By the end of 2012, Godsmack's concert album the band released that year,Live and Inspired, was the furthest thing from the band's mind.
The Boston-based hard rock/heavy metal act had ridden a wave of commercial success that spanned almost two decades. But after five albums that sold 20 million copies, the members of Godsmack wondered if the band had run its course. While the band dynamic was strong, there were some internal problems structurally, and the members were feeling burned out.
"What it was is that we were out on tour for 2010's Oracle for like a year-and-a-half with very little breaks," drummer Shannon Larkin explains during our interview. "And so, by the end of that time, we were pretty much just sick of each others' faces. You know, we were just together on a bus nonstop. It wasn't like one guy was upset with another, we just needed a break. So we said, 'Yeah, let's take some time off.'"
Frontman, singer/guitarist and main songwriter Sully Erna focused on touring to promote his solo album Avalon (released in 2010), and worked on some songwriting with bassist Robbie Merrill. Guitarist Tony Rombola and Larkin worked on separate projects as well.
"We were all doing side projects. Tony [Rombola] and I were doing bluesy rock music, and we formed the Blues Cross Band with a singer and a bassist in southwest Florida, where we live," says Larkin.
Lucky for fans, no rash decisions were made about the fate of Godsmack. After focusing on their own musical endeavors for a while, the four band mates realized they just needed a solid break from the nonstop touring and recording. Then one day, Erna decided to round them all up for a jam session.
"When Sully reached out towards the end of 2013 and asked if we wanted to do another record ... we [were] like, 'of course,'" says Larkin. "Everyone just felt refreshed, and we began to write more music. You know, if we don't have Sully, we don't have a band so, that was the story of our break in a nutshell."
It goes without saying that while Erna is a vocal force to be reckoned with, the other three members offer up talent that is essential to the Godsmack formula. After Erna called the guys to get together, they sat down and started playing on instruments and with some lyrics. And within two hours of coming together, they already had the title track, and first single, of their sixth album: "1000hp."
Released August 5, 1000hp embodies all the intensity that Godsmack is known for, along with a hammering beat, relentless riffs, and a sound that calls back to the band's heavier early albums. The band has always been adamant that one of the keys to their success is to no "reinvent the wheel" of their sound, but on 1000hp boundaries were definitely pushed on tracks such as "Nothing Comes Easy" and "Something Different."
Larkin's personal favorite track is "FML." He not only loves the vibe of the song, but it's his favorite drum track on the album -- he did the drum part in his first take, which the first time that's happened to him while recording with Godsmack.
"Walked in, fucking was just like -- yes! That was my special moment on the record for sure," exclaims Larkin. "The part in the second verse where Sully goes, 'You make me wanna kill you!' we all stopped there, so he could say that line, and as I'm playing the song at the studio, and it's recording, I just shut my eyes and pretended I was playing for a crowd, for the energy of it. And I kinda got lost in it. So when it got to that part in the second verse, I threw my stick like I would at a show. I caught it and got the take."
The release kicked off Godsmack's headlining spot on the 2014 Uproar Festival tour, coming through Phoenix on Thursday, September 18, at Comerica Theatre. The band is switching up their live performance this time around for fans, stripping off all theatrics to channel a straight classic rock show -- think AC/DC, with a killer light show and huge pyrotechnics. Of course, you can probably still count on Erna and Larkin busting out their 10-minute long drum duel "Batalla de los Tambores." That's always a blast to watch.
The set list is a mix of old classics, but there will be about five songs off the new album as well. Larkin knows there are people who think that five new tracks lives is a lot, but he assures that there is a good balance to hold fans' attention. The band will hopefully switch off between their fast tracks and slower ballads to keep the vibe running high.
"I still love to play "Straight Outta Line" live; it was the first song I ever learned with the band 12 years ago. I also like "Speak,"" says Larkin. "I have a cool way of playing the song that's fun physically, and that also goes for "1000hp" for sure. I love playing it; it's so high energy."
Godsmack's mission to get re-inspired separately ultimately brought the band back together. For Larkin, it was about finding outlets for his musical creativity away from hard rock and heavy metal, and connecting with his musical roots.
"Just stepping away from heavy music was good for me I think. And seeing how it felt to not be in a band that was like Godsmack at all," explains Larkin. "And Tony is the riffmaster you know? He's the one. Every Godsmack song starts with a riff. As we started playing the blues thing, he would come in with different riffs that weren't metal at all. Stepping away from the genre really inspired us."
The drummer's style has always been fluid and creative, a driving force in Godsmack. As a huge fan of the '60s music scene, Larkin feels that he would be right at home playing music during that decade.
"The '60s were Keith Moon and Mitch Mitchell and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. They were playing a way more free style of drumming," says Larkin. "The creativity was at a high because so much stuff was being invented, particularly in the late '60s. It was just before all the musical masturbation started in the '70s."
Long pause. "And I would've been on Janis too."
Godsmack is scheduled to play Comerica Theatre on Thursday, September 18.
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