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The music and magic of Godsmack

By JENNY FENIAK -- Edmonton Sun

Guitarist Tony Rombola was sitting around a Toronto hotel room last week, noodling on his guitar while waiting for the next show on Godsmack's current Canadian tour.

We got a chance to dig a little dirt out of him about the band's newest album, the band's newest side project and singer Sully Erna's supposed Wiccan ways.

Godsmack's coming back to Edmonton, one of its biggest markets for album and ticket sales, on Wednesday night. The band'll be playing the AgriCom with label-mates Hinder, but without the signature theatrics and pyrotechnics because this time around, "It's really just about the music," says Rombola.

Ten years on, Godsmack's story is one of great opportunity and achievement. After 23 years as a drummer, Erna decided to start his own band. The story has several versions, including Godsmack starting out as a tribute band to '90s grunge rockers Alice in Chains, which according to Rombola, isn't at all true.

But the band's name did come from a track called God Smack on AIC's 1992 album Dirt, while singer Layne Staley was Erna's inspiration as a vocalist. All Wound Up, Godsmack's 1998 debut, recorded for just $2,600, and was picked up by a nighttime disc jockey at the Boston radio station WAAF.

He convinced the program director to put one track into regular rotation, which spurred an upward momentum that has seen the band achieve everything from touring with heroes Black Sabbath to scoring the soundtrack for The Scorpion King and Grammy nominations.

Godsmack's fourth CD, simply title IV, was released in April, and it turns out this particular album marks a personal and peculiar milestone for Erna.

"Something about the number four always comes up. Sully always says it like 'Fouah,' " says Rombola, in his best imitation of Erna's enhanced Boston accent. "I know this sounds crazy, but when he rates girls from like a one to a 10, any girl that's just average or whatever is a 'fouah' to him.

"It's been years of hearing 'fouah'," Rombola continues. "So finally when we had a fourth record (Erna) was like, 'Oh, we'll call it 'fouha!' and he was all excited. So I can't really give you a real good answer on that. It's just that he likes the number four and ... "

This is not the only time Rombola's sentences trail off while trying to explain Erna's oddities. Besides naming the latest CD, it's evident the singer is a solo spirit and Godsmack is more his own creation simply executed by Rombola, Robbie Merrill and the band's latest drummer Shannon Larkin.

"When we work with Sully, he makes a lot of the decisions," says Rombola. "Sully has a song and he has ideas and, you know, he has a certain guitar tone and he has a certain drum beat and drum fill. So it's kind of what he's hearing."

Erna's individualism is everywhere, including claims on the band's website that he's a practitioner of Wicca, a modernized witch cult.

Although Rombola has "never seen him like, making potions or anything," the number four is significant to the religious movement and represents the four seasons and the elements with the symbol of a sun star, which is extremely similar to Godsmack's logo.

As the primary creative force behind Godsmack, Erna finally needed the band's input when a spell of writer's block struck while he was working on IV. The group banded together and wrote more than three dozen new songs for the album, of which only 11 made the final cut.

"We had a bunch of extra music left over that Sully didn't use for Godsmack and we're putting out our own side project," says Rombola, who joined Godsmack a year after the band began. "Me and Shannon, Robbie, the original guitar player Lee Richards from Godsmack and you know Whit Crane? He used to sing for Ugly Kid Joe. He's the singer, and the five of us recorded a record this past winter in Boston and it's a band called Another Animal and its coming out in September."

"Maybe we can actually win a Grammy," he adds, "all in fun," of course.

Excited about the new project, Rombola says, "The great thing about it is everyone had input on it."

The communal collaboration is a definite change from the way Godsmack works and as far as co-ordinating the two projects, "It's almost like a movie unfolding before your eyes," says Rombola.