The Hippo


Aug 24, 2019








Sully Erna

When: Saturday, Nov. 12, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino Ballroom, 169 Ocean Blvd., Hampton Beach
Tickets: $29-$49 at

Hometown side
Godsmack frontman turns intimate on new solo record

By Michael Witthaus

 Sully Erna’s first solo record was a complex tapestry of sound and rhythm — ethereal, even symphonic at times. Erna goes in another direction on his latest, Hometown Life — several, actually. Released in late September, it opens with grandeur with the epic title track, turns a bit Latin on “Your Own Drum,” then offers pedal steel guitar and other country elements on “Different Kind of Tears” — that’s just the first three songs. 

At turns jazzily buoyant and achingly honest, it’s a rich and wholly winning effort, a more than worthy follow up to 2010’s Avalon. Both records share a common thread: a studio band that includes mostly local musicians. Chris Lester, Lisa Guyer and Dave Stefenalli, ex-bandmates in Mama Kicks, returned for the new disc, along with Seacoast guitarist Tim Theriault and Boston cellist Irina Chrkova. Erna even brought his father in to play trumpet on the record’s most upbeat number, “Turn It Up.”
Erna explained in a recent phone interview that once again looking in his musical backyard was an easy choice. 
“They’re all phenomenal, and I knew that no matter what I threw in front of them, they’d be able to not only play it, and play it well, but bring a kind of authenticity,” he said. “What I thought was cool is I could use the exact same musicians that helped me create this really earthy, tribal, mystical record — Avalon — to create something completely different.”
Lester and Theriault are backing Erna for a short tour that stops in Hampton Beach on Nov. 12. The shows will be stripped down affairs. 
“I want to present these songs in a very intimate way for now, because I really believe in the songwriting,” Erna said. “I want to touch people on an emotional level.”
Lyrically, Erna is exposed and vulnerable on the new record. The tone is set on the opening track, surprisingly written at the end of the project. He uncovered an “epic-sounding” piano riff from a collection of song notes and began trying to match his emotions to the music. 
Soon, memories of growing up in Lawrence, Mass., came to the forefront. One line in the song sums up Erna’s ambivalent relationship with his hometown: “I breathe in the air that’s so unclean/yet keeps me alive,” he sings. 
“I don’t think I would have been able to go through these experiences of my life — the trauma, feelings and the ups and downs — if I hadn’t come from such a crazy city like Lawrence,” he said. “So there it was, the content was there and plenty of it. I could probably write a whole album on just that song.”
Initially, he worried that the last-minute addition would disrupt the flow of Hometown Life. 
“I was really concerned about it fitting with the record because it’s not like ... it’s disconnected from the textures of the rest of the album,” he said. “Then I thought, you know what? Nothing sounds the same on this record.”
Working with Erna for the first time was Nashville songwriter Zac Malloy. 
“Sometimes another writer will steer you in a different direction, they’ll zig when you zag and it really opens up a whole new world of information,” Erna said. “I had my management reach out to see who was available that wasn’t afraid to work with the big bad wolf from Godsmack, and Zac was one of the first who spoke up and said he was really interested. I really loved what he brought to the table.”
Malloy’s contribution led to some of Erna’s favorite moments on the record, particularly “Different Kind of Tears,” a song both drew from their experience raising teenagers. 
“Emotional pain in their lives always feels so unique, like no one can understand how badly it hurts ...,” he said. “It’s a different kind of pain for them. Really, it was inspired by the younger demographic that’s experiencing real-life situations for the first time. Same thing with ‘Your Own Drum’ — it was more about making sure that they have identity; don’t be a follower, be a leader. Go find your own path, be in front of everyone else.”
For the linchpin of a high-powered heavy metal band, exploring his softer side energized Erna, and he’s excited to unveil Hometown Life with spare instrumentation. 
“I really think the new songs will translate in a much different way, stronger to a degree, when they’re stripped down,” he said. “So we’re gonna play around with this a little bit. See how it feels.”

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