An Interview with Shannon Larkin of Godsmack - At Cruefest 2 - Darien Lake, NY - September 5, 2009
Interview by Laurie Lonsdale
American alternative/heavy metal band Godsmack, comprised of frontman and founder Sully Erna, guitarist Tony Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill, and drummer Shannon Larkin, formed in Massachusettes in 1995. The past 14 years has seen the release of an EP, four albums, equally as many DVDs, plus a collection of greatest hits. Their hard hitting efforts have yielded worldwide sales in excess of 17 million, have garnered the band 2 Grammy nominations, and have seen 2 albums - Faceless and 1V - hit number one status on Billboard’s Top 200 charts.
In addition to contributing a song to the soundtrack for “The Scorpion King”, opening for Metallica on their “Madly in Anger with the World” tour, and doing more than one tour of duty with Ozzfest, Godsmack spent this past summer on the road with Cruefest 2. The multi-band tour orchestrated by Motley Crue also featured opening bands Charm City Devils, Theory of a Deadman and Drowning Pool.
On the final night of the tour, in Darien Lake, NY, I met up with drummer Shannon Larkin aboard the band’s tour bus and discussed some of Godsmack’s achievements to date, as well as the upcoming album slated for March or April of 2010. But I momentarily forgot about the interview when Shannon emerged from the rear of the bus and I noted what a striking resemblance he has to that of front man Sully Erna.
Laurie Lonsdale: Oh my God, I’m sure you hear this all the time, but you and Sully could so easily pass for brothers. I mean, I’ve seen pictures of the two of you and of the band obviously, but the similarity in person is striking.
Shannon Larkin: Yeah, we’ve been told we could pass for brothers many, many times.
Laurie: I’m sure you have. Wow! Okay, so tonight being the last night of Cruefest, you’ve had all summer to form an opinion of the tour and the inner workings. So, considering you’ve also toured with Ozzfest in the past, how does Cruefest stack up or differ? Which did you prefer?
Shannon: Well, you know Ozzfest was more of like a team sport, and this is Cruefest, and no doubt about it Motley Crue is the headliner. At Ozzfest, Ozzy was headlining but all the other bands are as big as each other kinda, it’s hard to explain. I think that Ozzfest was more of a throw down, everybody was tighter, where this one is like - Motley Crue, we don’t even see Motley Crue. They don’t really party except for Tommy and Tommy’s the greatest. He’s a big kid – I love him. In fact, I’m so hung over from last night, it’s insane.
Laurie: Oh really, were the two of you out partying and celebrating the end of the tour?
Shannon: Ten of us or whatever went into his tent – he has a tent that he pitches outside. Well, you know, the other guys are real nice when you see them. I’ve met Nikki Sixx twice and shook his hand and whatever, Mick Mars I’ve met twice, and Vince… you don’t see Vince out. The Ozzy bands, they all hang out and so Ozzfest was more fun. But you know, I love Theory of a Deadman, I got to know those guys, and Charm City Devils and Drowning Pool, you know we’ve been throwing down hard – Motley’s just not in the picture, you know?
Laurie: Certainly not like their old days.
Shannon: No, they don’t party anymore – the 3 of them.
Laurie: Ah well, I guess people change. As a band who has enjoyed the success of one of the only rock bands to see 17 Top Ten mainstream rock singles, does that put pressure on you when writing a new album or does it even affect you?
Shannon: We try not to let it affect us. The label and the management pretty much leaves us alone to do our thing, but it’s always in the back of your mind you want to make a hit, you know.
Laurie: How is production on the new album going, because you’re releasing in early 2010, correct?
Shannon: Yeah, were trying for the first quarter – March/April were hoping for. Obviously we can’t rush it, but we get off this tour and have 2 weeks home and then go to LA on Sept 20th. We have apartments already rented, so we’re ready. We have 18 songs on the board right now that are up there. We hope to write 5 or 6 more songs. Laurie: And then pare it down? Shannon: Yeah, and then pick the best out of it, come up with 11 kick-ass songs, so that’s the trick.
Laurie: I read that Sully said the new sound is harder than ever.
Shannon: Well, you know, ‘Whiskey Hangover’ is a good clue, and that’s what we’re going for. It’s more simplistic than the last record - less bluesy, more heavy, but you know we wanted to get back to the original sound of the band and what made this band happen in the first place….simple heavy rock, so that’s where were kind of shooting for on this one. But you never know, next thing you know we could write up a funk song.
Laurie: (chuckle) Somehow I don’t see that happening.
Shannon: Yeah…. (chuckle)
Laurie: You released “Whiskey Hangover” as something to hype your involvement with Cruefest, but is it just a taste of what’s to come, or is it included on the new album?
Shannon: Oh yeah, I mean its the number 1 hit in the country right now – the song is number 1, so we’d be foolish not to put it on the new record.
Laurie: Certainly. Is writing a collaborative effort or do you leave that mainly to Sully?
Shannon: No, it’s collaborative. We’re all in the room and we write the songs. Sully steps in with the vocals. So we write all the music first typically, and then he takes the tape of music and starts doing the lyric thing, writing lyrics and melodies, and then he’ll come over excited and sing it to us, and we’ll be ‘yeah’ or ‘nay’. But he’s pretty great for that because he doesn’t get excited much, so when he gets something that he thinks is good, it’s usually really good.
Laurie: I read in a past interview you did, you said the band was all Sully’s vision, from the songs you choose to record to the artwork on the album covers. Does it work well for the rest of you to have things operate that way, or is it indeed more of a group effort and that particular statement was just something you said at the time?
Shannon: No, it’s his vision, this band is his band, and we’re just proud to be in it. It doesn’t affect us so much. I guess maybe sometimes it can get on your nerves as far as if you are not feeling something that he’s really feeling, ‘cause then, you know, it doesn’t really matter ‘cause he’s gonna do it anyway – ‘cause its his thing. But that doesn’t happen much.
Shannon: No, it used to be more, and then we had a throw down and had a big session where we all screamed at each other and got it all out of our system, and this last year has been the best we’ve ever gotten along.
Laurie: Really? That’s so good to hear.
Shannon: Yeah, he’s mellowing out a lot, and letting go of the reigns a little in the last year. He’s making a conscious effort to include us and listen to our ideas, because you know with any band like us that’s been around for 10 years, we don’t want to start making the same record over and over, because then you just fade away. It’s better to burn out than fade away, right? So he knows that, but that said, he’s taken a lot more of our ideas to heart and really listened to them, where before we felt like he was just ‘like whatever’, but everything has gotten so much better. Like I said, when I said collaborative, on the new record we did this all 4 of us in a room. Like all 4, we’ll play a riff, I’ll come in with the drums, and next thing you know were jamming, and then it sounds like a verse, or a chorus or breakdown part. And then we’ll stop - “Alright man, we got a great verse, let’s try to get a chorus for it”, so you know, that’s how the process goes. So it is a full band collaboration, much more than ever.
Laurie: That’s great, and you look especially happy about it. No doubt that unified feeling will be reflected in the new album.
Shannon: Yeah, you know, for “Whiskey Hangover", all 4 of us were in the room and we wrote that song in like 3 hours. But it took Sully weeks to come up with the lyrics, and he wasn’t even happy with it ‘cause we had to rush it, ‘cause we needed something for this Motley Crue tour. The 3 of us loved it, but Sully was kind of irritated with it ‘cause he knows it could have been better.
Laurie: So he’s a perfectionist?
Laurie: Whose idea was it for the drum duel? Yours or his?
Shannon: It was basically his - him and Tommy Stewart the original drummer of the band, but how they would do it was they would play the get up get out riff, and Tommy would be on the drum set and he would just have these 2 congos, and…. and a cow bell rolled out on the stage and he would stand up and play it like that. But when I joined the band he had the idea to prolong the drum battle. It took us a couple of weeks to write it. The rest as they say is history.
Laurie: I’ve watched so many versions of it on You Tube but I would love to see it live. I’m assuming tonight you can’t because your set time isn’t long enough to fit it in.
Shannon: Oh no, we do.
Laurie: You do?! I can’t wait! After all these years of doing it, has it lost it luster, or do you still get a kick out of it?
Shannon: In fact it’s better than ever because now we know it so well that we can really play. Like now I’m doing a whole different thing. Every night is different. Where before we were trying to cement the whole solo, and drums are not really the coolest thing to do anymore, but when you got 2 dudes going at it like that with a band on stage keeping it like a song, its definitely not where people want to leave to go grab a beer. But yeah were doing it tonight, for sure.
Laurie: Cool! I’m excited to see it! Just curious, did you take part in the video that Crue did for White Trash Circus, to hype the tour?
Shannon: No, Sully did.
Laurie: Oh, ‘cause I was just curious as to whether it had been difficult with so many lead singers all in one room, and all used to their fair share of camera time and being the center of the attention.
Shannon: I bet – I wouldn’t want to be in that room!
Laurie: With the re-mastering and release of your self-titled album in 1998, after almost a year on the market you suddenly ran into issues with the lyrics being dubbed controversial and you were made to use “Parental Advisory’ stickers. But it seems to me that the concept of the stickers is ridiculous because they’re designed to deter people and yet everyone knows it’s the same idea as telling a kid that they can’t have the candy that’s sitting there on the table…..suddenly they have to have the candy.....
Shannon: (Interjects) Yeah, Tipper Gore (laughter) she was instrumental in that shit!
Laurie: Yeah, Tipper and the PMRC. So do you think it ended up working in your favour then, the second it hit the news that you had to have Parental Advisory, sales actually went up…
Shannon: Oh yeah, that’s how it is; like I said, thank you Tipper Gore. She did everybody a favour with the little sticker, ‘cause like you said, when you put a sticker on that says “Don’t touch this”, what’s a person going to do? They’re gonna touch it.
Laurie: Yeah exactly. So it seems to me that it’s counter-productive on her part. It actually benefits the bands more than it does her cause.
Shannon: Absolutely. Same with the rappers and all that; you put the stickers on there and all the kids want to listen.
Laurie: Well, one thing I like listening to is ‘Awake’, it’s one of my favorite albums, but when you wrote it I would assume that a Grammy nomination for Vampires as Best Rock Instrumental was probably the last thing from your minds. And then it happened again with another Grammy nod for Best Rock Performance…..does it come as a surprise to you that that aspect of the music industry recognized you?
Shannon: Yeah, it did, but you know it's nice to be recognized, it’s nice to go to the Grammys and see a bunch of old friends like Dave Grohl and stuff… and lose to him – twice!
Shannon: But yeah, its funny you know, when we started doing this it was for the same reasons that are still current, so when we see a legend like Robert Plant or somebody walk by, we’re as star struck as the next guy.
Laurie: Really? You are?
Shannon: (Smiles fondly) Yeah, sure, like, “Oh my God, there’s Jimmy Page or whatever, or Ozzy”. So it’s good to go to the Grammys - you see all these people. Like I met Robin Williams, he walked by and it’s like, “Hey Mr. Williams”. He’s all, “Hey, what’s up, what’s your band?” “Godsmack!” I met George Carlin, just legends like that. So, yeah, it’s nice to be recognized by the academy and all that because, ya know, we’re a metal band.
Laurie: Yeah, you sure are, and I guess you didn’t think that stuff like that would be happening.
Shannon: Yeah, and you know, not all of that is even on TV. In fact, for Vampires and for… there was one other one, I think Best Instrumental for the drum battle thing too, is nominated – I’m not sure, But anyways, we were in a room and it wasn’t even televised. Like there’s the big Grammys that are on TV and the big production and all that shit, and then there’s another room with just people. Like 100 Grammys are given out, they show 20 or whatever.
Laurie: So they do awards off camera and just announce some of those as the show goes on.
Shannon: Yeah, exactly.
Laurie: So it’s funny that you would mention Robert Plant because I wanted to ask about when you did the cover album you ended up doing a cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ – why that one?
Shannon: ‘Cause that was like Sully and my favorite John Bonham tune basically, it’s amazing and after 10 years of Godsmack there’s been a LOT of good times and bad times. So, it just fit, you know.
Laurie: Fair enough. You toured with Metallica, any good stories there?
Shannon: They were the greatest tour we ever did. They were the nicest guys – James Hetfield would come to our dressing room everyday and just sit down and go, “Hey, what’s up guys?” just like a normal real righteous guy. Rob Trujillo, phenomenal, great guy. Kirk Hammett is the nicest dude you’ll ever meet. I’m telling you, it’s the complete opposite of this where we don’t even see Motley Crue.
Laurie: Really? So, would you say that you’ve learned from them?
Shannon: Yeah, we learned so much on that tour and we learned how to treat other bands, from Metallica. They’re not worried about getting blown away or whatever, so they’re basically like, “You can use anything you want to use on the stage, as long as you get it off in 20 minutes”. If you can get your shit off the stage in 20 minutes, you can use your whole back drop, whatever you want, ‘cause it’s not about anything else except “Don’t make us late”. Why cut lights and sound from somebody’s show, you know? So the next year we went out and headlined and took Rob Zombie with us, and we told him, “Whatever you want - pyro, all your robots, anything you want to use you use – just get it off the stage in 20 minutes for us, that’s all”. So, we learned a big lesson from Metallica.
Laurie: It’s nice that you’ve got such good memories and were able to take something from the experience. Shannon: Yeah. It was.
Laurie: Ok, so what kind of note would you like to end this interview on? What haven’t I touched upon that you’d like to talk about, or is there something you’d like to say to your fans?
Shannon: Just look out for the new record. We’re going to go into hibernation now – you won’t see or hear from us for the next 4 or 5 months, so ah, fuckin’ anybody that saw CrueFest, thanks for coming out and I hope you get the new record.
Laurie: Any ideas for a title yet? Or you gonna tap into your security dude again, the one that allegedly helped to inspire the title ‘Four’ with his female rating system?
Shannon: (Shakes head and smiles) No, we’re gonna see how the songs round out, and usually we get an idea – there might be a standout song that has a cool name like ‘Faceless’ or whatever, and then we’ll call the album that. But I can tell you this; it’s not going to be called ‘Five’.
Laurie: (Laughing) Good to know. Well, I thank you so very much Shannon, it’s been a real pleasure.
Shannon: Yeah, thanks for having me. Enjoy the concert.