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While Godsmack frontman fought the blues, band members took the songwriting reins

Sandra Sperounes
The Edmonton Journal
Saturday, June 17, 2006

EDMONTON - Trying to write songs while trundling across the country in a squishy tour bus is a juggling act most musicians don't even want to attempt. It's like trying to be friends with your ex. Only the diligent (or perhaps naive?) can make it work.

With so many distractions on the road -- performance anxiety, meeting fans, bus breakdowns, interviews -- artists tend to wait until they can seek refuge in their studios or rehearsal spaces to start crafting new tunes and lyrics.

That's not quite how it panned out for Godsmack.

While touring with Metallica in 2004, vocalist Sully Erna and his metal-rockers were able to write several tunes for their new Billboard-topping album, IV, including Speak, a bluesy-metal number.

"We had the luxury to have a backstage room where there was a drum set, basic guitar amps and an eight-track recorder," says drummer Shannon Larkin, who talks like the quintessential California surfer.

"Yeah, so we could go in during the day and have something worked out."

Speak is an interesting choice for their first single -- only because Erna was rendered speechless as Godsmack convened in their Boston jam space to write the remainder of their fourth album.

Beset with personal woes and writer's block, he decided to temporarily hand over the reigns to Larkin, guitarist Tony Rombola and bassist Robbie Merrill.

Over the next few months, the trio wrote 40 songs while Erna tried to shake the "black cloud" hanging over his shoulders. Every so often, he'd check into the studio and casually sift over their progress -- until, finally, two of their compositions seemed to spark a fire in him. The first was Livin' In Sin, a burnin' post-grunge number. The second was Voodoo Too, a slow, tribal ditty.

"Once Sully got a hit on Livin' In Sin, he made a tape of it and took it home," says Larkin. "Within three or four days, he came back and said, 'Dudes, I got the shit right here.' He picked a mic up, we played that song, he sang it and it basically was exactly what
went on the record.

"Voodoo Too also inspired him. ... I just had the main riff, the bass line and the drums written, but we really needed a bridge and a second part in the chorus and that's when he really got into it. That's when the four of us were standing around the drum set and
saying, 'Try this, try this, try this.' That's when you become a band -- you feel like all four are being productive and adding to a song. We put the lights down in the room and we had these red rope lights that go around the ceiling and it was starting to get dark out. I'll never forget that -- just playing the song over and over and over."

In the end, only a handful of the tunes written without Erna appear on IV, but the rest aren't going to waste.

They form the basis of Another Animal, a side project featuring Larkin, Rombola, Merrill and ex-Ugly Kid Joe vocalist Whitfield Crane. Their first album, featuring artwork by Pink Floyd designer Storm Thorgerson, is expected in September.

"There were a couple of songs we were sure that Sully was going to pick," says Larkin.

"He passed them over. Like always, he had a very distinct image in mind."

"He is our fearless leader and we respect him. But on the other hand, we didn't want to give up these great songs. So it was like, 'There it is -- side project.' The whole thing then was getting a singer. We had a guy named John Kosco from Dropbox singing for a while
and that didn't work out. So I called my buddy Whit from Ugly Kid Joe. He flew to Boston on a drop of a dime and killed it. We're very, very excited. It sounds amazing."

A tour is also in the cards -- perhaps after Godsmack finish their travels.

But Larkin, who used to be a member of Ugly Kid Joe, doesn't want to think too far ahead. He's simply relieved to be back on the road with Erna and his pals.

"We were holed up in the studio for over a year and it feels so good to get back out," he says. "Quebec City was the first show and we didn't really know what to expect. So to see the response and turn-out was amazing. Then, we're like ... 'Montreal is a bigger city and more jaded, they'll never beat that crowd.' But it was OFF THE HOOK. It was awesome. Honestly, Canada ... wow!"

Just wait until he gets to Edmonton.