Drummer Shannon Larkin talks about joining the band that would change his career

Special to the Union Leader
August 15. 2018 12:50PM
Godsmack, from left, Shannon Larkin (drums), Robbie Merrill (bass), Sully Erna (vocals, guitar) and Tony Rombola (lead guitar), will perform Wednesday at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford. (Courtesy)
If you go...
WHO: Godsmack with

WHEN: 7 pm. Wednesday

WHERE: Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion, 72 Meadowbrook Lane, Gilford

INFO: 293-4700; banknh

Godsmack drummer Shannon Larkin almost became a hairstylist to the rock stars, but shear fate cut in at the last minute.

Larkin had already been a member of Ugly Kid Joe, was an accomplished session drummer for Stone Sour and Glassjaw, and even stepped in for a concert gig with Black Sabbath, but nothing steady. He had just enrolled in cosmetology school when Godsmack lead singer Sully Erna caught up to him with an offer: an opening behind the drum kit.

Now with the band since 2003, Larkin says he’s grateful for the success the group has experienced over its 23-year career. The hard work continues to pay off: Godsmack’s latest album, “When Legends Rise,” hit the top 10 of the Billboard charts, and it has extended its tour with supporters Shinedown. Larkin opened up to NH Weekend about his early days in the business and Godsmack’s latest shift in its sound.

Godsmack will take the stage at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford on Wednesday.

You had been in several bands before Godsmack. At that point, did you feel like you were reaching the end of the line in the music business?

Absolutely. I quit the business. I started playing clubs when I was 13. I had never worked a day job, a real job, ever. I played drums by the time I was 15. My first band got signed to Atlantic Records and toured with Slayer, Testament. We were like thrash metal. I had met Sully in that era. That was around 1986, 87. We became friends. Fast-forward past that job, I joined this band, Ugly Kid Joe. We had minor success, whatever — toured the world, though.

In 1997 I joined this band, Amen. Sully called me and said, “Oh my God, dude, I have this band Godsmack and we have all the major labels sniffing around. We’re selling out all the venues; this is happening, bro. You gotta come and play drums.” And I’m like, “Dude, I just joined this band. We just signed a record deal. I can’t.”

Sully got (drummer) Tommy Stewart. Godsmack’s first record came out and sold 5 million copies. Amen’s album came out, sold 500 copies, and there I was. In the meantime, I’ve played with Black Sabbath and Ozzy and Candlebox and did a bunch of studio session work. My thinking was, “OK, I had lived all my childhood dreams,” and I felt like I’ve done everything I could as a professional musician.

My mom was a hairdresser; she had her shop in our house. All of her customers, she just made them so happy and they paid for it. I’m like, “That’s kinda what I do as an entertainer, I go play drums and I get paid for it to make people happy.” Right? So I quit the band Amen. I’d just gotten married; my wife’s pregnant. (Thinking) I can’t play punk rock music anymore.

I signed up to a cosmetology hairdressing school in Santa Barbara, Calif. Two weeks after that, Sully called me and said, “Yeah, you know, Tommy isn’t working out,” and all of a sudden I looked up at the sky and I was like, “Maybe it is in the cards for me to have that level of success.” I took the gig, and here I am 16 years later.

The band is going in a bit of a hard-rock direction with this latest album. Have you had to adjust your drumming style?

No, no. The drums remain the same. It’s always been about just making big beats that people can shake their a-- to. And I don’t care if it’s even the heaviest stuff, we’ve always had a groove. It’s the same thing on the new record. We’ve all turned 50, and Sully wanted a more slick production and a bigger sound. If you listen to the new record especially, it’s a song-oriented band, and it revolves around our singer’s lyrics. Sully’s lyrics are just so real. He wears his heart on his sleeve. (Fans) can tell if something’s real or not

So this is Godsmack’s first album in four years?

Yeah, exactly. Every record since I joined has been four years apart.

Is there a reason for that?

We usually take a year apart after the three years of being so close and breathing each other’s air, on buses and planes and hotels, in studios. I attribute that year off to our long-term success. It’s hard enough in this business just to even get a record deal in the first place, let alone have 20 years as a band. We were very blessed and lucky. But (this time off) allows us to explore other genres played with different musicians. Sully does piano-driven solo work and (guitarist) Tony (Rombola) and I are in a blues band called The Apocalypse Blues Revue. After having played with different dudes and exploring different genres ... it makes us really appreciate what we have in the big machine — Godsmack.

So you’re a big fan of Rush?

Oh, absolutely. When I was a kid at like 7, 8 years old, there was a (station that) would have the top 10 hits on the radio in the nation or whatever. And I begged my parents, “Oh please, I need that record.” Well, my sister, who was two years older than me, she’d hear me cranking my music in my room and she came in one day and said, “That music is” — I forget the term she used — but today it would be “that music is whack. Check this out.” She gave me Rush “Hemispheres.” It just shifted my world. (Drummer) Neil Peart spoke to me and I was like, “Oh my God.” So I wore the record out. I went back to my sister and said, “You know, for what it’s worth, you’re right, my music was whack and thank you so much.” And she goes, “Oh, if you like that, check this out.” And she gave me “Led Zeppelin II.” After I heard that, if Neil Peart spoke to me, John Bonham really smacked me, and that’s when I went right to my parents, said “I want drums for Christmas,” and the rest is history. So Rush was a huge part of my early development as a musician.

What other drummers influenced you?

Peart and Bonham were the big two, and then Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. That was huge. Later on it became Lars Ulrich and Dave Lombardo of Metallica, Slayer. I fell in love with that and the punk rock scene of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, D.R.I. They just played so fast. As a young kid full of, not only piss and vinegar, I was also full of energy, and I’ve wanted it faster, faster, I couldn’t play fast enough. Then after that, metal came.

I always made a point to try and use my influences, wear ’em on my sleeve, but try to do something original so I could stand out. That’s a hard thing to do as a drummer. Alex Van Halen did it. Whether I did that or not I guess remains to be seen when I’m long gone from this planet. But I feel like I’m still being innovative and creative back there behind the drums.

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