By Morley Seaver
Godsmack is getting ready to unleash their newest record on the public. Succinctly entitled Godsmack IV, it will display a couple of new sides to the band (vocalist Sully Erna, drummer Shannon Larkin, guitarist Tony Rombola and bassist Robbie Merrill) along with the heavy, melodic rock we've come to know and love. I spoke with Shannon Larkin this week to find out about the new record and more.
antiMUSIC: So I've heard the first single "Speak" and it's just excellent. Is that style indicative of the rest of the record?
Shannon Larkin: Thank you, we're really proud of it. We had a lot to choose from on this album. Sully was going through a kind of a mental funk and he had a lot of issues, problems with his life by the time we got done with the "Faceless" tour. And so me and Tony and Robbie started writing without Sully. He would come in once or twice and week and he had this big, black cloud hanging over him. So we just continued 5, 6 days a week and we just pumped them out and got over 30 songs, until Sully came out of his funk and began to feel better about his life and kind of rejoined the band. So to answers your question, there was such a different mix of music that "Speak" isn't really indicative of what the whole record is like. For example, there are a couple of songs that lean towards a really heavy blues edge. Then there's even an acoustic song that would fit on The Otherside. There's a couple of really heavy songs like "Speak" but the first song on the record is "Livin' In Sin" and it's more of an epic, dark song. Almost Tool-ish in nature, different for the band. But again, when Tony, Robbie and myself started writing songs, the band had never really operated like that before. Sully was always involved with every minute, every second of every song. So it was good for us to write some stuff to give to him. It was a nice clean slate for a vocalist. And like he says, it was like writing vocals for a whole different band, because ever other time, he had been involved from the inception of every riff. So it made it a new fresher, thing for the band, something that I hope will carry us to the next level, different plateau stuff musically.
antiMUSIC: And I think it would extend the life of the band as well with more varied material.
Shannon Larkin: Absolutely man. Unless you're AC/DC or The Ramones, bands usually can't sustain a long career if they keep writing the same record over and over. It gets old and people want to hear something fresh. Hopefully we can extend our little band here (laughs) for a few more records. The ultimate thing for us is just to be able to keep on making records. Unfortunately, it is a business. So if you don't sell records in these days and times, you're out of there. They'll drop you in a heartbeat. It doesn't matter how many records you've sold for them. So we have to keep producing records. And we're excited about this new one. We think that our fans will love it. There are songs like "Enemy" and "Temptation" that are really tough Godsmack riffy songs…real hard rock. Then like I said, there's a song called "Hollow" that's an acoustic track that could fit The Otherside. I think that could open some doors for us and get us a broader audience. We put out an acoustic record and it was quite an achievement for us as musicians because we really didn't know how our fan base would accept that, if they would accept it at all. And it ended up selling something like half a million records or something. It helps us in the long run, not to have that ceiling over us and have to just play hard all the time. And it can allow us more valleys and peaks on the record. If the record just stays at the same intensity level all the time, it sounds quite boring. So if you can throw in some texture and flavor, then it becomes more of a trip.
antiMUSIC: Is it finished yet?
Shannon Larkin: Oh yeah. It comes out April 25.
antiMUSIC: I've heard the record is called Godsmack IV. Is that the title?
Shannon Larkin: Yeah, we just tried to keep it simple. It's our fourth record. The art work is going to be very simple. It'll have the Godsmack symbol with the Roman numeral four. It's not a new concept by any means. There's Zeppelin IV, Foreigner 4…the list goes on and on. But we've never really claimed to be a band who is trying to break new sound or something. We play hard rock music and we worship our idols who we grew up listening to…Zeppelin, Sabbath, Aerosmith. We're not trying to break new sounds but what we want to do is remain fresh, particularly to our fans out there. Where as soon as you hear it, we want you to know that it sounds like Godsmack but yet it's still not the same old, same old. We're not writing the same song over and over again.
antiMUSIC: Is there a central theme or idea to this record?
Shannon Larkin: You know, Sully wrote the lyrics and I notice, because I'm always there, I'm like his springboard…I sat there for hours while he was writing lyrics and I'd throw a word or two in here and there. There's a line or two in a song that I wrote. But for the most part, I noticed a theme starting to take place. The first thing he had written was for "Livin' in Sin". And then…I don't remember the exact order but there was "Shine Down" which is about knowing there's something out there, whatever God you believe in. But some kind of power that shines down on you and helps you face the next day or whatever. And there's one called "Temptation". So I started to see an almost religious theme going on, which wasn't done on purpose obviously. Sully's always very clear that he doesn't mix religion with music. He's a Wiccan. I guess on the face there's something going on, some theme or concept but actually there isn't. It's just a couple of the songs came out almost on the same page thematically.
antiMUSIC: How long did it take to record and when did you first go into the studio?
Shannon Larkin: Sully actually invested in a recording studio in Los Angeles on Hollywood Boulevard, called Spiral. It's a very nice place. We all went out and had a look at it and said, "Yeah, let's record here." Very feng shui, nothing pretentious, just a kind of “be comfortable and make music” place. We were there for five to six weeks recording. We did it a little different this time. Usually it's like a cookie cutter process in which you go in and get all the drums done and then start on the bass and then you do the guitars. This time we went in and did three or four drum tracks and then laid in all the guitars, bass and vocals. This way we could see the work being done in progress, see where we were headed. We were lucky because we had the luxury of the time and the money to be able to record like that. Otherwise you have to do the cookie cutter approach because time is money and spending upwards of $2500 a day in a recording studio. And it really helped with Sully owning part of the studio because we got a really good deal, you know (laughs). So we had the luxury of doing the record like that and I hope we do every record like that because it was a pleasure for me. In my case, I usually get the drums done in four days to a week tops and then I'm sitting around bored out of my mind for the next five weeks. So this was really nice for me to record this way.
antiMUSIC: Cradle of Filth are known for having BB Guns and other fun toys in the studio. What do you guys do to blow off steam while recording?
Shannon Larkin: We basically play Play Station. We all have our different games. Robbie is the big hockey guy. I love the fighting games and football. And Tony is basically the master at all things Play Station. He's just wicked good at all Play Station 2. That basically blows off steam. We have some beers at the end of the day. But the focus is mainly on the record. Sully doesn't play Play Station or anything. He's just so absorbed in the whole…he's the producer also, so it's different for him. So even when I'm doing drums or Tony is doing guitar and Robbie is doing bass, he's still in there because he's not just the singer anymore. He's the producer and singer which he always was but now it's official. We always said "Produced by Sully Erna and …whomever". So this one particularly, he was very on top of everybody.
antiMUSIC: The band has had great success with every release you've done. Is it difficult to think about if the record will live up to the lofty expectations of your audience while recording? Every band says no we don't think about that. We just go in and write in. But somewhere in the back of your head, are you thinking "does this measure up?" or were you confident from the get-go?
Shannon Larkin: It's one of those things. Everybody's different. Sully doesn't ever seem to worry about it. He knows what's good and he's confident. He looks at the whole sign of the times and everything I guess but I always have that doubt behind my back, creeping up on me saying, "Dude. If it doesn't sell, what are you going to do?" I'll have to get a job. And I don't want to have to go back to teaching drums for a living. But I'm 39 and I've been in this business for well over 25 years now. I just playing pretty young and haven't done anything else in my life. So I think I know what's good at least in my ears. And I'm not in a closet somewhere. I definitely keep up with what's new and fresh. Even if I'm old and I don't understand why kids like Good Charlotte, I still know that they exist and they must be doing something right. Sometimes I think about it too much. And when it happens….you just have to believe in yourself and your band, you know. Because no matter how many millions of records you sell, it can all end tomorrow. I mean, I was in Ugly Kid Joe and we got dropped. The band had a giant hit and then basically two flops and the label just said, "See ya". Ugly Kid Joe made millions for Mercury/Polygram Records. We sold five million copies. And then the next records didn't sell and the label dropped us. And I lived through that. And that's a major label. And my first band was Wrathchild back in 1989, signed to Atlantic. We made two records and got dropped. Then we went to an independent label, changed our names and basically sold no records on this indie label and got dropped. That's probably why I have that insecurity that makes me think, "Oh shit, I hope it sells". And that's why Sully doesn't worry so much. Because he basically started the band and it's been a successful trip. But he actually knows what it's like too, because he was in a band that he played drums for that got signed and then dropped. So he had a little taste of it too. Tony and Robbie are the ones…they're the golden boys. They got signed and never looked back and never failed. And come to think of it. Tony is the one who never worries or trips out about whether our record will sell or not. He's very confident and not egotistical or cocky, but just confident that as long as it's good at the end of the day, which we all believe our new record is, he's confident it will sell. He says, "You know, we have a fan base. And even if only half of them buy it, we'll be OK at the label." Because realistically if we went Gold or something, the label would be very bummed out but they wouldn't drop us. But if we stiffed and sold 200,000 copies, you'd see how fast they'd turn on us.
antiMUSIC: Well thankfully the musical climate is still welcoming to your kind of metal.
Shannon Larkin: That's right. Disturbed came out and did OK. System of a Down continues to sell very well. So with the climate of the musical times, we should be good. The fact that our single "Speak" has been #1 for five weeks doesn't hurt either. That's a good sign for us.
antiMUSIC: It's been rumored that the band minus Sully has formed a side project. What can you tell us about that?
Shannon Larkin: Yeah, it's called Another Animal. And it has Whit Crane from Ugly Kid Joe on vocals. My old buddy. I brought him back out. And he sounds better than ever. Top shape. Top form. He's f*ckin' amazing, let me tell you. But I'm excited about the project. In fact, after this interview, I'm meeting with the head of the art department at Universal. She actually has a man by the name of Storm Thorgerson doing our record cover. He started a company by the name of Hipgnosis, which was the company that did Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. And to me, Dark Side is the most iconic but man, Wish You Were Here is my favourite album cover of all time. So yeah, Lee Richards is the guitar player. Lee Richards was Godsmack's first guitar player before Tony. He went on to leave the band because he had a kid. And that was before the band was signed. He went on to play in a band called Dropbox. So he and Tony play guitar and Robbie is the bass player. I'm the drummer. And Whit is the singer. And we've already recorded the record in Boston. We have 12 songs, 11 of which will be on the record and we'll keep the bonus track for Japan, Australia, that kind of thing. And the record will be mixed by Dave Fortman who is just finishing up the new Evanescence record that he produced and mixed. He also did the first Evanescence, the 15 million seller. He also did the new Mudvayne. And he also worked with Superjoint Ritual. So he's an ace and we're very proud…and ironically dude, since you're a fan, he was the guitar player for Ugly Kid Joe back in the day. I thought that was so cool. It's a small world. And now he's a hot-shot A-Plus producer. And he was my guitar player for five years. He's helping us out here to give us a killer mix. We have a definite advantage. Three of the guys are from Godsmack. A major producer who is also a great friend. And a KILLER singer who has proven that his voice sounds great on the radio and America loved it. We have a big head start. We're very, very excited. Another Animal will come out near the end of summer.
antiMUSIC: So how do you think you'll be able to keep the two running? Because I imagine you're going out on the road with this record right away.
Shannon Larkin: Well I just heard two songs on the new Stone Sour record and those guys do it, Corey and Jim. You just gotta know what your priority is…Godsmack. But if you're willing to work, you should be able to do some mini-tours, the North-East for two weeks or something and if that goes well. And that depends if well sell records of course. Now if we sell records and had a surprise hit on the radio, then we might be forced to tour. We've got the time to do both. The only problem is the time off then. We all have families. Robbie just got married. Tony and myself are married with children. Lee Richards is getting married in September. Well, Whit's still a free soul (laughs). He can enjoy the road at any second. But the rest of us man…it's going to be hard to find time to do both in our lives. Like I said, if there's a hit and a demand for us to play, obviously we'd be getting paid. And if we get paid, then maybe we could take our families with us on tour. And that would be fun. I mean we're not young dudes any more who go out on the road to wreck hotel rooms and screw a bunch of groupies. It's not our scene. We're all in our late '30s and we're all basically grown up enough to be over that part of it. I could see us totally going on tour with the family and in fact, that would be great. Kids running around. Dogs. We could stop at camp grounds around shows. Disneyland. All that sh**.
antiMUSIC: I spoke with Glenn Tipton a few weeks back and he was talking about making the record in Los Angeles with you and all the guys. He loved playing with everybody but he specifically talked about what a pleasure it was playing with you.
Shannon Larkin: What a joy to hear that from Glenn Tipton, the legend!
antiMUSIC: I asked about playing with Billy Sheehan and all the others and he just kept coming back to the fact that you laid down the tracks for one song. Glenn thought it was perfect. You listened back to it and said, "Can we do it again? I've got a better idea." And you went back and did it again. At the end of that, you were like, "Hey wait. I've got an even better idea." And you did this about four or five times and each time it was way better that the previous. He was just so pleased with your enthusiasm and abilities.
Shannon Larkin: That's so cool. Thanks for telling me that. I haven't talked to Glenn since then. I'm still a fan and hoped he had fond memories of that because I haven't forgotten a second of that. I'm proud of that record. Thanks for letting me in on that. I love the guy. That's so cool.
antiMUSIC: Well, I know you have to run. Thanks so much for doing this. Best of luck with the record. If the rest is half as good as the single, I know it's going to do really well for you.
Thanks a lot man. I really appreciate that. I can't wait for it to get
out there and have everybody hear it. It was a lot of fun to do and
we're real proud. Thanks and we'll talk to you later.
antiMUSIC and Morley Seaver thank Shannon Larkin for doing this interview.