FREELANCE STAR

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Godsmack counts its blessings
August 31, 2006 12:52 am

By MICHAEL ZITZ

Godsmack drummer Shannon Larkin had a No. 1 record just a few months ago, is playing shows in huge venues, and will appear on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" Tuesday.

But he never stops worrying about the future.

The former Reston resident's message is a sobering one for young people who think they're going to get rich with a career in the music business.

"Now that we've been successful, we have to stay successful, or it drops right from under us," he told The Free Lance-Star. "Nothing in this business is guaranteed--nothing.

"I have a mortgage--and if this would all end tomorrow, I wouldn't be able to pay it," he said.

"Godsmack IV" debuted at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart earlier this year. A single from the album, "Speak," was No. 1 for 12 straight weeks on the Active Rock chart.

The Boston-based Universal Republic Records rock band is currently on a national tour with Rob Zombie. They'll play the Nissan Pavilion in Bristow on Saturday.

But Larkin--a senior citizen in metal-music terms--is all too aware of how fleeting success can be and that he has nowhere to go but down if Godsmack tanks.

"Here I am at 39," he said, too old to start over with a young band.

"I have no other skills," Larkin said. "All I've done my whole life is play drums. I don't know what I'd do."

When Godsmack frontman Sully Erna asked him to be in the band, Larkin was ready to give up on the music business.

Despite having been in a major-label band--Wrathchild America, which put out two albums for Atlantic Records--he was making only $17,000 a year with the Casey Chaos punk band Amen.

After 20 years in the music business, Larkin had played for, recorded with or filled in for such acts as Snot, Ugly Kid Joe, Black Sabbath and even Vanilla Ice, but he was still making fry-cook type money, and it seemed to be the end of the road.

He'd just signed up for a cosmetology course before Erna reached out to him.

"I started looking at quitting and actually enrolled in a hairdressing school," Larkin said. "I was gonna quit playing drums and start cutting hair."

When Larkin was growing up, his mother cut hair in the basement of the family home, calling the business "Bonnie's Hair Harbor."

"Every day I'd come home from school and she'd be cutting hair and making people happy," Larkin recalled, and the work seemed to make her happy.

He was about to follow in his mother's footsteps.

So when Erna contacted him in 2003, "that was a heck of a call," Larkin said. "I'd pretty much thrown in the towel at that point."

He replaced Tommy Stewart prior to the recording of Godsmack's album "Faceless."

An earlier favor had paid off. Larkin had hooked Erna up with his first major-label gig as a drummer for Meliah Rage.

Godsmack's success has paid off in a sort of insurance policy for Larkin, a spinoff band called Another Animal, which is set to release its debut album for Universal in February.

Larkin's Ugly Kid Joe cohort Whit Crane is the lead singer for Another Animal, which uses some songs that were written for "Godsmack IV" but rejected by Erna.

"Talk about having your cake and eating it, too," Larkin said.

He said the label signed the band and has given it a lot of leeway because of Godsmack's hot streak.

Larkin's grateful to Erna, who's 38, but admits that because the frontman himself was a drummer, the stuff he comes up with is subject to increased scrutiny.

"I've learned to crush my ego and do what's best for the band," he said, adding that all the members of the band realize they have to do that because they really need Godsmack.

"When I was in my 20s, I wanted to be the world's best drummer. Now I want to be in the world's best band."