It’s been a helluva busy week at Weekly Alibi’s music department. Tonight’s World Beat Spectacular, the coming (to Taos, but close enough for die-hard fans of Zaireeka) of The Flaming Lips, as well as our own humongous Hempfest 2018—that’s on Saturday folks—have had our staff rocking and a rolling for nigh on 7 days now.
On top of all that, the summer amphitheater scene is cooking like a heavy duty barbecue device. Upcoming concerts include gigs by G-Eazy and Ty Dollar Sign as well as a double-header featuring radio rockers Shinedown and Godsmack.
Speaking of the latter, Weekly Alibi had the rare opportunity to mix it up on the phone with Godsmack guitarist and blues guru Tommy Rombola, ahead of the band’s dual appearance on Monday, Aug. 6 at Isleta Amphitheater.
Rombola’s a self-taught guitarist with serious chops who recently started a blues project called The Apocalypse Blues Review. Their new recording is called The Shape of Blues to Come.
And that’s a huge departure from the music Rombola makes with Godsmack. Along with singer Sully Erna and drummer Shannon Larkin, Rombola’s task is to write highly polished, listenable, even stylishly slick rock for an audience whos main exposure to the genre is through FM radio outlets like Albuquerque’s 104.1 The Edge. It crispy music made for the masses of Americans who like to jam out to familiar, albeit well-played and presented rocanrol tropes.
Weekly Alibi: How ya doing, Tony?
Tony Rombola: Good.
Got a few minutes to talk about Godsmack, rock and roll and the guitar?
How’s the tour treating you?
It’s great, we’ve had awesome crowds. We’re a couple of weeks in and everything is smooth. We’re just enjoying ourselves.
Godsmack is playing large amphitheaters this year, more than 23 years after you all first got together. How does that feel?
As far as Godsmack goes, I’m thankful we’re all still alive and well. We love to play our music, still. That part is easy. We just get together. Me and the drummer, Shannon, have a side project that we’ve been doing when we’re off form Godsmack.
Yeah, I heard about that. You both have been getting some serious critical acclaim for that breakout project.
Our album came out a few weeks ago. It’s our second recording. We started the project about seven years ago. The funny thing is, I used to be into the blues before I got involved with Godsmack. I was really influenced by the electric blues from Texas, you know Stevie Ray Vaughn and all of that. Writing Godsmack songs, I got away from that for a few years. But me and Shannon would jam all the time. He heard me playing the blues and said, “hey I didn’t know you played the blues, let’s start a band!” All of it is a labor of love, The Apocalypse Blues Review and Godsmack. I love playing the guitar!
As a self-taught guitarist, you’ve risen to the level of being called a “guitarist extraordinaire” by rocanrol standard bearers like Guitar World Magazine. How did you get there?
I had a definite classic rock influence growing up. Godsmack was my first original band. Sully really taught me songwriting. When Shannon joined the band, I was able to write great songs with him. I just happened to evolve as a musician. When I joined Godsmack, I was an average player. Now, twenty years later, I realize I’ve had the opportunity to play the guitar every day. That makes it easy to get better. I’m naot a natural, but I play so much, that my technique has gotten strong.
How does the songwriting process in Godsmack work?
It’s always collaborative. I sit around, playing guitar all day. I always have a recorder with me. So whenever I hear a chord or a certain rhythm or a sequence of notes I like, anything that could be ideal for a song, I listen to the demos with Sully and we arrange it and start thinking about melodies that can come out of those notes I recorded, and then we have a song by Godsmack.
How is the new Godsmack album a departure from your earlier work?
Up until this record, it’s always been just like I told you, the riffs go to Sully, the band does the arrangements and then the song appears. This time though, we wanted to work with other writers. So for this album, Sully did all the work with other writers and producers. He presented the material to us. We contributed our 2 cents and then learned the songs. This record was very different for the band. He wanted to work on a whole new style that we might not have though of, had we worked together on the project.
How are the fans reacting?
We’re getting a great response. The new single “Bulletproof” absolutely rocks. I wouldn’t have come up with that. That’s part of the beauty of what he did. I mean, he really took a chance, creatively. It’s brought in a lot of new fans, the more polished-up sound. It’s not quite as heavy as the early hits.
Are you a gearhead, like a lot of lead guitarists?
I’m so focused at just getting better on guitar; I got these two bands where I can really work on that. I dig the guitar and for the blues work, I’m playing a stratocaster. Fenders with a fuzz pedal and overdrive work great for what I’m trying to achieve. The strat, to me, is the opposite of Godsmack. It just doesn’t have the right voice for what we do. I started out with Gibson guitars but now I’ve been playing Paul Reed Smith guitars for a couple of years now, with humbuckers, and really liking it! Nice tone.
If someone came up to you and asked you what Godmack is, what would you say?
I’d say it’s hard rock. If they knew bands like Pantera and Helmet, they might get that reference. If I had a guitar with me, I would want them to play what we sound like. Then they would know for sure.