Who says you need a big budget, a hotshot producer or a fancy, gazillion-track studio to make a hit record? Not Godsmack, a Boston-based band that sounds more like Seattle (their name actually comes from an Alice in Chains song). Godsmack’s selft-titled major label debut originated as a self-produced demo recorded back in 1996 for just $2,500—which the band had to borrow from a friend.
Recorded at Boston’s New Alliance Studios, Godsmack’s debut is a no-frills, no-nonsense dose of hard, brooding rock which, despite its low budget, sounds totally awesome and champions substance over flash. “We did it ourselves,” relates Godsmack guitarist Tony Rombola in a thick Boston accent. “We pretty much did all the basic tracks in two days. The whole thing—including vocals, mixing and mastering—was done in two weeks. A little bit of tweaking can go a long way.”
In line with this low-budget philosophy, Rombola—whose roaring rhythm work and biting, wah-wah-fied licks power the album—had to borrow a guitar to record the album’s impressive array of heavy tones. “I’m really a big blues fan,” says Rombola. “I love Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Albert King. So I actually play Strats a lot at home. But with this band I wanted a guitar that had a thicker sound. So I borrowed a Les Paul Studio model to record the album. That was the one that worked the best with my Mesas.”
Of course, recording on a low budget does have its disadvantages. “The solo at the end of ‘Keep Away’ is a gobbled mess,” admits Rombola. “I probably should have fixed it but I ended up leaving it in.”
A DJ at Boston’s WAAF took a liking to “Keep Away” and began playing it on his late-night show. Despite scant distribution—only one store, Newberry Comics, would carry the album—the band was soon selling up to a thousand CDs a week and ultimately landed a deal with Universal Records. So what’s the best thing about being on a big label? “I got all new gear,” says Rombola. “I picked up a Les Paul Custom with a nice flame top, three new Mesa Dual rectifiers, and I built myself a big pedal board with all the effects I ever wanted.”
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