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Interview: Shannon Larkin of Godsmack

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It’s been over 15 years since Godsmack blasted their way to the top of the metal scene with their self-titled debut album, and it’s a position they’ve held ever since. In addition to multiple headlining tours, Godsmack is now headlining their third Rockstar Energy summer festival, returning to the top slot on Uproar Festival 2014 and bringing bands like Skillet, Buckcherry and Escape The Fate with them.

The tour hits 1st Bank Center in Broomfield next Tuesday, and drummer Shannon Larkin was nice enough to speak with me by phone in advance of the big show. Read below for his thoughts on new album 1,000hp, summer metal festivals, and even a classic Dave Brockie (RIP) story.

Examiner: Hey Shannon, how are you today?

Shannon: I’m doing good, thanks.

Examiner: How’s the Uproar tour going so far?

Shannon: It’s going good! We’ve only had to cancel one show so far, in Pennsylvania. But all the other shows so far have been great, particularly Detroit, Cincinnati and Indianapolis have been awesome.

Examiner: Do you have a favorite band on the tour?

Shannon: Well if I had to pick I’d say Seether. They’re kickass, great songwriters. Great dudes. I haven’t gotten a chance to see a lot of earlier bands yet because we’re only in week 2. I saw Pop Evil, I saw Skillet, I saw Buckcherry who I love. Seems like a really good package. People always say “oh do you like playing the festivals or the headlining shows or opening, what’s your favorite?” And I always say the festivals, because when I grew up, there weren’t really festivals yet. And I can’t imagine paying $35 or $40 and getting to see 15 bands. So I think that it’s a great thing for the fans.

Examiner: You headlined Uproar a few years ago and then Mayhem Fest after that and now you’re back on Uproar, what are the differences between Mayhem and Uproar tours?

Shannon: Well the Mayhem Festival was a metal festival, real heavy. You had Suicide Silence out there, Megadeth, Machine Head. And these are all way heavier bands than this tour. Uproar is more of a rock tour. The last tour we did was with Shinedown, they’re also more rock. But the same guys run the festivals, and they create a really cool atmosphere, from the catering to the stage.

On the Mayhem tours you have younger, more aggressive audiences that start mosh pits and slamdance in front of the stage. Uproar seems to bring out a slightly older crowd, you still see kids out there of course but death metal is young man’s game. I would go over to the side stage to watch Suicide Silence who I really liked, and the crowd reminded me of when I was a kid watching Black Flag.

Examiner: Suicide Silence was actually on this year’s Mayhem again (see photos and read my review here), have you had a chance to see the new singer?

Shannon: No, I haven’t. It’s such a tragedy man, but I’m glad that they’re still going. If your singer quits or something, then you change the name of the band. But if your singer dies... I’m glad they’re still Suicide Silence and I’m glad that they came back from something that tragic and they’re still doing it.

Examiner: Gives hope for GWAR too, right?

Shannon. Dave Brockie, rest in peace. My brother, my friend. I was in a punk band called Amen years ago, and we did a legendary tour with the one and only GWAR, and it was crazy. I’ll never forget, we were in Chicago in this punk club, and it’s a hole in the wall and cranking punk rock and Dave Brockie managed to get thrown out. And it’s the kind of club that you can’t get thrown out of, you have to do something really messed up to get thrown out. Evidently, he was jumping from table to table, doing this table dive thing he does, and we all said “hey that’s Oderus Urungus, you can’t throw him out.” And they said “oh okay,” and let him back in.

Examiner: Uproar will be coming to Denver in a few weeks on September 9th, at the 1st Bank Center. Do you have a favorite Denver venue?

Shannon: Well, Red Rocks, but I’m sure everyone says that.

Examiner: Have you played Red Rocks before?

Shannon: Oh yeah! We played it twice with Godsmack, and I got to play it through Amen also. Three times I’ve gotten to play there, and it’s just natural, man. Especially we got to headline it with Godsmack one time and when the sun goes down, what a vibe.

Examiner: The new Godsmack album is out now, 1000hp. Did that title come organically or was it a hard-fought choice?

Shannon: No, it came pretty organically. The song was written and it’s a pretty high energy track, so Sully was like “That’s like 100,000 horsepower!” And then he came up with the lyrics, “turn that sh*t up louder,” and 100,000 didn’t fit the rhythm. So he was like “10,000 horsepower?” It didn’t roll off the tongue. But 1,000 horsepower rolled off the tongue. But is 1,000 horsepower radical? Is it enough? So we go next door, our headquarters in New Hampshire, right next door to the warehouse we’re in is a top pro performance shop where they rebuild muscle cars. So we went next door and asked is 1,000 horsepower a lot? So they said “yeah!” They fired up this cherry red ‘68 Chevy Malibu, and it was a beast and 1,004 horsepower. And when we heard that thing, we brought mics into their shop and recorded it, and that’s the car you hear on the album. It wasn’t a sample, we recorded that ‘68 Malibu right next to our studio.

Examiner: That reminds me, I’ve always wondered about the motorcycles in the video for I Stand Alone. Were those your bikes?

Shannon: Those were our bikes. I wasn’t in the video, that was right before Tommy left the band and I came in, but I know the bikes. I ended up learning to ride when I joined the band, and I learned on the bike Sully was riding in the video.

Examiner: When you’re writing songs, does the music or the lyrics or the song title come first?

Shannon: 99% of the time it’s the music. All of our songs start with the guitar riff. You throw a killer riff at any one of us and we can make it turn into a song in a day. But it’s all about that riff, you gotta have that riff. Tony Rombola is a riff-meister, Sully is a riff-meister, and we always start with the riff and it went really quick this time. It was a weird period after the Oracle album, we decided to separate for a while and take a year apart, and of course in that time Sully and Tony and I were writing. Time passed, we all did some side projects, Sully did a movie because he likes to act, and after about a year Sully called us and said “you guys wanna try this again?” So we said yeah, and within two weeks we had 16 songs in skeletal form. So we had a meeting and said “let’s do this.” We made a headquarters up in Boston where we could store all of our gear and rehearse and record in this one facility. That made everything go easier too, there was no pressure. The place we wrote the record is the same place we sat and recorded it. And we were surrounded by Godsmack memorabilia from past tours and stuff, and it really put us in the mindframe of all things Godsmack.

Examiner: One last question, Shannon. I was listening to you guys being interviewed on satellite radio the morning the album came out, and it seemed like Sully was going out of his way to call the band hard rock instead of heavy metal. Is that something you consciously try to do?

Shannon: No, and we get asked that a lot too. We just feel that heavy metal, which we love and were raised on, it has a lot of shredding guitar leads and double bass on the drums, and not as much melody in vocal choruses. So when these new songs started taking shape on this one, we wanted to make it more of a punk rock record. We all love the Ramones, and grew up listening to just as much punk rock as metal. But since we're not punk rock, it ended up sounding more hard rock to us, more AC/DC than Metallica. We look at heavy metal, bands like Avenged Sevenfold who have dual guitar attacks and a singer that wails and sings real high. And we look at us, and we obviously have facets of heavy metal music, because of the tone on the guitar. Chunk, we call it. Chkkk Chhkk! We definitely have metal in our sound, but when we compare ourselves to other bands that are labeled heavy metal, such as Volbeat or Five Finger Death Punch or Avenged Sevenfold, we just feel like more of a hard rock band. But that doesn't mean we don't love heavy metal, and if someone asks us about being in a heavy metal band, we don't say "we're not heavy metal." But we're kind of flummoxed by it, the way we're still flummoxed by how people 15 years later still say we sound like Alice In Chains. I'm a huge Alice In Chains fan, and I just don't hear the similarities. It's the kind of thing that makes me scratch my head. We're heavy metal but we sound like Alice In Chains? Weird.

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Tickets are still available for Tuesday’s Uproar show at 1st Bank Center (click here), where Godsmack will be joined by Seether, Skillet, Buckcherry & Pop Evil.

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