American alternative/heavy metal band Godsmack formed in Massachusettes in 1995, and in the past 14 years the band has released an EP, four albums, equally as many DVDs, plus a collection of greatest hits. Comprised of frontman and founder Sully Erna, guitarist Tony Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill, and drummer Shannon Larkin, the band’s hitting efforts have yielded worldwide sales in excess of 17 million, have garnered the band 2 Grammy nominations, and have seen 2 albums (Faceless and 1V), hit number one status on Billboard’s Top 200 charts.
In addition to contributing a song to the film soundtrack for ‘The Scorpion King’, opening for Metallica on their ‘Madly in Anger with the World’ tour, and doing more than one tour of duty with Ozzfest, Godsmack spent this past summer on the road with Cruefest 2. The multi-band tour, orchestrated by Motley Crue, also featured support bands Charm City Devils, Theory of a Deadman, and Drowning Pool.
On the final night of the tour in Darien Lake, New York, I met up with drummer Shannon Larkin aboard the band’s tour bus and discussed some of Godsmack’s achievements to date, as well as the upcoming album, slated for March or April of 2010. But I momentarily forgot about the interview when Shannon emerged from the rear of the bus and I saw the striking resemblance to that of front man Sully Erna.
Laurie: Tonight being the last night of Cruefest, you’ve had all summer to form an opinion of the tour and the inner workings. Considering you’ve also toured with Ozzfest in the past, how does Cruefest stack up? Which did you prefer?
Shannon: Ozzfest was more of a team sport. With Cruefest, no doubt about it, Motley Crue is the headliner. Ozzfest was more of a throwdown, everybody was tighter. This one, we don’t even see Motley Crue. They don’t really party except for Tommy. He’s the greatest, a big kid – I love him. In fact, I’m so hung over from last night, it’s insane. I’ve met Nikki Sixx twice and shook his hand, Mick Mars I’ve met twice, and Vince… you don’t see Vince out. Ozzfest was more fun. But you know, I love Theory of a Deadman, Charm City Devils and Drowning Pool. We’ve been throwing down hard. But Motley’s just not in the picture, you know?
Laurie: Certainly not like their old days. People change, sometimes its necessary.
Shannon: I guess.
Laurie: After 17 Top Ten mainstream rock singles, does that put pressure on you when writing a new album?
Shannon: We try not to let it affect us. But it’s always in the back of your mind that you want to make a hit. We’re trying for the first quarter – March/April were hoping for. Obviously we can’t rush it, but we get off this tour and have 2 weeks home and then go to LA on Sept 20th. We have apartments already rented, so we’re ready. We have 18 songs on the board right now that are up there. We hope to write 5 or 6 more songs.
Laurie: I read that Sully said the new sound is harder than ever.
Shannon: Well, ‘Whiskey Hangover’ is a good clue, and that’s what we’re going for. It’s more simplistic than the last record – less bluesy, more heavy. We wanted to get back to the original sound of the band… simple heavy rock. But you never know, we could write up a funk song.
Laurie: Somehow I don’t see that happening. Is writing a collaborative effort or do you leave that mainly to Sully?
Shannon: No, it’s collaborative. Sully steps in with the vocals. So we write all the music first typically, and then he takes the tape of music and starts writing lyrics and melodies, and then he’ll sing it to us, and we’ll be yay or nay. He doesn’t get excited much, so when he gets something that he thinks is good, it’s usually really good.
Laurie: I read in a past interview, you said the band was all Sully’s vision, from the songs you choose to the artwork on the album covers. Does it work well for the rest of you to have things operate that way, or was it just something you said at the time?
Shannon: No, it’s his vision, this band is his band, and we’re just proud to be in it. It doesn’t affect us so much. I guess maybe sometimes it can get on your nerves as far as if you are not feeling something that he’s really feeling. But that doesn’t happen much. He’s mellowing out a lot, letting go of the reigns a little in the last year. He’s making a conscious effort to include us and listen to our ideas.
Laurie: No doubt that unified feeling will be reflected in the new album.
Shannon: Yeah, for ‘Whiskey Hangover’ all 4 of us were in the room and we wrote that song in like 3 hours. But it took Sully weeks to come up with the lyrics, and he wasn’t even happy with it ‘cause we had to rush it – we needed something for this Motley Crue tour. The 3 of us loved it, but Sully was kind of irritated with it ‘cause he knows it could have been better.
Laurie: So he’s a perfectionist?
Laurie: Whose idea was it for the drum duel? Yours or his?
Shannon: It was basically his – him and Tommy Stewart, the original drummer of the band. But when I joined the band he had the idea to prolong the drum battle. It took us a couple of weeks to write it. The rest as they say is history.
Laurie: I’ve watched so many versions of it on You Tube, but I would love to see it live. I’m assuming tonight you can’t because your set time isn’t long enough to fit it in?
Shannon: Oh no, we do. In fact it’s better than ever because now we know it so well that we can really play. Every night is different. When you got 2 dudes going at it like that with a band on stage keeping it like a song, it’s definitely not where people want to leave to go grab a beer.
Laurie: Cool! I’m excited to see it! Just curious, did you take part in the video that Crue did for ‘White Trash Circus’, to hype the tour?
Shannon: No, Sully did.
Laurie: I was just curious as to whether it had been difficult with so many front men all in one room, and all used to their fair share of camera time and being the center of the attention.
Shannon: I bet! I wouldn’t have wanted to be in that room!
Laurie: With the re-mastering and release of your self-titled album in 1998, after almost a year on the market, you suddenly ran into issues with the lyrics being dubbed controversial and you were made to use Parental Advisory stickers. But it seems to me that the concept of the stickers is ridiculous because they have the opposite effect. They’re designed to deter people and yet it’s the same idea as telling a kid that they can’t have the candy that’s sitting on the table… suddenly they have to have the candy!
Shannon: Yeah, Tipper Gore (laughter) she was instrumental in that shit!
Laurie: Tipper and the PMRC. So do you think it ended up working in your favour then, that the second it hit the news that you had to have Parental Advisory stickers, sales actually went up.
Shannon: Oh yeah, thank you, Tipper. She did everybody a favour with the little sticker, ‘cause like you said, when you put a sticker on that says: “Don’t touch this,” what’s a person going to do? They’re gonna touch it.
Laurie: Exactly. So it seems to me that it’s counter-productive on her part. It actually benefits the bands more than it does her cause.
Shannon: Absolutely. Same with the rappers and all that; you put the stickers on there and all the kids want to listen.
Laurie: Awake is one of my favorite albums, but when you wrote it I would assume that a Grammy nomination for ‘Vampires’ as Best Rock Instrumental was probably the last thing from your minds. And then it happened again with another Grammy nod for Best Rock Performance. Does it come as a surprise to you that the Grammy’s recognized you?
Shannon: Yeah, it did, but it’s nice to be recognized, it’s nice to go to the Grammys and see a bunch of old friends like Dave Grohl and stuff… and lose to him – twice! (laughing) But it’s funny because even though we’re being recognized, when we see a legend like Robert Plant or somebody walk by, we’re as star struck as the next guy.
Laurie: Funny you would mention Robert Plant because I wanted to ask about when you did a cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ – why that one?
Shannon: ‘Cause that was Sully’s and my favorite John Bonham tune. It’s amazing, and after 10 years of Godsmack there’s been a LOT of good times and bad times. It just fit, you know.
Laurie: Fair enough. You toured with Metallica, any good stories there?
Shannon: They were the greatest tour we ever did. They were the nicest guys – James Hetfield would come to our dressing room every day and just sit down and go, ‘Hey, what’s up guys?’ just like a normal, righteous guy. Rob Trujillo, phenomenal, great guy. Kirk Hammett is the nicest dude you’ll ever meet. I’m telling you, it’s the complete opposite of this where we don’t even see Motley Crue.
Laurie: Really? So, would you say that you’ve learned from them?
Shannon: Yeah, we learned so much on that tour and we learned how to treat other bands. They’re not worried about getting blown away or whatever, so they’re basically like, ‘You can use anything you want to use on the stage, as long as you can get your shit off the stage in 20 minutes. Just don’t make us late’. So the next year we headlined and took Rob Zombie with us, and we told him the same thing. We learned a big lesson from Metallica.
Laurie: So what note would you like to end this interview on? What haven’t I touched upon that you’d like to talk about, or is there something you’d like to say to your fans?
Shannon: Just look out for the new record. We’re going to go into hibernation now – you won’t see or hear from us for the next 4 or 5 months, so anybody that saw fuckin’ CrueFest, thanks for coming out and I hope you get the new record.
Laurie: Any ideas for a title yet, or you gonna tap into your security dude again, the one that allegedly helped to inspire the title ‘Four’ with his female rating system?
Shannon: (Shakes head and smiles) No, we’re gonna see how the songs round out, and usually we get an idea – there might be a standout song that has a cool name like ‘Faceless’ or whatever and then we’ll call the album that. But I can tell you this; it’s not going to be called ‘Five’.
Laurie: (Laughing) Good to know. Well, I thank you so very much Shannon, it’s been a real pleasure.
Shannon: Yeah, thanks for having me. Enjoy the concert.