Sully Erna – Godsmack ‘The Pyramid Serene’
According to the Guinness World Records, the first movie to feature an official soundtrack was Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs released in 1937. The commercially issued album was as a collection of three 78rpm singles and each of the singles became a Top 10 hit simultaneously in February 1938. Since then, the film soundtrack has undergone multiple evolutions, for example: At the end of the 1970s, one film managed to redefine the entire paradigm, illustrating the power of music to captivate audiences and boost box office sales. Saturday Night Fever, which was released in 1977 and principally composed by the Bee Gees was a monumental success. Over 54 million copies of the soundtrack were sold and it went on to be the first-ever soundtrack to win the Album Of The Year at the Grammys.
Fast forward 25 years to 2002, Dwayne Johnson‘s (aka The Rock) film career was in its infancy and his second major role as Mathayus in the blockbuster The Scorpion King had been released acquiring the number one box office ranking for its opening weekend in April and it impressively accumulated $180 million worldwide, deeming it a box office success. The alternative rock and metal soundtrack included with the movie had its own prosperity, charting in numerous countries throughout the world and it has even been certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association Of America.
For Sully Erna, vocalist and guitarist of the hard rock quartet Godsmack, their song ‘I Stand Alone’ which was featured as a single (also a Grammy nominee), took the band to the next echelon of popularity and with it, some incredible memories. As he reveals from Florida where the outfit were situated at the time of interview:
“It was all pretty powerful and you could feel it when it was happening. We had a blast and it’s actually what started me getting the itch for the acting bug.”
This would have been an understandable itch to have attained when the video clip featured some of the biggest Hollywood personalities of the time?
“Yes, it was really cool to do that video and be able to work with an actor like The Rock and Kelly Hu. So that really kind of started that whole journey for me, it was a pretty powerful moment.” Sully admits with exuberance – “The song was our biggest single to date, I think it was number one for like 17 weeks straight on the charts. So it was very gratifying. But I could tell; I knew when we wrote it, there was something special about it. Because I just kept listening to it – I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. I would play it for my manager and then I would play it to some friends and even get slightly worried if it was good, because it was different for us. That was the first time we were really introducing melody and harmonies and things like that. So because it was unfamiliar, because there wasn’t a sound like that yet – I think that’s why it was foreign to me. But in hindsight, that’s what soundtracks do, is that they develop some new stylings for everyone.”
Whilst soundtracks may materialise new stylings for musicians and even fans, adventuring into new musical realms has been an essence for the Massachusettsans since their beginnings in 1995. Originating in the alternative and nu-metal domain, the four-piece progressed into one of the most globally adored hard rock acts charting on a more worldwide scale with every studio full-length since Awake released in 2000. In this year of 2023, planet Earth finds Godsmack releasing their (potential) final LP entitled Lighting Up The Sky; a farewell tale of self-reflection and a collection of songs that Mr Erna believes became this concept with no prior deliberate mindset on the record actually having that direction. As he explains:
“It just kind of happened. I was telling people, I really feel looking back at this, that something was kind of channelled through the process, like, we can’t even take full responsibility, because the songs kind of wrote themselves; I really believe that. Looking back now, you start to put the album together and start to sequence it in a way where you just want the record to flow from front to back, because that’s what I’m a fan of. I like being able to listen to a record front to back and have it take me on a journey.”
Where did this journey take you?
“Well I started to realise this thing was really telling a whole story here, from the front to the back. It was the story of my journey through my life and my career; the ups and downs and finding love and losing love and being really inspired again by other things: Your career, your family and my daughter all the way through the end. This is where Lighting Up The Sky really is just a reflection of the whole journey.”
He pauses in his own reflection before continuing with a joyous pride – “If I was able to talk to myself as a young version of Sully, what would I tell that young boy? What advice would I give him? When should I go faster? When should I go slower? And when I have regrets, because maybe if I wasn’t out there going 1000 miles an hour ‘Lighting Up The Sky’, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten to where I got to today, I have to remember that. Then of course, it ends where the first record begins so, that’s kind of one of the reasons why I feel like I don’t know if there can be another body work after this. I don’t, I wouldn’t even know how to top that. It just kind of feels right; I feel like we’re at that place in our career where we need us to start honouring the catalogue and the work that we’ve done and bring that show to the fans.”
The referred to catalogue is a vast collection of work by the Bay Staters, a total of nine studio albums (to a degree) and an array of live, EP, video and “collections” releases that has enthralled devotees internationally for nearing 30 years. Pertaining to the aforementioned “songs wrote themselves” sentiment, ‘Truth’, the midpoint from this latest opus could very well be THE ONE that took upon a life of its own. A nostalgic ballad that incorporates an orchestral expression that in all likelihood started as an acoustic melody but became an immaculate force that Guns’n’Roses would be dazzled by.
“It’s funny, it’s probably one of the most vulnerable and exposed songs I ever wrote.” Sully articulates, albeit humbly – “I was able to kind of access those emotions and talk about that stuff openly when I was doing my solo music for instance, but then they kind of started to merge into Godsmack. So we were able to expand our sound as well and not have a ceiling over our heads. That’s why songs like ‘Voodoo’, ‘Serenity’ and ‘Under Your Scars’ have kind of opened that door for us. Honestly, I didn’t know if I wanted to write the song because the unfortunate thing was, I was going through it right when we were writing this record and that whole event happened. Right and dead centre, the middle of this record. So it really tipped my world upside down for a second.”
Mr Erna momentarily comes to a halt and gathers himself. In a sense, he not only acknowledged the intensity of this artistic piece he created, he exposes its immeasurable significance for himself as a songwriter, then carries on:
“But I also had a focus on the record and finishing this job, but you know, obviously these feelings and all this stuff that was brewing – I knew I had to get it out of my body. So the song was going to come whether I liked it or not. Because when the day is over and you’re sitting on your couch, reflecting on everything; this is when those kind of moments happen. You pick up a guitar and you start to put the pen to the paper; it was a tough one. It was a very, very hard song to deliver in the vocal booth.”
In reflection and able to hear the mastered version, does the song still have that painful attachment?
“It’s pretty raw. Well, it was pretty raw when it was happening. So those are the tough ones to write. But in the end, I think we’ve all learned that some of the most beautiful songs in the world came from something with pain.”
Returning to the aforementioned movie topic and merging it with the breached upon “afflicted” zone – two documentaries became quite the global phenomenon in the last year based upon the disaster that was Woodstock ’99. There is a possibility that numerous readers may not be aware that Godsmack were in fact an integral part of the festival. So it plagued this writer to ask how their experience with the ordeal was?
“They did ask us for an interview for it, but we declined. I don’t know, I remember we took a red eye to get to that show, I don’t remember much. I was half asleep when we arrived. We just came off Ozzfest after three months. It was a big blur until I opened my eyes properly on stage and thousands of people were going nuts in front of me. That’s kind of the ‘holy shit’ moment.”
While the question of ‘What’s Next?’ for Godsmack is the outfit finding ‘Serenity’ in their achievements and their probable conclusion to an outstanding carer. Their neurotoxin sting from their scorpion tail of musical legacy will last similar to the pyramids of Egypt – that is When Legends Rise.
Interview by Will Oakeshott @TeenWolfWill
Stream Lighting Up The Sky here
Godsmack – Lighting Up the Sky Tracklisting:
1. You And I
2. Red White and Blue
4. What About Me
6. Hell’s Not Dead
7. Soul On Fire
8. Let’s Go!
9. Best Of Times
10. Growing Old
11. Lighting Up the Sky
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