The upcoming Godsmack acoustic EP will be called The Other Side, an appropriate title coming from a band whose frontman sings about having out-of-body experiences on its next single, "Realign." Yet Sully Erna had no spiritual motivation when he conceived the name.
"It's an acoustic record so it's just the other side of us than the one people are used to hearing," he said.
The Other Side, which comes out November 18, features seven tracks recorded earlier this year in Hawaii after the band finished its tour of Asia. There's no planned radio single since the band wants to push "Realign" from its current album, Faceless, as the next single. However, there are songs on the disc that would seem to be no-brainers for rock radio.
The first is "Running Blind," one of two new tunes on the disc. The track begins with a reflective strum reminiscent of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World." The vocals have something in common with Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" and the chorus is composed of dark harmony that sounds a lot like Alice in Chains.
"It's something I've had for a couple years," Erna said. "I had demoed it off, but never really recorded it. I decided to put it on there because it really fit the vibe of the record well. It sounds like something that could have been on Alice in Chains' [acoustic EP] Jar of Flies. It has that kind of cool vibe to it."
The song conjures the frame of mind Erna was in when he wrote the song. The band was just starting to take off and the singer was in a state of transition personally and professionally. "It's about not knowing a direction to go in life — running around with your head cut off," he said. "I'm not really in that place anymore, but I think everybody always has a struggle with coming to that crossroad in their life and wondering which way to go."
The second new cut on the disc, "Touché," was a collaboration with Drop Box, a band Erna recently signed to his vanity label, Spiral Records. Again, Erna and friends draw from the reflective side of Alice in Chains, but do so with a touch of bluesy Southern rock flair.
"Their guitar player, Lee Richards [also a former member of Godsmack], had this really nice piece of music that wasn't quite finished, so we sat down and worked on the arrangement," Erna said. "Their singer, John [Kosco], had a really great chorus for it. And from there, we dissected it and then wrote more verses and melodies."
Erna and drummer Shannon Larkin's favorite track is a lethargic version of "Awake" called "(Asleep) Awake." Slowed down and delivered with ringing guitar picking, sparse piano and an understated percussive click, the song loses its vengeful quality and becomes a haunting lament.
"We were just joking and trying out different things [when] we came up with that," Erna said. "People are gonna be really surprised when they hear it because it's so not what 'Awake' is. At first we tried to do it heavier, but it wasn't translating, so we took it back a bit."
The other songs on The Other Side are acoustic versions of "Realign," "Keep Away," "Spiral" and "Nobody Cares." The focal points for most of the EP are Erna's broken voice and Tony Rambola's reflective guitar, but the background percussion also provides atmosphere for many of the songs.
"There were times when I'd jump behind the drum kit and play, and Shannon would lay down the percussion, or vice versa," Erna said. "And sometimes we'd both play percussion together with no drums."
For Larkin, who has been drumming for 27 years, playing the percussion parts wasn't as simple as picking up a hand drum and banging away. He had to learn a whole different style. "When I found out we were really gonna do this, I had approximately six weeks to learn how to play," he said. "I started studying Latin percussion and Djembe, and I fell in love with it passionately. And now I'm getting into African stuff, too. Hopefully we can use more of that kind of stuff in the future because it sounds great and no one else is doing it in hard rock."
Many artists release acoustic EPs as stopgaps between proper albums. The Other Side might end up being more like a missing link between the Godsmack of the past and of the future.
"I think from day one, having [a tribal song like] 'Voodoo' on our first record has always given us that path to follow," Erna said. "I think by [our fourth major-label release], people are going to start separating us from anything they lumped us in with. Maybe after the next record, we'll drop an EP of more Native American-style tribal rhythms with vocals. If we build our catalog enough, maybe we can do a theater tour of acoustic shows — 'An evening of Godsmack for the entire family.' "
Godsmack will be on tour through the end of the month. On Halloween they'll play the Voodoo Music Experience Festival (see "Psychic Helps Godsmack Singer Overcome Fear Of New Orleans") and on November 6 they'll close this leg of the U.S. tour in Saint Paul, Minnesota. On December 12, Godsmack will open for Metallica at the start of a new European tour.