GODSMACK Chris BradshawChris Bradshaw

The pride of Lawrence Massachusetts, hard rock veterans Godsmack are bringing their Vibez Tour to The Colosseum at Caesars Windsor Friday, April 26 for an intimate night of music and conversation celebrating their more than 25 years as a band. Their 28 top ten songs including 12 at number one, place them among the best charting bands in mainstream rock in the United States. Their latest and most likely their last release, Lighting Up the Sky, has continued the trend of chart-topping songs and is considered by the band to be their best album. I was fortunate to talk with hard-hitting drummer extraordinaire Shannon Larkin about the upcoming show and what it’s like now for the band that they’ve announced a new chapter in their amazing career.

“The Vibez Tour which began February 15 in Tulsa Oklahoma is on a three-week break before cranking it up again next week in California, and it’s the first acoustic type tour the band has done in 20 years. It’s not a full acoustic tour but a scaled-down version of their show designed for smaller venues that will feature many of their hit songs and some surprises.”

 

Shannon explained the decision to do an acoustic-type tour, “We beat up Canada and the US last year and went into the B and C markets and stayed out for almost eight months. Near the middle of it, our second single was doing well, so we knew we could extend our tour for this record cycle. So, I said, “Hey, man, what if we did it because we like to keep playing, keep moving? And what if at the beginning of next year, we do another kind of tour, an acoustic tour?” And then Sully said, “Oh, man, that’s a good idea because we could do small venues.”

“Acoustic guitars come out, but we added some extra musicians, Chris Decato on keyboards and Tim Theriault on guitar, and they allowed us to realize some of these cover songs that we would never be able to play normally,”

“It’s like the whole lava lamp mushroom inspiration is what we’re trying to do, and being able to play with a little more spontaneity. We learned, like, 28 songs total so that we could change the list up. It’s not the same thing every night.”

“We toured almost eight months last year in support of Lighting Up the Sky and we’re one of the few and proud nowadays that don’t run backing tracks and all that crap. What we do is play the same every night and try to make it sound like the record. When I was a kid going to see Rush, if Neil Peart had changed his fills, it would have upset me because I spent hours learning his fill and I wanted to see it.”

“So, this Vibez Tour gives us a chance to improv a little, you know what I mean? We don’t have to play everything the same every night. It’s not such a machine with bombs and fire and all this. It’s like a play almost when you’re doing the big concert, where with this, when a song’s over, we can take a drink of water or whatever and it’s really cool man. I’m loving it.”

Godsmack has played at some big venues and festivals over the years and is scheduled to play both Incarceration and Upheaval this year. Their energy and their stage production are made for big stages and arenas and stadiums, and this Vibez tour is a real departure from that. I always wonder what the musicians like when they’re on stage. What is the experience like for them and what sort of shows give them the most satisfaction? From the perspective of the drum riser, this is what Shannon had to say.

“I’ve never been about big crowds. As the drummer, when we’re on the big shows and festivals, it’s a 60 by 40-foot deck and the drums are at the very back of that deck. Right away I’m 30ft from the front of the stage and then it’s a 15-to-20-foot barrier to the front row. So now I’m 40 to 50ft away and I can’t see anybody, but I can feel that big energy. Playing a lot of these old beautiful theaters that were made for music, they’re acoustically designed so it sounds wonderful, and I can see every face in the place. Man, looking up at a balcony, I could see people mouthing the words, or smiling or crying, and that’s something man. At my age, it’s something special.”

One of the things people are wondering about this more intimate show is how will the music differ from the bigger show.

“This Vibez Tour is way better for us as it’s not as much pressure and we can play songs we haven’t played in 20 years that weren’t commercial rock. We do One Rainy Day off the IV record that’s just a blues song really. It’s like a Robin Trower trippy blues rock.”

A highlight of most Godsmack shows is the drum battle, or “Batalla De Los Tambores” between Shannon and frontman Sully Erna. The Vibez Tour doesn’t provide the stage for a spectacle of that size, but it also doesn’t demand it by nature of the type of show it is.

Regarding that, Shannon explained, “There are certain songs that we break down in and make a jam section where we can improv, and Sully gets on the hand drums, so, we kind of simulate that. But that is the only thing that I feel people might miss from the big show, the Batalla De Los Tambores. But we do some fun jams and I get to go off and it’s a whole different thing, a different set list, completely different band.

“Our guy Tony can sing with Sully and it sounds fantastic. You put it on a smaller stage in a theater setting and you’re really exposed. As a musician, when you’re doing the big show it’s so big and loud and there is fire and bombs and every hit you’re playing through the drum, and now I can be a bluesy player, jazzy player. I can be whatever I want on this stage. I don’t have to be the rock star guy.”

The relationship between Shannon and Sully Erna, two incredibly skilled rock drummers, isn’t common, but it isn’t unheard of. Probably the most well-known band with this type of relationship is The Foo Fighters, with Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins having a similarly close musical relationship. The friendship of Shannon and Sully goes back much further than the 22 years since Shannon joined the band.

“I knew Sully for 17 years before I even joined Godsmack. He had seen me in a band called Wrathchild America. It was my first band. We got signed in ‘88 to Atlantic Records and toured with Testament and Pantera. The night I met Sully he had the Wrathchild record and asked me to sign it. A couple of gigs later, he came out again and I’ll never forget it, because he was with Reed Mullin of Corrosion of Conformity, one of my favorite bands.”

“I had a party in my room that night and everybody was drinking, and we bonded. So, we just exchanged numbers, and from then until I joined Godsmack, we remained friends and stayed in touch. When Godsmack did that first demo, which ended up being the first record, he sent it to me. I was living in California and was with the band Ugly Kid Joe at the time.”

“A short time later I left that band for this other band. Amen, a punk band in LA when Sully called me and said, “Dude, we’re selling 5000 copies at a show out of a trunk of our cars and charting on WAAF in Boston with this song Keep Away. We’ve got every major label offering us deals. Come join my band, brother.”

“I was like, shoot, man. I’m nothing if I’m not loyal, and Amen had also gotten a record deal with Ross Robinson and Roadrunner Records at the time, and so I couldn’t. Roadrunner wasn’t a major yet because Slipknot hadn’t happened, so they were still an underground label. But all that said and the carrot that he was offering me, I’m like a pit bull. So, I stayed with Amen and watched him get a drummer. Tommy Stewart, and watched my brothers’ first record come out and sell 5 million copies. I thought, maybe it’s just not in my cards to be a rock star because Amen, certainly we sold 5000 if they sold 5 million. But then five years passed, and he had his issues with Tommy Stewart and I got the call and the timing was just impeccable.”

“I had a baby girl and I couldn’t be in a punk band anymore, making 30 grand a year, and be gone for eight months and come home bloody and bruised. Amen was brutal. I loved it, by the way, but I had a kid, so I quit the band. Two weeks later, my phone rang and there he was. “Hey, man, Tommy’s out.” And I was like, “Oh, wow!” And that’s how it all started.”

“My point of that whole thing was that we knew each other as good friends. Like when Wrathchild would come through and play Boston, he’d show up at soundcheck and, take me to the Laundromat and we’d hang out while I’m doing my laundry on tour. Shit like that, man. So, you know, we’ve been brothers since 86 or 87, man.”

Sober for almost eight years now, Shannon recounted one of several times over the years that alcohol tested that friendship.

“It would only happen once or twice a year when I would drink too much. I drank every single day and was drunk every day, but I only became a mean drunk a couple of times a year. It’s not funny in retrospect, but it’s funny because I freaked out. There are not many countries in Europe that we are big in, but Bulgaria happens to be one of them. So, we show up, rock stars and shit, and there was this bar out in the middle of the woods and, oh my God, it was a gorgeous night. They said to an alcoholic, open bar.”

“I was a whiskey guy and next thing I blacked out. I don’t even remember any of this shit. I wanted to get a shirt that said, “I’m sorry”, so the next day, I wouldn’t have to tell all these people I’m sorry when they come up and tell me what I did. But anyway, the funny part is I, for whatever reason, started stripping off my clothes and quitting the band again, and I’m yelling at Sully and Robbie. I’m going home now, and naked, and I ran off into the woods, and Sully had to physically run and tackle me and wrestle me and put me in the van. Anyway, he is my brother, truly. He’s seen the good and the bad of the kid here.

Shannon spoke of joining Godsmack and longing for that first gold record. That desire for a gold record was so strong that he was disappointed when he found out his first album with the band was already selling platinum and that he wasn’t going to get a gold record. Shannon recounted his conversation with Sully at the time.

“He’s like, “No, platinum is better, dude. It means a million.” And I’m like, “I don’t care. I want a gold record.” I even sang to him, “Got me an office, gold records on the wall.” You know what I mean? Like I grew up with that. You want a gold record, man.”

“And then they gave me that record.”

“We were on tour with Metallica, and he gave me that gold record. I still have it. It’s one-of-a-kind. They custom-made the gold for me and he put it in this really cool frame and it’s still my favorite record.”

And speaking of records, Awake, Godsmack’s sophomore album is being released for the first time in both black and limited edition green double vinyl. This exciting package will be available on May 17th and here is what Shannon had to say about that.

“I’m super stoked about that. It’s the perfect opportunity for us to mark the 20th anniversary of the Awake release, and we hope to do it with everyone because vinyl records stopped being made by the time Godsmack’s first album came out. We never had vinyl up until the vinyl resurgence happened in 2015 or 2016. It seemed like everybody started getting the vinyl itch. So, people were making records again and we started releasing vinyl.”

The Vibez Tour comes in the middle of what may be the final album tour for the band. Sully Erna, Godsmack’s charismatic front man said Lighting Up the Sky will most likely be their last full studio album. Unlike some bands that continue to have farewell tours for years only to come out of retirement a few years later, Godsmack seems refreshingly honest about it and practical in their reasoning. Saying they’re not breaking up but changing their focus as a band.

Shannon is looking forward to more time away from the grind of touring, telling me, “I have all kinds of animals. I have over 30 turtles. I have 40 Koi fish that are huge, beautiful animals and a 35,000-gallon Koi pond. All this stuff that is my life beyond music. I’ve just been home for a short two-week break here, and after doing almost eight months last year, I just look forward to getting through this year. And I’m going to enjoy every show, don’t get me wrong, and every minute on stage. But I can’t wait for a big break where I can let the stillness come in.”

“Last year was brutal at my age, I’ll say it, 56 years old. We’ve been lucky enough to afford the luxury to say we’re not going out for more than four weeks and we end up doing five because of the carrot and all that. But then you get a ten-day break and then four weeks and a two-week break and it’s non-stop, man. And so, you know, the fans, they think, “Oh, they don’t even like to be out.” No, I like to be out there, but I can’t wait for a break.”

“When I’m home I get up early and I do all my yard work. I don’t have a yard guy. I’ve got a mower and I dig up my weeds and I plant all the plants and all the, but I’m not tired ever, whereas as soon as we get on tour after a week, you’re just tired all the time. It’s called road fatigue.”

“David Lee Roth said it best. “It’s a road fatigue that doesn’t go away. It’s like being in the middle of the ocean and looking around you and there’s just nothing, just the horizon for miles.” It’s an isolated feeling, I think, that makes our bodies physically tired, even though we do way much more work at home. Jim Carrey is probably the most famous, you might have heard him talking about stillness and just finding your stillness within. We all have it. It’s just finding it.”

So, what sort of plans does Shannon have when this tour winds down besides finding serenity at home?

“I did a record last year with Terry Carter from Wrathchild and a couple of the Apocalypse guys and that project is called Spirit Wheel. I’m super excited about that. It’s a whole different thing from Apocalypse Blues Review. Tony (guitarist Rombola) needed time off from Apocalypse, so that thing’s on hiatus until Tony is ready because the Apocalypse Blues Review is me and Tony.”

“And then there are two other projects that I’m putting out next year too. So, I’m going to do my own, self-release, DIY stuff like it was back in the day in punk rock or whatever. I don’t care. I’m lucky enough to have been in Godsmack so I’m at the point where I don’t care if they sell or not. I’m going to make music that’s not commercial, but I feel it’s hooky and great. It’s psychedelic blues rock or whatever, but it doesn’t have all these rules. And I certainly don’t want to be jumped back into having to deal with labels, management, booking agents, and all that. They don’t call it the music business for nothing.”

“And I’m not complaining here, but I’m just telling people that might see this that I will release a bunch of cool music next year.”

 

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