Every so often, a band comes along whose impact on the music scene is a can't miss proposition. Godsmack is one of those bands. They slam with an intensity that never misses a beat, grind in a groove as thick and syrupy as Jane's Addiction, and deliver their crushing musical blows with a callous irreverence reminiscent of early Alice in Chains. The proof is in their self-titled debut (Republic/Universal Records), a blast of aggravated fury that shreds with tribal tones and barbed-wire hooks that burrow under the skin. With lead single "Whatever" taking command at rock radio, sales well in excess of 100,000, a trial-by-fire opening run for Sevendust to close '98 (their first departure from the friendly confines of the Northeast, where they call Boston home), and an offer on the table to take part in this summer's OZZfest, what started as a sucker-punch is turning into full-fledged fisticuffs from Godsmack. Currently criss-crossing America on their second headlining club run (the first ended in mid-February) we caught up with frontman Sully to talk about his band's rapid rise.
Maximum Ink: You guys are new to a lot of America, but you've had a buzz here in the Northeast for awhile. How'd you break the local scene in Boston?
Sully: Well, our first year was really experimental-getting the right guys together, feeling each other out, feeling the songs, and trying to find a path. A lot of the songs were so versatile, they just didn't work-one was funky with horns, another was really metal, then a ballad. Everyone would just write to try and come up with a demo tape, but none of the songs were that compatible. So we spent that first year swapping members and finding the right path. We were finding out that people liked the heavier stuff we were writing, and the groove, more than the lighter stuff, so we went down that avenue. The more we played with that, the better we got at writing it, and the better songs we got out of it. That went on for two years, we picked up a buzz in the area, and we got support from (radio station) WAAF-We sent a CD blindly, and a month later, Rocko-their night DJ-called us and said he wanted to start supporting it on his nightly show. We were like, "Sure!" We didn't have anything else to do!
MI: So this whole buzz started off a demo tape?
Sully: Actually, let me back up a bit... We were doing live shows, and were so worried about playing in front of live crowds and packing the houses, that we weren't worried about making a CD or getting on radio. Then a friend of ours told us that there were a lot of people saying they would buy a CD if we made one, because all we had was three-song cassettes. So I found this guy, Andrew Murdock, who had worked worth me in the past, and he's really good. He's underground, and hasn't had his big brake yet, so he said, "You know what, I'll do the whole thing for a flat fee," and I told him that if it goes anywhere, we'd give him points on the record, co-producing credit, whatever. So we banged this whole thing out for $2100% in a weekend, a couple friends helped out with the artwork, we threw it out on the shelves, and we had this cheap CD that WAAF started playing. The response was good, more people started coming to the shows, it kept selling, our requests would go up, and the whole thing just started to blow up. We were selling like 1000 CDs a week, it just kept snowballing, and we blew up in New England. We started cornering the Heatseekers chart in Billboard, and no one could get in there. Right before we signed the deal, we had sold more than 20,000 records on our own, out of the trunks of our cars, and I think that's what attracted the label to us. We did it the old-fashioned way. It wasn't corporate, it wasn't kissin' ass, we just got out on the streets, hustled, flyered cars, spread the word, and did whatever we could to just get the word out. That's about it! The good thing was, they liked the production so much we didn't even have to re-record the record. We slapped some new artwork on it, added the song "Whatever," and boom! Six weeks later it was on the shelves again and we were out on tour. It was great, because we didn't have to wait that year for the record to come out, and all that bullshit bands have to do when you sign a deal. We just got right on the road and starting pushing the thing.
MI: Where'd the name come from?
Sully: That's actually a funny story... I recorded the drums on the album, but before Tommy joined the band we had a drummer named Joe Darko. It was while he was in the band that we figured we needed pictures, because there was a pretty big buzz in town, and we didn't have any shots. So we set up the shoot, and paid the photographer ourselves, in advance, and couldn't reschedule it. The day of the shoot, Joe shows up with this huge fuckin' cold sore on his bottom lip, it was like the size of a dime. He wanted to reschedule, but we couldn't, I was crackin' up, it was funnier than shit, and he was a good sport, we did the shoot. The next day, I came to rehearsal with a huge fuckin' cold sore on my lip-same place, same size. Tony said, "See, God just smacked you for makin' fun of Joe yesterday!" Boom! Godsmack! The funny thing is, it's an Alice in Chains song. We knew that, but now it has an instant definition-it's karma, what comes around goes around, God will smack you for it. But then we were like, "Shit, we don't want to be pegged as a fuckin' clone band." But people get over it. Once they start to enjoy your music, they relate the music to the band, not your name.
MI: You were a collections agent before getting signed, right?
Sully: (laughing) Yeah! I was actually signed to a band called Strip Mind, on Sire/Reprise. I was a drummer, that's what I've been all my life-This singing thing's new to me, I just decided to step up and give it a shot. I was with them for about three years, then the band just self-destructed. We were younger then, into drugs and alcohol and hangovers, and a lot of us didn't get along after a while. I took a year off because I was just fed up with it. I had been on the road since I was 15, in cover bands and what not, and then it fell apart and I was like, "What the fuck, that could have been my only shot at this!" I didn't have any money, a girlfriend, a car, a place to live, nothing! So I pulled myself off the road to get my shit together, and got involved doing collections for an attorney. I actually made pretty decent money doing it--it was one of the few jobs I found where you didn't have to be that smart school-wise, you just had to be smart street-wise. You basically were just bullshitting people to get them to pay their bills, it was great (laughing)! But after a year, when I got my shit together and the crisis was over, I really started to miss it and I wanted to start a band again-and I wanted to sing. So I got together with Robbie and another guitar player, I was playing drums, and that's how we wrote. I'd take the tapes home and write lyrics and melodies. Then, when we got a good demo together, I called Tommy, because we had toured together when I was in Strip Mind-he used to play in Lillian Axe. He liked it, flew out, stayed with us for about a year, then bailed to go back to California. That's when we picked up Joe Darko [Tommy rejoined the band in April '98]
MI: The sound has a universal appeal that a lot of heavy music can't generate. How varied are the band's influences?
Sully: I've always been into having a band be a band and write together, but unfortunately it can't always be that way, because too many cooks spoil the soup. Normally I'd be into all songs being written and recorded by Godsmack, but on this record, I'd already written a lot of the songs before the band was even locked in as a unit. Tony learned the songs for the audition, and added a few things here and there, but the majority of the album was written already. To answer the question, everyone has different influences-we all have our things we listen to here and there-but as a band we all listen to Alice in Chains, Korn, Tool, and a lot of the current stuff. Personally, I listen to bands like Dead Can Dance, they're more spiritual, and stuff like The Doobie Brothers, with the big groove. I like things with tribal drums. Tony's really into Hendrix.
MI: Were you trying for something that would blur all the lines?
Sully: At first I was experimenting, and the first group of songs weren't in this groove, they were more commercial. There were a couple that were heavier, and that's what all my friends were into. And I've always liked the heavy stuff, even back when I was in cover bands, I loved doing Megadeth, Queensr˙che, all that shit. Another thing, was that I fuck around with guitars and keyboards, whatever. I'm not really that good, and a friend of mine showed me this trick where you de-tune the E string and you can play chords with one finger, so all of a sudden I had a writing pattern. At the time I was listening to bands like Helmet, and I really liked their grooves and the stop-and-go riffs, it always made my foot tap. Being a drummer, I'm thinking that this is the base of what people listen to-the drums, simple riffs, that's the stuff that gets people to understand it who aren't musicians. Instead of a band like Dream Theater, where most of it goes over people's heads. Most people don't know about arpeggios and scales and that shit, they just want to hear a good melody, a good fuckin' hard-hitting drum beat, a good groove on the guitar, and they get it. They can sing along, and younger kids can learn the songs and play them in their bands. So I wanted enough to keep us satisfied, but I wanted to keep it simple enough that the general public understood... If it's stuff that gets me off, and I'm jumping up and down in my living room calling everybody and telling them that I've got a new song that I'm psyched about, someone else is gonna feel that, and that's what I go for.
MI: Is there a lot of formal music training in the band?
Sully: Well, I started drumming at three-and-a-half, and took lessons until I was 11. I just found that it was a lot easier to play by ear than to take lessons, so I quit. Everything else I've learned, I've learned on my own-guitar, piano, harmonica... Stuff that's not really a part of the band, but I love the sound of the instrument. I'm thinking of trying to go for the sax, and I love strings-violins and orchestras. I just like picking stuff up and seeing if I can pick it up. Even if I can't learn it great, I can pick it up enough to try and write with it and use it as a tool. I really don't know about the other guys. I know Robbie's been playing for quite a while, and I think Tony started a little later, when he was 12 or 13. I think every musician finds someone that influences them to pick up a guitar, or play better. For me, believe it or not, there was KISS, and shit like that, and when I discovered John Bonham I was over the edge for the guy, but the freaky thing was, the guy that made me want to be a rock star and do this for a living was Joe Perry. I'm a fuckin' drummer and I see this guy holding a B.C. Rich down to his knees, with hair in front of his face with a blond streak, and you couldn't see anything but his nose and lips. It was on the Bootleg record. I was like, "Fuck, that's it! I'm growing my hair long and getting on a stage. I want to do that!" I was probably 13 or 14 then, and that really kicked it into gear for me. Those were rock stars, and that was cool!
MI: What are your touring plans?
Sully: We finish up this tour in Lowell, MA, which is like a graduating show for us, we're playing a 7000-seat arena. When that show plays out, we've got five or six days off where we do the Conan O'Brien Show. We've never done TV before, so we're really excited. It's stuff like this that leaves us waiting for the tree to fall on our heads! Things are playing out too smoothly! Where the fuck's the tree! After that short break, we're gonna do another six months on our own. I came up with this idea that I want to get out to the public, a tour with rock and racism tied together. Racism is something that's always bothered me, and I hate when people don't get along just because of different races. I'm in a position now where I can spread the word around the states, and in a room with a bunch of different people. I'd like to try and bring out a couple bands that could mix the races up... I'm in the midst of naming it now, and I'd like to see it grow into something like OZZfest or Family Values, as we grow. For now it's just a club circuit, but who knows, in time, if we move up to theaters, arenas, something like that, if we last, we can keep this thing going. Plus, Sharon Osbourne just called us a few days ago and offered us OZZfest, so we may be doing that in June and July. The day before, we found about Conan, and the next day we heard about OZZfest. Where's the fucking tree!