Music News

Heaven Sent

Boston's Godsmack has a well-earned reputation for darkness. But prior to a show in Dallas, the outfit's drummer, Shannon Larkin, sounds as cheerful as a member of Up With People.

"I'm extremely grateful to be in this business, on this label, in this band -- and just glad to be alive," he enthuses.

Why so appreciative? For one thing, he knows how quickly rock-and-roll fantasies can crumble. He once drummed for Ugly Kid Joe, an early-'90s act that soared to multi-platinum success only to be dropped by Polygram a few years later. "One flop and we were gone," he notes. "I was at the meeting where we had to sit down and say, 'Well, guys, I guess this is it. Love you, but we gotta go.'"

During the making of Godsmack IV, the group's current disc for Universal, Larkin feared a repeat of that scenario. Singer-songwriter Sully Erna, the collective's acknowledged leader, "was going through all these personal problems," Larkin reveals. "He'd come into the studio maybe once or twice a week, tops. And when he'd come in, he'd be in a bad place, with this big, black cloud hanging over him." In his absence, Larkin, guitarist Tony Rambola and bassist Robbie Merrill wrote a load of music intended to kick-start the sessions. Considering that Erna's name is credited on every previous Godsmack song, this was a risk, and it almost resulted in disaster. According to Larkin, Erna arrived one day "and was like, 'I need to write alone, without you guys. Take a couple weeks off.' So I flew home to Florida, and I remember looking in a mirror, wondering, 'Am I in a band? Is he going to end this?'"

Six days later, these questions were answered. "He called and said, 'Man, can you get back to Boston?'" Larkin recalls. "And when I got there, the cloud had lifted, and we went on a rampage."

The tunes that emerged don't sound terribly different from the FM-friendly hard rock for which Godsmack is known. This wasn't an accident, Larkin says: "You want to make records that have enough integrity to keep your fan base, but you also have to come up with something that's gonna be good on the radio. It's a fine line to walk."

The group maintained its balance from a commercial perspective: "Speak," a single that doggedly clings to the Godsmack formula, was a rock-radio smash. Larkin hopes for similar success with Another Animal, a side project that teams him with Rambola, Merrill, original Godsmack guitarist Lee Richards and Ugly Kid Joe singer Whit Crane. Their debut album will be released by Universal in January 2007.

That's good news for Larkin, who's 39 and has a family to support. He boasts that his eight-year-old daughter, Jessamin, is developing into quite the little rocker, albeit one who digs the Bratz as much as the latest Korn tune. "We bought her this microphone thing for Christmas, and she lines up all her stuffed animals and sings to them," says Larkin, his voice overflowing with pride.

Sounds like he's got one more reason to be grateful.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts