Sully Erna of Godsmack brings his solo act to Syracuse
Rock listeners have a high pain threshold. They don’t shock easily. They adhere to angst-ridden lyrics. They show empathy in the presence of the powerchord-driven anthems packaged in tattooed cellophane cases, latching onto one or two bands whose sounds resonate in their chests. They grin, they bear, they head-bang.
Godsmack has been rocking audiences with tracks including “Voodoo,” “I Stand Alone” and “Awake” since the band’s inception in 1995. As lead vocalist, Sully Erna unveils his primal bellow, using it to bridge metallic rock with something more tribal, like a rabid animal prowling beneath the sewer grates. The band has slithered in with ease next to other Ozzfest regulars like Drowning Pool and Disturbed.
As a musician, however, Erna has ideas that captivate even the most stone-faced rocker—ideas he compiled for his solo album Avalon (Universal Republic). “Sometimes you end up with cool stuff that isn’t necessarily right for Godsmack,” Erna said. On Sunday, May 15, 8 p.m., the album tour comes to the Mulroy Civic Center’s Crouse-Hinds Concert Theater, 411 Montgomery St. Through Avalon, Erna has been able to explore this material. “I’m not going to put together a supergroup to write more rock. This is eclectic. This is tribal. It’s a whole different animal. Basically, I slit my wrists open and dumped them into this record.”
Avalon broke onto the airwaves in September 2010, more than a month after the release of its first single, “Sinner’s Prayer.” Laced with pagan chanting, triumphant string interludes and the lilting vocal stylings of Lisa Guyer, it immediately stands apart from the sound expected to accompany Erna’s supple, black leather voice.
Erna founded Avalon on creating music for its own sake, for the way music transcends language. To preserve this authenticity, every sound on the album was recorded live in studio rather than engineered electronically. Erna gathered an eight-piece ensemble of instrumentalists from a wide array of musical backgrounds. “It was like building a skeleton,” he said, its flesh and blood growing into a fullbodied aural experience.
The gritty goddess vocals supplied by Guyer can be heard live on the Sully Erna Avalon tour, as can all of the album’s original artists. They include guitarist Tim Theriault, keyboardist Chris Decato, acoustic guitarist Chris Lester and percussionist David Stefanelli, all hailing from New England, with their influences ranging from Liszt to Led Zeppelin and everything in between.
Adding international flavor to the band’s sound are Niall Gregory, a percussionist from Drogheda, Ireland, and Irina Chirkova, an accomplished cellist from Bulgaria. Chirkova will be taking leave from the tour later to play with Celine Dion in Las Vegas, but she will be present at the Syracuse show.
Erna is geared up for a theatrical production, with the likes of Pink Floyd’s The Wall inspiring what he hopes will be a sweeping, cinematic experience. Melodies rise out of chromatic scales and dissonant chords drive each track. The songs show patience, some swelling into choruses of soulful, bluesinfused voices, others remaining sparse with nothing more than a humble piano line filling in around Erna’s deep-conditioned voice.
From the first skin-on-skin conga drumbeat to the sound of Chirkova’s fingertips pulling opiate harmonies from the belly of her cello, the raw, organic vibrations of Erna’s solo musings are just as at home around a bonfire as they are in the stereo of a high school kid’s battered Honda Civic.
Striving to touch listeners on a personal level, the album already draws an audience more diverse than many associated with the rock scene. “Don’t mistake how powerful music can be,” he urges his fans. “You can go anywhere in the world and communicate with people next to you through music.”
Erna’s Avalon tour is running concurrently with his duties for Godsmack, so he will remain on the road through much of the summer. While his journey can be tiring, he thrives on the balance between projects and trusts his drummer roots to keep a steady beat. Erna needs the yin and the yang. His days are a drum beat.
Tickets for Sunday’s Sully Erna concert are $29.50, $39.75 and $59.50, available through the Oncenter box office, 435-2121, and through www.ticketmaster.com.
Rock never sleeps: Godsmack’s Sully Erna visits the Civic Center on Sunday.