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Livin in Sin’ with
Godsmack’s Shannon Larkin

May 6, 2006

Despite a catalog that includes such genre-busting songs as “Voodoo” and “Serenity,” the knock on
Godsmack always has been that the band lacked originality from song to song and album to album.
If the 2004 acoustic EP, The Other Side, didn’t turn some heads, then their latest album, titled simply IV, certainly should. Judging by its number one debut on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart, the fans are ready to follow the band into new musical terrain. Drummer Shannon Larkin recently spoke to Greg Maki of about the changes in the band’s sound, touring plans, a side project he is working on with his Godsmack bandmates (guitarist Tony Rombola and bassist Robbie Merrill) and more.

Live-Metal: I just got the new album yesterday and I’ve been listening to it. It sounds like there are a lot of new sounds for Godsmack on the album. How would you describe the band’s evolution?

Shannon Larkin: Everything was just done completely different this time. [Singer] Sully [Erna] stepped away a little bit and let go of the reins and let us other three guys write some music on this one. Hopefully, that made the sound of the band evolve a little. People that I’ve seen making reactions, they go, “They should stick with what they’re doing like AC/DC” or whatever. But the reality is very few bands, like AC/DC and the Ramones, can keep making the same record over and over. I think we kinda tried to experiment a little bit. For instance, the idea of putting a harmonica in, like harmonica and Godsmack, just the two don’t really make sense. We had this guy named Andy Johns, this brilliant producer/engineer guy working the soundboard, and he’s the one that said, “Don’t be scared. You’re a rock band. You can do whatever you want.” Then I heard it in the track and I’m like, “You know what? It works, man.” I don’t how much the true fans of Godsmack are going to like it, but I’ve listened to bands all my life, growing up as a kid – obviously, my life has been music – and I don’t think that this is too far of a step away from what Godsmack does.

After The Other Side, the acoustic EP, do you feel like that opened up the band for more creative freedom?

Yeah, but, you know, the first record, even before I was in the band, “Voodoo” was a big ceiling-breaker, I call it. It just really got in your head because your fans think that you’re selling out or wimping out, which is even worse the selling out, really. But “Voodoo” helped Godsmack not fall into that by being a giant, really slow melodic song. Then on the next record it carried over to a song like “Spiral.” And then “Serenity” was what really, I think, blew out the ceiling to allow us to do “The Other Side.” It was on the radio, and if our fans have an open mind to actually call the radio stations and request “Serenity,” then we should be OK by doing an acoustic EP. Everyone in the group listened to Led Zeppelin. They were the masters of having balls-heavy songs on their records, big rock songs, and then acoustic, very beautiful, melodic songs. We feel very blessed that we have the fanbase that we do, man. We look out there and see kids with their parents and then 60-year-old biker guys. We’re very blessed and grateful to have the fans that we have and to be where we are.

Do you think you might do another acoustic album or more acoustic shows in the future?

Yeah, we’d love to, man. We talked about getting into something different, maybe not another acoustic EP, but maybe make it more tribal this time and bring in Middle Eastern percussion and the band will try to do some stuff. But it would be redundant, I think, to make another Other Side. We have two drummers in the band, so between the two of us, man, we’re coming to the table with some different kinds of rhythms. I just actually got into the Middle Eastern percussion thing and I’ve been listening to that nonstop. It’s very comedic to me because when you show it to three rock guys that have never ever heard that kind of thing, their ideas are completely different. If I play a rhythm that’s basically Middle Eastern percussion and try to apply it to my drum kit and play it in all these weird time patterns and then they come up with something totally different than they would have ever played and all of a sudden you have this magical, original thing.

Does the fact that Sully is a drummer push you and keep you on your toes?

Well, it is what it is. I’ve known Sully now for many, many years. I think in ’82 or ’83 we met. His band was opening for my band and he was the drummer at the time. We’ve always had mutual respect for each other. By the time Godsmack got signed, he asked me to join the band and I had already joined this band in L.A. called Amen just before he called me and said, “We’ve got a deal with Universal. Will you join?” So, it doesn’t push me really because I just always pushed myself playing the drums.

What is it like working with Sully as the producer?

I guess what people don’t realize is that Sully has produced every record. Basically, the other producers were just glorified engineers because Sully usually takes the controls. It’s like you get these guys in Los Angeles for thousands of dollars to be the producer and we’d done all the legwork as far as production of the songs by beating them out every day for five months while we’re writing them. By the time we get in there, we don’t need somebody telling us this chorus should be doubled because we tried them singled, doubled or tripled until we knew that it was right to do it once. This time, we went to Sully and he said, “Alright, we’ve got a body of work here. Now let’s start looking for a producer.” And we were like, “Dude, we always get a producer and then you produce it. Why don’t we just say ‘you’ and then we find a killer engineer?” And then enter Andy Johns, who actually mixed our DVD. We just loved the way he did it and that was a completely no-overdub live DVD. So we were like, “OK, let’s talk to Andy and see if he can come in and do this for us.” Because that’s another problem, these producers not wanting to step backwards and just be an engineer again. They’ve worked their whole lives. They probably started sweeping the floor in studio, then worked their way to engineer and the producer is top dog.

Other than it obviously being the fourth Godsmack album, is there any significance to the title?

Absolutely, man. We have this security guy, a big, tough guy named J.C. He’s another Boston guy. And in Boston it’s “fou.” They don’t really have the “R.” It’s not “four,” it’s “fou.” He’d be hanging around backstage and chicks would walk by and he would rate them from one to 10. But if it wasn’t a 10, there was no one, two, three, five, six. It was always you were a 10 or a fou. He just pulled the funniest things. Sometimes, he’d just hold up four fingers and wouldn’t have to say it anymore and we’d all just bust out laughing. And then the funniest one, this guy walked by with a chick on each arm and he goes, “Hey, bub, two fous don’t make an eight!” So when it came up, it’s our fourth full-length record, everybody was like, “Fou!” And we were like, “That’s it, man.” We’re not trying to break any records for originality here. I know that there’s Led Zeppelin IV, Foreigner IV, a million IVs. We just thought it’s fitting. The focus should be on the music. We tried to make our album cover very simple. It’s just the tribal sign with the album title. We tried to strip everything down on this record. On the Faceless record, we beat that record into the ground, man. I knew every single cymbal I was going to hit and when I was going to hit it by the time I went into the studio. But on this one, man, we made an effort to try not to over-rehearse. We wanted it to be more organic. That’s one of the reasons we picked Andy Johns. He’s worked with a lot of organic bands.

What was it like recording the album out at Sully’s studio in L.A.?

Just wonderful. The place was great. Things went great. All the facilities were just beautiful. And it’s right there in Hollywood. There are all kinds of different ethnic food places real close by. It was a very comfortable atmosphere, no drama. Everything went really smooth. It’s probably one of the easiest records I’ve made.

What are the band’s touring plans for this album? I hear you’re not going to be hitting the U.S. until the fall?

Yeah, it sucks to leave the country because A, we don’t really sell many records outside of America and we’re not as known, so it’s like a big step backwards for us, and B, we all have families. We’re all in our 30s and we’re married with kids. Our families live in America and you go over there and your phone doesn’t work and it’s really hard to get a hold of your daughter or whatever. So we’re gonna get all that taken care of and come back to America in September with a giant co-headliner that I can’t mention right now because they told me not to. But it’s going to be a great bill, man, and we’re looking for a third act for it. In the fall, I guess we’re gonna hit the amphitheaters and if the tour goes well, we’ll move indoors for the winter tour and the arenas.

Is it going to be a big stage show with pyro again this time?

Yes, from what I understand, we’ve got a hell of a budget on this one and it will be our biggest show, definitely. We’re gonna bring out all the bells and whistles. The pyro and video will definitely be happening more than ever. It shall be our biggest tour.

One of my favorite parts of every Godsmack show is the drum battle with you and Sully. Is going to be in the set again this time?

Yeah, we’ll never lose that battle. We can’t. All the fans are like, “You have to do it.” It’s like we did it, now we have to do it. But it’s great for us because we love it anyway. But now the problem is how do we beat it? Short of having midgets play the drums or something, we need to do something exciting and new now. It’s going to be hard to top that. It’s a pretty awesome little drum display there. We’re messing with different tempos to play in, a different ending part. It’s kind of difficult, but we’ll do it. We’ve got lots of time. We’re gonna do this press thing out here and then I think there are 10 days off before we start the rehearsals for the foreign tour. So in those days, man, we’re just gonna go in, set two drum kits up and just start playing. That’s how we did the last one. Put two drummers in a room and they’re gonna play the drums.

What are some of your favorite Godsmack songs to play live?

On the record, “Livin in Sin” I just love to play. “Speak” I love to play. “One Rainy Day,” a blues song, the last song on the record, is wicked fun to play for me because I can just shut my eyes and don’t have to do anything really behind the drums and I can actually just enjoy the guitar player playing in the band. I love that kind of shit. As far as old stuff, I love playing “Straight Out of Line.” I love playing “Faceless,” the song. I love playing “Moon Baby” off the first record. “Awake” is really fun to play off the second record. Those are probably my favorites.

I hear you and couple other guys in the band are involved in a side project, Another Animal.

Yeah, it’s called Another Animal. It’s got my old buddy Whit Crane from Ugly Kid Joe on vocals and this guy by the name of Lee Richards. He played in a band called Dropbox for a while and he was the first guitar player before Tony for Godsmack, too. So it’s kinda like four Godsmack guys and Whit Crane. And it’s really cool. It’s proudly metal and we’re very excited. We’ve got a guy by the name of Storm Thorgerson doing our album cover. He did the Dark Side of the Moon album cover, so we’re very excited about what he can come up with.

Do you know when we can expect that album to be out?

Probably in the summer. We’re hoping September.

I guess it’ll depend on the Godsmack schedule, but are there plans to do any touring behind it?

We don’t have any plans to tour yet, man. Our priority is Godsmack. I think Godsmack will definitely be on the road for a year. But we’re thinking if we get the offers, we’ll do radio shows if we can or even a small week on the East Coast or something in the New England area or something just for the love of playing the songs that we all just love so much. It’s just a whole different thing working on Another Animal. When we went in to record, there was absolutely no pressure on us. Godsmack, you know, it’s a big band and it sells millions of records. The label, the management and everybody is up your ass. With Another Animal, it was like, “Just go ahead and make your side project.” But I’d say we could get out there and play a couple shows. But you never know what will happen. If the thing comes out and sells 10 copies, then we won’t play any shows because no one would want to see us. But we’re really happy with the songs and the way Whit’s voice sounded with them.

You’ve been involved in the music industry for a long time now. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years?

We went through the 2002 crash where after 9/11 the wheels almost stopped rolling. Even now, it’s kind of back on its feet now. It’s coming back. Honestly, man, the label was showing us all these figures. The last record did 1.7 million or whatever and we were like, “Wow. The first one sold five million. Are we on the way out?” Here’s the deal: it’s like if you sell two million records now, it’s like selling five million records five years ago. It’s pretty amazing if you think about it, the drop in record sales. Back in, say, the mid-‘80s, a band like Judas Priest could have a gold record and play a 20,000-seat arena. Now you have a gold record and you’re playing the House of Blues. You’ve gotta be multiplatinum to try and knock out an arena, and even someone like us who’s sold 10 million copies, we can’t headline an arena tour alone. It’ll be half-full in most markets. So I watched that happen. And also, the whole digital revolution. I’m a guy that’s 39 years old, so when my first band, Wrathchild, put a record out, I actually had a record. I went to the record store and bought a vinyl record, took it home and played it on my record player. Now I’m downloading stuff onto my iPod from iTunes or whatever. It’s just crazy.

So who are you downloading onto your iPod?

Zeppelin. Sabbath. My dad jammed ‘50s music all the time. And also, he liked country stuff. He turned me onto Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson when I was a little kid. And then my mom was the rocker. She turned me on to Hendrix, The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, which was the first record I ever put on to play drums along with. Then my Uncle Mike would throw in stuff like Iron Butterfly and Cream. Then that led to AC/DC, Aerosmith, Peter Frampton. The Frampton Comes Alive album was actually the first actually vinyl record I ever bought. I have a very wide variety of musical tastes.