came out. I absolutely loved “Avalon” and I was excited when I got the chance to see the show live. Recently I got a chance to follow up with Sully to see how “Avalon” has been received by fans as well as the other members of Godsmack. We also talked about the Mayhem festival which Godsmack is going to be a part of this year with Disturbed and Megadeth.

Zoiks!: Now that “Avalon” has been out a while and the fans have had a chance to soak it in, what has the feedback been like?

Sully Erna: It’s been great. No problems so far, thankfully (laughs). We haven’t had anyone boo us off the stage or anything. It seems like everyone who comes in contact with the record even if they hadn’t heard of it and they’re skeptical about ok what is it? Once they hear it they’re like wow I really like this, so no one so far has bummed this thing out yet, which has been a blessing. The live shows are going great; people are really receptive to it and having a blast. We put something really cool together on that end of things. Ultimately it’s still a developing project you know, and it’s in the early stages and its going to take a little bit of time to nurture it. If it keeps going the way it is I can’t see this not being successful, because it all feels right at this point.

Z!: What feedback have you gotten from the guys in Godsmack?

SE: They’re ok. You know they did a project too a year or two ago when we took a break, Another Animal, some side rock band that they did. They knew this was coming. They know I have multiple sides to me and I just can’t be that guy all the time. It just so happens that Godsmack put me in the lime light and kept me busy for the last twelve or fifteen years or whatever it’s been. I was just waiting for the opportunity to step away from it and vent the other side of me. People don’t realize that I listen to rock music the least. I have so many different backgrounds in music and I have to explore them. My dad is a musician, he’s a trumpet player, and he has been his whole life. My great uncle was a famous composer in Sicily. I have a lot of different backgrounds in music. I don’t always just want to play rock and this was the perfect opportunity to explore another side of me and put together some different musicians and get out there and have a really good time with it and show the world that there are a lot of different kinds of music that I really enjoy writing, not just rock music all the time.

Z!: One of the best days of my life (outside of family related events) was when I came home from college and a friend and I locked ourselves in his basement drank beer and tried to write a song. That moment when the riff came together and made sense was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt. As a professional musician, does that feeling ever go away?

SE: It comes in different moments. It still happens to me. It’s happened quite a bit on this record actually. At certain times you listen to a track and you realize how powerful it is. That’s the whole theme behind this project, what a gift music has been to all of us. I think it’s underestimated all the time and taken for granted. People don’t really understand the power of music and what it really is, its mind blowing; it’s one of those great mysteries in life that is unexplainable, why music is so powerful. You can relate it to the lyrics or whatever, but it’s not that, because you can listen to a piano player or someone play the cello and literally get tears in your eyes because it’s so emotional, why is that? It’s really nothing more than sound waves and those are nothing more than vibrations that are vibrating at different rates. If it’s slower vibrating it’s a lower pitch if it’s faster it’s a higher pitch. Yet when our body comes into contact with these vibrations it creates emotion and that’s a miracle, a universal gift that I don’t think people truly understand. I think that’s the whole theme to this record, lets get it back to the music. I want to do music that touches people on an emotional level; I really think we did a great job of creating an album that takes you on a musical journey.

Z!: I’m really excited that you’re taking “Avalon” on tour. The songs are so visual and cinematic, how are they translating live?

SE: Awesome! Amazing, we’re having so much fun with this. We were concerned about how we were going to pull some of this off live because it is very layered at times, but the great thing is that we didn’t over layer this album and everybody in the band is a multi instrumentalist, so we’re able to cover all positions at different times. There’s times I’m playing an acoustic, they’re times I’m just singing, other times I’m playing a piano. My bass player plays acoustic guitar and mandolin. My keyboardist plays flute, drums…everybody in the band can do multiple things and they’re all brilliant musicians. It’s really coming off live really well. The people that do show up to see this are really pleasantly surprised I think on how powerful the show even is. Just watching eight musicians on stage, in sync with some beautiful lights and a really great video package we put together, I think it’s just really touching people very strongly. Every night in the front I see people wiping tears from their eyes at certain parts of the show and that’s the biggest compliment you could possibly give me.

Z!: How difficult is it touring “Avalon” while being out with Godsmack at the same time?

SE: I haven’t got to that point yet. It’s like going to the gym for a few hours and then coming home and sitting on the couch to just rest, that’s what this is right now. I’m about to experience the opposite, being involved in this for two weeks and then jumping into two Godsmack shows that are coming up at the end of the month, but I think it’s cool. It works together really well. It’s not like I’m doing two big rock bands at the same time, ones the calm before the storm and the other is the storm. They compliment each other really as far as health wise and physically.

Z!: Is your preshow preparation any different with the solo shows compared to the Godsmack shows?

SE: A little bit. To me it’s more about getting into my headspace, because I just need to perform a good vocal, I need to be able to be in a zone and I need to be able to get myself to a place that’s different than Godsmack. Godsmack is more of a psych up thing that I have to get prepared for, kind of like a full contact sport (laughs). You need to be in the locker room warming up, jumping around and getting your whole body ready for a really big physical show, where this is more seductive and eclectic, it’s more intellectual. You want to be right on the mark with it. The warm ups are much different, it’s a little bit more relaxing and more about the state of mind than physical.

Z!: Switching gears to Godsmack a little bit, you guys are on the Rock Star Energy Drink Mayhem Festival with Disturbed and Megadeth to name a few, do you prefer the big festivals or would you rather do the smaller shows?

SE: I like them both for different reasons. I enjoy the festivals because they’re a little quicker, we have more time to ourselves, there’s not as much pressure it’s kind of an auto pilot tour. I also like creating our own show and putting it out there, it’s a lot more work, but the reward is a lot greater as well. I enjoy both for different reasons, but I also enjoy the intimacy of smaller things like this (“Avalon” tour) because you can really get up and close and personal with people and that is really gratifying too.

Z!: What role does ego play in the big festivals? A lot of you guys are big name bands, is it more competition or more collaboration to put on a great show?

SE: I’ve learned over the years that rock n roll is more of a competition and I think that’s sad. I don’t think it should be. I wish more rock bands would just embrace each other and realize that working competitively towards each other we’re working against each other. There was a time when metal dominated top 40 radio, back in the 80’s with Motley Crue and all those kinds of bands, Van Halen, that’s what pop music was back then, because that was the popular music. Everybody worked together, bands went out on tour together and all that stuff. Now sometimes I feel that there are a little bit too many egos out there when it comes to rock music, because everyone wants to swing the big dick, everyone wants to have the belt and think they’re the king and they have a bigger draw than anybody. It’s silly. Everybody needs to just come down and embrace it for what it is. The more the fans see us unite, the more the fans will unite and they won’t be segregated and have to pick and choose who they’re going to see that year.

The festival things are great for that, but there is always back stage drama. It’s like whatever; I don’t even care any more. I honestly bring my George Foreman grill, and I get on stage and I do what I’ve gotta do and when I’m done I go and cook buffalo burgers fucking and I don’t even talk to anybody, because I’ve learned that you meet people and you just get more disappointed than anything. For me I’m always open to working with other artists and I love collaborating and I don’t know, it’s one of those things. I don’t think music should be a competition, it’s a universal language and it should be shared equally. It doesn’t matter if you’re bands more popular or not, it’s about allowing the fans to see we’re one big family out here and we’re creating music for everybody.

Z!: I was a big fan of when Godsmack went unplugged with “The Other Side.” How was that received and will we ever see that side of Godsmack again?

SE: I don’t know, about the unplugged thing with Godsmack. It depends on what the situation is. I felt I needed to separate the too, because most people wanted Godsmack to be the big tough, raw rock monster. Now I have this other side, this project that whenever I want to vent that acoustic side, that more earthly tribal kind of thing. I can do it with this and do it by myself. I don’t know, it seems like its time to separate the two and make Godsmack, Godsmack and anything else I want to do as Sully Erna, it give s me the control to do that separately.

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

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