It’s been twenty-one years since Godsmack burst onto the scene with their powerful, chart-bothering debut. An instant smash at the height of Alternative Rock thanks to the success of singles ‘Whatever’, ‘Keep Away’ and ‘Bad Religion’, the band have maintained a constant ever since. With latest album ‘When Legends Rise’ continuing that success, the band show no signs of slowing. From "banging nails" to hanging platinum albums, we caught up with guitarist Tony Rombola and bassist Robbie Merrill for a chat at Download Festival. Awake; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi guys, how are you both today?
Robbie Merrill: We’re doing well. We’re hanging out, we just did the show, and we’re going to get on the bus in about nine hours and go to Germany to do another show.
Tony Rombola: It’s like that when we’re on the road. A lot of people say; “Oh, you see so much”; we see a lot of parking lots, actually!
How did you enjoy your set at Download today?
TR: Amazing crowd, really. It was like, people as far as you could see, so that’s pretty inspiring. All the festivals out here are exciting. We see so many places, and so many people that we know, and it blows our mind.
RM: It blows my mind that people come here every year; it’s like, rain, shine, all that stuff, so it’s an event. It kind of reminds me of like Woodstock, but you guys do it every year.
TR: Good fans.
One of the highlights of your show is always the drum battle between front man Sully and drummer Shannon Larkin; what’s it like for you guys to be up there with that going on?
TR: You know what, it’s awesome. I love the whole piece. It captivates people and it gets to show off Sully’s skills. I love it. What’s it like throwing so many rock classics into that part of the show? It’s classic rock; we grew up on it.
RM: It’s fun and easy!
Going back to the beginning of your career, and Godsmack made an impact instantly; what was it like to achieve that level of success?
TR: It really was a surprise and a shock, because it all happened so fast. Within six months we got a gold record, and within a year, we were doing Ozzfest, and we got a platinum record. So within that one year we’d already gone platinum, and had three singles on the radio, and me and him [bass] were banging nails a year before that. So everything was happening really fast.
RM: We built it on our own. We basically started playing in back yards and built it up on our own, and the next thing you know, we’re playing within a two hour radius, and then it got to a point where the local radio station was playing us, and it just got bigger and bigger. And the more festivals we played, it’s like Sully became an animal, and so, for me, we used to laugh about it; we’d be out banging nails, listening to our song on the radio, and people looking at us! We were playing in big festivals, and the next thing we’re up on the roof, you know?!
Was it difficult to deal with that success?
RM: Once we got signed and got out there, it went pretty quick. It took a little bit of time to learn how to be a rock star. We went from nothing to mega success.
You mentioned Ozzfest; do you think that contributed to bringing your success to another level?
TR: I think so. We were playing to huge audiences. We were playing clubs before that, so I think, with the radio success and then playing those huge shows, that was accountable for us.
RM: Yeah, we had to learn how to perform. We went from not being able to move on stage, to having twenty feet, to having forty feet of stage. You know, it’s like it took us a little bit.
TR: We were inspired by the other bands too. We were playing before and after all these awesome bands, so the reality was; we get on, or get off, right?!
You would have shared the stage with Pantera on some of those tours.
RM: We have fond memories of them. They were lots of fun, they were good dudes. We partied with them a lot. We learned what to do, what not to do. Yeah, you never would have thought that they would be gone in twenty years.
Was it difficult to follow up the huge success of your debut?
RM: We were on a mission. We always tell people, it takes a lifetime for your first record, and then after that you’ve got to go! So, we weren’t that band partying. We did party, but we were on a mission, we were working, so we went in and we wrote ad did our thing. Our whole career’s been like that; when we get ready we take a break, we don’t see each other, and then when we’re ready, we say; “okay, three months of writing, three months of pre-production, another three months of recording, so nine months, pretty much five days a week doing what we have to do to get the success of the album or the music that we want to come out with.
Have you been pleased with reaction to latest album ‘When Legends Rise’?
TR: We’ve had amazing success from our first single; two number ones, and we had a gold record; what more could we ask for?
RM: We’ve been touring since last year, and it’s non-stop all the way up until Christmas. This year we started in Europe in February / March, then we had two days off then we hit some US states and then all of Canada. Then we about ten days off, then we came here. We started in Russia about three weeks ago.
TM: Last year we did all the States. We did the States with Shinedown and Volbeat.
RM: That was a good one. The Volbeat one was really fun. We just did that. We just got off from that. They were a pleasure to be around, and a pleasure to tour with.
So what’s next for you?
RM: We’ve got another week of festivals, then we fly out, and go back home, then we start doing shows at the beginning of July.
Finally Tony, I couldn’t help notice that beautiful Paul Reed Smith guitar that you were using.
TM: It’s a custom 22. They’re all the same; they’ve got the same pick-ups, same frets and everything, so they’re really consistent. We change tunings, but the guitars are all the same, and they sound the same. Yeah, so they’re just custom 22s, with nothing fancy, really; all standard stuff really; jumbo frets, and that’s about it. I used to play Gibsons for the first five or so years, and then I started playing these McNaught guitars for another five years. There was a custom builder in North Carolina who build a Les Paul style guitar, and then I lucked into a rep from Paul Reed Smith, and I always liked their guitars anyway, and yeah, I got on board with them.
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Thanks to Enda Madden for the shot from Download 2019.