After sticking mostly to the same angry, metallic sound through its first six studio albums, Godsmack took a bit of a chance with 2018’s “When Legends Rise” (review). Though the recording is unmistakably Godsmack, the slicker production and frontman Sully Erna’s increased vocal range paved the way for a more modern feel with big, melodic choruses. Fans embraced the new Godsmack, sending the record into the top 10 on its debut and two singles—”Bulletproof” and the title track—to number one at rock radio. And the band remains a popular live act, currently touring Europe and set for a North American tour this spring with Volbeat. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently spoke with drummer Shannon Larkin about the new album, the upcoming tour and more.
LIVE METAL: Hey, Shannon, how ya doing?
SHANNON LARKIN: Doing good, trying to stay warm here in Warsaw.
OK, I knew you were on tour in Europe, so you’re in Poland today?
I’ve been following the band on social media, and it seems like the shows have been going really well on this tour; a bunch of them have been sold out. Are there big differences in how different crowds around the world respond at shows?
Typically, over here they seem to be more excited. They don’t get as many bands that come through, particularly American bands. So there’s an excitement in the air that you don’t get as much in the major cities of America, because everybody is so jaded from having so many bands come through all the time that it becomes not as special. It feels like the crowds here are more present. And the fact that we’re playing smaller venues over here—we’re not as big over here—and so there’s an intimacy that I can feel from the stage that sometimes I miss playing the bigger rooms in America.
You’ll be coming home next week, and then you’re not wasting much time. April 6, the North American tour starts up. You have festivals, shows with Volbeat, Stitched Up Heart. I’ve seen Godsmack a bunch of times, but let’s hear it from you: What can the fans expect out of Godsmack at these shows?
Well, we’ve got a new record, and that means new music. Of course, we’re one of those bands where—it’s a double-edged sword—we have a lot of radio hits, so we know that we have to play certain songs, and we can’t do as much new material as we’d like, and you know that the fans want to hear the old stuff anyway. But we have some nuggets that we dug out that will be good surprises, hopefully, for our fan base. And of course, we have an amazing light show, and we’re doing the double drum solo thing.
We’re all healthy, half of us are sober, and we’re gonna be a well-oiled machine, too, by the time we get to America. We come home, we have two days off after five weeks in Europe, and then we get right back on a plane, right back on the bus. So we’re gonna be very, very tight and strong. From the first show of the next leg, we will be in top form. I can guarantee it.
I’m sure you’ve crossed paths with Volbeat over the years, but how well do you know those guys?
We met them last year. Guy Sykes, a tour manager I’ve worked with for a while, ended up with Volbeat. We were doing this festival last year, and Guy says, “Hey, man, I’m with Volbeat.” So he introduced us to the guys, and they’re really nice guys; they’re from Europe. The idea came about when Guy said, “Yeah, I’m going all the way into next year. You guys are touring next year. Maybe we can hook something up.” And that’s how it all was born. And the fact that we like them. They’re a great band. It’s good for us, it’s good for them. And they’re really big over in Europe, too, over here. So we hope if we can help them in America, they can help us in Europe, and it’s a win-win situation for both bands. And it gives the fans a killer show.
It’s been almost a year since the latest album came out, “When Legends Rise.” A little bit of a different sound for Godsmack, but it still sounds like Godsmack—maybe a little more modern-sounding, bigger focus on the melodies. Was there a specific mission statement that you went in with for this album?
Yes. It was a very conscious decision, for sure. This is Sully’s vision. He is our leader. We trust him, we follow him. Twenty years as a band, it’s been successful. That’s our biggest badge of honor over all the accolades or awards—all that shit. It’s about longevity, and not many bands can claim that. So he came to us after the last record, “1000hp,” was complete. All the records, by the way, since I joined have come out four years apart. So we usually work for a year and then record, and then a couple years on the road, and then take a year apart to do solo work and side projects and have some time apart. Well, in that time, he came to us and was like, “Look, for the first time I want to”—and we’d all turned 50, by the way, which was a big milestone in our personal lives. The world shifts a little, especially if you’re a hard rocker.
So he came to us and said, “I’m not young, full of piss and vinegar anymore. I can’t stand on the stage and act like I’m pissed off at the world anymore. We’re all happy, successful dudes with kids now running around, and we want this to remain real.” So he had the idea of working with outside writer-producer guys like a lot of bands do nowadays, making the production more modern and slick sounding and, also, adding melody. Having made a couple solo records now that are more piano-oriented music—Sully—he also found new range in his voice that he’s never sang like that in Godsmack before, and we’ve never layered harmonies like that and had those kind of big melodies and choruses.
So when he came to us with that idea, we were like, “Yeah, go ahead, fearless leader. Just impress us. It’s all about the music. And if it doesn’t sound like Godsmack, then we’re not gonna back it, obviously.” He came back after a few months gone writing with some other cats, and he was even nervous, but the first song he played us was “Bulletproof.” We all heard that, we all looked, and we all smiled. We said, “Look, we can make this sound like Godsmack, for sure.” At the time, it was in demo form, so it was drum machines and all that. But just hearing that song “Bulletproof” and it still sounded like Godsmack to us. So that’s how the new evolution of our new sound came about. It was a very conscious decision.
Have there been any challenges in bringing these new songs to the stage?
Well, it’s one of those things. We’ve been so old school the whole time and finally coming into this digital world—synthesizer sounds, for instance, in “Bulletproof.” That throbbing low end in the verses, that’s a synthesizer. But we never used that shit before, and now to try and replicate that live, we had to kind of do what every other band that we played with for the last five years does, which is run tape. So you buy this expensive gear, and it’s amazing technology. Everything’s so perfect. You get this whole system, and now we’re running the tape, and we made it about half of the first week of the tour with Shinedown, and then we threw all that shit out.
Now, we run tape on exactly two songs in the set, and those were songs that had the synthesizers on the record, and the song “Unforgettable,” for instance, has backup vocals by a middle school choir. Well, guess what? We can’t bring the 30 kids out on tour, so we actually run the tape. So as far as it goes, there’s only two songs in our whole set that aren’t the four of us making that noise, and we’re real proud of that.
You said you guys have all turned 50. Has touring changed for you as you’ve gotten older?
It hasn’t changed in the least. It’s just a little harder on our physical bodies. Like tonight is the first of three in a row and a day off and then three in a row, and then fly to America, two days off and back out. Listen, man, I say we turned 50, but we still feel like we’re young, and if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be doing this. And that’s another big, key point of trying to modernize our sound and perhaps not try and portray something fake like we’re these angry, young kids, because we’re not. We’d like to keep doing this as long as possible, but I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: If we start to feel like we’re faking it or we’re a bunch of old men up there playing the county fair, we will stop.