If Godsmack frontman Salvatore “Sully” Erna’s 2005 was a dark cloud, he’s enjoyed a pretty good silver lining this year.
The Boston hard rock quartet’s latest album, “IV,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 when it was released in late April; so far, it’s sold about 800,000 copies. And the single “Speak” made Godsmack the only band to score 14 No. 1 hits on Radio & Records Active Rock chart (it also topped the Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks and Mainstream Rock Tracks).
“We felt like this could be a special album for us,” says Erna, 38. “Then again, we wrote 35, 40 songs and picked the best 11. A lot of good material was kicked to the side to make sure there was no skipover material on the record. It really feels like every song could be a winner.”
And that’s a pretty good feeling considering how bad things were for Erna before the group made the album.
The singer explains that he was dealing with “a lot of issues” last year, including a business lawsuit that had been going on for two years and problems with his girlfriend, the mother of his 4-year-old daughter. The good news, Erna says, is that he “flushed out a lot of negative people in my life, and negative influences” — the latter including alcohol and cigarettes.
“It was a year of cleansing for me,” he notes. “It’s very difficult to get over the lifestyle and addictions I was going through and be a better person, a better dad. We all hopefully came through it intact.”
But with all that going on, he adds, “I was feeling very distanced from the band. I wasn’t thinking about music at all.” Rather than bring Godsmack to a standstill, however, Erna asked the rest of the group — guitarist Tony Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill and drummer Shannon Larkin — to get things started without him.
“I wanted them to write and bring me a bunch of stuff, and they kept plugging away and writing and getting as much material together as they could,” Erna recalls. “Finally, they had so much material, I had to get in there and send them home for two weeks.
“It felt like I was writing for a new band. I went through the stuff they did and thought, ‘I never would have written that riff or approached things that way.’ It made me think outside the box.”
And of course, Erna had no problem finding a place for his own angst within those songs; as the fi rst line on the album warns, “Once again, my friends, storm clouds are rolling in.”
“Music is my therapy,” he acknowledges. “You can always listen to any Godsmack record and know what’s going on in my life.”
Erna and his bandmates made it sound different this time, however. The frontman proudly points to songs such as the epic opening track, “Livin’ in Sin,” the bluesy stomp “Shine Down” and the ringing acoustic guitars and mandolin of “Hollow” as fresh directions for Godsmack — although some of the impetus came from the warm fan reception to the acoustic 2004 EP “The Other Side.”
“That defi nitely opened up our eyes,” Erna says. “It made us realize this band doesn’t have to have a ceiling over our heads, nor do we want to. We felt like we had a permission slip to write whatever we wanted.
“I love that. I never wanted to feel like we had limitations. I think as the band grows and gets more mature and a little older, it’s nice to be able to experiment and take chances. We’re well aware that sometimes it’s hit-or-miss and we may take a chance that doesn’t work out. But so what?”
Those experiments, in fact, led Erna and company to deviate from another part of their standard operating procedure. Rather than hitting the road right away to promote “IV,” Godsmack decided to sit back and let the album sink in for a few months.
“I’m a big fan of music and going to concerts and stuff,” Erna says. “I remember it always bummed me out a little bit to go see my favorite band and they’d start playing their new record, and I’d be like, ‘I don’t want to hear this ...’
“I didn’t want that for this record. I wanted people to have time to live with it and learn it and take it in their car and to the beach and start acquiring some memories with it. It’s not like we’re going to play the whole record, but what we do play I want them to be familiar with.
“See, there is a method to our madness sometimes.”
Godsmack, Rob Zombie and Shinedown perform at 7 p.m. Friday (September 15th) at DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road north of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $45 pavilion, $25 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit
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