An Interview with Robbie Merrill of Godsmack – July 10, 2014

Godsmack Has all Cylinders Revving on New Album

By Jim Barber

http://www.godsmack.com

For nearly two decades, Godsmack has been representing its hometown of Boston with a unique brand of hard rock music that is the epitome of that city’s blue-collar work ethic and ‘Boston Strong’ toughness. 

But like Beantown itself, there is also depth and intelligence to the band’s music – a sort of Harvard and Berklee meets the Big Bad Bruins or Big Papi. 

That essential vibe absolutely permeates Godsmack’s sixth album, aptly titled 1000hp, coming out August 5th. The songs on this album break through the more formulaic schlock that seems to be dominating the hard rock scene for a refreshing, energetic, gritty and pulse-pounding experience that will no doubt be even more epic when played live. 

“We don’t need to do a lot of takes to get the essence of the songs down. This album is just us. There are some overdubs so it’s not super raw like a demo, but with this album you pretty much get what we do – play it, record it and here it is,” said bassist and band co-founder Robbie Merrill

“I love everything about this album. Usually on an album I may have a couple of pet peeves or some things that I don’t necessarily like on a couple of songs. But [vocalist/songwriter] Sully {Erna} nailed it on this album. He really killed it when it came to lyrics and melody lines. I fell in love with the whole album. I love every song on the record – I can’t get enough of it.”

Erna and Merrill are joined in the band by guitarist Tony Rombola, who came on board in 1996, a year after the band’s formation, and drummer Shannon Larkin, who took his place behind the kit in 2002. 

1000hp is the band’s first album since the 2010 smash, Oracle, and similarly was co-produced by Erna and Dave Fortman (Evanescence, Slipknot). The essence of Boston infuses the entire album as it was written, rehearsed and recorded in the band’s new hometown headquarters. 

“We just built it this year. We have been looking to have one big place for a long time. All our equipment has been stored in four or five different places and we wanted to get everything in one room. So we leased out a warehouse for at least five years. We went in there and put up some walls and made a studio and a lounger. We basically have all our stuff in storage at one end and at the other end we have the rehearsal space and we have our studio all set to record, as well as the lounge and a kitchen,” Merrill said, adding that it also saved the band a ton of money in rental fees for rehearsal spaces, recording facilities and storage units. 

“It was also great to do this album in our hometown. We are all born and raised in the Boston area and it was good for all of us to just soak up the atmosphere of the town and let it influence our music. You get the sense of closeness and toughness of Boston. We just have strong people here. We all lived in the outskirts as kids where there were a lot of factories and mills and hard-working people. We in Boston are not afraid to work, and we like tough people here – blue collar people. That’s why, with the hockey players, the favourite Bruins tend to be the fighters and tough guys because that’s what we appreciate here.”

Merrill also said that Bostonians don’t like phonies. They like their bands to be real and stay true to themselves, an ethos that permeates the music of other notable bands from that city including Aerosmith, Boston, the J. Geils Band, Extreme and even the silky smooth chanteuse Carly Simon

“We are not trying to be something we are not. This music is what we became famous with and we are going to stick with it. It’s straight-up rock and roll. We all can play different types of music and we all like different types of music. We do stray off a little bit from time to time, just to stay fresh, but at the end of the day our fans won’t let us go too far of the path. We know what they want and we try to stick to that,” he said. 

For the past few albums, songwriting ideas came together organically. Erna would often work on his own coming up with melody lines and possible lyrics while the three other band members would hash out ideas together. When it seemed like there was a critical mass of material they would all convene in the rehearsal space to create musical magic. 

“We would send stuff to Sully and he likes what he likes and takes stuff out and re-arranges it. There are some songs where he took a part from one and put it into another thing. And it’s the same with the stuff that he has been working on. We will all get together in a room and pull all the pieces together, change things up and try to make them the best songs possible. For 1000hp we came up with the best songs musically and then Sully will start putting the lyrics to them. We work all that stuff out and pretty soon we have them down to the point where we can head right into the studio and record them and still have that energy and intensity in place,” Merrill explained. 

Godsmack toured pretty relentlessly for much of 2011 and 2012 after the release of Oracle, and took a bit of a break in 2013 to recharge the batteries, playing for only about five weeks over the summer. Once 1000hp is released, there are plans to hit the road for the Uproar Festival throughout North America later in the summer and then the band will hit international markets in the fall and winter. 

Live on stage is where Godsmack truly needs to be experienced. Like the other Boston bands mentioned above, work ethic and giving value for the entertainment dollar are paramount to Merrill and his bandmates. 

“We have always been good live because we are all players. We don’t use click tracks or any other trickery on stage. The only time we did a click track was because we had it synched to a video on the screen, but as soon as we started the click was off and Shannon took over,” he said. 

“We have always been proud of the fact that there is nothing fake or artificial about us onstage. You can hear the imperfections. It’s all real. We’re real.”

The band has sold more than 20 million albums, had 20 top-10 rock radio hits, toured as part of Ozzfest and has had its music played in movies, TV shows and video games. At this point in their career, with the overall slump in record sales, Godsmack has still managed to continue to be a top-selling artist. 

“Our first record sold five million copies. Nowadays if you can sell half a million, the record label is happy. We are going to play and record the best stuff that we can write. There’s nothing you can do about the sales, you just hope the music strikes a chord with people and that they will want to buy it. These days, as long as the record label is happy and wants to do another record, then we consider the album a success. With our label [Republic Records], they can’t wait for us to come out with a new record. That tells me there is still a big market for rock bands,” Merrill said, adding that fans who pre-order the new album on iTunes get an extra song free. 

For more information on the band and 1000hp, visit www.godsmack.com