Godsmack: “We’re done making records, we’re done being thrashed in the machine and having to make a product and go and sell it…”
In our latest Cover Story, Godsmack drummer Shannon Larkin tells us why now feels like the right time to release their final studio album…
Eight albums, millions of records sold, number-one hit singles and sold-out world tours. American hard rockers Godsmack have had it all. So, why pull the brakes on it now? Having released their eighth album, Lighting Up The Sky earlier this year, frontman Sully Erna announced that this was likely to be the band’s last album.
In our latest Cover Story, V13 spoke to Godsmack drummer Shannon Larkin about his journey from being a broke kid playing in thrash and punk bands to playing with legends like Black Sabbath to getting that life-changing call to join Godsmack and, why now seems the right time for change…
“We’re a well-oiled machine now. We start with a setlist and then suddenly feel how the sets are going and we change it up. Now we think we’ve landed an order for a set that flows, has a bunch of energy, and feels good. It’s a constant quest. It’s a quest for the perfect set man.”
Having eight albums, that’s a lot of material to choose from, including a lot of fan favourites…
“Yeah, we got a legacy now. A lot of records out from a 20 to 25-year career but we like to keep it fun so we’re messing with some cover songs and stuff like that to just make the party come to it. We do “Rocky Mountain Way”, we do “Come Together”, and “Highway to Hell” is one of our favourites…
Then there’s your crowd pleasers, you know, that start a party. We don’t just lock into certain songs though but, you know, if something comes up, where someone goes, “Hey, let’s try this” and it’s on, we kind of fly like that and it’s fun. It makes it interesting out there.”
And where does the new material fit into this?
“I feel like the new record is a great representation of all the years from the very birth. There’s little things on there you’ll notice from the first record, and every record, consequently, you know? It feels to me like this was our most grounded Godsmack record. You get a little bit of the whole career in there. It seems like, it feels… you know, every band says it, but I swear it’s my favourite one and it’s certainly fun.
Making records was never really my favourite thing to do. The writing and creative process is always cool and interesting but the actual recording of it not so much. Once we get our reward is which when we put the record out, then we get to go on tour and that’s when we get it back from the energy of the crowd. But, as far as the new record, I think it’s our best one, and I know everybody says it, but I really believe that.”
It’s taken five years, between the new record and When Legends Rise. Ignoring lockdown, was the original plan to take so long between these two records?
“Well, when the pandemic hit us we, like everyone else in the world, said we’ll take 2020 off and it’ll be fine. Everything was gonna be fine by next year, and it wasn’t. Then 2021 was a shit show, and everybody’s walking around with fucking masks on and stuff and it didn’t fire back up. You didn’t know what’s going on but we did get together briefly for a few months and really wrote a bunch of songs then we took a break. Then, Sully went away, then came back all of a sudden, that’s when it seemed like, he came back with a bunch of ammo and great music and we went through it pretty easily from there.
Again, I’ll state that, for me, it was the most fun writing and recording of a record we’ve ever done. A lot probably has to do with us being in Florida, I was very close to home. So, I would get a call at 930 saying they had something so I plug and drove, I’d be there in 10 minutes. It was just the most comfortable I’ve ever been recording a record so that helped with the positive vibes that we had in the studio, everybody was on the same page.”
“I feel like the new record is a great representation of all the years from the very birth. It feels to me like this was our most grounded Godsmack record. You get a little bit of the whole career in there.”
I spoke to another band a few months ago about how they recorded an album after after lockdown and they said it was the most fun they had had in the studio as they reconnected. Do you appreciate that sentiment? Do you think the fact that this is possibly your favourite record down to the fact that you’d spent a time apart, and then it just came back together and it all restarted?
“Yeah, it was a conglomeration of a bunch of different events that happened in our lives and in the world. There was personal things happen for individual members with our relationships, it all makes the creative process different on each record. Not counting the Greatest Hits record, but our big records had come basically four years apart, which afforded us the time to take a break from each other.
That’s one of the things I attribute to how this band has stayed together and stayed friends for so long. It’s a blessing, it’s a gift, we know that we take some time off from it, and walk away for a while and then come back then you’ve reinvigorated the excitement of being together again and the chemistry obviously, that we have is four musicians in a room.”
Recently Sully commented that this is going to be the final Godsmack album. How did that conversation come about and what was the thought process that?
“Everybody’s memory is different but I remember being in our beautiful studio that we had just built and, like I said, everything just seemed really good. Everybody’s real happy. It was beautiful out and we’re in Florida. I remember Tony and Sully standing in front of this window that looked out to this beautiful pond and Sully said “What if this was our final record guys?”
Only because we started thinking about our career, and our age, for me, again, I can’t speak for all four of us but I know, for me, when the idea was out, I was all for it because, in my mind, I could see this being the last touring cycle. What people who aren’t in this business have to understand is that, when you put out the record, it’s your product that you have to sell. There’s a bunch of people, the labels and management and business management and agents and promoters and there’s all these people that are involved in this giant machine that we’re in. So, when you put that record out, it’s not a question of how much do we want to tour, you have to tour as you’re selling a product you owe money on now. They don’t call it the music business for nothing.
So when he brought that idea, my mind just immediately went to yes, because I feel like the reward again, to us, is the playing live part and, at that point, we’ve got seven records and a Greatest Hits record. All this stuff over almost 25 years of putting out music. I have to say at this point that Rock Radio in America has backed us and if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t even be successful, they put us on the radio. So I was thinking we could have two 75-minute sets, like we could do two nights in a row at the same venue and each set could be 15 songs of Top 10’s.
Each set could be completely different. We have 30 top 10 hits, 12 of which are number one, so we could even put six number one hits in the first night, and six in the second. Next thing you know, here we are, with this history of music that radio has been friendly to so people know, our fans know, the songs. After you become a legacy act over two decades, as musicians, we want to play new music, because you don’t want to go through the motions when you’re playing a song you played for 20 years. We want to play new music but, guess what, the fans don’t want to hear it.
It’s true, I can even say it as a fan. I’m a fan. I am a fan of music or I wouldn’t have wanted to be a rock star in the first place. So, when I go to see AC/DC, one of my favourites of all time, and they had taken a hiatus for five or six years since their last record, they come back with Black Ice. I was in the arena and, I’m sober man for over seven years now, back then I drank.
I drank one of those giant 20oz beers they sell for 15 bucks or whatever then AC/DC comes on the stage and they open with “Hells Bells” right into “Back in Black”. Second song in I had to pee really bad but I was like “I’ll do after this song,” and they kept playing. So, I’m not leaving during Dirty Deeds. I’ll hold it. Now, I have to say, I loved the new album, Black Ice, they’re back. When they played the fifth song which was “War Machine” off Black Ice I went to the bathroom because I’m not gonna miss one of the classics.
I tell you that that line was halfway around the arena as I think everybody thought the same thing, “a new song, let’s go to the bathroom, or go get a beer or go get a t-shirt or whatever,” while they’re playing new music. It’s not that that new music wasn’t as great as “Dirty Deeds” or whatever but it’s a nostalgia, a legacy thing when you’re around for so long. So, to me, it was a conscious decision, like, we can do these, we already have enough music and hits and songs that our fans want to hear so it becomes less about us and our goal and making a new hit and more about making the fanbase happy that put us here in the first place.”
“When you put that record out, it’s not a question of how much do we want to tour, you have to tour as you’re selling a product you owe money on now. They don’t call it the music business for nothing.”
Do you think that not having the pressure of writing just takes it away from it being, in inverted commas, a job, and allows you more time to enjoy it and appreciate what you’ve achieved?
“Yeah, when you’re in a band that’s successful, like we are, you dedicate your life to that and if you want to make it in this business, it’s like professional sports. You’ve got to be talented, but you also got to have a lot of luck, and timing, and then there’s all kinds of other things. The main thing though is you have to just focus your life, you’re either 100% in it, or you’re not gonna make it and so for the last 20-25 years now with the guys you know, we put the band before family and before friends. Say my wife and kid, we want to go on vacation in July, you know, when my wife didn’t work, so I have to call ask if I can take my family on vacation? We can’t because we got the Metallica tour in July. The band comes first.
We’re now at a point in our career where maybe life can come first, right? We’ve never said we’re breaking up after this record. Never because we don’t feel like we can. We can go on and just prioritise our lives. Also, you have to look at mortality once you get in your mid-to-late 50s. Okay, what’s the average lifespan now? It’s up to like, 75-76 years old, right? It was 50 that was the average age of death. Now we’re up to like 75.
I’m 56 so I’m thinking I only have 20 years and 20 years blows by in life, right? So I have 20 years left. Since I’ve prioritised for well over two decades, this band and this thing, which has been the most important thing in my life, I would like to maybe, as I get older, be able to go and take my daughter to Japan for a vacation or whatever, and not have to get permission. We are controlled by Godsmack and have been for decades, and it’s by choice, it’s a conscious choice, but it’s still control. I’d like to just, someday, be able to say no to going on tour.”
Essentially, it gives you control but it doesn’t take away from the business…
“It becomes the lure of money. We can make a lot of money but my argument has always been, I’m not a guy, you look at goals, there’s some people in bands, where their goal was 20 million or 100 million or whatever. My goal was a million now I feel like I don’t need money. I want more money, and I do but again, this is me, everybody is different. I bought a small house, it’s just a personal thing.
Then it becomes why are you doing it? Is it for money? Is it for fame? Or is it for happiness? In the end I feel it should be for the music and what makes you happy. Happiness, happiness within. It’s hard to find stillness within when you’re in this crazy, chaotic business that is a big party that we’re the host of. When I went sober the biggest issue with me was that I’m the host of the party so how am I gonna be sober and be able to host this industry?
That must have been very difficult to deal with?
“It’s a lot of just internal contemplation really on what do I want to do for the rest of my life. We feel like we’ve worked really hard. People misconstrue how much we’re involved with being in a band. I was the same thing when I looked up to Led Zeppelin. I’d read the books and see the stories and it looked like just this fantasy world – part girls and rock and roll sex. Really, it’s not, it’s a big business that you work your ass off. When you’re out there for, you know, a month or two on the road away from everything you love at home, whether it’s family, pet’s, your bed, your pillow, your music, I don’t know, you start to wonder why am I out here? Well, for money and money sucks.
Again, that’s my opinion but it feels good to be at a place now in our our lives and careers where we really don’t need to make another product. We’ve been lucky enough and fortunate enough to have radio hits. It’s that time and another thing then you’re labelled like a nostalgia act which people tend to use as a negative term. To me, nostalgia means longevity. You can take all the gold records off my wall, and the accolades or covers on the magazines and all that shit, the main badge of pride that I’ve gotten were from being in a long career, longevity, right?
“When you’re out there for, you know, a month or two on the road away from everything you love at home, whether it’s family, pet’s, your bed, your pillow, your music, I don’t know, you start to wonder why am I out here? Well, for money and money sucks…”
Especially in a business where less than 1% even get a record deal, let alone less than 1% have success or less than 1% have more than two records out. The list goes on and on about that less than 1% stat. It’s a very small success rate in music – 100,000 demos go to labels a year, and less than 1% of those are heard or signed, so, we’re definitely very, very grateful for where we’re at. Fans that are bumming on us, because last record why? Well, we’d like to have some control in our lives back to and not not make it such a business. We’ve been in this hard ass business for over 20 years, almost 25…”
You joined the band in 2002, what made you decide this is the path you want to take?
“I was in this band called Wrathchild America back, we got signed to Atlantic Records in 1989. We toured, we put two records out and toured with Testament, Pantera, we had some success as thrash metal was all the thing and that’s what we were, right. So I ended up going out to California and that was kind of a big break in my musical career, because they had just come off a record that had sold over a million copies with hits and all that. I’d never been in that world. I was a thrashing punk. So now, I’m in the commercial rock world of radio and all that and I was making honestly between 40 and 60 grand a year.
For me, I grew up in thrash, where I made 30 grand a year, where you were struggling to rent a one bedroom apartment. We would steal cigarettes and eat ramen noodles. I mean, that’s how it was trying to make it man. Everything was 100% about the band. In that band, Wrathchild, we were playing in Carolina, North Carolina and that’s where I met Sully Erna and his band was the opening band. We would go and watch the opening band. Back then you’d have to play covers as well as you’d slip originals in but the promoters would want you to play covers. If you made a living off music, you’d say okay, we played covers and I remember they opened up with a Metallica song and played really good.
We all hit it off anyway, and suddenly ended up coming back to my room that night. We were just partying, drinking, girls, all that shit. We exchanged numbers. This is in ’86 dude before Wrathchild was even signed. So, Sully and I remained friends over all those years to the point where, in 1997, Sully, Robbie and Tony already had a drummer, and they were starting to take over Boston. They made a CD, self-paid for, self-financed CD and they put it in started selling and then one of the songs charted nationally. Meanwhile, Ugly Kid Joe had broken up and I joined went back to my punk thrash roots and joined this LA band called Amen.”
I’ve still got all the bruises from those Amen shows in London…
“I fucking love that band. I mean, there’s not a regret in this world. Amen, we did the Sex Pistols thing. We made a record on Roadrunner got dropped, and then turned around and signed for Warner or was it Virgin Records? Then it didn’t sell because Casey Chaos was a true punk and he wouldn’t play ball and wouldn’t take the profanity out and blah, blah, blah. So, that was short lived. So, after five years in Amen, almost six, you know, I left that band and, honestly, at that point, I was leaving music.
Godsmack was taking over Boston, they had every major label and Sully called me telling me that their drummer had heroin problem and they had to get rid of him. He told me he’d got every major label in the world on his doorstep, offering deals… Universal, Atlantic, Epic, Polygram at the time, there was tonnes of major labels. We had just signed with Roadrunner, and I’d spent two years in punk clubs with Amen in LA, I didn’t want to join the band. Turns out our first record came out in the year 2000, then Godsmack came out and sold 5 million copies.
Amen came out and we sold 50,000 copies. I just looked at it like, I’d already done some session work and I was playing on records with the likes of Glassjaw. I did some legendary records I feel and I got to play with Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Geezer and Tony Iommi through knowing Robert Trujillo, who was playing with Ozzy at the time. I got the call, and I got to play with Black Sabbath.
“He’d got every major label in the world on his doorstep offering deals… Universal, Atlantic, Epic, Polygram at the time, there was tonnes of major labels. We had just signed with Roadrunner, and I’d spent two years in punk clubs with Amen in LA, I didn’t want to join the band.”
By the time Amen called it a day, suddenly Godsmack, they were huge so I didn’t even think about that. I enrolled in a Cosmetology school in Santa Barbara, with this idea of making a hair salon. My mom was a beautician and we had a hair salon in our basement that she put two tables… stations in there, and I grew up watching my mom because it was in our house all our customers would come to the house and go to her shop in the basement and they’d always leave so happy and give my mom money for making them look good. I felt that’s kind of what I do as an entertainer. People paid for the ticket, and I entertained and make them happy, and they’d be happy and I get paid for it.
So my natural progression was that I’d achieved all the dreams I wanted to in rock and roll. I played with fucking Black Sabbath. I’d have never, I will never top that moment of walking with those three dudes that I worshipped from the age of nine. Now I’m playing a show with them. You know what? I’m grateful for everything that I’ve done. I’d toured the world ten times by then in thrash bands, punk band rock bands. I’ve done it all, you know, and so, but the one thing I never got was success which means being a rock star, having money, not worry about the future and all that. I went to Amen, I had a daughter, she was one and a half at that time, so I said to the band I can’t be in a punk band.
I felt I missed the opportunity to join Godsmack two years previously, when they blew up. I missed that opportunity so my life is gonna be different now. I was ready. Two weeks after I enrolled in that cosmetology school in Santa Barbara, Sully called and said they were getting rid of the drummer, he’s leaving the band or whatever. So that’s how I got Godsmack. I had already made the decision after 24 years of being a professional musician, and touring the world and putting out records, being in multiple bands, I just thought it was never going to happen and then suddenly one phone call. By this time, they’d sold 7 million so I was like, ho…lyyy shit. There it was man I was in. I lucked out. I said earlier about luck, had I not met that dude in 1987 and become friends and I wouldn’t have got the call…”
What was it like going from almost almost leaving the music industry completely and going from the chaos of Amen to a band that was selling 7 million records?
“It was crazy. I mean, the first two records did well but the third record, my first record, debuted at Number One on the Billboard Top 200. The number two was Justin Bieber, like, where we were. We sold like two and a half million records, the first tour was Metallica that I did. It was just a dream came true for this guy. I went from Amen. We did have a tour bus, but the whole band and crew were on it – 12 bunks – that’s the life right there. You got to experience that to understand, but it’s tough. I shared rooms with my drum tech. We all had to share rooms.
Then I come into Godsmack next thing you know I’m on a bus with my band and that’s it. It gives you a lot more sanity and then my own hotel room that was something new. It was it was a big giant step up in not only money because now the first year the guys probably made 100 grand. I’d never made that kind of money before. Like I told you earlier, I’m not a big fan of it. Honestly, we needed it and I want to be comfortable in life but as far as big mansions and cars I’m not that guy. It was the comfort, the comfort of being able to, you know, have alone time, have my own room, have a bus that I don’t have to worry, I can get up in my underwear and go to the bathroom and not worry.
It was the comfortability that made Godsmack so special at first. Then the next two records were debuting at number one on Billboard. That’s the only thing I’ve ever done, the one thing I know how to do. I’ve never had a job. I’ve been playing nightclubs since I was 13. I started started touring nationally at 16, internationally by 19, that’s real. I’d never worked another job. I’m a dude that thinks what the fuck am I going to do when this ends? What about when I’m old? That’s what I’ve always thought about rock and roll. The only thing that money is good for is take care of you when you’re old because we don’t have anything to fall back on. This is our only talent. Godsmack gave me that stability. That was the main thing that I felt when I got in Godsmack.
We had hits and, by the second record for me, which was the IV record, it came out and did well with a Number One, Number One hits, blah, blah, blah. I started squirrelling away the money, any money made. I didn’t buy a fucking car. I didn’t buy a Harley Davidson. When I bought a home, I went super beneath my means. I could have got double the loan or whatever with the money that I would make but I’m always thinking about the future. Now look, here I am and we have the opportunity to actually say, we’re done making records, we’re done being thrashed in the machine and having to make a product and go and sell it.
We can and, if we do, we might go into a studio and make a song or two… who knows what we’ll do. We won’t make a full record though for a label and do what’s called a cycle tour where you owe money and you gotta go sell this fucking record. It’s been a year. It makes you think. I’m trying to be as honest as possible without people thinking that we don’t want to do this anymore. I love it. Last night was such an amazing show. We wear these in ear monitors and you could hear him singing. Usually, in between the song, I’ll screw one of them out just to hear because you can’t hear the crowd when you have these things plugged in. I took it out, and wow, the crowd, man.
The gift of the reward, as I said earlier, the reward is the energy that we can be alone with the crowd, rather than having to make a new record and sell it. It’s a gift that we’re at this point in our career where we can say no. People sometimes bum out when they hear these things but, I gotta say that, we are grateful, we are so grateful to each and every person for 20 years in this business, dude, that’s something.”
“Now look… Here I am and we have the opportunity to actually say, we’re done making records, we’re done being thrashed in the machine and having to make a product and go and sell it.”
When Godsmack do call it a day, how would you like the band to be remembered?
“I think it really all comes down to the music. You can remember Zeppelin and I say Zeppelin because that’s probably my favourite rock band, like I said earlier about the books and you know, the stories, all the crazy shit. All that shit is all a memory. The main thing you remember is the songs, Like now I’ll play No Quarter or something and I can literally remember the first time I put the needle down on my record player and heard that and the feeling I got.
Hopefully, hopefully, all these years later, I picture some dude, some kid that’s eight, nine years old in London, England or in fucking Timbuktu, sitting there, and they’ve got the Lighting Up The Sky album, and they put that needle down, 20-30 years from then, they’ll remember that moment. That’s the most important part… the music… right?”
Godsmack released their eighth album, Lighting Up The Sky earlier this year and you can pick up your copy from here.
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