Godsmack released their final album Lighting Up The Sky on February 24, and drummer Shannon Larkin has been put on the interview trail
We get to speak with Shannon about why it’s the final album? What this means for Godsmack? What are tha band’s touring plans to support the final album and more. Exciting times beckon, and Shannon has been getting time with Tony (Rombola, guitarist living less than ten minutes away) to spend time jamming the new songs, which are a pleasure to play. Shannon was pretty happy to chat about all this and more, though lamenting the fact that he didn’t have a “Metal Ass” Black and Red (Sentinel Daily) Zoom backdrop like mine.
After taking the album for a spin a few times yesterday I bet the common question you are getting asked is why? The album in my opinion is great. It sounds like a reflection of a band at the top of their game. So why? Why are you guys calling it quits in the studio? “That’s the cool part, we want to in our lives, go out on top. It’s a mountain, we all dreamed to be in this place since we were kids. So all four of us, it was a huge mountain to climb. This business is a business, it’s super hard and takes a lot of luck and chemistry, things you can’t buy. To be successful this long, there are other mountains we can climb too. We won’t break up, so we’ll continue to play. Basically, for us, and it’s hard to explain to everyone. We want to be back to a live band and doesn’t have to have a product to sell. And make new music. Reap the benefits of playing music for over two decades …business and touring is gruelling. Let me say one more thing about this final record stuff, is that, when you’re in a band like ours that’s successful, at least the way we have run it and live it…the band comes first…before family, before friends, before life…it’s the band. And that’s because we make records. It’s like, we totally feel content and happy where we are…and we just want to enjoy being a live band again without all the hoopla that we have lived and endured. We feel this is a positive thing. It’s not like, ‘Hey it’s our final record, we think we’re too old, and we’re breaking up!’. I understand it being the question and all, but we do feel it’s our best record. Could we go make more records? Probably, but will they each get better and better and better? I don’t know, we are getting older and older. So, I think it’s a brilliant plan”.
Did you know before you started working on it that it was to be the last album? “Yeah, yeah. It’s (vocalist) Sully (Erna), it’s his band, his vision, make no doubt about it. He came to us with the idea and his reasonings. I can speak for myself, and I know that, you know, that it’s been the question, I don’t want to feel old trying to act like it. Metal and rock music is full of piss and vinegar. I’m fifty five and I’m not full of piss and vinegar and aggression anymore! I was… we all were! I want to be able to represent myself too as a hard-hitting drummer. So as I age, obviously, everything gets a little tougher. You know reality, it’s like Michael Jordan, he was only forty five or six and he had to retire because it’s a young man’s game. Heavy metal and hard rock are a young man’s game. You gotta have real aggression and real emotion and energy to translate that for your music so we feel like we are all super happy chilled dudes, we get along, better than we ever have. Through all the highs and lows, the four things that will break a band up, drugs, ego, money, and women (laughing). We got through all of those man. And so here we are at the end of the thing, we just think it’s a super positive thing”.
So did the writing/recording process change as a result of knowing it was the final hurrah? It comes across, listening to the album, it sounds like you’re free and having a good time. “Well, that’s awesome! Because it’s truth, we did. Tony and I were just saying after our jam today, we always sit around and smoke one and just talk about it, it was definitely the funnest, coolest, easiest, drama-less record we ever made. It was just like it was meant to be. Again, Sully, it’s his vision, shaping it, the songs as far as lyrics, shaping it to be kind of a love letter to our career, as well as, the heart break it is that he endured that caused songs like Surrender to happen… but that’s all part of it. But if you look at us, historically in his lyrics, it’s always the same thing, ninety per cent of the songs we don’t sign about dragons, fantasy and whatever, it’s all that tough shit that he went through and usually having his heart ripped out unfortunately. And there’s a catch-22, cause Robbie (Merrill) and Tony and I look at each other and go ‘ok, that sucks for our bro that that just happened to him again’… But we know we’re going to have a hit record out of it (laughing)”.
So there’s an upside? “Yeah, for us ( more laughing).
I’ve noticed a real change in the direction from When Legend’s Rise and this album. You’ve gone a more ‘hard rock’ direction? You’ve been drumming in Godsmack for over twenty years, has that changed the way you must play? “When I came into the band, it was already a big band, and I was so lucky to be there anyway. Sully is a great drummer, by the way, and we met in 1986 or 87 and we argue about which year it exactly was. I knew him for fifteen or so years before I joined his band, and we were friends. He always told me he looked up to me as a drummer. When he was a drummer, his band opened for my old band Wrathchild back in the eighties, so we were friends as drummers until I joined Godsmack. We never lost contact, and every time I came to Boston, I called Sully, and we were just friends. So, when they came around as the band, it was like ‘Wow!’, and all of a sudden, he was the singer. He had sent me the first record, and by the way, I would have been in Godsmack for the first record, but I was in this band Amen, a punk band. I wouldn’t leave the band (Amen) as we had a deal so anyways, I turned down the initial ‘be in my band’ thing. But then they came out and were hugely successful and sold millions of records….and Amen didn’t! (laughing). We ripped it up and came over to England a lot. But that’s kind of where it’s at, it’s a natural progression for me as a drummer. It’s very give and take and I try play for the song anyway and the song is usually Sully’s and he has a vision that he wants. I’ll say that this is why Legends sounded different to our other work, because every record thus far has been written with the four of us in the room. Whether Sully has a riff, or me and Tony or whatever, the riff comes out and we all four are there and we work seven hours and put it together, or two days, or an hour sometimes. Legends was different and that was the first record where Sully went and wrote it with outside writers and wanted to try that, I guess to try the commercial rock radio thing. We felt maybe we are dinosaurs and just don’t understand (laughs). He went to a younger producer, Erik Ron, a great producer, great song writer, has great vision and him and Sully used other writers as well and it was just a different time for the band. Tony, Robby and I would get these demos of these songs pretty much complete but they were with drum machines and stuff but I still had the liberty to pick my cymbals and do my fills and things like that but it was a very different record. This one, we tried to put some light on our whole career. So you hear elements from the very first record in there and for sure you hear IV and Oracle, 1000 hp in What About Me. What About Me could have been on that record, Light Up The Sky could have been on Oracle. So, I feel like we have covered pretty much every album. We put out records every four years to which there’s a lot of growth in one’s life over four years. If you want to write a new record, it’s been four years. We still sound like Godsmack but each record has had its own feel, I feel, and we tried to capture all those feels in this song. Did I say feel too much?!? (laughing)”.
So, you touched on four years between albums, is there a cycle or specific reason there? “It’s by genius Sully again, and he came up with the plan. He came up to the band and said we’ll take a year to write and record the record, two years to tour to totally support it and then a year off. From each other, the band, and again, we’re blessed and lucky to financially be able to take a year off. But what it did for us, get us apart, get us out of the machine for a year. Let us go home to our dogs and fish, lovers and families, kids and be apart for a year. In that time, we are all writing, coming up with riffs, coming up with that stuff, but that’s a year off. Then it would start over again. I thought it was brilliant, because I’ll tell you what bro, all the accolades we’ve gotten as a band, gold records and stuff, whatever, the purists like us, you know. Whatever we got, that’s special to us, it’s a special badge we wear with pride and honour, is the longevity badge. Four dudes, that lived the way we lived, together three years straight. To be able to, I don’t know, be alive even (laughs). I feel like we did it, and it’s not over, like you said, the best times are yet to come, it’s time to enjoy it”.
What’s the plans for touring? Obviously going to go around the US, any plans for Australia? “I’ve been down there, I loved it. I hope we come, I don’t know, we don’t know. Honest truth, it’s so expensive to tour the world man, and we’re not big in other countries, like your country, like we are here in America. That’s another thing, Sully’s adamant, we’ve always been a live band, we don’t run tape and shit like that. We’re a live band and there’s like two songs in a seventeen-song set that we have to run tape because of effects on the record or whatever. But we pride ourselves on being a live band and we like to bring the bells and whistles. People are paying sixty dollars a ticket nowadays or whatever ridiculous thing it is. We all grew up watching bands that were blowing shit up with pyro and we want some exciting shit that they feel like they got a bunch of hits and a big ass show that they walk out of there and feel like we’re badass and we had a moment. So, we went over in October and we did the UK, Europe, like ten countries over there and we’re jamming and we’re live and it’s great. But we feel it doesn’t represent what we feel we’ve built. So it’s hard for us and especially being the final cycle tour, we’re going to tour for two years and we will do that. We still enjoy it, we still feel young and strong, it’s not like we’re feeling old. Our dressing room doesn’t smell like Bengay (a form of Deep Heat – rapidly-ageing Ed) or anything yet (smiling).
So, with that in mind, the next couple of years and after that, what’s for you personally? Have you thought about it? “I have man, I had an amazing thing happen. I’ve always had side projects, ever since I was a kid. In my first band Wrathchild, I had (MF) Pitbulls, I’ve always had other things because I also write lyrics. That’s the main thing, always have, I still have all my lyric books from when I was fourteen on. I retained them all. It’s always been a cathartic thing for me, writing lyrics, letting it out and whatever. Anyway and of course, I joined this band and I’m so blessed to be in a big band, my dream came true, but I had to swallow that pill, you know – no more lyrics for you. For here, he’s the man and he writes all the lyrics. Some singers feel they need to write it, it has to come from them to get the sound. So, I got it, I get it, so I start another band. So, I’ve had this band the Apocalypse Blues Revival, it’s like a trippy, psychedelic, blues rock. Anyway, Tony Rombola was in that with me, from Godsmack. We put out a couple of different records, a couple of different singers. But the singer that was on the last record, Shane, I loved, and Tony wasn’t into doing two bands anymore. You know he is a family man and I pretty much don’t sleep, I live music constantly. So we’d do five days a week Godsmack and I’d say to him can you come on the weekend and do Apocalypse with me. He’s like man, I want out. So that happened and I reconnected with my guitarist Terry Carter, from Wrathchild, who I hadn’t played with in over thirty-seven years. And we still had this chemistry, I met this guy when I was ten years old, and he was twelve years old. We were playing clubs, I was thirteen and he was fifteen. Anyway full circle, so that’s what I’m doing next. I think we’re going to call it Before The Sun and it’s like psychedelic, trippy, heavy, blues rock. It’s like classic rock, we have a keyboard player, and it’s for like people who like David Bowie, BB King, if they played in Pink Floyd“.
That sounds very interesting. “It’s very non-commercial, that’s one thing that Godsmack has afforded me, you know my next thing doesn’t involve having to sell shit. I want to make great music for like minded ears, you know, people that likes the afore mentioned bands. I just like creative stuff that doesn’t sound like anything on the radio. I don’t have to like worry, now. Except Godsmack, so I can just be a free artist and fly my freak flag”.
I read an interview with you from several years ago asking about the influences on your drumming. You talked (Neil) Peart, (John) Bonham and that’s what made you take up the drums. Do you hope you’ve had the same impact to influence kids to take up the drums? “Man, that’s a great question. I’m an oddball, I guess. You know people talk to me about things like legacy, your legacy ìn Godsmack. I grew up, I listened to music, I looked at Peart and Bonham, and all my idols as I was coming up like mythical creatures almost. I never imagined that I would be in anywhere near that same place with a band, and so when it all happened… Then the years go by, and people start saying you know I started playing drums because of you. It’s still surreal to me, I can’t wrap my head around that thinking of being an influence to a kid learning to play drums. It’s just, like I said, I appreciate it so much and if it ever happens like you know, ever mentioned in the name of such great drummers as those guys, then thank the lucky stars out there, I don’t know what to say about that. Like my legacy, I’m like what’s my legacy? you know? and then I get in all these deep thoughts. Ok so this is what defines me. I’m the drummer for Godsmack and that’s what I’ll be known as for the rest of my life. And also, into the next, because our music is timeless, and we have hits and stuff. So, after I’m dead, people will still know Godsmack and that’s my legacy. And I’m like is that what I want my legacy to be, I’m like I don’t know. You know I could paint a fucking picture maybe or write some fucking books. First there was a mountain, then there was no mountain and now there is… I need another mountain to climb and define myself in a different way after this too you know. So deep thought”.
Shannon, I really appreciated talking to you. Good luck with the album, with the touring. Really hope that we do get to see you down this way, but just wanted to say thank you again for your time. “I will say there’s always talk of Australia, and we want to go. Thank you man, I appreciate it and thanks for having me on”.
Godsmack’s Lighting Up The Sky is out now. Read our review of the album HERE