It is better to burn out than to fade away?
For rock music mainstays Godsmack, neither is really an option.
While most artists never reach such career heights to even consider the kind of legacy they will leave behind, Godsmack has spent the last twenty-five years cultivating a career predicated on consistency.
During their tenure thus far, the band has gone on to tally some 11 different #1 singles - radio staples that have become synonymous with the 2000's generation of heft. They have racked up 20 top 10 rock radio hits spanning their catalog that is now eight albums deep -- even earning four different grammy nominations among their myriad of accolades.
Despite reaching the pinnacle of their respected space, Godsmack has always projected a sense of pragmatism that runs afoul of the standard rockstar MO. Their blue collar sensibility and earnesty over ego approach, has proven valuable in the band's success, ensuring the kind of longevity that allows the focus to be the music without a contrived grasp at relevance.
For a band that has made it a point to do things on their own terms, it makes sense that Godsmack is opting to go out on a high note. Set to release their eighth, and final, full length studio album, Lighting Up the Sky, Godsmack has seemingly saved their very best for last.
Equal parts poignant testament to the personal journey of frontman Sully Erna and an retrospective look at a life lived on the road, on a stage and in the spotlight, the band have assembled some of their finest compositions in what will no doubt deliver additions to their catalog of greatest hits.
Rather than leave their legacy susceptible to any slip, Godsmack's swan song remains consistent with their gold standard that has been reiterated time and time again, throughout every step of their eight album run.
Drummer Shannon Larkin further explained how the move to make Lighting Up the Sky Godsmack's last album is less about finality and more about coming to the conclusion that playing the greatest hits isn't a burden, it's a blessing.
Five years is the longest gap between Godsmack albums during the band’s tenure. While you guys have always been about quality over quantity, how has this extended stretch benefited the band in making the best album possible?
Larkin - Since I joined the band 20 years ago on the Faceless album, we’ve kept on a four-year schedule. The plan was a year to write and record, two years to tour and support it, and then a year off. We were blessed to be able to execute this plan, especially the year off part of it, financially with the success of the first couple records. Why I feel this is important is because that year off not only allows us to individually come up with new riffs to bring to the table, but the time apart after 3 straight years of working together allows us to reset, get reinvigorated and get excited and hungry to do it all again.
So the extra year due to the pandemic did indeed add time to the usual schedule and in the end we benefited by having the extra material to pick and choose the best set of songs to make a more coherent and focused body of work.
There is the added caveat of 'Lighting Up the Sky' being the band’s final new album - did you guys know going into the studio this was it or did you just feel like upon completing the record, this was a great way to go out?
Larkin - Sully had brought up the idea of this being the final record and his reasoning behind the move. As we discussed, each of us had our own reasons why we agreed, and as we contemplated what our future would look like moving forward, we came to the conclusion it’s the right thing to do for us as a band, and most importantly, as normal people.
In taking some added time away from writing, recording and touring - what was it like to get back in the saddle again? Did you find yourself with a flood of ideas or was it slow going at first to find your stride again?
Larkin - 2020 ended up being our year off in the 4 year plan. But with ‘21 still being shut down by the pandemic, we stayed on schedule and started writing and recording like normal. So the timing for us worked out and we never really had to get “back in the saddle” and used the extra year to hone in on the best songs for the new record.
The consensus among the band seems to be that this is the best record to date from Godsmack. Do you feel like the kind of harmony the band has right now is x-factor in making such a complete collection of songs?
Larkin - Every band says their new songs are their best. The fact that we’ve thrived through the highs and lows of 20 years making records and touring successfully and ended up much closer to each other certainly brought an X-factor, coupled with the idea of it being the final one. But there were many reasons this record feels complete…things that happened around the band personally that helped shape what we feel is our best set. Some was conscious, and a lot was unconscious acts of the universe that we couldn’t have planned but happened and steered us in the right direction.
In terms of the theme of the record and this being a one man’s journey through the peaks and valleys of life - how well does Sully’s narrative resonate with the band overall? Is this more of a personal portrayal for Sully or did you guys all identify with the stories in these songs?
Larkin - Godsmack is and always has been a very personal portrayal of Sully’s life. If one looks at every record lyrically, 90% of the content was written by him about real events or feelings that he was battling through -- most of them affairs of the heart gone sour…unfortunately this last one also has that aspect. That said, it’s interesting to note that as our friend, Tony, Robbie, and myself always feel bad that he goes through these things, but know it will spark his creativity to write it out and create a real lyric that people can relate to, which is usually what makes a song hit. So it’s a big catch 22 that has worked for us.
In mixing the heartbreak songs with the general life and history of the band songs, when listening in sequence, he crafted a record that makes sense as a story that I like to say is like a love letter to our career. Writing lyrics like these is a cathartic healing process that’s lets it all out, helps things to heal, and ends with positivity.
Is it strange to be considering things like legacy while you are preparing to release a new record? Godsmack has the unique distinction being classic and contemporary - that’s not something many bands can claim.
Larkin - The whole “legacy” thing is weird. We all grew up listening to bands that became our idols, making us want to play music. Then we got the dream of “making it” or becoming “rock stars”. Then success comes and you go, “We’ve done it!”, and then get to work on the next one…and the next one, etc…and as the super highs happen, accolades, achievements, awards etc., and the super lows - money, drugs and alcohol, relationships, ego - the things that break up bands, we ended up here in our mid-fifties and people talk about our legacy.
But it’s all so personal and close, and the time moves so fast that it’s hard to grasp the concept or look at one’s self through the eyes of a kid like we looked at our idols and mentors when we were young. When I’m in Home Depot and people come up to me, “Hey! Are you Shannon Larkin?”, I’m always like, “yeah…?”, then it hits me, “oh right…they’re recognizing me from the band”. So I don’t walk around like a rock star, don’t feel like a rock star and it still catches me by surprise when I’m recognized. So, talking about my legacy or the legacy of the band is weird to me.
I also struggle with “IS this my legacy?”. Is this IT? I’ve climbed this mountain, achieved this dream I’ve had since I was 10 years old. What is the next mountain? Can I be a writer? A painter? A poet? A landscaper? Is it enough to be known forever as the drummer for Godsmack? In other words, what’s next? First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is. See? For me, I’ll continue to climb and let my legacy end up where it will. I do hope Godsmack is remembered forever and feel in that aspect our legacy is secure.
What are some of the tracks on this record that feel like they are going to become an essential part of the band’s set moving forward. Dozens of hits, dozens of number 1’s - which of these new batch of tracks feels like they have the potential to be contenders?
Larkin - In jamming these new songs in the garage, it looks like we’ll play "Surrender", "Soul On Fire", "You And I", "What About Me?", "Truth", "Lighting Up The Sky", and "Red, White, and Blue". With all the songs that our fans expect to hear, we’ll probably put 3-4 new ones in the set, adding as time goes by and radio and the fans dictate. I.E. if Truth ends up being a single, it does well and becomes a hit, then we’ll add it to the set. But if for instance it doesn’t then we probably won’t play it because we already have “Under Your Scars” which was a hit for us and it’s doubtful you’ll see two ballads in a Godsmack set.
Playing new songs is the best, but we have to think about our fans at the shows and cater to their wants. We obviously wouldn’t be here without them and they’re paying the ridiculous ticket prices so the set is written for their experience.
To those that say Godsmack is moving into the Greatest Hits era of their career - what would you say?
Larkin - There it is - the greatest hits. If it weren’t for radio, we wouldn’t be here. 24 years of hit songs automatically puts us in that category and was one of the many reasons it makes sense to us to stop making records. Already, after every show I meet fans that ask, “Why didn’t you play “insert song here” tonight?”, and the fact is we only usually play an hour and a half (on average) and we simply can’t play all the hits. We can’t make everyone happy. So one of the biggest selling points to this being the final record is, as we move forward after the 'Lighting Up The Sky' cycle tour is in the books, we can put together a monster set list with just the greatest moments from each past tour and hopefully make a concert that all our people will know every song, feel every moment, and leave the venue happy.
The beautiful part of this scenario to the four of us is we can stay together and be a live band again without the pressure that being in a band like this brings -- you must sell, you must sell!. Before the Machine we were a live band, and so shall we be moving forward. When we feel we are too old to be able to get on the stage and represent the Sun, we can make the conscious decision to simply stop.
The final album from Godsmack, Lighting Up the Sky is out now. Get the album - HERE
Godsmack will embark on a spring tour with special guests I, Prevail in support of Lighting Up the Sky. Check the list of dates and cities below. Get tickets - HERE