Penthouse Retrospective

by David John Farinella Originally Published: May, 2001

Godsmack | 20 Years Ago This Month

“It comes from the people. The energy that we get from the audience is what drives us to do what we do onstage.”

That persistence was the key, since they might play to 35 people at Worcester State College in Massachusetts one night and then to 700 at some club in New Hampshire the next. They had trouble garnering any record-company interest based on their demo. It took one of those fluke, once-every-decade stories for Godsmack to get noticed.

A deejay at Boston’s WAAF radio station saw a copy of All Wound Up — with its cover photo of a woman bound in wire — in a pile of cast-offs. He spun the disc for fun and then started to air the songs “Keep Away” and “Now or Never.” The phones went crazy with callers who loved the tunes, and then Godsmack ottered up a new song, “Whatever.” The band was about to hop aboard the stardom express. “When I first heard that song on WAAF,” recalls Rombola, “it was the biggest … it was awesome.”

Major-label sharks hit Boston in droves, and the boys signed a deal with Universal Records. They added a couple of tracks — including “Whatever” — to All Wound Up and changed the artwork to come up with their eponymous debut, released in August 1997.

For Erna, the signing and the success of the album were part redemption, part manifest destiny. “I’m an Aquarius, so I’m a big dream chaser,” he says. “You never really think you’re going to get it. I think after so many years of toughing it out and going through the grind, you just start to believe that this is what’s in store for you. You’re only going to go so far, do well in the club scenes or playing with your friends, but you never really think of it as a national or world success. So it’s really caught us off guard, but we’re having fun with it too.”

While Erna had big dreams, Rombola was more conservative in his aspirations. “I didn’t even think we would make it,” he says. “I was kind of doing it because I love playing music and I knew these guys were good players and I liked what they were doing. It was always a dream, but I never really thought that it was going to happen. I always just figured I was playing for the moment.”

Merrill is still overwhelmed by their debut’s success. “That still blows my mind … triple platinum. Whoa. Three years ago people were throwing that record in the bucket. We were happy when we sold 100 CDs in a week.”

Booming record sales means a booming fan base, and while the band can now claim both, the guys still feel that they built up their legion of fans through endless touring and grass-roots support. To be sure, they’ve seen their share of odd crowd happenings. “I remember a kid throwing a prosthetic leg up onstage to be signed,” Erna says. “He hopped around in the mash pit for the rest of the show, and then at the end he was like, ‘Dude, can I have my leg back?’ We signed it and threw it back at him. That was very bizarre, to see someone’s leg come up onstage with the sneaker and the sock on it.”

Godsmack is also now a tremendous Internet presence. Indeed, www. has hosted quite a few chats with band members and fans alike. Last fall Erna hopped into a chat room only to hear that ‘N Sync’s Justin Timberlake had preceded him, much to the ire of Godsmack’s fans. “They were all fucking bashing him;’ Erna says. “I was going, ‘Wow, easy, guys. C’mon, he may be a fan of hard-rock music.’ They were just relentless. So, for whatever it’s worth, Justin, I’m sorry. Maybe Justin heard I like [his girlfriend] Britney Spears and he was trying to check out my shit.”

Britney? Wow, could there be a duet in the offing? Maybe a full-out choreography number? “Me and Britney?” Erna answers. “Oh, man, if I got together with Britney, there’d be a lot more than dance moves going on.”

“I never wanted to be the poster boy for witchcraft, but, okay, I’ve been identified, and that’s fine.”

Where other bands have gone off the deep end when faced with sudden fame and fortune, the Godsmack boys don’t admit to purchasing anything extravagant. Erna bought a house because he was tired of paying rent to someone else while he was on the road, and he bought his mother a Cadillac Seville because he didn’t want her driving around “in a rust bucket” anymore. Merrill bought things for members of his family, but nothing dramatic for himself. “It’s a little bit different for us because we’re an older band,” he says, “and we were struggling in the clubs for years and years and we know what it’s like to grind.”

The rest of the band echoes those sentiments. Stewart says, “It took us a while to get the opportunity, and we’re not about to piss it away. The only thing that’s going to stop this band is if fans don’t dig us anymore or if we somehow have a blowup internally, which I don’t imagine happening. So we definitely want to seize the opportunity we have and make the most of it.”

Erna concurs. “I don’t think any of us have gone into a rock-star ego trip,” he says, “because we’ve worked too hard at this. Maybe if we had had this success when we were 19, it could have been a little different because we weren’t mature enough to handle it. Now we’re a little bit older, so we respect the value of a dollar bill, and we appreciate and respect our fans and our families and each other.”

Name your band Godsmack, and you have gone a long way toward identifying your philosophy if not your music.

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