Interview with Godsmack and ex-Black Sabbath drummer Shannon Larkin
Montebello, Quebec – Rockfest returns to Montebello with a stellar lineup that includes legendary metal band Godsmack. 20 years after their debut album, Godsmack has sold over 20 million records, they have been nominated for four Grammy Awards. Also, their hit song “I Stand Alone” was featured on The Scorpion King movie soundtrack; it has over 108 million views on Youtube.
Godsmack have a new album called “When Legends Rise” coming out on BMG this April 27th. The lyrics to the title track describe a rebirth, and in many ways this album is a re-birth for the band towards a more mature and mainstream sound.
“If you look at our discography, each album has come out approximately every 4 years. We tour for two years, we write music for a year, and we record and get the artwork together in that fourth year. It sounds like a long time, but it has worked for us. We’ve always wanted to fly under the radar and not be over exposed, so that there’s a little bit of mystique left in rock and roll. With the internet it’s hard to keep any kind of mystique. I remember back in the day, and we’re a bit older now, we’d go see a band like Black Sabbath. They just had a gold record, they sold 500,000 copies, yet they were selling out 20,000 seat arenas. Before the advent of the internet, people were really curious. They wanted to know what do these guys even look like? They’d have four pictures on a record and that was it. So they’d go and see bands live. With that said, we built our whole Godsmack foundation on trying to be a great live band, having great crowds, and I think it’s because we go so long between each release – it’s new and exciting again when we do come out,” drummer Shannon Larkin explains.
“The re-birth concept for the new record comes from singer songwriter Sully wanting to bring this band to a maturity; which Robbie, Joe, and I follow Sully’s vision. Each record has been a different vision, whether it’s more bluesy metal, or more precise metal like the Faceless record, or more punk attitude like the last record. So for this one he came to us and said we’re all turning 50, and I want to mature the bands sound, make it more modern, and mainstream, so that’s what happened, and we have a re-birth,” Larkin added.
The songs off “When Legends Rise” are much more eclectic and sonically more commercial sounding than their previous albums. For example, the song “Bulletproof” is more melodic and a departure from their previous work. Godsmack’s re-invented sound might alienate some long time fans; however, these songs have the potential to reach a much broader audience outside of their traditional fan base.
According to Shannon Larkin, Godsmack is not trying to sell out with their new sound, but instead they are trying to be authentic to who they are at this stage in their lives.
“Absolutely, that was the honest intent to be more commercial. Some might say it sounds like they’re selling out, but we have already sold a shitload of records. We’re not selling out, we don’t need the money. We all turned 50, so it’s a maturity level thing. We don’t want to be that old band on stage pretending we’re something we’re not. We’re not trying to compete with the younger metal bands. Metal music is full of youth, piss, and vinegar. I don’t want to keep saying we’re old, I certainly don’t feel 50, but the truth is we’d like to mature into our old age where we don’t look like we’re trying to be something we’re not. We’re not young men creating angst music because we’re pissed at the world. Believe me, 15 years ago we certainly were pissed. For now it’s a re-birth and we’re trying to come out doing a sound we feel comfortable playing on stage five years from now,” Larkin stated.
According to Shannon Larkin, he approached the new album like a session drummer.
“I approached it more like a session drummer. It was the first record that we’ve done that used outside writers. We’ve seen our idols do it, bands like Aerosmith who were one of our biggest influences when we were kids. They went through that phase and started using outside writers and their sound changed after those first five or six records. They discovered they could use outside writers and change their sound. The main reason we did it, and we were okay doing it, when we usually write all or most of the music, is because of the intent of trying to change,” Larkin replied.
“Every time we make a record we try to do something different. From “Faceless” to “IV” to us sound like night and day. But the critics said here it is again, the same record. We made the fourth record, and then the fifth record the same thing. They haven’t changed. The last record we thought was completely different than “The Oracle”. We tried to use more punk rock attitude, including higher tempos, and more energy we thought. It came out and everyone said another Godsmack record, the same as the last one. This one, we decided we were going to have some definite change in this band. We’re going to try writing with other writers, professional writers and producers. The rap guys do it. We were scared at first of what Sully was going to bring us with these other guys helping him write these songs. At the end we had smiles on our faces. It’s a departure from our regular sound, our typical sound which we had for twenty years. It just remains to be seen when the record comes out if journalists and reviewers are going to think it sounds like the rest of our stuff or if we made an effort to change,” Larkin noted.
The music video for the song “Bulletproof” is also a departure from their previous videos. It uses humour to help tell the story of Godsmack finding the right director for their music video.
“Another thing Sully does as a writer every song, besides a couple like “Voodoo”, is most of the songs are about Sully and the feelings he has and the things going on in his life. What girl has broken his heart, what dude has screwed him over, everything has always been about that. With Bulletproof, unfortunately he went through that crap again, and had his heart broken the year before last, it was a horrible tragedy. So the song ended up being this very serious song about over coming having your heart broken, and coming back being able to be strong again and being bullet proof. So the initial ideas for the video were these cheesy boy meets girl, fall in love, girl breaks his heart video. Some of our favorite videos, the songs are very deep and serious lyrically, but presented themselves in a funny way. It’s lightened up the whole mood of the song. With this re-birth, we’re trying to be more palatable and not as angry at the world as we have always been. We thought, why don’t we make this video where Sully is the director, but everything goes wrong with the whole video. That was the initial concept for the video. Then Sully was like what if I act like my cousin from Italy and he messes up everything and everything goes wrong. We just laughed about it. As the development happened Sully had the idea of calling Sebastian, a friend of his, and have these different directors come in and pitch us what they’d do for our video. It all ended up being very funny and a fun video. It could have went the wrong way and ended up chessey, but it didn’t, I think it turned out great. It was a lot of fun to shoot too,” Larkin disclosed.
Larkin had been in various bands and has worked with industry greats. He was the drummer for Ugly Kid Joe, and he has worked with Vanilla Ice, Stone Sour, Glassjaw, and many others.
In 1997 he drummed for Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne on the final date of Ozzfest 1997 – a dream come true. However, by 2002 he was ready to give up his dream of being a rock star. He was going to be a father soon, and he went to hair dresser school to follow in the footsteps of his mom.
“Believe it or not, “When Legends Rise” is my 35th record in 30 years of playing. I’ve been in bands prior to Godsmack, but none of them had ever been hugely successful. When my punk band Amen from Los Angeles put out a second record on Virgin, it just didn’t sell. It was a violent band, and my wife had just gotten pregnant at the time. I’m going to be a dad I thought. I was in my 30s at the time, and I said I can’t play this kind of violent music anymore and live through it. At the time I had also done 25 records or whatever, toured the world, I had played with Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne. I’ve done everything I set out to do as a kid except get rich or famous. I couldn’t give two tosses about that honestly. So I quit Amen. My mom who was a hairdresser loves her job to this day and makes people happy kind of like a musician does, but gets paid for it. So I enrolled to this hair dresser school. My wife is pregnant, I’m going to retire from being a full time musician, but I’ll still play drums on weekends, because I love drums. I was done trying to achieve this dream of being a rock star,” Larkin recalled.
However, just as Larkin thought the door was closed, a few weeks later it was swung wide open. Shannon Larkin has been a member of Godsmack since 2002, and his first year in the band is one that he’ll never forget. Faceless was the number one album on the Billboard 200, the band was nominated for two Grammy Awards that year, and nominated again the following year for Best Hardrock Performance for “Straight Out of Line”.
“Literally two weeks after I enrolled in that school, Sully Erna called me and said you have the gig if you want it. That first year was a whirlwind of oh my god, here I am, with this band that has sold millions of records, who the singer has been a friend of mine for 15 years. Before that phone call we had been just buds. I would see him in Boston when I played with whatever band. He always came out, and we were always chummy. To finally get the success I strived my entire life for, and to do it with a friend of mine I love to hang around with and party with was incredible. That first year with Godsmack meant the world to me. It was quite possibly the best year of my life – not only because of Godsmack but also because my daughter was born that year too,” Larkin reminisced.
Shannon Larkin always wanted a gold record, however “Faceless” did better than gold. The album went platinum, but Larkin still wanted a gold record. His dream would finally come true on his birthday in Metallica’s dressing room of all places.
“I never got a gold record. I said to Sully, oh my god, we came out #1 on the Billboard and sold 200,000 copies in that first week; I was like wow, I’m finally going to get my first gold record. Sully said, they can tell by how much it’s selling and how much time it’s sold in, it’s going to go platinum. Those gold records aren’t cheap. We’re not going to get gold records, we’re going to get platinum. Your first record with Godsmack is going to be platinum. I go, I don’t want a platinum, I want a gold record. He says that platinum is better, it means you sold more. I said, I don’t care, I want a gold record. Sully says, it’s not going to happen. We go on tour, the months pass, and it goes platinum. We find ourselves on tour in Europe with Metallica, which is another dream I was living. It’s April 24th, it’s my birthday, and we were on the Madly in Anger with the World Tour. We’re in London, and it’s my birthday, and Sully comes back and says we got you a birthday present. I had long forgotten about this gold record by the way. They blindfolded me, and let me into this room, which was Metallica’s dressing room, and there’s Lars, James, Kirk, Robert, and Sully, Joe, and Robbie. They unblindfold me and are standing there with this one of a kind gold record they made me for the Faceless record. That was a cool memory, I will always cherish,” Larkin recalled.
It’s been an incredible journey for Shannon Larkin and Godsmack. They had several more #1 albums on the Billboard 200, and they toured the world countless times. Godsmack will be playing this year’s Rockfest in Montebello, Quebec this June. Shannon Larkin is excited about Godsmack’s return to Canada.
“It’s been way too long since Godsmack has played there. The last time we played Rockfest, it was one of the best shows I can remember. It seemed everyone in the crowd knew our songs, and sang with us, and we were like wow man, we got to get back to Canada. We’re excited to be back, and we’re going to bring all the bells and whistles and everything we got,” Larkin concluded.
Rockfest takes place from June 14th to June 16th in Montebello, Quebec. Prophets of Rage, Weezer, Five Finger Death Punch, Tenacious D, A Day to Remember, Lamb of God, Jimmy Eat World, Stone Temple Pilots, Sum 41, Rancid, and Dropkick Murphy’s are among the 70+ bands playing the festival along with Godsmack. For more information on bands playing or to purchase tickets visit the Rockfest website.
by Jason Setnyk
Jason Setnyk is a high school teacher, journalist, published and award winning author and photographer.