Musician, Actor, Writer, Producer
“And so as these years roll on/I always come back to where I belong,” sings Sully Erna on the title track to his new solo album and BMG debut, Hometown Life, the follow-up to 2010’s Avalon. A personal, confessional, raw work which takes yet another stylistic left-hand turn from the music he has created as front man for the multi-platinum rock band Godsmack, Hometown Life offers a wide-ranging glimpse of Erna’s eclectic musical tastes–from the singer-songwriter Billy Joel/Bruce Springsteen narratives of the title track and the bossa nova touch of “Take All of Me,” to the breezy island feel of “Your Own Drum,” the finger-snapping Motown bass lines of the bluesy “Turn It Up,” the country flavors of “Different Kind of Tears” and the wide-screen canvas of mini-symphonies “Blue Skies” and “Forever My Infinity.” All of them tied together with Sully’s unflinching view of the emotional roller-coaster of his life, drawing us into an intimate space that he only hopes people will embrace as they have another of the album’s unlikely influences–Adele.
“Who hasn’t been inspired by Adele?” marvels Sully, whose musical touchstones range from James Bay, new country favorites like Chris Stapleton and Brantley Gilbert to soul legends Ray Charles, Etta James and Amy Winehouse.
Produced by Erna in his New Hampshire studio–now a one-stop headquarters for all things Godsmack–Hometown Life offers a departure from the tribal, world music feel and experimentation on Avalon, its songs more accessible, sonically and musically precise. Ironically, Sully used all the same musicians from that album, with the exception of percussionist Niall Gregory. Sully collaborated on two of the songs– “Different Kind of Tears” and “Your Own Drum”–with Nashville-based tunesmith Zac Malloy, who has also written for Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, Jake Owen, Skillet and Daughtry.
“It was cool to see the same exact players sound completely different,” Sully says. “It just goes to show their musicianship and versatility. They can really pull off anything I ask of them.”Composed by Sully on piano and acoustic guitar (along with the stray bongo), the album was also a family affair, with his 71-year-old father Salvatore–who helped nurture his son’s own musical interest early on–playing trumpet on “Turn It Up,” a song Erna describes as a tribute to the power of music, a blueprint for how a song “makes you get off your seat, tap your feet, feel the energy and let it pass through you.”
“It was a proud moment,” says Sully, who also channeled his great-uncle, a famed composer from Sicily, in several of the songs which feature symphonic strings, like “Blue Skies,” “Forever My Infinity,” “Father of Time” and “Falling to Black.”
Hometown Life allows us an inside glimpse at Sully’s vulnerability on a very personal level, and attributes most of his honesty and inspiration for this album to the love of his life, Sarah. “We’ve definitely gone through some complicated times and fought for what we have. And I’m really grateful to have her in my life. We have a very special and unique kind of relationship that most people can only dream of having. And I wouldn’t put that second to anything! These songs are about exposing my inner thoughts, laying myself bare, being honest and expressing genuine emotions… about dark times and positive ones. The celebration of life is about experiencing all those things. Hopefully, they can translate to other people’s lives.”
Some songs offer fatherly advice, like the percussion-heavy “Your Own Drum,” an admonition to his teenage daughter to follow her own muse and not be afraid to be different, or trying to deal with life’s hurried pace, as in the rhythmic tick-tock of “Father of Time.” On the soaring “Blue Skies,” Sully reaches out to his loved ones and asks them to acknowledge the man and father he has become from the immature boy he once was.
“When I do a solo album, I write for myself,” he explains. “It’s not for critics, radio or even the fans. I like all different kinds of music that work together. A good song is a good song. I stopped categorizing a long time ago.”
As for how his solo career fits in with his “other band,” Sully is circumspect. “Godsmack is a very energetic, aggressive, powerhouse rock band. It’s for those moments when you want to scream and stomp your feet. My solo stuff is a lot more vulnerable, the grown-up version of who I am and how I process. It’s about finding acceptance for the things that don’t go right in your life, being appreciative for all the memories, good or bad. Sometimes these experiences can be very painful, but I do get some beautiful songs out of it. I’m just happy to be blessed with a gift that enables me to channel this stuff and vent it through my music. And not hurt myself or anyone else along the way. It’s just safer, more therapeutic, to get it out this way.”
Hometown Life does just that, revealing sides of Sully Erna only hinted at in Godsmack, a spiritual man who doesn’t believe in traditional religion, but has forged his own belief system by taking what fits from everywhere, much like the music on his first two solo albums. He’s even hoping people who’ve never even heard of his other band will embrace the new album.
“That’s the whole point,” he explains. “The people who have followed me and can appreciate it, I encourage them to explore. All my albums–including the ones with Godsmack–are like musical journals, diaries of what I’ve gone through in my life at the time. I’d love to reach a whole new audience with this. Music has helped me get through some tough times. That’s when I write. When something makes me either really happy or really sad.”
“All those things we’ve ever done/Give us our chance to prove our love,” sings Sully on the album’s closing track, “Falling to Black,” which is, as he describes it, “a beautifully sad song,” which offers a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. The same could be said of Hometown Life. As Sully himself puts it in “Your Own Drum”: “There’s no shadows/If you don’t have light.”