QUAD CITY TIMES

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'Smack down

By L. Kent Wolgamott

Shannon Larkin played in Ugly Kid Joe, then anchored Amen, one of hardest edged of all punk bands. He’d done a show with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath and spent time drumming in Candlebox when that band was big.

But back in 2002, Larkin was basically broke.

He and his wife had $400 in the bank and rent was $800, and they had a young daughter to raise. So Larkin went to Santa Barbara Community College and started taking courses to follow in his mother’s footsteps and become a hairdresser.

Two weeks later, he got a phone call that changed his life. Godsmack had dumped drummer Tommy Steward, and Sully Erna, the band’s unquestioned leader, dialed Larkin looking for a replacement.

“He was, like, ‘Dude, Tommy left, I’m offering you this’,” Larkin said. “He’d already offered me the job when things got ugly with Tommy. But I couldn’t quit my band. I’m nothing if not a loyal guy.”

But Larkin had already left Amen to go to hair school. So he was quick to put down the scissors and clippers and pick up the drumsticks again.

Suffice it to say, Larkin isn’t worrying about paying the rent any more.

In 2003, “Faceless,” the first Godsmack record on which Larkin appears, debuted at No. 1 and sold 1.5 million copies. The band spent 2004 opening for Metallica and released a surprising acoustic EP called “Otherside.”

In May, Godsmack’s “IV” immediately shot to the top of the charts, selling 221,000 copies in its first week of release. Godsmack spent the summer touring amphitheathers with Rob Zombie. Now the band is playing arenas, and headed to The Mark of the Quad-Cities on Sunday night.

“It paid off in the end,” Larkin said in a telephone interview from Syracuse, N.Y. “I finally made money. I’ve got gold and platinum records on the wall. I’m in this commercial band, and I didn’t sell out to get here.”

Not only did Larkin not sell out, he said he didn’t have any trouble fitting in with the Boston-based band that had been together for seven or eight years before he joined.

“I never really felt like the new guy anyway,” Larkin said. “The guy that had played the drums before me was still there.”

That guy is Erna, a very talented drummer who didn’t give up the beat when he stepped up to the microphone. Erna played drums on the band’s self-titled 1998 debut and its multiplatinum 2000 record “Awake” and did much of the drum work on “Faceless.”

That required some patience on Larkin’s part. But the veteran drummer understood the situation he was getting into. He had been friends with Erna before joining the band and knew that he’d have to work his way into the creative process.

“It’s Sully’s vision — make no bones about it,” Larkin said. “We’re happy. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken. But you can’t make the same record over and over. What you want to do is initiate change, but don’t change so much you alienate the people who made you famous in the first place.”

For “IV,” Erna made some changes. In addition to his own compositions, he picked four songs written by Larkin, guitarist Tony Rombola and bassist Robbie Merrill.

“He wants the thing to be really a listenable piece of art from the front of it to the back of it,” he said. “It’s almost like doing a set list live. This time, he happened to pick more of our songs. Sully came around and had the notion of making this record a little more bluesy and a little more old school — to the extent of picking (producer) Andy Johns, who did the first four Zeppelin records, and then calling the record “IV.”

The Led Zeppelin “IV” connection continued even in the studio when Larkin and Erna worked on the drum sounds.

“We’re all in the room when it happens,” he said. “He came in with the structure of his songs. He has an idea of what he wants it to be. He’ll give me a beat — for instance on ‘Shine Down,’ he says, ‘Give me ‘When the Levee Breaks,’ and off we go.”

Once the record was in stores, Godsmack was ready to hit the road again and tore up the amphitheaters this summer with a well-received tour in which it again set itself apart from the “nu-metal” crowd with its musical depth and versatility while putting on a big show.

That tour wrapped up in early October, then Godsmack headed inside.

“It took us a week to get our new show going,” Larkin said. “Production and the sound is so much different inside, it takes three or four shows until we’re into our element. We’re there now. The fun has started.”

The fun will always include a show-stopping dual drum kit riff-and-fill trading battle between Larkin and Erna.

“We’ll never lose that,” he said. “That’s probably the highlight of the whole concert. It’s not your typical boring drum solo that went out in 1975.”

if you go

What: Godsmack, with Breaking Benjamin and Hour Cast

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5

Where: The Mark of the Quad-Cities, Moline

How much: $37

Information: (309) 764-2000