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L to R: Tony Rombola (guitar), Sully Erna (vocals), Tommy
Stewart (drums), Robbie Merrill (bass).


Sully Erna of Godsmack on Karma, Christians and the Law of Three, by Gabriella

Hard to believe in today's world of corporate-fabricated artists that Godsmack's platinum-selling debut wasn't a calculated major-label effort but, instead, a self-released attempt by the Boston-based band, recorded in 1996 for $2,500. According to vocalist Sully Erna, it wasn't luck or even magic that landed the band on top (although he is a practicing witch); it was simply talent and hard work.

NYROCK:

Your album was pulled from the shelves of Wal-Mart and Kmart because of a complaint by the notorious Kevin Clarke, who seems to carry on his own private crusade against the music business....

SULLY:

They say we make apparent references to suicide and contain profanities. I don't deny that I say the F word a couple of times. I think somebody counted and it was eight or nine times. OK, fair enough, if he thinks kids don't hear swear words anywhere else....

NYROCK:

It seems to be a cultural thing, particularly in America; musicians are blamed for everything, especially violence.

SULLY:

I think there's something wrong with people who can't distinguish between music and violence. There are a lot of people who just can't deal with the energy they feel and they release it in a negative way. They threaten, hurt or kill others. But I think it's just wrong to blame musicians like they did with the Columbine High School incident.

NYROCK:

We were all influenced by songs growing up. I grew up with punk, but I never once smashed a shop window. I think that fast music is a release rather than a cause of tension.

SULLY:

I think anybody who listens to music of Black Sabbath, Marilyn Manson or any other musician and then walks out and attacks somebody has a problem, but the problem isn't the music he was listening to, the problem is the person. Their brain should be examined instead of blaming the musicians.

NYROCK:

I certainly agree. What is your motivation for writing songs or lyrics?

SULLY:

Godsmack I deal with my own emotions and experiences in my songs. I found out that it's a lot easier for me to write songs when I'm down. I've experienced that it helps me and that it's a lot easier for me to write lyrics when I'm depressed. You're far more emotional and you just see things in a different way. If you're in a great mood, you don't notice a lot of things that seem to jump on you when you're down. When I recorded the album I went through a pretty bad depression and the songs seem to reflect it naturally.

NYROCK:

You make no secret of the fact that you practice Wicca [Neo-Pagan religion with many traditions that pre-date Christianity]. Aren't you concerned with the possible public backlash? If you look at Marilyn Manson, there's hardly a thing they don't blame him for. After all, a lot of people still think a pentagram is the sign of the devil or at least black magic....

SULLY:

I know, I know. The prejudices are hard to fight. It's pretty sad. People don't seem to have a clue, but, on the other hand, it gives me a chance to explain things to them. I'm not trying to convert them; I just want them to understand that Wicca has nothing to do with black magic. It's not about turning people into frogs or practicing black magic.

NYROCK:

Maybe you could explain what it's all about. I'm sure you could do it a lot better than I could.

SULLY:

Contrary to what most people wish to believe, Wicca is a very peaceful, harmonious and balanced way of thinking, an earth religion if you want. I believe it is the oldest religion, definitely pre-Christian, and we don't worship Satan or the devil because we don't believe in it. We believe that the earth is a mother to us all and we should honor and respect her and live a harmonious life. We don't own the earth but we are part of it and to destroy it means to destroy ourselves. We respect life above all. Respect for life and free thought I'd say are the basics for Wicca. We respect every other religion because we think all gods and goddesses are the same. People just worship them in a different way. Wicca is often mistakenly associated with evil, but we believe in Karma and if we do something bad it comes back to haunt us, as a godsmack! That's the basic creed, harm none. We don't sacrifice people and we don't sacrifice animals because we believe in harming no one. We also don't worship Satan; he is a Christian creation and they can keep him. Wicca doesn't work with fear. It's about your own consciousness and doing what's right. We believe in the Law of Three: whatever you do comes back three fold, good or bad.

NYROCK:

Therefore the name is not from the Alice In Chains song?

SULLY:

That's where we picked the name from. I was making fun of somebody who had a cold sore on his lip and the next day I had one myself and somebody said, "It's a godsmack." The name stuck. We were aware of the Alice In Chains song but didn't really think much about it. It's a cool song and the name had meaning for us.

NYROCK:

Do you think that your religion has something to do with the success your band has now?

SULLY:

(laughs) I think that has more to do with touring and working really hard, giving good performances and being a pretty good band in general, not from casting a spell. Wicca helped me a lot, in my personal life, but we recorded a good album and got signed. We didn't brew a potion with adder tongues or threaten to cast a spell over a record company exec.

NYROCK:

What's the thing with spells and potions?

SULLY:

Mostly a Hollywood creation because it makes a movie more exciting. Spells are something like prayers. You wish for something and you try to direct your energy towards achieving it. If you think about it, it's not different from a prayer. Potions are mostly herbal remedies.

NYROCK:

You said touring was your big break....

SULLY:

We did our leg work, toured, toured and then toured some more. We played in little joints when almost nobody was there and gave it our best. They told their friends so the next time we went back they brought their friends with them and so on. Word of mouth, we played for a good reputation and let it grow naturally and it paid off.

NYROCK:

I've heard that you dislike the term "metal"....

SULLY:

Not at all, some of my favorite bands are metal, Black Sabbath for example. I just think that metal doesn't really describe our sound. It's hard rock with a groove. There's a bit of industrial in it, but it's not really industrial. It's got rock in it, but it's not straight rock. It's got a bit of a heavier metal sound, and it's got a bit of hip hop in it as well. Overall it's pretty straight forward hard-edged music with a solid groove. I think the term "metal" is a bit too limiting.

October 1999


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