GEORGIA STRAIGHT

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Godsmack taps a new vein
By steve newton

Publish Date: 22-Jun-2006

The other guys in Godsmack have often tried to fire Rasputin, but once he fixes them with his mesmeric stare, the matter is quickly dropped.

How many big-league metal CDs can you name that have sold more than 3.5 million copies yet cost less than three grand to make? The only one I’m aware of is Godsmack, the 1998 debut by the Boston-based metal quartet of the same name. As guitarist Tony Rombola explains on the line from a Toronto tour stop, the multiplatinum sleeper was basically just a refurbished demo.

“We were just trying to get a record deal with it,” he says, “but when we got the deal they thought it sounded good enough, so we just remastered it and put it out. That was a good one. It kept us from owin’ a bunch of money out of the box, which was nice.”

Rombola and his bandmates—vocalist Sully Erna, bassist Robbie Merrill, and drummer Shannon Larkin—haven’t owed anyone anything for a while now. Their 2000 follow-up, Awake, has moved 2.5 million copies, and 2003’s Faceless—which debuted at #1 on the Billboard album chart with sales of more than 270,000 copies in its first week—is at 1.5 mil and counting. The group’s fourth CD, conveniently titled IV, hit stores two months ago and is also bringing in the bling.

IV is a bit of a stylistic departure from the first three CDs from God?smack. The longest track, the seven-minute-plus “One Rainy Day”, shows a bluesier approach than their previous earbusters. “That song is definitely something different,” notes Rombola. “Me and Shannon were just jammin’ some dark blues stuff, you know, almost like an old Robin Trower type of vibe, and Sully started singin’ to it. He dug it and thought it would be cool.”

“Speak”, the grinding first single from IV, had its nucleus in a backstage jam while the band was touring as opening act for the mighty Metallica. “We had a rehearsal room everyday,” recalls Rombola, “so we’d try to write music, and ‘Speak’ was one of the songs that I wrote with Shannon—well, the music—and then Sully came in humming somethin’, and that was it.”

Famed engineer Andy Johns, whose credits include albums by Van Halen and the Stones—plus an obscure ditty named “Stairway to Heaven”—put his mark on IV, but it wasn’t a wholehearted stamp. There was a possibility Johns would produce the CD, but that didn’t pan out. “He had a lot of ideas,” recalls Strombola, “but his ideas weren’t really workin’ out, because Sully is so head-strong. But he helped out on ‘Hollow’, because we had never recorded mandolins, and Sully loved the drum tones that he got.”

Erna’s interest in drum sound dates back to his pre-Godsmack days, when he spent years bashing the skins for other bands. He still gets behind the kit nowadays, when he and Larkin perform a simultaneous drum solo in concert. (“We’re a basic hard-rock outfit that takes a lot of pride in the grooves we create,” Erna is quoted as saying in Godsmack’s current Universal Records bio. “As a drummer, that’s what’s important to me.”)

Growing up in New Hampshire, Rombola was inspired by rock bands from nearby Boston, Aerosmith in particular. “They were our local heroes,” says the guitarist, who counts Jimi Hendrix, Randy Rhoads, and Gary Moore among his major six-string influences. Rombola got to share the stage with another old-school guitar hero on a couple of tunes when Godsmack joined Ted Nugent at Camp Pendleton, outside San Diego, last year. A tribute to marines fighting in Iraq, the concert drew more than 50,000 servicemen and their families, and was released on CD and DVD as Rockin’ the Corps.

“Males 18 to 25 like the hard rock,” notes Rombola, “so we have a lot of fans in the military.”

Besides Godsmack, he’s a full-fledged member of a new act called Another Animal, which includes the Godsmack rhythm section, its original guitarist Lee Richards, and singer Whitfield Crane from Ugly Kid Joe (remember the love-it-or-loathe-it ’92 hit, “Everything About You”?). The quintet’s self-titled debut CD is set for release this September. “It’s all the leftover stuff Sully didn’t want to use for Godsmack,” says Rombola with a chuckle. “We were like, ‘Why not use this for something else?’”

And what happens if Another Animal scores a hit with one of its Erna-shunned tunes and takes off? Surely the trio of Godsmackers wouldn’t leave their headstrong singer in the lurch. “We can do both!” asserts Rombola. “I mean Tool did it, right, with Perfect Circle. A few bands have done it.”