One band that’s always had a distinctive sound because of their guitar tones and riffs, and not to mention their singer, is Godsmack. This is one band that has been putting out great hard rock albums since their self-titled debut in 1998. This Boston-based band has also been instrumental in the Jersey rock scene as well, when singer Sully Erna signed Saint Caine singer John Kosco and his then band Dropbox back in 2002 to his Realign Records. So, not only has Godsmack been labeled a Boston band, but they’re welcomed here in Jersey as well with open arms.
Last August, Godsmack released their sixth CD, 1000hp, which was received favorably by critics. If you ask me, it hasn’t been out of my CD player since it was released. The highly energetic title track, “Something Different,” “Generation Day,” and “Locked And Loaded” are all sonic ear candy. On April 25, Godsmack embarked on yet another summer tour to continue promoting 1000hp with a revolving door of support acts like Hellyeah, In This Moment, Papa Roach and The Pretty Reckless on various different dates. One of my favorite parts of a Godsmack show, and I’m sure many would agree, is the dueling drum solo between drummer Shannon Larkin and Sully, who actually started out in the music business as a drummer. I was lucky enough to catch up with one half of the that dueling drum duo, Shannon Larkin, a couple of days before Godsmack headed out to Fort Myers, Florida, to kick off the tour. They stop here in Jersey at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ with Hellyeah on May 12. Here’s what we talked about:
So, I’m speaking to the other half of one of the coolest drum solos in concert history. Does that double drum solo ever get old? Or do you think that will be a Godsmack staple as long as the band is playing?
No, it never gets old. It’s still the coolest part of the show to me being a drummer and all. Not only that, we’ve tried to reconfigure that solo so many times just because we’ve played it for so many years. Every time we do, though, we’ve written multiple different drum solos with two different parts trying to structure it like this one because it works so well with the crowds and stuff, but every time, we come up with some cool stuff and then we go back to the old way because it’s not as good.
So, we just go with it and a lot of fans that I speak to are glad that we didn’t change it because they know it. It’s kind of like a song that you hear and you know. It’s definitely a staple in the set and we’ll probably do up until we can’t do it anymore.
The funny thing about it is sometimes it’s hard to fit one drum kit on stage and Godsmack always finds a way to fit two up there.
Well, the cool thing that I think about it is it’s musical and Robbie [Merrill, bassist] and Tony [Rombola, guitarist] are still on the stage with Sully and I. So, it’s not like your ’70s drum solo, where the lights go off and the drummer shows off for five minutes and everybody needs to go take a piss or get a beer at that point. Our drum solo isn’t like that because it’s more like a song and a piece of music that does highlight the drums. It’s like a battle of the drums, but it’s not a standard drum solo because it still has the whole band on stage playing their instruments.
1000hp has not left my CD player since you released it. The thing I love about Godsmack is that you’re very consistent with your songwriting in that the band seems to have found a recipe and never strayed from it. Do you agree?
Well, thank you! I appreciate that and we really pride ourselves on the songs, and songwriting is something we don’t take lightly and that’s why it usually takes us four years in between each record. We’ll write 25 to 35 songs and pick 10 or 11 songs to make a record.
We do feel like we try different things. Faceless was a very, very tight metal kind of record and then on IV, we took a left turn and went Zeppelin-esque and more bluesy rock metal on that one. That song “Shine Down” certainly wasn’t standard Godsmack there, and then The Oracle, we went back to our roots and made a metal-heavy record.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that we theme our records when we start writing. In other words, we knew before going into to write the IV record that we wanted to have a bluesy feel and we knew on The Oracle we wanted to make a heavy balls record that was kick-ass all the way through.
On this new one, our theme was kind of trying to take it back to the first record-feel. Go back to Boston. We’ve done records in L.A., Hawaii and Miami. This time, we went back to Boston where the first record was made and tried to emulate that feeling of being a hungry new band again [because] after all the success, it sometimes changes bands and they lose their identity, so on this one we tried to go back and recapture that vibe. It’s a little looser and little more high energy like the first record. And I think we did it. As far as the four of us are concerned, we feel that it’s our best work and so we hope that everybody likes it and we’ll try and top it next time.
It’s funny that you mentioned the first record because I feel that every song since the self-titled debut has always had some sort of toughness to them. Do you feel that attitude in the music can be attributed to the fact that Godsmack is virtually from Boston, a city known for its toughness?
Absolutely, man! People there don’t mess around with their words, they don’t mix their words and they say exactly what they feel. It’s not like any sort of plastic attitude in there like California, for instance. I love California, but a lot of times people don’t say what they really feel, where in Boston, they’re very honest people, and Sully came from that. He respected his parents and it’s reflected in his attitude and it’s reflected in the way he writes music.
Sully grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts, right outside of Boston in a bedroom apartment with his mom and sister, and being of smaller stature, having to fight and having to be tough. If anything, music is a mirror into the musicians who makes its mind.
Now, for me, as a bass player, Godsmack’s riffs have always resonated with me, but so have yours and Robbie’s grooves. How often do you hear that from musicians?
Most of the bands that come up and have been moved by the music, it’s usually the lyric that touches people. Like, you and I are musicians, so we are very open to listening to what each guy is playing or the structure and arrangement. Most people don’t know fuck about that. It’s just how the song hits them and usually a vocal will grab a hold of them or something. They can relate to something that he says and it becomes a picture in their life for that part of it.
Just like now, if I listened to Pink Floyd’s TheDark Side Of The Moon, a song will come on and it will totally take me back into my bedroom when I was 16 and was just listening to that record every day. When I play it now at my age, I can almost relive those times and I can remember them like yesterday and music sparks that. But like I said, we’re musicians, so it doesn’t even have to have lyrics to me. Just the vibe of the mix even takes me back to that time, but I really think most people connect to a certain vocal phrase that might’ve reminded them of something in their actual personal life. We’ll get letters all the time from fans saying, “You got me through this rough time with the song ‘Serenity’” or whatever it is, where I don’t get many people saying, “You got me through this rough time because of your riff in ‘Cryin’ Like A Bitch.’” (laughs)
Now that you guys are back on the road, will you be doing any writing for the next Godsmack record on the road? Or do you stay focused on your live shows when you’re on the road?
We just focus on the live shows. We go out there and we’re not too old to go out and be rock stars. We still go out and party, hang out with the fans and hang out with friends. The bubble that is the road that you’re grown into in this business is simply an amazing trip and a hell of a journey for five, six, 10 weeks or however long you’re out there in this crazy maelstrom of chaos, and it’s controlled chaos, but it’s still chaos and anything can happen. So, it’s not a really good time for us to try and focus on writing.
However, I will say, the riffs, Sully, Robbie, all of us have iPhones now. It used to be these little handheld recorders that we used. Now, it’s like riff after riff. At the end of the day, when we do get together to make all the records since I’ve been in this band for 13 years, it’s always the same thing—we all get together, Sully tells us what kind of theme that he’d like to go for, whether it’s like on the new one, let’s get back to our roots, and then everybody just whips out their little tape machines and we start going through literally hundreds of riffs that everybody collectively has. It’s four dudes, four musicians sitting in a room, Tony might be the one who will pull the riff up, we’ll all go, “Daaamn! All right!” Then we’ll all get up, go to our instruments, sit down, everybody learns the riff, we’ll start jamming it. That’s when you decide, “Wow! That feels like a killer chorus!” or, “That feels like a verse.” Then we go from there and once we get a cool jam going in the room, then someone might come up with another cool riff right there and then the song starts to take shape or we jam out and say, “Yeah, that’s great!” Put down our instruments, go sit down again and bust out the recorder and try to find another riff that will fit that one.
What I’m saying is, yes, we write constantly, but separately, and we all come together at the end of the day and like anyone in a rock and metal band will tell you, rock and metal music is riff-oriented. It starts with the riff and it ends with the riff.
Speaking of the iPhone, did you hear what happened to Kirk Hammett from Metallica?
I did! What a shame! What a dumbass for not backing his phone up! I’m gonna have to bust on him next time I see him!
What’s your favorite Godsmack song to perform live since you’ll be performing live for the next few months?
Right now, it’s “1000hp.” We did a six-week tour last year after we put the record out. We went out there and that song was always my favorite every night. It just has an energy. It’s got a punk rock attitude to it, so I love that. It’s up-tempo. You never feel like there’s a dull moment in it. And it’s only like, four minutes long.
It’s still my favorite besides the solo. The solo is still my favorite part to play because I get some freedom to do something different every night in it. Like, when I was a kid going to see Rush or whoever, if they changed what they played that I air-learned and they’re not playing the same as the record, it would bum me out.
So, I’m a drummer that usually I try to play the track like I recorded it. For two reasons: one, for all the drummers out there and musicians that might know, but two, because I spent many months perfecting my part in that song before even recording it.
Anyway, my point is, the solo is still my favorite thing to play live because then I can play off the cuff, off the top of the head and do it a little different every single show, which keeps the tour interesting for me.
What bands are inspiring Shannon Larkin today? Who are you listening to?
Oh, man…I just got back on an Oasis kick. I know they’ve been broken up for a while, but I don’t know…I was in Australia, my iPod was on shuffle and an Oasis song came on and I thought, “Oh, my God! I forgot how much I love them!” So, for the last week, I’ve just been straight-up Oasis the whole time.
As far as new music goes, my daughter is 16 and she’s turning me onto the newer rap things. Like, Kanye West is a big deal and I’ve never really listened to him. So I downloaded the Yeezus album and it’s brilliant. I do like the new Slipknot. That’s a great record, man! That’s a brutal metal record and it just lives up to the name Slipknot. That’s for sure, and I don’t listen to much brutal metal anymore. Not because I don’t love it. Because I’ve been listening to it from 1981 to 1990 basically. I was younger then, so I didn’t listen to anything else. Basically, everything else sucked except for that. Now that I’ve come around and am in my 40s, I find myself listening more to bands like Black Crowes and Oasis or Gary Clark, Jr., who’s a new blues artist.
I’m even playing in a blues band with Tony Rombola called Blue Cross and we have 22 songs that we’ve written in the last year. So, hopefully when Godsmack takes a break, we’re going to make a record with our blues band. We have this 65-year-old singer. This old blues guy that’s so badass!
One last question before I let you go, Shannon. From Wrathchild America until now, what would you consider to be your biggest accomplishment to date?
I gotta say this with this answer: I started playing since I was 8, but by the time I was 13, my band Wrathchild started playing in the nightclubs. So I’ve never held a job, dude. I’ve played music all my life and made my living playing music, so with my greatest accomplishment was when the Faceless record went gold and I got my first gold record on the wall, man.
I have to share this quick story about that because it’s rock ‘n’ roll. It was about 12 years ago when records were still selling a lot. So, when I joined the band, the Awake record sold like two and half, three million records. So I was like “Oh, my God! I might get my first gold record!” and so it came out and it was selling good. It debuted at number one. It was selling really hot and I was like “Yes, I’m gonna get my first gold record!” And Sully was like, “Well, no, not really, because it’s gonna go platinum and it costs money to make these plaques and we’ll just wait till it goes platinum, dude! And your first record will be a platinum record!” And I’m like, “No, I want my gold record!” He’s like, “Dude! Platinum is better than gold! It’s twice as many sales!” I’m like, “I don’t give a fuck! I want a gold record!” He was like, “I don’t know. I’ll check.”
I never really heard back from him and we got the Metallica tour and we were in London, England, playing some awesome 50,000-seat room. It was just Metallica with special guests Godsmack, and we’d been out with them already for a few weeks. So we knew the guys and they’re always super sweet.
So anyway, Sully into the dressing room one day in London and he goes, “Come here, dude! I got a surprise for you.” Months had passed since we had that discussion, so I had no clue, and I knew it wasn’t my birthday. They blindfolded me and led me into this hospitality room that Metallica had and they did that dumb thing where they spun me around a couple times and they took off the blindfold and there was my whole band and Metallica holding my gold record! I literally wept! It was awesome, man!
Catch Godsmack live at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ with Hellyeah on May 12. Their latest album, 1000hp, is available now through Republic Records. For more information, visit Godsmack at godsmack.com.