Shannon Larkin: Lovin’ the New Godsmack Hard Rock Sound

GodsmackMetal band Godsmack hit the road across Canada and the US this month with a stop in the 519 at London’s Budweiser Gardens tonight (May 9). The tour, with Danish band Volbeat, starts in BC and makes its way across the country to Quebec.

Godsmack is running high with its latest album When Legends Rise, hitting the Top 10 on the Billboard charts in Canada. It’s a departure for the band, sounding more like a hard rock album than a metal release – in much the same way the self-titled Metallica black album was for that band.

Fans are loving the new sound and drummer Shannon Larkin couldn’t be happier. We spoke with him on the phone while on tour in Germany.

Later this year you’re doing a few gigs in Russia and the Czech Republic.

Touring places like Russia still isn’t quite everyday commonplace, but it seems like it’s getting easier than it used to be. Have you ever played a show when you felt uncomfortable?

I’ve done shows where I had cracked ribs and that felt really uncomfortable, but as far as crowds go, no. I’ve never done any show with any band where I felt uncomfortable with the crowd.

There were a couple times in my early years when my metal band was opening for a punk band, so the crowd booed us off the stage, but those are trials and tribulations that one must go through when you’re a lifelong musician.

As far as Godsmack, I’ve never felt uncomfortable, except for one time in LA. The radio station there had said that we would play our new single if we close the show at this Festival in the city and that meant going on after the Foo Fighters. If you know anything about the LA concerts, that’s called the clean-up act, so basically the Foo Fighters are headlining, but they needed a clean-up act to go on after that. Of course, we said “Hell No”, because everyone knows there are certain bands that you can’t go on after, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Foo Fighters and Metallica. So we said no, but management and all the powers that be forced it. So, we go on and it was fucking uncomfortable having to play for all the Foo Fighters fans in LA. They were walking out as we were still playing. That’s the only show that I’ve ever felt uncomfortable at in the Godsmack world.

You’re going to be back in North America in April with a pretty good- sized tour in Canada. Do you have any fun memories of Canada from previous tours?

I do. I feel that every time we go to Canada it’s always been special because the crowds up there, particularly in the places that aren’t the major cities, are awesome. They don’t get many American bands that come and play for them, so all my memories are of the crowds and just feeling this amazing energy coming from them, like a freshness that’s not jaded.

When you play in the major cities in America, even though they’re great shows, you come through it’s not really anything that super special, but in Canada, man, every show just feels super special and the people seem super appreciative of us. As musicians and fans of music, that feels so good. We’re experiencing that here in Europe in the smaller towns we played like Malmö, Sweden.

You’ve been in Godsmack for 16 years. Does it feel like it’s been that long?

No it doesn’t. I think the reason for that is because we put records out four years apart. I joined in late 2002 and then the record “Faceless” came out the next year. If you look at it, every single record has been a four-year space in between. Three of those four years are writing, recording and touring our asses off. And hat time just flies. So that breather time, which is that one year of the four, we’re able to take that and slows things right down a little bit.

Do you like the slower times where you can relax a little bit?

I do, but I don’t particularly relax because Tony and I have a blues band together. I tell all my musician friends and people that care to ask about that. I’ve always had side projects and, in every band, I’ve always had a side project in which I can play with different musicians, in different genres explore and experiment. When I do come back to the big drum set and rock hard, I appreciate the genre that I am in much more.

I know you’ve been playing since the late 70s when you were just a wee little guy. And I bet that little guy had a few dreams that’s you have met over the years.

Oh my God, I’m THAT dude. I started playing clubs when I was 13 and I always had the dream. I’m not bullshitting here, but I have never worked a regular job. My work has always been playing drums. From the time I started playing in clubs at 13, I just never looked back and have been paid for it along the way. The week I turned 18, I moved out from my parents and I was paying my own way. From then on, my musical dreams have gone far and beyond. I got the play with Black Sabbath this one time when Michael Bordin couldn’t do the gig. I got the call and somehow, I’m walking on stage with Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler and that was something that even that little version of me never dreamed of.

Godsmack took a twist with the music on When Legends Rise. That new hard rock sound is a big change. Why change at this point?

We all crossed that threshold of being 50. Sully was the last one to turn 50 years old. He had originally come in with the idea eight years ago because all of his favorite bands worked with outside writers and they never made the same record over and over and over again. Our records come four years apart and we don’t want to continue making the same sounding records forever, so for eight years he’d thrown the idea at us and it just never came to be.

However, once every one of us turned 50, he really felt that a change of maturity needed to happen. He came to us and said he wanted to work with some different writers for the first time and we’re all for it. So, he came back and played us the first song which was Bulletproof that he wrote with Eric Ron, who was also producing our record. We heard it and it still sounds like Godsmack, we feel that it still has our sound, but was more mature.

It’s less aggressive and the production is a complete 180. We’ve always been old school, trying to record just the four of us on analog. We embraced this new production using outside sounds and outside writers. We’re not faking it on this record. We’re not young and angry and pumped full of piss and vinegar like we were 16 years ago when I joined, so it’s a reflection of that. Sully writes mainly about his personal life. If you look at his lyrics, it’s the story of his life on every record – from the first one all the way up to the new one. It’s always been his band and the lyrics have always been about him and I feel that that’s why the band is so successful.

We’re really happy at this point and we all have children. While we’re not these super rich rocks stars, at least we don’t have to worry about a mortgage or car payments. The last thing I want to do is stand on the stage at 50 years old and pretend I’m 30 and still angry and pissed off at the world. I’m not. People can say what they want about how we changed the sound of the band, but we’re trying to be real with ourselves.

Canadian fans really embraced the new album – you rose to the top 10 here.

Hell yeah man, we hit another milestone. I mean we had two number ones in a row, both Bulletproof and When Legends Rise went number one not only on active radio, but at mainstream, which we’ve never done before. That proves, at least to the four of us, that it works and there are people out there that that can see through the bullshit and can tell what it’s worth.

This is not a sell-out for some money – we have the money. We sold 20 million records; we don’t need to sell-out for money or something stupid like that.

I can speak for me as a drummer. It’s a physical gig and one of the things that I fell in love with about playing the blues was that it doesn’t kill my body like Godsmack does. And so, when we got this new set of music, I noticed that it doesn’t beat my muscles and bones up as much but yet I can still express myself and feel real about it.

Bulletproof and When Legends Rise are real rock anthems. Do you find that songs like that make the audience a little more like a giant fist pounding rock crowd than a mosh pit thrasher show?

Anybody who has been in a pit or that is a little older like me that went through the era of thrash metal and jumped into a pit knows that you can’t really watch the band when you’re in that pit. You have to keep your head up and watch your back when you’re thrashing around. It’s a way of releasing aggression and it’s very busy and I got many bloody noses coming out of the pit. So you keep your head up and you watch your back. The attention is on your ears. The band is making the aggression and you’re letting it out with the fans.

When I’m looking out there and I’m seeing a big mosh pit I know all those people are getting off and they’re there for that reason – to release that energy – but they’re not really watching the band or listening to what we’re playing. They’re not hanging on every word of the singer or feeling every note that the guitar player is putting out. They’re there for a different reason. Now, when we play big shows and the mosh pit doesn’t break out, I can see that everybody’s got their fists in the air and I look out and all the eyes are on us. It feels more like we are one with the crowd. I love the black metal, death metal and thrash metal. I was in that era when it was off being invented, I love it so much. But now, I also find myself listening to a lot of classic rock and blues for enjoyment. My personal tastes have changed, but I can still go back and throw on Slayer “Hell Awaits” and it takes me right back to that time, but I just can’t take as much of it now. I’ll listen to three or four of my favorite songs and then I’m back to listening to Oasis.

Does it still feel like Godsmack? I know you guys were ready for this change when Sully presented it to you. But when you went into the recording session for When Legends Rise does it still feel like Godsmack?

What helped was that we did it at our own recording studio. We made the last three records there, so even though it was a brand-new producer, brand-new songs, a whole new fresher sound and a different way of recording, we felt at home. Everybody was super comfortable and there was no red-light fever or fear in there. It still felt like a Godsmack recording and Eric Ron fit right in with us personality-wise. He’s such a cool guy and a great producer.

What else is ahead for you guys this year?

That’s an easy answer – touring, touring, touring. When we fly home from this five-week European run, we’ll have two days at our houses and then we fly over to start the next leg.

It’s like that until later in 2020.