Godsmack Singer Sully Erna Talks "Avalon," Playing Piano, Film Music, "Mayhem" and Mor
Mon, 21 Mar 2011 07:44:19
"There are no secrets on this one," smiles Sully Erna about his solo debut, Avalon.
The Godsmack frontman has always been direct in his approach, pairing honest lyrics with brilliantly bruising melodies for over a decade. However, on Avalon, Erna embraces a poetic intimacy that draws listeners further down the spiral and brings them face to face with a myriad of demons, emotions, thoughts, and feelings. It's a boundless sonic trip that touches on every element of the human condition via haunting piano, tribal percussion, and darkly hypnotic vocals. Avalon is the ultimate aural ride, and it's bound to affect anyone who opens up to it.
Sully Erna sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about his solo album, Avalon, playing piano with his daughter, thoughts on film music, this summer's Rockstar Mayhem Festival and more.
Do you feel like Avalon is the most free you've been in the studio?
For sure! There were no expectations. There was no path. There was no direction. It was very free and loose. It started with just me and Lisa Guyer [Vocals] speaking with Niall Gregory [Percussion] from Dead Can Dance, and that became the foundation of it. I had some stuff written like "Eyes of a Child," "Until Then," and small pieces like that. There was nothing carved out yet though. We got together, and we wanted it to be this cool, vibe-y thing but we didn't really know what it sounded like yet. We just started there. Lisa brought in a few musicians, and one of those musicians brought in somebody else. Then we found the cello player Irina Chirkova. She was teaching out of Boston at the colleges, and she was recommended through one of the studio guys we were working with. It all happened very organically. It really was a very loose and free project that created itself.
Were there any instruments you had the opportunity to use that you'd always wanted to try? Did you incorporate any sonic textures that were new for you?
] If anybody knows me, even through Godsmack, they know that I've always had this other side to me. It's very tribal and almost Native American at times with hand drumming. It's very earthly. You can hear it on "Voodoo," "Serenity," and even "Spiral." I think people kind of expected it to go in that direction but not quite as deep in that direction. We took it even one step further and really opened up more of a world music-style on this record. At times, it's very simple and stripped down with a piano and a cello. Other times, it's very epic and layered like "7 Years." Then there are very haunting sides like "Avalon" and normal rock ballad-ish material like "Broken Road" or "Eyes of a Child." There's a very wide range of genres on here because I think everybody comes from such a different background. I come from a more hard rock background. Then there's Niall who comes from an eclectic, Celtic-style drumming. He's from Ireland. Irina is classically trained. Lisa comes from a blues background. I think that's really why the record sounds so unique in a sense. You could listen to one song at a time and probably categorize it, but if you put it all together as a body of work, it's really hard for me to even figure out where it goes on the shelf.
You go deeper than ever before.
It's very layered; it's a great headphone listen. It's exactly what we wanted it to be. Although we didn't know what that was at the time, we did know we wanted to create something that took people on a journey. We wanted to create something that was very powerful music—not about pyro, not about who can jump higher off the drum riser. This was about the music. This was like how it used to be back in the day. I wanted it to be a real, true musical experience. I think it's one of those records that you can lay back on the couch and listen to and it really paints beautiful pictures. It's very visual and cinematic. I think we at least accomplished that. It's very heartfelt and vulnerable. I really slit my wrists open and dumped them out on this record. That's for sure.
It's honest and personal, but listeners can relate all of these songs to their own lives.
As they always should. I've always tried to write about the things I needed to vent about and get out of my system and release the demons so to speak. However, I've always written in a very generalized manner so people could apply it to their own life situations because that's what music is. It's a gift. It really is a universal language. You don't even have to understand what I'm saying. I hear this stuff is hitting in Bulgaria and certain places like that. It's a universal language. Music is a gift. It's been sent here from the universe. It's just made of vibrations and frequencies. We don't understand it fully, but we should embrace it and never take it for granted because it's here to heal. It's here to nurture the good times and get us through the bad times. I hope people can identify Avalon as one of those records that really can comfort them at times, help them process stuff, or just make them feel good. That's what music's supposed to be. It's not supposed to be a competition or an ego fest or whatever. It's supposed to be a universal, shared language.
You've always been honest and personal. However, the delivery for the message is different on Avalon.
Yeah, it's another side that I love. I don't write just rock music. That's been my vehicle to get exposed and bring me the sort of recognition I've received so far. I truly do love hard rock music. It's in my blood, and it's what I've been raised on, but there's also another side of me that just enjoys writing music no matter what it is. I've written pop songs. Sometimes, I sit home at the piano with my daughter and we goof around, and I come up with really cool interesting stuff. It's not necessarily always going to be good for Godsmack though so I'm not just going to throw it away and stick it in the trashcan just because it doesn't fit what I do with them. This was the perfect opportunity for me to showcase another side of me, bring out some different textures, and explore that earthly vibe in a sense. Who knows after that? I may do co-writes with other artists. I don't know where it's going to go, but I know as I get older and I mature and my music matures, it's going to lead me in different directions. I never want to have a ceiling over my head; I want to be able to create what I feel whenever I feel it.
Is piano particularly special to you?
That's become one of my favorite instruments. I spend more time on the piano than I do writing lyrics or playing drums anymore. It's acoustic guitar and piano equally at this point, but I lean a little more towards the piano. I love the instrument. It's very percussive, and it's very melodic. You can really do anything with it. I enjoy sitting at a piano and writing there. That's where it starts for me now. Do I want to be screaming "Time Bomb" when I'm 50-years-old? Not sure [Laughs]. Maybe, maybe not! I do know that I can enjoy my sunsets as I get older in my life and I could envision myself growing like a Billy Joel or somebody like that where I can still entertain , perform, play great music, and sit at a piano, and fulfill that part of my life. I love playing several different instruments.
Would you ever want to do music for movies?
Without a doubt! I love it. I'm going to try pursuing all of that stuff anyways because I really do love the sounds and cinematic feel of some of that kind of music. To be able to put it up against a body of work in a movie or TV show is something I'm going to explore.
What are your plans for the Avalon live experience?
We're working on it. The goal is to start touring this spring! If this goes down, we should be posting dates soon. Keep your eyes on SullyErna.com. My goal actually is to get this thing to grow to the point where I could have it in Vegas because I have a whole plan scripted out with live dancers, 180-degree video screens, and 5.1 surround sound. I have a real bigger vision for this, but I have to get it to that point first. For now, hopefully we can just get it out there and let people start seeing and hearing it and spread a good buzz for it to grow.
Are you looking forward to Mayhem this summer?
We're looking forward to getting out there and having a fun summer for sure! It's nice to have both Godsmack and Avalon for balance. It's going to be a good bill. There are a lot of cool bands on it. Those Amphitheater shows are usually pretty fun too.
Will Boston always be a part of what you do?
I'm always going to have a New England heart. No matter where I live, I will proudly fly my Boston colors.
For more with Sully Erna, watch our exclusive video interview here!
Check out Sully in our feature on Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails here!
Have you heard Avalon yet?