Godsmack Bassist Talks Touring Life, 20 Years as a Band, and Being Honored by Boston
If ever a song were to frame the longevity, trajectory and torque behind the Boston based heavy metal act, Godsmack, it would have to be the first single, "1000hp", from their sixth studio album of the same name.
While the track sounds like a piece of hype music, the autobiographical lyrical content sums up the history of Godsmack quite well. Taking listeners through a form of warp-speed storytelling, the band revisits the days of playing empty bars in Boston, circa 1995, before taking over America, state by state, and spreading to foreign countries where all the band hears now is "turn that shit up louder," as the track states, and "take it to a thousand horsepower."
"At the end of the day, we write the best songs that we can for what we are," Godsmack bassist Robbie Merrill says with a New England accent, and in a surprisingly soft-spoken tone for being part of such a loud band. "We believe in them, and we give them to you, and whatever happens, happens."
It seems like a modest statement for the band that has not only joined an elite group of artists, including Van Halen and Metallica, to have had three records in a row debut at number one on the Billboard charts, but also, last year, had the city of Boston declare August 6 as Godsmack Day. Whether Godsmack Day was a marketing gimmick with the cooperation of Boston mayor Marty Walsh, meant to coincide with the release of 1000hp, as Merrill would present it (but I think this goes back to his modesty), it's a hell of an accolade for the band to hold. To which Merrill does add: "It's kinda crazy when you look back now and think about it like, 'Wow, the city of Boston honored Godsmack.'"
While "1000hp" offers a look into the history of the band for three minutes, 45 seconds, fans can put themselves on edge waiting for the release of Godsmack's feature documentary, with a release date still to be determined, that will explore, in-depth, the 20-year history of the hard rock and heavy metal survivors.
"It's been in the making for a long time," Merrill says. "For every tour, and every record that we've ever recorded, we've always had a camera in the room with us. So, we have all that footage -- it's really 20 years of what we've been through."
The Godsmack quartet -- with singer Sully Erna, bassist Merrill, guitarist Tony Rombola and drummer Shannon Larkin -- will take the stage at Tempe Beach Park as part of the Pot of Gold Music Festival on Tuesday, March 17, alongside fellow hard rockers Korn, Chevelle, and Rite to Remain. Prior to their St. Patrick's Day performance, Up on the Sun spoke with Merrill about drinking green beer, staying in shape to last on tour, and the chemistry that the band members share.
There are a lot of big names playing with Godsmack on Tuesday night. What can we expect at the Pot of Gold Festival from you guys?
Well, we just got warmed up in Australia, so we're going to go there and hit you pretty hard. We're playing right before Korn, if I'm not mistaken. It's a great lineup -- I can't wait to get there.
We'll go in there and give you all the songs that you hear on the radio and then some new stuff.
Songs that get me going, you'll see me moving [on stage]. The new one "What's Next" on the new record, I really love. You play the same songs over and over for 20 years, but there are some songs that if you see me moving then I'm really digging it.
Tell me your St. Patrick's Day story with the most drunken debauchery?
[Laughs] Ah man, well I'm not Irish, dude. I actually used to play in different bands and I'd have to play some Irish music and drink some green beer, but yeah, to me it's just a good day. I'm sure Phoenix will be the same thing -- just a good day.
A common reference in the history of Godsmack is having three consecutive records open at #1 on the charts, but even beyond that -- your last five records have all been in at least the top 5. What keeps your music level so elite?
Hard work! Hard work, hard work, hard work. After you write it, and record it -- you tour it. So right now we're on our second cycle of touring [for 1000hp], which means the second year of it. Once the fall is done, we'll take a little break. We usually take a long break, but this time around we want to take a little break and get together again to start writing.
In that time, what Tony [Rombola] will do is write a bunch of riffs and put them on tape. He's writing every day for years and years and years. When it's time for us to get together, he'll go back to them and listen to them and show them to Shannon [Larkin] so they can come up with a little bass structure.
Then, I'll come in there and start playing and then we'll give them to Sully. At the end of the day, he comes in with all of his stuff and we get together and say "yay" or "nay". That's how we've done it for all the records, but we've gotten better at it as time goes on.
For as long as I can recall, Godsmack has played on seemingly every touring festival circuit. Does the extensive schedule wear on the band?
Ask any member of the band, and they're going to give you a different answer. Personally, it took me years to figure out how to tour -- what to do and what not to do. At the end of the day, you gotta stay healthy.
I have a couple hobbies: I play hockey, I ride dirt bikes, and I bring my mountain bike out with me. Everybody thinks its sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.
The body will get tired when you're playing five shows a week and you're on a bus, and your body says, "No. Alright, dude, it's time to take a break."
It took me a couple of years to do that, but now for me, I'm on a system. I try to eat right and take care of myself. I think we're all doing it. Like Sully, he runs. He prepares for marathons, so he's always running.
In an interview Shannon did with our publication last fall, he said that stepping away from heavy rock music was important for you all to be able to come back and make 1000hp. Do you still find the need to climb out of the Godsmack box, and experiment with other things?
I've always played other types of music. I just happened to fall into this with Sully 20 years ago -- it's 20 years this month that him and I got together.
I've always played different types of music, but for me, I love Godsmack, because it gives you energy. It's the type of music that you want to play on stage. When I'm not playing Godsmack stuff though, I'm doing other things whether it's jazz or country or whatever interests me at that time.
The relationship between you and Sully [Erna] goes back even before Godsmack. Describe the bond and the creative chemistry that the two of you share.
It's hard to explain, we just have this thing on stage. I consider myself a team player. I was the boss in other bands, and he's the boss [here]. I knew he had something way before I was with him and he played drums for another band. I was thinking, "if you can do that up front, then we're gonna do something!"
I knew he had the talent, and I knew I had to be a team player. I think that helped us stay together for 20 years -- that's a long time. It's not easy. It's like you're married to three different guys, so it's crazy. When you have four band members, they all think differently, and they all want things their way. So, I think we've all learned how to accept our role as a band, and that's how we've been together so long.
The band's hometown of Boston played an important role in making and inspiring 1000hp. You even had a Godsmack Day declared in Boston last year on August 6.
Oh yeah, we've always said that we're a Boston band. I grew up 30 miles north of Boston in Lawrence, Massachusetts, but I consider myself a Bostonian, even if I don't live in the city. It was a great marketing thing for the new record coming out, and we talked to the mayor and he agreed, because he grew up with us.
He was going up his ranks in politics for 20 years, so he knew who we were. It was a good honor, and it's kinda crazy when you look back now and think about it like, "Wow, the city of Boston honored Godsmack."
Tell me about the feature film that Godsmack has been filming for 20 years?
For every tour, and every record that we've ever recorded, we've always had a camera in the room with us. So, we have all that footage, plus footage of rock stars that played with us, and some actors, and on and on.
It's just a bunch of footage, and we're going to try to put it out in the near future. It's really 20 years of what we've been through. There's a lot of fun stuff, but it's more for our fans, you know? Hopefully we can get this thing out, because it's been in the making for a long time.
Godsmack is scheduled to play Pot of Gold Music Festival at Tempe Beach Park on Tuesday, March 17.
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