Sometimes it only takes one measly break to get your act off the ground. Just ask Godsmack. They were tooling around Boston, minding their own business, playing good but not over attended shows, feeding their mailing list, steadily developing a fanbase. Then a local commercial radio station picked up on a track from their self-released, debut disc -- the same one they'd been selling at shows -- and began playing it nightly. All of a sudden, their gigs were wall-to-wall and they couldn't keep their CD's in stock at the local record mart. (The disc, by the way, was made in 1996 for a borrowed sum of $2,500). In no time, labels came knocking, and in just as little time, the band's self-titled record, powered by thundering tracks like "Whatever" and "Keep Away," went platinum.
In the time it takes for most guitarists to even get a decent band together, Godsmack's Tony Rombola, 34, has written a few hits, toured with Sabbath, criss-crossed the country, and played Woodstock. Guitar.com recently sat down with Rombola to discuss the band's whirlwind trip to Success, the best way to handle sudden fame, and the tools that brought him there?
Guitar.com: You must have picked up some pointers while you were on tour with Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath.
Tony Rombola: Tony's awesome! He sounds better than ever. At soundcheck he plays this really bluesy, soulful shit, jazz and stuff. I've definitely been influenced by him over the years. When I was younger and into Black Sabbath, I was off in my own little world as soon as I learned to play his chords.
Guitar.com: What music did you listen to when you were young?
Rombola: I was into Zeppelin and Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix -- all that heavy, dark sounding guitar. Those were the first things I learned, then I branched out later. When I was a kid, a friend had started taking guitar lessons. He brought a guitar home that first week, and I fucked with it a little. I thought it was so cool; and whenever he learned something, he'd show me. I never had much dough for lessons or anything so I learned a lot from the lessons he took.
Guitar.com: Do you remember your first guitar?
Rombola: It was an SG copy -- red just like the one Tony plays. It cost me $79 on special, and I had to borrow my friend's amp. Later, I got a little one with nothing but an "on/off" switch.
Guitar.com: Do you think taking lessons would have been helpful to you?
Rombola: Not really. I mean, I listened to players growing up like Michael Schenker, Alex Lifeson, Jimmy Page, Jerry Cantrell, Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen -- so many good guitar players. I just drew whatever I could from those guys. I was limited by my own technique, but I found ways to work it into my own style.
Guitar.com: Were your parents supportive during those early days?
Rombola: They used to love it. I'd play for hours every day, doing the same thing. They always knew where I was. I was doing something positive, and they could hear that I was getting better. I got into trouble a little back then, but I was never in too much trouble, you know? Nothing major, no arrests.
Guitar.com: Do you ever imagine in those early days it would turn it into this?
Rombola: No, never. I was just playing, having fun, and writing songs with my friends in this band. We'd play Boston and the surrounding towns, but nothing more. Before the band got together, all I did was covers, with a few originals thrown in. I was out there having fun and then, Bang!, we got lucky. [Radio station] WAAF helped us out a lot. They started playing us real early and from that point on more people were aware of us. Over the next six months it got to where our gigs were sold out and we were selling a ton of CDs completely on our own. The Newbury Comics [record store chain] picked it up and they were selling like a thousand a week. That's when the labels started calling us.
Guitar.com: Is the record you sold at shows the same record you released on a major label?
Rombola: It's the exact same record except now it's remastered. When we first did the record, we were simply trying to do a good job on a demo so we'd get signed. We never thought we'd go into the studio and mess with it. We produced it ourselves. [Vocalist] Sully banged out most of the drum tracks; he's an amazing drummer, too.
Guitar.com: What was the recording process like for the record?
Rombola: It was done in three days with the vocals and everything, then a few more days to mix it and tweak it. We played it just like we play it live and just cranked it out.
Guitar.com: How do you guys write together?
Rombola: Sully and I try to write songs together. We have this real heavy, simple, stop-and-go riff action we like. We try not do anything complicated, just simple, powerful grooves that people can latch onto right away. Sully writes the main riffs and I try to put icing on the cake. As far as leads go, I don't do too many, but when I do, I try to make it something tasty. I'm basically a blues player at heart. On the new album we might try to experiment a little more, but we won't get too far away from our bread and butter riffing. We really try to write good, substantial songs that are kind of catchy. We'd love another "Whatever." It's just basic rock 'n' roll.
Guitar.com: Over the past year, your lives have turned upside down. All the activity must be really eye-opening.
Rombola: When I was starting out, up until recently, I never went out much. I was a closet guy. Then Godsmack showed me the world. I had never been out of New England before this, so I'm loving every minute of this -- whatever you wanna call it -- "fame," I guess. I mean, check it out. I get to play guitar all day with all of this awesome equipment. Is there anything more perfect for a guitar player?
Guitar.com: Was playing in front of huge audiences a big adjustment for you?
Rombola: Doesn't bother me. It's really exciting and really cool to hear the cheers after a song. When you get 25,000 people jamming after a song's over it goes right through you. I don't get shaken up from stage fright or anything. For me it's always the same. I'm pretty relaxed, maybe cause I smoke a lot of pot. Robbie [Merrill] and Tommy [Stewart] will start pacing around and me and Sully will just sit there, not keyed up at all.