Getting the chance to interview Godsmack isn’t easy at all considering their rarity in Europe and especially France. A few hours after their Hellfest performance, we got the occasion to chat with Shannon Larkin (also in Ugly Kid Joe) later joined by Sully Erna, about their seventh record “When Legends Rise” and the promise to come back quicker in Europe.
A word about the show and the audience’s response?
Shannon Larkin (drums): We’ve had an amazing set. We went on at three o’clock in the afternoon, which is different and weird for us obviously, going on that early, and I didn’t expect half the crowd that I saw up there. I didn’t know what to expect, and we walked up onto the stage, wow, a sea of people. And then you don’t know how many of those people even know your music or your band, because we’re not big in France. But a lot of people seemed to sing the words of our songs, so it was a very very great show for us and we hope that we can come back and play later on the bill.
Speaking about that, the last and only time I saw you was in 2003 supporting Metallica, Your show at the Bataclan in 2012 was cancelled. It’s very difficult to see you. Will we see more of Godsmack in the near future?
Shannon: Yes. We made a commitment. We’ve got a lot of bad luck in the past, and a lot of it was due to record labels, and…(thinking). We’ve done a lot of big tours, and one of them was with Metallica, in front of a lot of people every night at every show, but when we played then, there wasn’t ever any press, no photographers in the pit, we were like: “what’s going on?”. The label business in Europe. Let’s say we were on Universal, every single country has its own version of Universal but they didn’t communicate, but we kind of got lost in the shuffle. And meanwhile in America, we’re selling millions of records, and playing in 20,000 seaters, so, we couldn’t understand.
And another disadvantage we had, we don’t rush records out, and all of our records, since 2003 when I joined the band, have come four years apart. And so, we change a lot, as humans and as a band, and after four years, we’ve changed. If you compare our last album to the previous, it’s a big change. And they’re conscious decisions, like when we change producers or record labels between albums. I mean, before we get too old to do this, being on tour, we need to go back and work Europe, and the only way to really get bigger over here, is to keep coming and play. So, we can’t take another four years off. We made a commitment and we’re gonna be back next year, and the year after, and keep coming until either they accept us or they tell us to fuck off. (laughs)
We found “When Legends Rise” (2018) very well-balanced, and mature. Do you agree with this definition?
Shannon: We really thought a lot about it, and the production, we knew we wanted to change. For the first time as a band we worked with outside songwriters. Sully of course writes all the lyrics, but he needed help to modernize our sound. As we get older, we’re not pissed-off and angry anymore as we used to. We really were, that’s what the earlier records were reflecting. They’re heavier and more metal. But as we get into our fifties (he smiles), we don’t wanna act like we’re a bunch of twenty-years old up onstage, trashing and everything. We don’t have that kind of aggression in our lives. We all have kids, a home, we’re happy people now. (laughs) So we don’t wanna act like we’re not.
But, with that said, we can’t alienate our fan base, and suddenly start to write Elton John’s songs you know what I mean? So, what we’re trying to do, as we’re not as concerned as our earlier fans: “oh, they’re not heavy anymore”, is to come back to the creativity that existed back in the 70s where it was less commercial and regimented. So the theme of the new album was the rebirth, because we look at the first twenty years as a chapter. “When Legends Rise” is a new beginning for us, a new chapter of our music.
Was the songwriting process more flowing or spontaneous?
Shannon: January 2017. We basically just finished a three-year tour, and with Tony (Rombola – guitar) who also lives in Florida, we were writing music until the end of 2017, Sully was travelling all over America, experimenting, writing with other writers, “Bulletproof” was one of the result. And Robbie (Merrill – bass) was in Jacksonville, writing his own stuff. So, after 4-5 months, where everybody was writing separately, we got together, except that for the first time, Sully used outside writers rather than just being in Boston writing alone. He wanted to experiment, and find what kind of melody we could add, and get a great producer in the process, for a different sound.
We try to grow. Some bands that I really love like AC/DC, they made the same record over and over again their all career, but we’re not that kind of band. We wanted to change, so the process was, we were all separated through half of 2017, and then we got together in my studio in Florida, and started throwing ideas at each other. And the stuff Sully brought with him of his collaborations was really good. It retains our toughness and add big melodies, synthesizer, to modernize our sound, like Shinedown. We entered the studio by the end of 2017, in Boston, which we moved to Nashville by the way, just as a side note. It only took six weeks for us to record and mix the whole record.
Even if it’s Sully’s work, the lyrics tends to have a current theme of survival, being relentless, taking shots but still rising up anyway. Is it a part of your DNA?
Shannon: I can explain it. If you did some research on all the Godsmack albums, every song, except “Voodoo” and one other, are all about his feelings about what’s going on in his life. It’s not Dungeons & Dragons or anything like that. And since there’s 4 years between our albums, a lot of things happened in this period of time (laughs), good or bad. In that period, he found a woman that he’s still with, he’s happy, and that also was a big rebirth in his life. As soon as he started to write new lyrics, all of a sudden we started to notice that they were way more positive, and we never had positive lyrics, ever. “Someday” is a positive song. It’s new for Godsmack. And then, furthermore, while we were in the studio, he sat on the piano and started to play a new song he wrote “Under Your Scars” and we’ve never done a ballad, let alone an ballad with a piano. (laughs)
It has a great melody and when he explained to us the lyrics, meaning: “You show me your scars, I’ll show you mine. We shouldn’t be afraid of our scars”. We’re talking about the scars you can’t see. Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, etc. Maybe they have talked about their scars. And this song was difficult for us because we wanted to avoid the often too cheesy side of ballads that doesn’t mean shit. We started the “Scars Foundation” with our money, this thing is real man, it’s not to make a hit song. Total non-profit organisation, we have our staff to go out and raise money. People that suffers from PTSD (trouble de stress post-traumatique), any kind of depression, obesity, bullying.
(Sully Erna enters the room and joins us at last)
He can take it from here, no problem.
Sully Erna: OK. Hi!
Shannon: It’s just a foundation that started from a beautiful song.
Talking about piano, Sully, everybody knows you’re a drummer, guitarist and singer, but maybe less know that you’re also a keyboardist like we can hear and saw you with Lisa Guyer, and everything. Is there gonna be more keyboards for Godsmack in the future?
Sully: I don’t know. We didn’t really plan on doing a piano song on this record. It was actually written acoustically and then, I was sitting down just one day, and I transpose it on the piano and it sounded so beautiful. It kind of reminded us of an Aerosmith “Dream On” style ballad and we just thought it was worth going for it. Plus, we were already taking a chance on this record by exploring some new sounds. So we figured, why not? Let’s just fuckin’ do it because we wanna be able to write whatever we wanna write in the future. And we don’t want anyone to be able to tell us how we are supposed to sound like. We’ll dictate what we wanna do and hope that the fan base comes along for the ride. And so far, not only have they come for the ride, but we’ve learned that it’s expanding into a bigger audience. We’re seeing more females there, or children there. I think we’ve accomplished everything we were hoping to do with that record. (almost singing) “Round and round and round it goes. Where it stops, nobody knows”. (laughs)
Shannon: We’re coming back here, like I said.
Sully: About the new album, we all talked, and we knew that we wanted to explore a new direction. But nobody has a song, and so the challenge was just like kicking everyone out of the nest and go fuckin’ write music. We eventually found a new direction, and it probably came from “Bulletproof”. It has a pretty big hook, and I think this is going to expand us into, pretty much being able to write whatever we want on this record. But we were also conscious about that we had to have a few hard songs too, because that what our fan base is about. But even the hard songs have some pretty big hooks in them too, so. I think this album is the birth of a new career.
We have a fun NFL questions, as we know you’re a big Patriots fan.
Even if it’s not our team, we have the utmost respect for this organisation. It was very funny to see the videos you posted on your Facebook page after each game, taunting those who hate your team.
Sully: That’s just how Boston is. We’re a very competitive city, and every sports team that we have, we love and have an undying devotion for. That’s just the Boston attitude, you know? (laughs). Everybody is a smartass, it’s a very tough city and everybody is very competitive and passionate about their teams, as everyone should be about their teams.
Is there any plans for releasing a Bluray live from this tour?
Shannon: I don’t know, we haven’t thought about that. We’re still touring. But we some ideas of doing a live dvd not typical of what’s normally done.
Sully: We’re working on something right now, but we can’t talk about it yet because we’re not sure. If it happens, it’s gonna be very special, a very special live concert, I promise you that. Something you’ve never seen Godsmack do before.
Finally, we’re “RockUrLife”, so, what rock your life guys?
Shannon: I got a Koi Pond. (laughs). I swear, I have these beautiful fish, turtles and everything. Me and my girlfriend, we just love these things, we take care of them. It’s what I miss the most now.
Sully: I would say the top two things that rock my life are my daughter and my band. I’m really happy to be a part of this thing, I love these guys, this band, I love what we’re doing and I love seeing it grows, because I really think it was time to make some moves into the right direction, especially in Europe. This is what we wanted to do for a very long time, so we’re on a mission to fuckin’ get this thing once and for all. Get to arena status anywhere in the world. So, that rocks my fuckin’ world because this is what I love to do, to the level that I think we’re built for. And when I go home, the counterbalance is my daughter. Being a dad, it’s important, she’s getting older now, she doesn’t need a dad anymore. I try to absorb every moment I can.