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Steve at Concord Pavillion

Guitarist Tony Rombola of Godsmack

....... Every so often, a band comes along whose impact on the music scene is a can't miss proposition. Godsmack is one of those bands. They slam with an intensity that never misses a beat, and deliver their crushing musical blows with a callous irreverence reminiscent of early Alice in Chains. The proof is in their self-titled debut (Republic/Universal Records), a blast of aggravated fury that shreds with tribal tones and barbed-wire hooks that burrow under the skin. With lead single "Whatever" taking command at rock radio, sales well in excess of 100,000, Boston's Godsmack confidently brought neo-metal rock into the technological age by seamlessly incorporating noisy hooks into a tight framework of pulsing beats, processed vocals, and a slew of programmed samples, edits and voiceovers. Singer/producer Sully Erna unloads a barrage of in-your-face verbal assaults, lambasting the often bumpy road of love relationships. These songs are caustic and unapologetic, with ear-splitting guitars and energetic drumming. Both "Moonbaby" and "Timebomb" are fraught with explosive guitar riffs,of Tony Rombola while "Voodoo" does an about-face and confronts the theme of obsessive love with full-bodied percussion.

INTERVIEW WITH Tony Rombola....11/14/99

Q: Where did you play last night?

A: We played in L.A last night at the Palace. It sold out. Crazy, loud, loud, loud, hit. It was great. I've been having the best time of my life though. This is actually better than Oz Fest. Oz Fest was bigger, but there was seats in the amphitheaters with this pit in front of me and there was this cool light show.

Q: Is there is a difference in playing a smaller venue with 1,000 fans that are going crazy in front of the stage, versus everyone sitting in huge venues in their seats?

A: Of course, definitely. That makes every difference in the world. Every gig of this tour lit right up for us. We have had consistent good shows this tour.

Q: Your songs are getting some good air play at the local Radio Stations around here !

A: That's how it is all over the nation. Radio likes us. It beats some records I've heard, as far as whatever is on the top, no matter how many times they play, we'll beat some record that's been on there for 20 weeks, or 38 weeks. People are familiar with us because they've heard us on the radio.

Q: What kind of amplifiers and guitars does the band use?

A: Les Pauls. We are endorsed by them. And we use Mesa Boogie amphlifiers.

Q: Is that how you get that beefy sound?

A: Yeah, no pedals or anything. It's just the pre-amp cranked up. It sounds nice with just the guitar and the amp. It's all you really need. No reverb or anything. I use a few effects, but for the most part 85% of the record is strictly guitar and amp. Just where there's affects, its there, but I never use reverb. I try to keep the music really punchy and tight. I only use reverb for a part that we are trying to create.

Q: What about pick-ups?

A: Some are stock and some are Seymour Duncan. But a lot of them aren't stock.

Q: Did you use to play blues?

A: Yeah. I used to play blues. I play all kinds of music. I used to be into like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and all that '70's stuff, Stevie Ray , Gary Moore I dig a lot. So, I like that type of guitar playing, so any of my lead stuff is a mixture of blues and like something that sounds sick, or blues from hell.

Q: Did you play Fender Stratocasters?

A: I still do at home. I have a G&L and a Fender Strat. I like them for their own reason. They have that twang, which is really good. I collect tube amps and a Strat to the right tube amp sounds as good as this in it's own way. Blues tone, you know what I mean.

Q: Did you used to play in another band before Godsmack?

A: A cover band. When I was in Lillian Axe Sully was in a band called Strip Mind and we toured together 6-7 years ago, He plays drums as well, that’s how we met originally. Then in 95 he called and said he was putting a band together and I went to Boston and I was there for nine months, left and came back last April. (98) We had a few original songs, but it wasn't a really professional band. We just wanted to play and have fun it was with my friends. We did cover songs at clubs.

Q: Is that where Sully discovered you?

A: Yep. Actually, Robbie (Merrill) was in another cover band in the area and he played bass and we knew each other because we had done gigs together. So when Robbie joined his band to hook up with them, they had another guitar player initially, this guy Lee, he was with them for six months, he left - quit the band and when they needed a guitar player, Robbie remembered me and asked me and when I heard the demo, I dug it.

Q: When was that?

A: About 4 l/2 - 5 years ago. It was between l994 and l995 when we actually met.

Q: Your lead riffs really does sound natural, are you trying to get your own style going there?

A: Like I said, I'm not really trying to do anything. I don't really spend a lot of time making up solos. I just do a feel thing. I do bluesy. I'm a blues type of player when it comes to lead. The element of that is in me, and that's where it comes from. I've learned things from other players. I was into George Lynch and Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.

Q: Did you have a chance to try out songs on the road like this?

A: Yes, that's what we've been doing during sound checks. We've been working on them, but it's kind of tough because we can't get in a room and sit there for 2 or 3 hours. We can only do it on stage downstairs and we are pressed for time, the other band is sitting there waiting to get up there, and you don't want to push it to much. You're better off prepping it up here if you can by talking and tapping it on your legs and then go down there and try to work it out. But, we've been working towards it now, because we are doing a record in February, so we are taking January off. It should be out in the beginning of the summer.

Q: You have some songs down already?

A: Yeah, we have probably 4 or 5 done, but we are still working on riffs. We want to be ready and we still need at least another 7 or 8 songs. Plus we wouldn't mind a few extras to be able to pick and choose.

Q: You really remind me of what Korn did. Right after Woodstock, they went right in and recorded. They must have done what you did - practice on the road. So you found time to make songs on the road?

A: Yes we did. We couldn't take time off. We could take time off, but right now we are new and are up and coming so fast, if we go away for months at a time, it's almost like you use your edge. We are better off staying right in people's faces. Keep touring, keep doing this, keep putting out another record out. This record to us is as old as hell. We've had these songs - we had a demo when I joined the band, some of these songs were on the demo, you know what I mean. So, I learned them off of a demo.

Q: Like "Whatever" and "Keep Away"?

A: "Keep Away" was. "Whatever" came way later. "Whatever" is the most recent song me and Sully have done.

Q: On this album, what would you say is another one of your popular ones, that should be getting just as much air play?

A: I liked "Moon Baby" a lot. I think "Time Bomb" would probably work pretty good. Because it has a hip hop section, which is kind of cool and is a little different. "Voodoo" is different for us to. "Voodoo" is our new release now. We just did a video about 5 l/2 weeks ago.

Q: Is your next album going to be a little different? A: No, we are not striving to be anywhere. We are just going to write more songs. I mean I can tell by the ones we written. We've probably come a little ways, because we have been Godsmack for a while, so we know what we are trying to do, we know what people like live, so we've learned a little bit in the last few years. So I think what we are trying to write now, is a lot of energy in the songs, but songs. That's the bottom line, it has to be a song. Sully has a really great voice and it's unique and people can hear it, they can hear the words, instead of just screaming, which is usually the case with rock. So, he does his share of screaming to - don't get me wrong, but when he sings, I think you can hear it. It's almost like Metallica, you can hear it when he sings. That's a big part of it, because I think people want to hear what they are singing.

Q: A lot of your songs are very clear and precise and you playing is outstanding. You are really a good guitar player.

A: Thank you. You know when I joined this band, it was really funny because I was into Satriani and I was in a cover band, and like every set, if I didn't have a Satriani or Vai tune in there, for me to riff up, I would be bummed out. I was into technically playing really good and I had to put all that away when I joined this band. So, right from the beginning, that was the philosopy of the band to write simple songs and try to keep it simple groove, Sully's a drummer and writes almost all the beats the groove. He wrote all the songs. He is very talented. All the songs come from beats with him. He walks around with this little tape player and hums beats in there and that stems off into a song. I'll have a riff and he's right there with a beat or something, because he's so rythmic. He's an awesome drummer. He plays a little bit in the set, he does a little percussion thing with Tommy. We have a song "Get Up and Get Out" for the encore and they do a drum thing back and forth.

Q: When did you realize that something was happening here?

A: There was all different stages. I would say the initial spot when we felt lucky was when a D.J. from WAF Rock called us at our studio. It was like, hey I dig you guys, I got your C.D. and I want to help you guys out and started chumming up with us. He started playing us on the radio. Right there was where I felt pretty good and I felt like we had a wild card. You know what I mean. He started playing at night relentlessly. We already had a little following, but he plugged the shows, "Godsmack, you got to check these guys out - go to the show". He played "Keep Away", the same disk as this. So he plays "Keep Away" on the radio for 6 to 8 months and it grew. We were selling out our CD at the local record store Newberry Comics and at the end, by the time the 6 or 8 months were up it got to be 2 or 3 songs. We were like their pet. They took up under their wing. They had us play acoustically on the air, they had us do interviews, they'd come to our shows. I believe that they are the reason that everything happened the way it did. The record labels called us because we were selling so many records. We were selling near to 2,000 a week. Near the end, four record labels started calling.

Q: Boston seems a spot for creating Heavy Metal Bands ! With Staind and Reveille anyone else ?

A: Powerman 5000, they moved to L.A. and now they say they're from LA, but they spent all their life in Boston. They got signed and everything, and you know what I mean. There is a lot of rock bands from there. We used to play with a lot of them. I don't know if they are still together, it's been a year and a half since we played there.

Q: What clubs did bands play at in Boston?

A: Yeah, a few of them like Mother Kenzies that we used to play a lot, Axis, Bill's Bar, all Lansdown (sp?) Street we used to play all up and down there a lot and we played Manchester, New Hampshire, Salem Bass. We hit around that area, but we tried not to go to far. We have jobs to get up for, so we were kind of limited to this area. But, we had a big buzz going and by the time we got signed, that made more of a buzz and now it's like we are so hot in that area, it's like people are proud of us. It's like a rock band that's on the radio. It's almost like if you stayed faithful to your area, those fans are with you forever and are true to you.

Q: How different is it now than a couple a years ago?

A: It's a lot easier than what I was doing. When I think about doing carpentry all day and then taking a shower and then going to the studio till 10 or 11 at night and going home.

Q: And now you can focus on one thing?

A: Being away is kind of tough from home, but at this point we are at a level now we have our own bus for the band, and the crew is on another bus. We have more privacy. We have areas to practice and stuff. Where before you might have been stuffed on the bus with the crew and everyone had to use a small rest room. Now we have space and we can jam and write. So you get luxuries as it gets better and appreciate them.

By Randy Cohen

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