Chris Bradshaw

Godsmack Set Out to ‘Light Up The Sky’ One Last Time

The hard rock door is not being closed by Godsmack, it’s just being left ajar.

One of my favorite bands to come of the nineties was Godsmack! Their riff-driven, thunderous rhythm section, signature vocals, and bad ass songs became the soundtrack of our generation. Many Grammy nominations and multi-platinum records later, Godsmack is about to drop their eighth and final studio album, Lighting Up The Sky, the follow-up to their 2018 release, When Legends Rise

Co-produced by lead singer and guitarist Sully Erna and Andrew “Mudrock” Murdock (known for his work with Avenged Sevenfold, Alice Cooper and earlier Godsmack records), Lighting Up the Sky is a testament to powerful storytelling. Lighting Up The Sky explores boy-meets-girl, obstacles in relationships, the polarized political climate and the state of the world, betrayal, connection, rebounds, and more. It also gets into the idea of legacy and what we leave behind, which is fitting for what Sully Erna has noted as the band’s final studio album. Sully has also said that this is not the end of Godsmack by any means. They will continue to perform as a band, but when it comes to going into a studio to record new music, this is the end. We had the chance to sit down on Zoom with Godsmack’s consigliere and one of my favorite drummers in rock, Shannon Larkin, to elaborate on this being the last studio album. We discussed Lighting Up The Sky and what happens beyond Godsmack – here’s how that chat went:

It’s been five years since When Legends Rise and now, Lighting Up The Sky being Godsmack’s eighth studio album, is there truth to the rumors that this will be the last Godsmack studio album, but not the end of Godsmack?

Yeah, man, that’s the question, isn’t it? It’s not rumors, man – Sully has come out and said it, and I’ve been saying it now in interviews and such. It’s just true because there’s basically three reasons. You know, we all sat down. Sully came to us, too, as this was his idea and the dude is a genius. I say it all the time, but it’s true – so many things about our career that weren’t conventional, from four years apart on records to just the way he runs it, is pretty original and pretty genius [given] the longevity and success of this band. You know what I mean? So, he came to us and said, “Guys, I’m thinking about this being our last one.” He had his reasons, but basically, all four of us had our reasons why we all liked that idea and agreed after having sat down and talked about both sides of the coin and why. Basically, the first elephant in the room is the age thing. That was my thing. I love and respect all those bands like Judas Priest and Cheap Trick that keep on going and they’re just badasses until their seventies and half the band is gone or whatever. Sure, love and respect to those bands, but I never wanted to be like that. I always had the mentality of achieving my dream, climbing my mountain, and then going out on the top of it, right? Then I [could] have other mountains and other dreams to pursue in life, like whether I write books, or I can paint pictures, whatever – that was me, personally. 

Then another reason was we have always enjoyed each other’s company and love playing live. That’s our thing! We love playing live! We pride ourselves on being a live band and not on a bunch of tracks. We’re just a live band. We’ve always felt like that was our reward, so we never really enjoyed creating records and recording records, but we liked writing the records – that period of creativity? That was the fun part. It’s the four of us in a room making music, creating music, and that’s beautiful. The actual making of records, it’s a big… You’re in the machine, number one, right? You’re in this machine and now you’re making this product and you have to go and do what’s called cycle tours, which are year-long tours and there’s lots of pressure on a band like us that are trying to keep our success. What we didn’t want to be is that band that will stay together so long even as it just starts fading off and the sales go down and the size of the venues go down and everything goes down. And at the same time, we’re older and so we’re not probably on fire, which leads to the third point: Why a final record? This leads to me, again, as I could speak for myself, but I’ve said all these things when we agreed to make it our final record. And so, I feel like hard rock, heavy metal, punk… these are aggressive young man’s music. You’re full of aggression and piss and vinegar, right? This is how we got it out. We were that. And when Sully screams, “I Stand Alone” or whatever, we’re now in our fifties and we’re happy dudes. We’re successful dudes and we’re happy! How many bands could stay over two decades? And we’re still good friends, really good friends, all of us. The four of us are like brothers and we have fun together and all that, so the pressure of having a product to sell and having to tour and being, at the mercy, really, of your art… We’d like to make it again where our reward is playing live. We can alleviate all that, being in the machine and having to tour when we’re told or when we need to sell a product. We don’t need to sell a product. 

We’ve been doing this for well over 20 years and we are financially stable, you know what I mean? We’re not looking to buy mansions at this point in our lives. We have our houses and cars and it’s not about making money for us anymore. We’d like to make money – don’t get me wrong. I’m not sitting here being a saint or something. I want to go and get paid to play drums; that was the dream part of the mountain I climbed. We feel we deserve it, and so, the final thing was that there are so many songs already in this country. This is our country where radio has made us successful. Thank you, radio, for that! I’m not bragging – I’m saying it was part of what we talked about and why it would be a good move for us to maybe – definitely – make this a final record. It’s like 12 No. 1 hits at rock radio where we are. It’s not like we’re where Lady Gaga is or whatever. We don’t care. We’re at Active Rock Radio. We’ve been there for 20 years. We rule it, right? And so,with all the hits – God, like 27 Top 10 hits or something ridiculous – after every show we play, I talk to the fans and everyone is always like, “Why didn’t you play this or that?” You know, “Love Hate Sex Pain”? “Why didn’t you play it?” Well, we don’t have enough room if we made every song a Top 10 hit in the set, and you have got to be playing some deep cuts to form or whatever. It’s a tough thing.

Sully had said, “Well, what if we make this our final record and we get two hits off this one? Now, we’ve got literally 30 songs in the Top 10 over 25 years, we could do two nights, and have every song different.” The coolest thing he said about this was the cycle tour of Lighting Up The Sky. The new record is done, we take a year off like we always did in the past, and then instead of having to get together and write another record, record it and then go and have two more years at our age to go tour and support it, he calls us for a few weeks on tour or Europe for a month. We don’t have anything to sell except for our back cuts, which are our songs already. […] We can take moments from each [previous] tour and make this one big set, all of these moments, just for our fans, [and] that’ll be a rad set. Everything is just being handpicked from over the years to what we know works in concert to what our fans love. They’re gonna get [about] two hours of just that, so it’s a win-win, because that’s what we really love to do: be out there performing. Then the fans get a set of just all our baddest-ass moments from fucking 25 years. 

I’ve been listening to Lighting Up The Sky all week. As you mentioned, each record had a four-year time period in between them, and this one was probably your longest between records at five years. I read somewhere that this record took about two years to write and produce. Is that right? Also, was it more about laying back and taking your time on this one? Or did you guys try a different approach when it came to writing these songs?

No, man, it was the pandemic. That’s what screwed our whole schedule. It would have been [out] in four years. He did that on purpose, Sully – listen, that’s why I say genius for [him]. One year to write and record the record, two years to get out there and play our asses off, and then a year off. That’s the genius of it! We know that we’re blessed to be able to finance and to afford to just take a year off. When you’re touring and making records, you’re together all the time, so what that did was make it so that at the end of three years, you separate and you don’t think about Godsmack. You’re writing songs for whatever is going to be the next record, but you take that year off and you relearn your family or your dogs or pets and your pillow, your bed, your whatever. You go home and you separate from the machine. Then, when you come back, you’re excited again! Everything’s fresh again! You want to see your guys and write music and create this energetic record! That year off that we were blessed and lucky enough to be able to take is part of the four year plan. One year, write and record. Two years, support, play for our fans. Take a year off, and reflect on it all and write music for the next one. So, like I said, the pandemic added the extra year to our thing. 

I can tell you real quickly about the writing. 2020 happened – we came back from Europe in December [2019], Christmas happened, and we made it January, February. This was supposed to be our year off anyway, right? Well, when we came back to America, after that December, that European tour, Christmas passed, and we had released our fourth single, “Unforgettable,” after three number ones. It, too, went number one. We come back from Europe, and we have a fourth single at number one, but we’ve never had more than two on the same record, so to have four? The hits kept coming. We were like, “Oh my God!” We started booking into 2020. We were going to go all the way to the fall because now we had a new reason. We had shows opening for Metallica and these festivals and all this cool shit, man! Then it came and the world changed. We said, “Well, it’s going to be gone by 2021, so we’ll just take this year off like we would have anyway… if we didn’t have that fourth hit… then we’ll start recording in 2021.” That’s where the year started for the four year thing, so since the pandemic happened, we canceled all those shows to just stay home, stay safe. We took 2020 off anyway, and then, as we all know, it didn’t get better when 2021 came around, but we started anyway. 

Sully got a private jet so he wouldn’t catch COVID, and he came in and we started writing January, February, March. And then unfortunately, Sully went through a long-term relationship breakup and it was pain and all. So, he’s like, “I gotta go,” and went back up north. He said, “Have a nice summer, guys,” and we were like, “Damn! That sucks!” We had 10 or 11 songs written out of which only three of them ended up on the new record because when he went home for four months to deal with the pain of the breakup (like we’ve all been through), and one of the other genius things about Sully, if you look at all the records, this isn’t the first time and he’s had some bad luck with relationships, but his brilliance comes in and it awakens his genius inside and he writes about it. He’s a man that, as upset we were for the poor guy, our friend, Robbie, Tony, and I knew we were going to get some hits out of this with he way he is, and, sure enough, he goes home for four months, comes back, and scrapped like eight of the songs that we had for our new record. All this ammo, man, it was just really good stuff, lyrically and musically. He just caught fire. He’s one of those guys that can take pain and just release it through music and it’s real.

Funny you mention this breakup because I was going to say that you didn’t have to tell me that Sully went through something life-changing, but because of the storytelling on this record, you could tell there was something that had happened. “Surrender” is one of my favorite songs off of Lighting Up The Sky, and some of my other favorites include “Let’s Go,” “Red, White, and Blue,” “Growing Old,” and – I’m a sucker for a good ballad – “Truth,” which really hit me. I know right now you probably love all the tracks because they’re a labor of love, but as of today, what is Shannon Larkin’s favorite track on the record to play?

Well, me and Tony jammed today. We’ve been doing that just a few days a week since we recorded the record. It’s one of those things where we had all the songs in the spot where they’re done. “These are done, put a fork in it.” […] At the end of the day, when the whole record’s recorded, we don’t hear it for weeks – maybe six weeks later – to mix it. Then when it comes back and we finally get to hear the songs again, I don’t remember them. When it comes time to release the songs and the record comes out a year later and we’ve got to play these four or five, I [don’t remember them], so Tony starts coming over with me and we jam them. Today we jammed and it’s been a couple weeks that we’ve been playing these by five off the new record that we feel Sully will pick. All those songs you mentioned are on it, plus “Soul on Fire.” I was going to say either that one to play, for me, or [“Lighting Up The Sky”]. For “You and I,” we play just Tony and I in a room in the garage, and it sounds fucking killer, man. […] 

I can tell you a story about that song, “Best of Times.” We had eight songs done. We wanted 10. Sully came to Tony and I, who write music together and have always presented him with tons of songs because he’s the chief songwriter. Godsmack is his baby, man, and he hand-picked us all. Godsmack is his vision. Tony and I always have side projects together. We just write songs together – that’s what we do. Anyway, Sully’s like, “I need some kind of mid-tempo hypnotic thing,” because another one of his geniuses is making records that are what we like to call ‘bodies of work that have valleys and peaks and take a listener on a journey.’ They’re made to be listened to as a record, not as a single, so we make sure that the sequencing flows from this song into this song, and it creates a listening experience like in the old days. We’re still down with all that. At the end of day, “Best of Times” was one of the songs that Tony and I happened to have already in our arsenal. He said he wanted something hypnotic and trippy so we gave him that song and he liked it. With Sully, with the music that we give him, if he gets a vocal, it’s all about the vocal to him. That’s why most of the stuff ends up being his music, too, because he’s writing it with his lyrics. We had the right song and he got a vocal hit on it. When he wrote that vocal, he came in and sang the song at night all alone with Mudrock. When we all come in the next day – Robbie, Tony, myself – he kicks everybody out of the studio, the front of the console room, and sits us down on the couch and hands us the lyrics to “Best of Times,” and then pushes play and we all, we were like, “What’s going on?” So, we sit there and listen to the song and I’m a drummer, I’m an emotional dude, and I get tears in my eyes when I’m reading the lyrics and he’s singing this song. It’s a letter to us, man. He wrote a letter to us. You know what I mean? It was something, man. It was just a moment.

I was actually going to bring that song up because I love that song, but it kind of sounds like a farewell song or a swan song for Godsmack.

You have got to listen to when he says the “best of times are still yet to come.” He says that still the best of times [are] yet to come. Any band like us that’s been together for this long, that’s our biggest accomplishment! You can look at gold records and all that shit that they give you and the success and money and all that, but our thing – our bragging point – is the fact that four dudes have been together over 20 years making successful records. That’s the longevity win. That’s why we want to make this our final record, too, because like I said, Judas Priest is still great, but if they put a record out, it’s not gonna sell like Screaming For Vengeance did when they were in their prime… and I love Judas Priest. I’m not dissing them at all. I’m just saying, we just don’t choose to watch the downward spiral happen as we age, which is a kick in the nuts anyway. I don’t expect to grow old. You fucking kidding me? But, you know, it happens.

I’ve been a Godsmack fan from the very first record. I’ve loved everything from the classic riffs to yours and Robbie’s thunderous rhythm section to Sully’s signature vocals. I’ve even been in bands where we tried to write songs that were very Godsmack-ish. Then came John Kosco and Dropbox and it was all over for us. Anyway, how do you think that this record holds up against the records before it?

Well, this one, I think it’s obviously our best work. It’s a culmination of decades of being together. There’s something you can’t buy or sell in this business and it’s called chemistry. And we got it! We sound like we sound. We can try and write a disco song and at the end of the day, it’s gonna sound like Godsmack. Every band says it, but I’ll say it’s our best work. When I heard it sequenced at the end of the day, listened to the lyrics and just felt what I talked about earlier, it’s that ride you go on as you experience a whole record, 45 minutes of ups and downs and in-betweens. I not only thought it was our best work, but I thought that it had elements of every record in our whole career from the first one. I also felt, which I said aloud to Sully, was like, “Wow, this is like a love letter to our career, this record.” [However], if The Rock came to us, for instance, four years from now and said, “Hey, Godsmack! I’m doing Scorpion King Six and I need a song!” Yeah, we might go into the studio and write a song for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. 

One last question, Shannon. The Apocalypse Blues Revival – that band was badass! Is there any chance we’ll see anything new from that project?

Yeah, man! The Apocalypse Blues Revival is alive and well. We’ve made a new record. I have got a bunch of news about that that I don’t even want to share yet. There have been some member changes or whatever, but it’s great, great news. We just added a keyboard player. We’re going to put a record out this year.