A big backyard party with 25,000 close friends -GODSMACK at Rockville

It’s been two decades since Godsmack crashed through the gates of the hard rock scene and the band is marking the occasion with new music. When Legends Rise drops April 27, the same day Godsmack hits the stage at Welcome to Rockville. Drummer Shannon Larkin, who has lived in Florida for the last several years, says celebrating the release at an outdoor festival in his home state is like having a big backyard party with 25,000 of his closest friends. “It’s our record release party,” says Larkin. “We like to go big.”

Godsmack performs on the same bill as Ozzy Osborne with Zakk Wylde, Five Finger Death Punch, The Used, Halestrom, Atreyu, Trivium, Power Trip, The Texas Hippie Coalition, Parkway Drive, ’68, Palisades, Underoath, Bad Wolves, Toothgrinder and Them Evils (www.welcometorockvillefestival.com). EU Jacksonville caught up with Larkin who dished about the band’s new music, why fans won’t hear it at Rockville and how he managed to score ‘the best job in the world’.

Larkin started drumming as a scrappy, 13-year old with cool parents who were willing to accompany their underage kid to bar gigs on the weekends. They weren’t musicians themselves but loved music and did whatever they could to help their kid realize his dreams. “I’ve never done anything else but play drums. I never stopped, and I’ve always sustained a living from it,” says Larkin. “I totally wouldn’t change a thing with my life.’

Godsmack released its self-titled debut in 1998 but Larkin first met singer and principle lyricist Sully Erna in the early 80’s when the two were both young drummers coming up in the same scene. Erna was playing in a band that opened for one of Larkin’s old bands before forming Godsmack with guitarist Tony Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill and original drummer Tommy Stewart.

“When Universal, Atlantic, all the major labels were itching to sign Godsmack in 1997, I was the first call Sully made for a drummer, but I had just signed a deal with a band in LA, so I said ‘sorry, can’t do it bro’.  Of course, it came out and sold five million and my band came out and sold 500,” recalls Larkin. “A couple years later when the first drummer didn’t work out, Sully called me again and at that point, I had just quit my band two weeks before I got the call for the Godsmack gig. I had made 25 records and was ready to retire. I had just had my daughter, so I was like ‘maybe it was not in the cards to be a rock star’. I had achieved so many of my childhood dreams as a drummer already and then the phone rang and there it was.”

Twenty years later, Godsmack is still finding new doors to open. When recording When Legends Rise, Erna wanted to marry the band’s signature hardcore sound with a more palatable, mainstream vibe. The result is a collection of 11 tracks that demonstrate the band’s full sonic range in a format that is still recognizable as Godsmack.

“The new single “Bullet Proof” is out and that gives you a glimpse of the direction on this one. Each record that we do, Sully comes in with a new vision of what he would like the record and Godsmack to sound like. There’s been a space of four years in between each record so that gives you time to not make the same record over and over again. We’ve done a lot of things differently than we’ve ever done, a lot of things that you hear all the time but Godsmack has just never approached,” says Larkin.

“This time he wanted a more mainstream record, as well all have turned 50 now. We’re looking at the future and how do we evolve and mature as a band without feeling like we’re up on stage trying to compete with other bands on the bill that are in their 20’s. The trick is to not alienate anyone or disgruntle our fanbase by sounding like we’re trying to go commercial. I feel like we knocked it out the park. It still has that toughness to it that sounds like Godsmack. It’s still heavy. To me, it reminds me the most of our first record and that’s a positive thing.”

To date, Godsmack has amassed six number one singles on mainstream rock radio, including “I Awake”, “Straight Out of Line”, “Voodoo”, and “I Stand Alone.” The band has sold over 20 million records and was named “Rock Band of the Year” by Billboard in 2001. In addition to selling out arenas worldwide, Godsmack is a regular fixture at festival stages like Mayhem, Rock on the Range and Welcome to Rockville where Larkin says the band plans to celebrate the new music even if it isn’t going to play it.

“As music fans ourselves, we don’t want to play a bunch of new music yet because the record drops on that day so no one is going to know any of the songs and I hate when I go see a band and I want to hear the hits and they’re playing a whole new record that I’ve never heard one note of,” he says. “We’ll definitely play the single because people might know that one by then and we might play one more new song they haven’t heard yet but then we’ll cram in as many of the hits as we can to make the fans happy.”
When writing the songs for the new record, Larkin, Rombola and Merrill all wrote individual material in Florida, while Erna wrote in Southern New Hampshire throughout 2013. The band reconvened at an old warehouse they converted into a fully loaded recording studio with a control room and live stage room to record in January 2014 with new ideas and a fresh spark of inspiration.

One constant on every Godsmack record remains Erna’s songwriting. Larkin says each song comes from a personal place. “Every single song is about him and how he feels. He doesn’t pull any punches. He’s the guy that wears his emotions on his sleeve. I feel that people that like rock music can really connect with him,” says Larkin. “We’ve all got hard stuff going on. We’ve all had our hearts stepped on and we’ve all had friends stab us in the back. These are things that he sings openly about. Whenever Sully Erna gets his heart crushed, me and Robbie and Tony are all like, ‘Yes! We’re going to have a killer record now!’”

For Godsmack, it’s been a long, loud, balls-to-the-wall 20 years. New bands have shown up on the scene, some made it, many didn’t. Larkin says Godsmack will never be the kind of band that gets lazy and coasts on nostalgia fumes. There’s always more work to do and more stories to tell.

“The whole world has changed so much since 1998 when we were just starting out. It used to be about getting the clubs packed and then getting a record a deal.  What that process did was weed out the bands that weren’t great or didn’t deserve to have some success. Maybe their hearts weren’t in it or whatever. But nowadays, if you have a good website and a couple great songs, you could be shit live and no one would even know. They could go viral with some song that they made on the computer and all of a sudden got three million views on a YouTube channel,” he says.

“It’s still about getting out there and start packing in the clubs and working up your local fanbase and building from there. Nowadays, young bands still have to have a good web presence but, in the end, it’s all about the songs. If you write great songs, then you’re going to be successful. That part hasn’t changed.”

About Liza Mitchell