By Jamie Dull
Shannon Larkin is a master drummer. He’s spent time working with bands like Glassjaw, Apocalypse Blues Review, Candlebox, Wrathchild America, Baptizm of Fire (with Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest), Amen, and even spent one day as a member of Black Sabbath. But Shannon is mostly known as the drummer for Godsmack, a now legendary hard rock band who recently celebrated their twentieth anniversary. When we spoke Godsmack were days away from launching their tour in Detroit in support of their brand new album, “When Legends Rise”.
Jamie Dull: Hello from Chicago. How are you doing today?
Shannon Larkin: I’m doing good, man. I was born in Chicago! Cook county hospital.
JD: Oh, awesome!
SL: Yeah. I’m doing good. I’m here in St. Paul, MN. We’ve been rehearsing here for the last four days with Shinedown. We get on the busses tonight and cruise over to Detroit, where the first show is.
JD: Are you feeling excited for the upcoming tour?
SL: Oh my God, yeah. It’s been like a year and a half since we toured, man. We’re gypsy blooded road dogs. It’s what we live for. It’s that reward for all of our hard work making records and music videos and all that stuff.
JD: Excellent. Are there any particular cities in which you’re excited to play?
SL: Well, the first show is Detroit. Detroit has always been kind to this band. Even before it was mega-successful or whatever. You know, they’d be gettin’ moved up into bigger venues there, even back in the old days before I was in the band. That’s why we did our live record there. And that’s why the tour is kicking off there. So we’re really excited for that. But there’s not a city we’re not excited to see, you know. Because we’ve doing this for so long, we have friends everywhere. It’s about that as much as performing the gig, you know? Getting to see these beautiful cities and the people we’ve met over the years. Sometimes it’s like a traveling family reunion.
JD: Awesome! And congratulations on “When Legends Rise”. It’s an excellent record. Are there any particular drum parts or specific songs on this new album that you’re really proud of?
SL: Oh, the funnest song to play for me is definitely the first song, ‘When Legends Rise’. I love the tom groove feel, and then I do like a samba with a side stick in the first half of the verse, and then break it down with that tribal thing on the floor toms. And, you know, the cool thing is we make records every four years. And with each record, as four years has passed, I’ll try and do something a little different to my kit. In this case I added a 20” gong drum. So I start ‘When Legends Rise’ with that big ass gong drum (laughs). So, that makes it fun having a new thing to hit up there behind the drums.
I really like every song on this record. As a drummer, this was a different record for me. You know, a lot of the songs this time Sully had written. He used a drum machine or basic drum tracks when writing complete songs to make demos. Sometimes in the past, you know, Tony and I would be writing in Florida, and then Sully would come up with songs. He wouldn’t demo the whole thing. This time he has the vision. He’s the visionary. He hand-picked all of us guys, you know, so it’s his vision and his band. And we trust him. He’s our fearless leader, man.
With that said. I’d get a lot of these tracks in demo form. You know they weren’t fully written. They were just the song and the structure for me to learn. So when we got to the studio I knew I had to be working on ‘When Legends Rise’. So I’d get to my hotel room that night. Write a map with my parts and how I’ll approach it. And then I’d go into the studio where we can now play the song. And the arrangement would then change, sometimes 10 times while we’re doing it. And so we’d stop and be like, “Oh man, let’s extend this part by two” you know? Or, “Let’s go to the crash ride in this section. Or move from a tight high hat to an open high hat in the second verse”. So as this kept going as we were recording it. So by the end of the week that we were tracking drums, I wouldn’t hear that stuff again for a while because it goes off to be mixed and mastered and all that. So by the time I get the record back (and the stem files of just the drum tracks), I have to re-learn the songs because they’re all like, brand new songs (laughs). It’s a trip man.
JD: Haha. What an awesome way to work on songs. Is the balance of creating drum parts between you and Sully really easy to make happen? Do you find it’s easy to come up with parts that you’re both hearing?
SL: Yeah it’s a beautiful thing about our relationship as drummers. You know, I knew him as a drummer for twelve years before I even joined the band. We were friends as drummers. Whenever I’d come to Boston with another band, Sully would pick me up and we’d go do my laundry or something. We were good friends. And the reason we became friends is because one of his bands opened for one of my bands. And saw I could play, and then the bromance started (laughs). So we just kept in touch over the years, became close. In fact, he called me when Godsmack was getting shipped around to all of the of major labels, when they were making waves.
I had just joined another band and signed a record deal back then, so I couldn’t do it. So Godsmack got Tommy Stewart. A couple of years later, you know, he didn’t work out and then I got the call to join. But back to your question, haha I got a little side tracked there. But back to your question, Sully and I think alike as drummers. So usually he shows me a riff or when Tony shows me a riff, the drum beat that I come up with is almost always the same drum beat that Sully comes up with. We have the same influences as drummers, therefore we play a lot alike. He played on those first two records, and at the time he was also learning to play guitar and learning to be a singer. And he didn’t want to play drums on the records. He wanted me to play on the records, and that’s where the transition between me and Tommy happened. I play just like Sully. We play the same. And having a singer like that who can play away on the drums, it’s just like having him on drums.
JD: Yeah. I think I remember watching a documentary about you guys a long time ago, and there was a scene where Sully was saying that the two of you were sitting together on your tour bus or something, not speaking to each other, and out of the blue at the exact same moment, you both started air drumming the exact same drum fill in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Moby Dick’ at the exact same time.
SL: Haha, that’s an absolute truth, man. That really happened!
JD: Awesome. I wanted to ask you a little bit about what drum kit you’re playing on for this upcoming tour. Do you like to use some of the same drum kits you’ve used in the past, or do you like to come up with something new for each tour?
SL: We always put together new kits. I’ve been with Yamaha for 16 years. Sully has been with them for like 21 years now. The deal is each cycle we build a new kit. So basically every four years Yamaha will generously provide two new drum sets. And we paint them according to the album. So like on the “Faceless” tour my kit was yellow with black and red flames. And the color theme matched the album cover. Then on the ‘IV’ tour, the album had a black and red album cover, so we had matching kits, but the opposite of mine. In fact, Sully with ‘Faceless’ my kit was yellow with black and red flames, and his was black with yellow and red flames. We continued that with ‘IV’. I had the black kit with red flames, and he had the red sparkle kit with black flames. And so we always do that. And this year we’re going with the same wrap. It’s that chrome wrap, like Peter Criss 1977 (laughs). It’s so shiny and rad looking. I’m so happy with it. When Sully comes out for the double drum solo thing, you’re gonna have to put on your sunglasses, man (laughs).
JD: I’ve seen you do ‘Batalla de los Tambores’, your double drum solo live maybe four or five times now. Do you and Sully ever add new elements to it or bounce new of ideas off each other? How did that start?
SL: We’ve been doing that now since I joined in the same basic structure. The drum fills can all be different every single night. We each take a four bar section to fill. So we can play anything we want on any given night, which is basically the only time in Godsmack’s set for improv. Which makes it interesting and fun every single night. For the rest of the set we try to play, and pride ourselves on trying to play the set as tight and true to the record as possible. The drum solo gives us that opportunity to improv. And over the years it’s changed and morphed. We tried several times to write a whole new one. And every time we come up with something, and it just doesn’t have the thing that that one has. And if it grooves well. We’re not doing anything super technical, but it works in front of a big crowd. It’s exciting. You can feel it. We try to change it as much as we feel each tour so that it’s not the exact same thing, but as far as the solo itself and the arrangement with the two pieces, that’s kind of become a song. Our fanbase, they know that now after keeping it in our set after all these years.
JD: I want to switch gears and ask you about some of your early days. I know back in the day you played with some other projects, Ugly Kid Joe, Candlebox, Amen, etc. For how long were you gigging regularly before you started to be able to sustain yourself? Was it a long period of time or a short period of time?
SL: I think I can wrap my whole career up in about four minutes or less. I started playing in clubs when I was 13. And the interesting thing about it is that after I left Chicago with my Dad, we moved around the country a little bit and landed in West Virginia after my Grandfather died. So I basically grew up there. And in West Virginia you had to be 16 in order to get a work permit to play in bars, and I was 13, so my parents would come to the bars every weekend. And I’d look out there in the crowd, and there’d be my dad, at 2am, sleeping in the booth sitting up (laughs). He had hearing aids, he’d turn them off. But that’s how cool my parents were. They realized that
I had this dream at a very young age. And incidentally the story that is true is that I’ve never held a real job. I started playing in the clubs at 13 until I was about 18 or 19. Then that’s when my first band Wrathchild America got signed. We went on tour with Pantera, Testament, played shows later with Metallica.
It was back in those days in the 80’s until about ‘92. Then I left the band in ‘94, moved to California and joined a band called Ugly Kid Joe. Did some really cool tours with them. After that when the label dropped us we made a conscious decision to break up. So I went on and joined a band called Amen after I got a call from Ross Robinson, you know, which was an extreme punk band. We put out a record on Road Runner, and got dropped and turned around and signed to Virgin and put out a record. And then after that I got married, my wife was pregnant, and Amen was a band that was very violent. Our singer would Kurt Cobain the drums, haha. I’d get bruised and battered and thought “I’m about to be a father”, so I left the band. Then two weeks after I left Amen, Sully Erna called, and I joined Godsmack.
So those are the bands I’ve been in. Just four bands. But in between I’ve always done something. Like now I have a band called the Apocalypse Blues Revue with Tony Rombola from Godsmack on guitar. And I’m telling you, he doesn’t get to show his lead guitar skills in Godsmack because we’re not a lead guitar based band. I think he takes only three guitar solos on the whole new record. But in Apocalypse Blues Review, oh my God! If you guys like Rombola, check this out. Our new record comes out on July 20th.
That’s a side note. So, I like to do things on the side. At one point I was doing session work. I played on Gassjaw’s “Worship and Tribute” album, Vanilla Ice’s comeback record. And Baptizm of Fire. That was a good drum record. It stands to this day. You can listen to any song on that. It was a good record. And then I went on tour with Candlebox. They’re old friends. They were in need so I went out on two tours for the “Happy Pills” record, and played with Ozzy Osbourne at the ‘97 Ozzfest for a makeup show, which was a day in Black Sabbath which was amazing. I’ve done work with Doug Pinnick from King’s X, and Glenn Tipton on his solo record. So I live music, it’s all I am, it’s all I know. I’ll never grow old of it and I’ll never grow tired of it.
JD: Hell yeah man! Well, Shannon, thank you for your time. We love you here in Chicago and can’t wait for you to get here. I appreciate your time.
SL: My hometown! Fuck yeah man. Thank you. Take care!
For more on Shannon Lakin click here
For more on Godsmack and the upcoming tour, click here
For tickets to the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, IL, click here