DARK EYES AND HEAVILY PIERCED EYEBROWS frame his tattooed body. A pentagram hangs around his neck. And he's a practicing witch in the Celtic tradition. Godsmack founder Sully Erna seems to be the perfect frontman for a heavy metal band. He has the look.
But Erna is more than a head-banging, crowd-surfing madman. He's full of positive energy, often speaking of karma as a personal belief, a business philosophy and the inspiration for his band's name.
Erna's belief that "what you put out comes back to you" is rooted in his Wiccan religion. "A true witch doesn't believe in a devil or any kind of evil, or ghosts and goblins," Erna said. "We believe that this is your test. We believe in reincarnation – that if you don't get it right or you're a shit head all of your life, you might have to come back and do it all over again.
"Basically, the dogma is that the religion represents the power of the earth. It represents nature, karmic beliefs, spirituality, natural healing products," things that help Erna stay balanced.
"I use [witchcraft] as a tool for the times that I'm not feeling so well, or if I'm stressed out or feeling a little bit out of control, not dealing with a situation well," he said. "[I] use that religion or meditations – whatever it is I've learned through witchcraft – to help me feel a little more centered. It mellows me out. It reminds me to be a nice person."
Erna said he and his bandmates – Tony Rombolo, Robbie Merrill and Tommy Stewart – value a positive attitude in themselves and in others, including business associates. In business, people who act with kindness and respect ultimately prevail over those who use a heavy hand and have a negative attitude, Erna said.
"This band is definitely blessed with an unbelievable management company. Everyone has the nice-guy approach. No one is like a bulldog," he said. "They don't muscle people around.
"I'm really happy about that because that's how we are as a band. We don't step on any toes. We don't try to do the rock-star thing and in return, we just want to work with the right people who are going to deliver this thing the same way as we do."
Godsmack's management team is headed by former Extreme band member Paul Geary, with Pure Entertainment's Arma Andon and Steve Fargnoli as backup. Paul Geary Entertainment co-manages many artists with Pure, including Cyndi Lauper and Sinead O'Connor, so Godsmack benefits from triple the experience.
"These guys have been around and they know what's going on," Erna said. "Even when we think they're going to be wrong, they're usually right. So it goes to show you where experience will get you."
Erna said when he first approached Geary, a longtime friend, the former Extreme drummer wasn't ready to represent the band. "The reality was, we weren't quite ready for him – although we thought we were."
After a few years, the Boston band was "red hot" in the New England area, gigging regularly. Godsmack's indie release caught the attention of WAAF radio and with local airplay, the CD started selling nearly 1,000 copies a week.
It was time for Erna to approach Geary again. "We had done as much as we could possibly do. We had sold almost 20,000 records on our own and the buzz was huge in our area, but it was going to fizzle away unless we got some real help," he said.
Geary put together a business team and he helped the band land a record deal with Republic Records/Universal. "[Geary] is really the hidden hero," Erna said. "He's really responsible for taking this thing to a whole new level…. He's done the right thing for this band. Look at us so far. We went gold in seven months."
Erna said it all comes back to karma. "We get rewarded left and right for doing what we do and being as good as we can be to [other] people," he said. "I respect every individual that walks this earth and I respect the earth. I feel that even when life throws its little curveballs at you … instead of retaliating, sometimes it's good to suck it up, do something good in return. You'll be surprised how you get rewarded.
"When you first start as a band, you're going through all this crap and you're playing these lousy gigs and people are stepping all over you. You can go in there with the wrong attitude and piss people off or you can go in there and deal with it because that's what you have to go through no matter who you are at the beginning. Then the next thing you know, we're getting offers like OzzFest, and the record sales are going up, and every radio station added us. Things like that are our reward."
Erna said it is the value of how you live your life each day that's important. "Ted Nugent said it the best: ‘You're born at point A, you die at point B. You've got to kick ... ass in between.' Other than that, what's the sense in being here if you're going to be miserable and always stressed out? What way is that to live?"
Quoting Nugent can mean only one thing: Sully Erna is the singer in a wicked rock ‘n' roll band despite all the good karma – or perhaps because of it.