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Friday, December 01, 2006

W.Va. native makes the cut as new Godsmack drummer

Brad Hundt
Staff writer

Friday, December 01, 2006

Shannon Larkin could very well be the only musician out there whose major influences include a Muppet.

When the 39-year-old drummer was growing up in Martinsburg, W.Va., he hoped that one day he would be able to match Ozzy Osbourne, Angus Young of AC/DC and, yes, Animal from "The Muppets" in on-stage hyperactivity.

"That's kind of how I developed a style as a kid," Larkin remembered.

After pounding and flailing in a succession of bands that never broke into national consciousness, Larkin was ready by 2002 to surrender his sticks and go after a steady paycheck. But two weeks after enrolling in a hairdressing program at Santa Barbara Community College in California, Larkin received a call from Godsmack leader Sully Erna to see if he'd be interested in joining the group.

It didn't take long for Larkin to think about it.

"I said, 'Of course I'll join Godsmack,'" he remembered. "I was just at a point where to try to be in a band again was fruitless to me, because I'd been in four bands at that point that had major label deals and never made it. So I figured it just wasn't in my cards.

"But, evidently, it was."

By the time Larkin came onboard, Godsmack had already achieved a substantial level of success. The Boston-based hard-rock quartet's 2000 disc, "Awake," was their first top 10 album, and they'd already received a Grammy nomination and had twice been a part of Ozzfest, the Osbourne-led summer package tour. "Faceless," the first album with Larkin behind the drums, also became the group's first outing to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart.

Larkin, Erna and fellow Godsmack members Tony Rambola and Robbie Merrill managed to repeat the feat earlier this year when the group's fourth album, called, appropriately enough, "Godsmack IV," reached No. 1 on Billboard. It beat out discs by Bruce Springsteen, Taking Back Sunday and Goo Goo Dolls, all of which were released the same week.

"That was just insane," Larkin said. They found out that "Godsmack IV" reached No. 1 when they finished a television taping and were greeted backstage by a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne and a congratulatory note from the president of their record label.

"We did the whole locker-room thing," Larkin said over the phone two weeks ago, a few hours before a concert in Prescott, Ariz. "We shook the champagne and sprayed it all over the room. It was a rad moment, dude."

Getting to that moment was no easy task. When sessions for "IV" got underway, Erna was in a "bad head-space" thanks to multiple personal problems, and spent most of his time playing online poker while his bandmates were writing songs at a furious pace.

Erna continued to sulk and the sessions broke down. However, Erna went back and listened to the material the other three whipped up, decided he liked it, and "that started the wheels rolling," according to Larkin.

All told, four of the songs that Larkin, Merrill and Rombola wrote ended up on "Godsmack IV," while the remainder were used for a side-project called Another Animal. That group is essentially Godsmack minus Erna, with Whit Crane of the band Ugly Kid Joe taking over on lead vocals.

"We were like, we can't really waste these beautiful songs that we love," Larkin said.

The album Another Animal recorded is scheduled to come out in January or February, with a tour likely to follow. Larkin stressed that Another Animal "is not the beginning of the end of Godsmack" and that Erna is "totally backing" the outside endeavor.

Godsmack was formed in 1996, and landed a deal with Universal Music just two years later. It's widely believed that the name Godsmack was inspired by the Alice in Chains song "God Smack," though Erna has denied that. Two other drummers passed through Godsmack before Larkin joined, but he said it's been relatively easy to fit in with the other three.

"It was immediate. As soon as I played the songs with them, it was right up my alley. Sully was raised listening to everything that I listened to. He idolized the bands that I idolized. Musically, it was seamless."

Merrill and Rombola are both over 40 and Larkin will be reaching that landmark next April (Erna will get there in 2008). The idea of head-banging past that age once would have raised some eyebrows, but it's not all that noteworthy when you consider that Osbourne, The Who and the Rolling Stones have kept it cranked when most of their contemporaries are yelling at their kids to turn it down.

Larkin thinks Godsmack has a shot at similar longevity "if we can continue to not make the same records over and over." "We have some heritage now with the fan base. We've come out with four records now, and luckily all four have sold a million (copies), so all we have to do is keep making platinum records."