Erna to play a whiny rock star for 60 seconds and he just laughs. "Oh, man, I really don't have anything to complain about. I could think of a lot worse things that could be happening in my life. I guess if I had to complain about anything, it would be the food. I'm sick of deli trays and pizzas! I want some hot chicken wings!"

He's got a point. Since emerging from Boston in 1996 with a self-titled, self-released CD that cost about $2,700 to make, Godsmack has been on a steady upward course. The quartet's growth was initially fueled by a large local club following. Then heavy airplay on powerful Boston-area rock station WAAF brought major labels sniffing around. Finally, Republic/Universal inked them in July of last year. Godsmack's major-label debut is that same self-titled release, except now it's been certified gold (for sales of over half a million copies); the dark, dirgy "Whatever" is one of the biggest rock radio hits of the past 12 months; and the band, whose sludgy sound touches upon both Black Sabbath and Alice In Chains, is about to jump on board heavy music's pre-eminent summer attraction, Ozzfest.

"It's grown at a nice, steady pace," says Erna good-naturedly about his band's increasing popularity. "I keep saying we're still waiting for the tree to fall on us, because every time we get news, it's really good news, and when it's bad news, it isn't even that bad."

Just four years ago, though, Erna was completely out of music, "devastated" by the collapse of his previous band, Strip Mind, who put out one album on Sire/Reprise before self-destructing. (Erna was the drummer.) "I literally sat on the couch and twiddled my thumbs for a solid two months, wondering where it all went. I thought that was my one shot." Erna got himself a job with a collection agency, making enough money to get an apartment and a car, but after a year, the itch to make music returned. This time he set out to form his own band, taking the frontman spot, and Godsmack was born.

To keep himself centered, the singer became a practicing warlock, having studied under New Englander Laurie Cabot, a witch for some 40 years. "It's all a force of balance for your life," he says earnestly. "People hear the word 'witch' and immediately want to affiliate it with evil, but witches in the old days were simply women who believed in the power of the Earth and nature. They believed that if you lived a good life, good things would generally happen to you, but if you do something bad, it comes back to you three times worse."

Erna must feel like he's put out some good vibes over the years, now that Godsmack is taking off. "I decided to give it one motherf--ker of a go, and if it happened, it happened," he says about his return to music. "If it didn't, at least I gave everything I had."