Q&A: Sully Erna of Godsmack - Rolling Stone
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Sully Erna of Godsmack

“I never really wanted to be the poster child for witchcraft, but that’s fine.”

Sully Erna, Godsmack

Sully Erna of Godsmack

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

During the past year, Godsmack frontman Sully Erna has passed so many milestones on the road to rock stardom that it’s hard to believe he almost called it quits. “I said that if I wasn’t close to doing something that looked promising when I turned thirty, I was gonna hang it up,” he says through the haze of a think Boston accent. “And my thirtieth birthday came around in February, and we signed the deal in June.” Godsmack’s major-label deal was only the beginning of a goth whirlwind that landed the band’s debut, Godsmack – originally recorded in 1996 for $2,500 – a steady spot on the charts. Last summer, Godsmack were officially inducted into the hard-rock elite when they joined Ozzfest. They must have done something right, because they were then invited to warm up Black Sabbath on their subsequent tours of the U.S. and Europe. “You’re ten feet from Ozzy and Tony Iommi and the guys,” Erna says, “and you’re just like, ‘Whoa, this is Sabbath.’ “

Did touring with Sabbath make them seem more like regular guys?

Not at all. Not to me, and I don’t think to anyone else. Every time you see Ozzy or any of them, you’re just like, “It’s Sabbath.” They’re living legends. What really freaked us out was the last Birmingham, England, show, which was the last Sabbath show ever. Robert Plant walks by! And we’re like, “Oh, my God, I’m gonna throw up all over the place.” It was just like, “This is ridiculous – Zeppelin and Sabbath in one room. I’m gonna be sick.”

You gotta feel good about your album going platinum.

We don’t really hear much about that stuff. We ask to be cut out of that kind of information, because we don’t want to lose our creativity and the drive. No one wants to get on the rock-star ego trip.

But you have to notice when more people show up at your gigs.

There’s no doubt. We went from doing clubs all of our lives to selling out theaters everywhere in the United States. But still, you’re never really there until you’re there. And then you’re still not there. Because you still have to earn your keep and have some kind of stability. I mean, the next record we put out could stiff, and we’d be all done.

When you started playing, did you hope that someday you’d be “there”?

Yeah, because it’s something that I’ve done my whole life. I started playing when I was three and a half. My dad’s a professional trumpet player – he’s had a bunch of jazz bands. And I kind of grew up under the piano, listening to them rehearse in the basement. And I just always knew. I mean, I quit school for it. I lost relationships over it. I sacrificed having an apartment and nice cars when all my friends were graduating high school and getting all this stuff, and I was still looking like the loser, schlepping off my parents. It’s in my blood, and I just could never let it go.

You have a song on the “Any Given Sunday” soundtrack.

Yeah, I was pretty excited about that, because Al Pacino’s my favorite. When they told me that I might be able to meet him, I was, like, sick. I just love that guy so much. I’m hoping he has some hot daughter who loves Godsmack and will drag him to a show.

I hear you’re into this whole witchcraft wackiness. Could you tell me more?

I could, if you promise me one thing: no low blows. I never have a problem talking about this, because it’s something that I strongly believe in. I never wanted to be the poster boy for witchcraft, but, OK, I’ve been identified, and that’s fine. I’m not shy about it if I feel people are being sincere, but as soon as the sarcasm turns on, I shut down the conversation.

No, really, I’m being sincere.

It’s a religion. A lot of people just affiliate the word witch with evil because Christianity condemned it so many hundreds of years ago. Back in those days, witches were just women who believed in herbs and plants as natural healing remedies – the belief in the earth and karma and stuff like that. Because it’s so blown up to be this super-hocus-pocus kind of magical thing, people are almost disappointed when they find out what witchcraft really is. Because it’s very much like any other religion. You do it for yourself. Maybe Buddhism works for you, maybe Christianity works for you. Whatever it is, if it works, it works, and I don’t question it.

What’s wrong with Christianity?

My problem with Christianity was they never allowed you to look into any other religions. It’s like, “This is the book. This is the way. Believe it or go to hell.” Fuck that. And who knows? I could be wrong. Maybe when I die I could go to purgatory and there could be Jesus going, “See? We tried to tell you the whole time. You fucked up, now go to hell.”

That’s some heavy shit right there.

[Laughs] Yeah, it is. I meet a lot of witches that won’t come out of their shell. They put their pentacles underneath their shirts, or they take their rings off, or whatever it is that may symbolize that they’re a witch. Maybe that’s why it’s made so much noise with me being in a rock band and me being a witch – and it’s like, “Ooh, what a cool marketing strategy” – because it’s two weirdo things in one. But, ultimately, a lot of kids write to me about it, and they’re very curious. But I think a lot of them find out that it really is a religion and you have to do work. And then they go, “Ah, I just wanted to cast spells.”

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