Godsmack’s 1998 eponymous debut was one of the biggest albums of the early nu-metal era. As well as achieving four-time platinum status, it also spawned four US Alternative Chart hits and led to a European tour with none other than rock giants Black Sabbath. However, Godsmack is just as renowned for its striking cover as its music.
Indeed, with her cropped red hair, several facial piercings and general look of dissatisfaction, the girl pictured on the record’s artwork epitomized the nu-metal image. Throw in a tribal sun tattoo, a black background and some striking racing stripes and it’s little wonder that the album leapt off the shelves. Of course, its cover girl looks very different 20 years on.
In fact, the woman in question looks so different now that even hardcore Godsmack fans would fail to recognize her if they passed her in the street. And that’s just how she likes it, too. Here’s a look at how she ended up gracing the band’s self-titled first studio effort in style.
The seeds for Godsmack were sown in 1995 when long-time drummer Sully Erna decided he wanted to take a bit more of the limelight. The musician had previously spent two years behind a kit with a band named Strip Mind. And his career switch soon proved to be an inspired move.
Frontman Erna recruited bassist Robbie Merrill, guitarist friend Lee Richards and drummer Tony Stewart to form a group originally known as The Scam. The quartet soon began making a name for themselves on their Boston hometown’s live circuit. And after entering the studio to record their first demo, they wisely decided to adopt their more familiar moniker. But where did the name Godsmack come from?
Well, contrary to popular belief, the name isn’t a reference to the Alice in Chains song “God Smack.” Indeed, Erna reportedly once revealed that it was actually inspired by nothing more than a spot of harmless banter. He said, “I was making fun of somebody who had a cold sore on his lip and the next day I had one myself and somebody said, ‘It’s a godsmack.’”
Godsmack went through several personnel changes in 1996. Richards decided to quit the group after discovering that he was the father of a six-year-old child he previously knew nothing about. Stewart also made his exit due to “personal differences” – usually a euphemism for arguments with other band members. The pair were replaced by Tony Rombola and Joe D’Arco, respectively.
This new line-up wasted little time in hitting the studio, recording their first album, All Wound Up, later that same year. A Boston disc jockey named Rocko then helped to put one of its tracks, “Keep Away,” on the playlist of radio station WAAF. The song proved to be so popular that record store chain Newbury Comics soon began selling its parent album.
Erna once explained how the radio station’s support dramatically boosted both their profile and sales. He’s quoted as saying, “We had been selling maybe 50 copies a month at the time WAAF picked up the album. All of a sudden we started moving over a thousand records a week. I was doing all this from my bedroom. After years of grinding away, things finally started taking off.”
Inevitably, the increasing buzz around Godsmack sparked the interest of major record labels and in the summer of 1998, the band was snapped up by Universal/Republic. Their merry-go-round drama then continued when original drummer Stewart returned to replace D’Arco, who was kicked out of the band. But this didn’t stop Godsmack from dropping their first official album later that year.
Resourcefully, the band simply remastered the songs they had already recorded on their independently-released album, All Wound Up. However, there were a couple of differences between the two. The intro from “Get Up, Get Out!” was separated and listed as an entirely different track named “Someone in London.” “Goin’ Down” was left off altogether, although it did later show up on the group’s sophomore, Awake.
This particular tactic soon paid off when Godsmack peaked at No.22 on the Billboard 200. Thanks to the Top 40 success of singles “Bad Religion,” “Voodoo,” “Keep Away” and “Whatever,” the record ended up going gold by 1999. Impressively, by 2001, this status had been upgraded to no fewer than four-times platinum.
The record’s critical response was also largely positive. Allmusic website’s Roxanne Blanford wrote, “Boston’s Godsmack confidently brought nu-metal rock into the technological age by seamlessly incorporating noisy hooks into a tight framework of pulsing beats, processed vocals and a slew of programmed samples, edits and voiceovers.” While in 2018, music site Loudwire named Godsmack as one of the Top 10 Hard Rock Albums of 1998.
In an interview with magazine The Reader, Erna discussed how proud he was that the band achieved their early success in such an organic way. He said, “The label likes how we’ve accomplished everything the old-fashioned way [by touring]. They set us down and said, ‘We don’t want to tell you what to do, just keep doing what you’re doing.’”
Of course, Godsmack wasn’t without its controversy. In fact, both Kmart and Walmart decided to remove the album from sale altogether following a complaint from a concerned parent. The man in question had contacted the latter retail giant after discovering that his son had bought the profanity-laden LP at one of its stores.
Alongside the bad language, Godsmack also courted controversy with a Salem witches reference and Wiccan pentagram included in its sleeve notes. To alleviate concerns, the group and their Universal/Republic label ensured that all future copies of the record featured a Parental Advisory sticker. However, it’s fair to say that Erna didn’t see what all the fuss was about.
Indeed, the lead singer told Rolling Stone magazine, “Our record has been in the marketplace for more than a year now without a parental advisory sticker and this is the one and only complaint.” However, Erna also accepted that the furore inadvertently helped to boost record sales. He added, “It’s almost taunting kids to go out and get the record to see what we’re saying on it.”
The record’s continuing success also allowed the band to embark on their first major headlining trek across the United States. The band were then invited to appear on the bill at high profile festivals Woodstock ’99 and Ozzfest. And their credibility in the metal world was further boosted when they were asked to support Black Sabbath on their European tour.
Guitarist Rombola told Loudwire in 2018 that he couldn’t quite believe how relatively effortlessly the band made it onto rock’s A-list. He said, “I think one of the big moments was on that first Ozzfest, I got a gold record within that first year and then a platinum record a few months later. That was a big moment having that much success so early. It happened pretty quick.”
As well as helping to put the nu-metal genre on the map, Godsmack’s debut also thrust a previously unknown club girl into the spotlight. Indeed, the cover of the record instantly stood out among the crowd thanks to the striking lady that adorned it. But who was this mysterious girl?
Well, the pierced lips and nose, closely-cropped red hair and dramatic eyeliner belonged to a woman named Toni Tiller. In an interview with Kerrang! magazine to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Godsmack’s release, Tiller revealed how she ended up on its cover. And it turns out that the photo wasn’t taken specially for the album.
Tiller told the rock magazine in 2018, “I was living in NYC and deeply involved in the club kid scene. And so I had an interesting look going. I met a photographer in Brooklyn and we were trying a few things out for a project of his and we snapped that image.”
“A few years later he was working with the band and they saw that in his book and liked it, so they purchased it for use,” former model Tiller then continued. “The next thing I know, my face [is] everywhere. It was pretty strange, but I love weird stuff like that.”
Tiller also confirmed that her striking appearance on the cover of the Godsmack album hadn’t been changed in any way, shape or form. In a display of her self-deprecating humor, she told the music magazine, “The image is a photograph from 1994. I just happened to look like a cartoon.”
Godsmack’s debut album may have been the first time that Tiller had been seen by a worldwide audience. But she told Kerrang! that by 1998 she was already used to being the center of attention. She said, “I was a known club kid in the downtown scene at the time, so it wasn’t uncommon for people to want to put the look to use.”
In fact, one particular admirer of Tiller’s image even made her a lookalike doll. And the former clubber has nothing but fond memories of the era. She told Kerrang!, “It was a fun time of creative expression through appearance and it’s been enjoyable watching the reverberations through culture over the last 25 years.”
Considering her instrumental role in the marketing of the band’s debut album, it seems only fair that Tiller got the chance to meet the various members of Godsmack from time to time. However, the cover girl wasn’t exactly forthcoming about her encounters with the group. She simply stated, “They’re very nice.”
There’s little doubt that Tiller would have been spotted for her album cover appearance back in the late 1990s. However, two decades on, things are a little different. When asked by Kerrang! whether she’s still approached by Godsmack devotees, she replied, “Hah, no. I live in an area where no-one would really recognize anything like that.”
However, even if she lived in a neighborhood full of dedicated Godsmack fans, it seems unlikely that anyone would associate Tiller with the red-haired, pierced-lipped girl of the 1990s. Indeed, as you’d expect, the one-time model looks drastically different 20 years on. For one thing, she now has no hair.
Tiller revealed what she now gets up to during her interview with Kerrang!. And it’s fair to say that her modern-day passions and interests couldn’t be further from posing for covers of nu-metal albums. In fact, she’s now more likely to be found teaching young cats the error of their ways.
“Now I live in the woods, I’m bald, usually barefoot, and into a variety of stuff,” Tiller told the British rock music magazine. She also listed “meditation, strange objects, cooking, esoteric studies, cacti, dollhouses, rugs, and artsy crap” as some of her main hobbies. Tiller then added, “In my spare time I have a reform school for rude kittens.”
Interestingly, Tiller had previously elaborated further on her free spirit nature in a 2013 interview with the blog Hours of Idleness. She admitted, “I like doing things just for the sake of doing them, and oftentimes the results border on being irrelevant. I decided pretty early on that I had no interest in pursuing a career in art.”
Tiller continued, “I tried to think about it briefly, but the whole process of applying, writing artist statements, worrying about producing a consistent body of work, selling… it took me out of the experience and made me focus on results. I hated it, and now I don’t have to think about it; I can do as I please at any given moment. That freedom is essential.”
Although she graced one of the biggest nu-metal albums of the late ’90s, Tiller revealed that she was initially very shy about appearing in front of the lens. She told the blog, “The truth is I am absolutely terrified of cameras, and I can be completely paralyzed by them. There are virtually no photographs of me between the ages of five and 18 at all.”
However, Tiller eventually overcame her fear and briefly enjoyed a stint as a self-portrait photographer. She explained, “In the aftermath of club life I moved to Connecticut and I was suddenly isolated, I discovered the internet as my only means of social connection, but people still want to see you and everyone had these absolutely horrible photographs of themselves taken in the bathroom mirror, or with one arm up in the air. Anyway I thought, I can do better.”
Tiller continued, “I still had all these clothes and costumes left over from club years, and I missed becoming someone new every day. So it was the combination of isolation, the desire to create and the opportunity to deal with something that terrified me on my own terms.” The model added she liked how the digital age had democratized the art form, adding, “We can all be whoever we want now.”
Discussing her experiences as a club kid, Tiller didn’t exactly paint as pretty a picture. She told the blog, “We were the freak show that drew in the paying bridge and tunnel crowd… There were just very few rules at all. But then it shifted gears into something darker when the drugs took over.”
Tiller went on to add, “You knew things were just f***** up beyond comprehension when one of us would die and the rest of us would still go out that night. Overdoses were common, and eventually it all ended abruptly and badly with a murder and tax evasion issues. But it is exactly what I signed up for.” Thankfully, Tiller managed to leave the club kid lifestyle behind before it was too late.
As for Godsmack, the nu-metal pioneers have only gone from strength to strength since releasing their 1998 debut album. Indeed, they have reached the top of the Billboard 200 on no fewer than three occasions. They have also scored more than two dozen Top 10 hits on rock radio and received four Grammy Award nominations.
The band released their seventh studio effort, When Legends Rise, 20 years on from their ground-breaking debut. The 2018 LP peaked at No.8 on the Billboard 200 and received positive reviews from the music press. Indeed, Allmusic’s Neil Z. Yeung wrote that the group sounded “reinvigorated, confident, and no less defiant than they were in 1998.”