Interview – Shannon Larkin of Godsmack & The Apocalypse Blues Revue

Interview – Shannon Larkin of Godsmack & The Apocalypse Blues Revue

Passion, a cliched word, but yet the key emotion to anything in life. For those who have it, it bleeds out in everything they do. Take all-star Rock-n-Roll Drummer Shannon Larkin, a soul dedicated from the cradle to the grave to music. Beginning at a young age behind the kit in various professional bands including Wrathchild America, Ugly Kid Joe, and Amen, Larkin has polished his skills with each new chapter. A member of Godsmack for 15 years now, Larkin has found a home behind the kit, one which has forged friendships that will last a lifetime.

Speaking of which, he and fellow Godsmack Guitarist Tony Rombola have been dabbling in some other projects. One well worth mentioning is The Apocalypse Blues Revue. A Blues band through and through, The Apocalypse Blues Revue is a labor of love, one here to stay, and forged to grow in years to come. Recently we caught up with Larkin to talk his wild journey in music, the life and times of Godsmack, the story of The Apocalypse Blues Revue, Horror movies, plus much more. 

CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music professionally for some time now, from your days with Wrathchild, to your time in Ugly Kid Joe, to Amen, and, of course, Godsmack. What has this incredible ride been like?

Shannon Larkin – It’s been like living a dream. I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough for each of my bands that I have joined to be more successful than the last; which is very rare in this business. By success, I don’t mean record sales and money. An example: obviously Amen wasn’t as big as far as record-sales and money-making, but being the Punk band of all of those, Ugly Kid Joe – which was a band I was in before Amen – was successful to me because of my past. It was a whole different genre of music and I got to experience many places in the world that I had never been to. So I kind of measured my success by how it makes me feel personally, other than how much money I’m putting into my bank account.

Now I feel like my career – I guess that’s what we do as musicians – is perfect with The Apocalypse Blues Revue, my newest project. While it will never, being in the Blues genre, come near to selling or generating the income that Godsmack has, it’s given me more pride and pleasure as a musician than any other band I’ve been in. As far as my career and my rise in this industry, I feel like I’m at my peak now with The Apocalypse.

Atlantic Records

Mercury

CrypticRock.com – That is very cool to hear and it is great that you have had such opportunities to obtain such broad experience. As we just discussed, you have been in a variety of bands and you have really seemed to settle in with Godsmack, whom you have been with for well over a decade now. What has your time with Godsmack been like?

Shannon Larkin – That’s been living a dream. I’ve been in bands: I was very successful personally but I’ve never broken through the barrier of commercial success – in which I was blessed with Gold and Platinum records, Grammy nominations – and all the stuff that comes with being in a band like Godsmack that’s successful commercially.

When that happened to me…I’ll tell you a story. I was in Amen for, I think it was almost five years, and we signed with Roadrunner at first. We put out a record, toured the world, did whatever. We were Punk Rock. We got dropped from Roadrunner after the first record and then turned around and signed a deal with Virgin Records, which is a major label. They then did the same thing: world tour, all that stuff. At the end of that, I had gotten married and my wife was pregnant. Amen was a very violent band, Casey Chaos, the singer, more often than not ended up destroying my drums and half the stage every night, at every show, and it’d be a bloody mess. With my daughter on her way…she actually came into this world and I was still in Amen. It was at the end of our second record cycle. I made a conscious decision that I’ve been doing this already for over twenty years, and I didn’t feel that it was in my cards to ever achieve the dream of having the success and being a rockstar, per se.

So I quit the band Amen and resolved myself to enter normalcy, and be a good husband and a good father. I was living in Santa Barbara, California, and I wrote into a community college there. I figured, you know what, I’ve had a good run but it’s just…success, commercial success and money and fame isn’t in my cards. So I quit Amen. Two weeks after that, after I quit the band (laughs) and enrolled in this community college in Santa Barbara, then I got the call from Sully Erna and my life changed. So that was something that was given to me that I’d already written off. When things like that happen in life, it’s a moment that’s hard to eclipse in any way. I’d say besides Sully’s phone call that day, the biggest moment in my life was watching my daughter come out of my wife, you know? (laughs) That’s how important it was when I got that call, it was life-changing and an affirmation. I’ve never done anything else in my life, by the way. I started playing clubs when I was twelve, and so throughout my whole life I’ve never worked a job. So Godsmack was the ultimate reward for my work and dedication over the years!

Universal Republic

Universal Republic

CrypticRock.com – That is a very cool story. Your story that you have just shared kind of coincides with Sully Erna’s story, as well. According to his 2007 book, The Paths We Choose: A Memoir, he stated that he was going to give it one last shot when he decided to take over vocals with Godsmack. He basically says that if it failed, he was going to call it a day and move on to a life of normalcy. There is a lot of correlation there!

Shannon Larkin – Yeah, it’s funny, Sully and I are like that. I knew him twenty years, I met him in 1985. My band Wrathchild was doing the club circuit on the East Coast. Sully was a drummer and he was playing in a band…He had moved from Boston down to North Carolina to join this band, Lexx Luthor, they were called. (laughs) They ended up opening for Wrathchild one night in Carolina, and I met him for the first time. He ended up coming back to my hotel room and partying all night, [with] chicks and all that. We realized, wow, a couple of our tattoos were the same, we were both drummers; we clicked immediately. Through almost twenty years before Godsmack, we remained friends; buddies that’d call each other up, ‘Hey, I’m comin’ to Boston’ or ‘I’m comin’ to Carolina,’ whatever.

Over the years, it turned out that when he was still living in Carolina, this band on Epic Records called me, they were called Meliah Rage, they were from Boston. They called me looking for a drummer and I said, ‘Hey man, I know this guy Sully that’s playing in a cover band. He’s from Boston and he’s a fucking badass drummer.’ Turns out he gets the gig, moves back to Boston to join this band on a major label. So I kind of hooked him up way back in-the-day in his career. Of course, the band didn’t make it or whatever, and he went on to play for several other bands before he dropped the drumsticks.

My point is that we correlated on so many things on personal levels too: we’re like brothers from another mother. People say that, but for Sully and I it’s something that’s real. We’ve always noticed that in small things. Like he’d get a certain drum or whatever and call me and be like, ‘Man, I just got this new snare drum.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I just got that last week’ or whatever. Tattoos or whatever. ‘Yeah, I got this tattoo’ and I’d be like, ‘Oh my god, I just got that,’ you know? It’s just crazy circumstances that…I believe in magic, dude. I believe in karma and I believe in destiny. I think Sully and I were meant to be in a band together; from the first day I met him, I believed that. All these years later, he gave me my dream, man. I’m forever grateful and I love him to this day. We’re very healthy right now in Godsmack; all four of us get along great. It’s the best band I’ve ever been in. We’re just taking this time off to do The Apocalypse Blues Revue and he has a solo album out that’s excellent. Two totally different genres.

The plan is to get back together around September of 2017 when we’ve had a chance to tour and play with our passion bands. Not that we’re not passionate about Godsmack but, like I said, these are totally different genres. Until then, we’re just going to kind of be apart, but then in September we’ll all get back together. In the meantime, we’re backing each other’s efforts. Whatever you call these things, side projects? I hate that term, by the way, because Godsmack is such an animal that we make a record and then we tour our ass off for a year, year and a half. Then, in the past, if you look at the length between records, we take time off. We’re not like the normal band that just keeps flogging the dead horse or whatever. We like to take time apart and I mean time, like six months we won’t see each other. Basically, sometimes, I will only talk to Robbie Merrill, my bass player, for six months. Sully and I, like I said, have a history, so we call each other just as friends; just to say, ‘Hey man, did you see the Patriots’ game?’ or whatever. (laughs) I don’t know.

I just want people to know that we are in a good place, and because we’re all doing our solo stuff doesn’t mean that we don’t love and aren’t still very positive about Godsmack. We all are! It’s just always worked to this band’s benefit to take time off. When you look at the records, it’s four years in-between each album. So when we were going into this with the two records coming out, Sully came up with the idea that we could go and do it, release it in 2017, but let’s wait until 2018. Then it’ll be four years in-between the last record, which has been what we’ve done for the last fifteen years. Plus, 2018 will mark the 20-year anniversary of the band, so we have big ideas of going on tour, and perhaps doing the whole first record in its entirety and making it a special thing. Hey, 20 years in a Rock/Metal band, that’s an accomplishment, right? (laughs) I don’t care how many records we’ve sold, how many fans we have, if anybody can stay together for that long, that’s an accomplishment in this fucking business. (laughs) So we’re really proud of that!

Universal Republic

Universal Republic

CrypticRock.com – Absolutely! You should be! It is great to hear that things are positive with Godsmack. In recent years you joined up with Tony Rombola for this new project, The Apocalypse Blues Revue. What inspired this new Blues project?

Shannon Larkin – Tony and I write material, a lot of the music in Godsmack. We usually have a couple of months before we know we’re going to get together with Sully, with Robby, and make a record. When we step into the room, we like to have ammo – songs, structures, skeletons of songs, riffs – then we can begin writing right away. So Tony and I spent three weeks maybe; we’d written a whole set of ten songs that we felt were good enough to give Sully. You know, ‘Here’s what we got and we can turn them into Godsmack material.’ So we got done, it was three, three and a half weeks and we were like damn. The fountain ended too, you know, there’s a fountain of creativity. We’re usually real, real hot but once it goes, it’s kind of gone; we kind of bleed all our energy out. We just started jamming one day on some slow, simmering Blues; I just started a slow beat. He knows, like, Tony is jaw-dropping in his knowledge of chords and genre-specifics, he can play pretty much anything.

Man, when I started this slow Blues jam…This was like five years ago, dude. At the end of our little jam, I just stood up and was like, ‘Let’s write some Blues songs, man. We’re starting the band right now.’ We’re going to do traditional Blues, that was the intent. Traditional Blues that we can just go and when we’re not doing Godsmack, we can play locally; grab a couple of dudes and just play locally in the smoke-filled Blues bars. Well, of course, from there we found our singer Ray and then our bass player Brian. This whole time Tony and I were writing songs, and once we got Ray in there we started demoing these songs. Then we got Brian in there and we started playing live. We were called Blue Cross at the time, that was the first name we had. We played two, three, four shows a year, maybe, for the last five years.

Then something came up with a local Rock station here, there was a festival and the DJ – who I knew from Godsmack and they play Godsmack at the Rock station here all-the-time – so he called me up and said, ‘Hey man, we got an opening for the first slot on the stage at this big festival.’ Disturbed was headlining. It’s huge. Fort Rock it’s called! He said, ‘You guys can come play the show, all I need is one song because I have to put it on the radio, and then people will kind of know who you are.’ So we went into the studio and recorded one song called “The Devil In Me.” Got it to him, he started playing it on the radio and we did the show.

I sent the song to my manager Jeff Varner with Godsmack. I go, ‘Hey man, nothing for nothing, but we’ve got this Blues project, and we had to do a song professionally so I’m going to send it to you. Maybe you could play it for somebody?’  He was like, ‘Dude, tomorrow I’m going into this label called Provogue, which is like the biggest Blues label in America and Blues is a very small genre.’ He’s like, ‘I have another band, a project that I’m shopping right now and they’re a Blues Rock band and I’m going into this Blues label tomorrow. So if you want me to play this one song for them to see what they think?’ I’m like, ‘Sure.’ Three days later, Provogue loved the song and offered us a record deal. So now Blue Cross had become real; now it’s not just something that we were to just play in bars, we’re actually going to record a record and tour. It all happened organically and naturally.

So, the name change, I will say, is because when the label signed us, they did a name search and there was a Blue Cross in Texas who owned the name in America, and there was a Blue Cross in Canada that owned the name there. So we had to change our name! The Apocalypse came about…I have a history in the Metal/Rock world and I partied a lot. (laughs) Joey Jordison of Slipknot…My band Amen was on tour with Slipknot, so this was seventeen, eighteen years ago. I was the wasted guy so Joey Jordison started saying, ‘Oh lookout, here comes The Apocalypse.’ So my nickname became The Apocalypse with the Slipknot crew and the Amen crew. I got the tattoo “Apocalypse” with the pentagram on my arm, and that was the deal.

All these years later I’m sitting in rehab, in January of 2016, and we’re looking for a new name. I called Tony from rehab, I only had one phone call a day, so I called Tony and he said, ‘Man, how about the Apocalypse Blues Band?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, that’s perfect, I love it.’ Then we changed the name from “band” to “revue” simply because there are so many “bands,” from The Allman Brothers Band and all that. I was really highly-influenced as a kid by The Blues Brothers and if you watch The Blues Brothers (1980), at the end of it, they do the “Blues Brothers Revue.” A revue, r-e-v-u-e, is technically a big show. There’s music, of course, but there’s also comedy, dancing, and acting. We kind of took that from The Blues Brothers and became The Apocalypse Blues Revue. Interesting tidbit.

Provogue Records

CrypticRock.com – That is a very interesting story of how it all came about; how it all came together. It seems like it has been a really fun time for you, Tony, and the rest of the band. The Apocalypse Blues Revue album, which came out in August of 2016, is dark and heavy, but of course it is a pure Blues record; it is very organic. As a drummer, how would you compare writing and playing this type of material as opposed to Metal and Rock, which you have normally done throughout your career, thus far?

Shannon Larkin – It’s night and day! It’s really opened up my drumming in ways I really can’t put into words because…texture. For instance, all of my cymbals are completely different cymbals than I use in Godsmack. Godsmack is a big band with a wall of sound and huge amps on ten, and I’m really hitting hard physically; the dynamic kind of gets thrown out of the window in a big Rock band like that. With the Blues though, there are times when you can hear people talking at the bar when we’ve sucked it down dynamically into a slow-simmering Blues section, and I’m basically tapping the drums or hitting like a Jazz or Blues player rather than the Rock guy that I am. It wasn’t a stretch for me because I’ve seen many Blues bands over my long life or career. I’ve always loved the dynamics of how they bring it down so far and then come back up; it’s explosive!

What I did notice, and what I wanted to mention about the Apocalypse, is when we started writing Blues songs, our aim was to be traditional. We feel that all of the Blues bands out there, whether it’s Walter Trout or Joe Bonamassa, all the big Blues guys, they don’t really sound traditional blues to us. It’s not for any reason other than their influences were probably the older Blues guys and they probably started like that. Now in their later career, they don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over so they’re trying to sound more Rock. If you listen to Joe Bonamassa’s new album, to me, there are only three songs on the whole thing that sounds like traditional Blues. Everything else sounds like Rock to me. Because our influence came from Rock, and we discovered blues later in life, we’re trying to be old-school traditional sounding Blues.

However, since we’re Rock guys – and since that’s what we were bred and spread on – we approach the instruments differently. When we break it down really low and then explode into a loud part, our loud parts is probably a little heavier and a little louder than Bonamassa does it, you know? We feel like we have a really different sound for this genre of music that we certainly didn’t try to do. It just kind of came naturally and we kind of feel like we can reshape this genre and perhaps make it cool again for the younger folks to hear that might not have been exposed to this kind of music. Much like what the Stray Cats did in the ’80s with Rockabilly. They were influenced by Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and Elvis Presley. That kind of music had gone to the wayside 20 years before. They reintroduced it to a whole new generation of young people who had never heard Gene Vincent and they kind of re-popularized this sacred music.

Our mission, as Apocalypse, is if we can reshape the shape of Blues to come. We like to say we are a different shade of blue. But we want everyone to know, and want to be real clear, that every song that we write we try to write as a traditional Blues song. It just comes out the way that we sound. We’ve had some critics in England say that we’re Blues Rock and that we’ve got elements of Metal even in there. I understand critics, you have to categorize things and if you look at Rock and Metal, there’s Thrash Metal, Speed Metal, Death Metal, Black Metal. Everyone has a name for what they do, but for us it’s traditional Blues. We’ve just approached it in such a way that it’s just different. We can’t help it. Hopefully we’ll create our own original sound. If you’ve listened to the first record, I think you know what I mean.

After touring we are becoming something again, not consciously, it’s been subconsciously. We have a whole new record written for The Apocalypse Blues Revue. We’ve found our groove and sound and it sounds unique and original to us, yet still a mix of contemporary and traditional Blues. Again, we can’t help our Rock influence; it just comes through creating a kind of sound of the Blues – a new shade of blue.

Shannon Larkin with Godsmack live Wellmont Theater Montclair, NJ 5-12-15. Photo credit Laura Desantis-Olsson Photography

CrypticRock.com – It really translates well into the songs. The 2016 self-titled album is really good and it is exciting to see where the material goes from here. The term side-project is not a proper categorization, because people often throw things into a pile and call it a side project. This is something that you are looking to do for a while.

Shannon Larkin – Yes. The inception of this band is with the intention of showing Tony off as a guitar player. You listen to The Apocalypse Blues Revue and he just doesn’t get an opportunity to play like that in a band like Godsmack. It’s a completely different genre and style. Godsmack came out in the ’90s where Grunge was king and lead guitar was of all sudden not cool, everyone was sick of all the long soloing in the Rock world. He became that kind of a guitar player. On songs like “Keep Away” we would have lead sections, but they weren’t really solo sections that really show off Tony’s talent. That first day that I heard him playing lead solo guitar with the Blues progression I was just blown away and decided we needed to start a band. The world has to hear this guy play, you know? I think that this is going to change his life. It’s a pleasure to watch somebody like him. I’ve known this guy for over 15 years in Godsmack, but to see someone achieve their true potential as a player.

For a musician like myself, who’s been pretty much doing this my whole life, it’s the biggest pleasure I’ve probably felt since I’ve been in this business. Watching someone become what I feel is their true nature. Again, that just doesn’t change or hurt Godsmack in anyway, it’s just something that I think will make Tony Rombola a household name as he should be – he’s jaw-dropping, he’s inventing new things now. He’s inventing this new scale, I guess, I’m not a guitarist, but he showed it to me and I’ve heard and it’s just completely original!

I don’t think it would matter if it was Nirvana, Metallica, or Nine Inch Nails; these are bands that played to the beat of their own drum. They were original sounding acts. Everything’s been kind of done musically, we wear our influences on our sleeves. Every once in awhile you tap into a sound that mixes influences in a way that it becomes original. We’ve gotten really good reviews with Apocalypse thus far thank god. There’s always that lingering doubt: this is a good record, but can they do it again? Is it a fluke? We can’t wait for the second record! We are looking forward to the second record because we found, finally, a groove and an identity. I’ve never seen four wills join so strongly with one intent as I have in this band. That’s something special.

CrypticRock.com – Very cool, and it is very exciting to hear. It will definitely be exciting to see where it goes in the future. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. Rumor has it that you are a huge Horror movie fan. What are some of your favorite Horror movies?

Shannon Larkin – Oh my god. My favorites? The Evil Dead (1981), The Exorcist (1973), there are so many. I just watched one recently called Bouquet of Guts and Gore (2014) and it’s on the American Guinea Pig series. The Guinea Pig series was from Japan in the ’90s when the DVD was just coming out. All of us Horror hounds would trade VHS tapes through the mail of all these sick movies that you really couldn’t find at the video store. Movies like The Driller Killer (1979) and some of the old gore movies like Cannibal Ferox (1981), and those style of movies that were just brutal.

The Guinea Pig series came out with six films from Japan. They became famous because Charlie Sheen ended up getting a hold of the Flowers of Flesh and Blood (1975) from the Guinea Pig movie and thought it was so real that he actually called the FBI. The American government got a hold of the Japanese government and that caused the producers of the movie to make another movie called Making of Guinea Pig (1986) that showed it wasn’t real. It looked like a snuff film.

Anyway, it’s been like 20 years and you know how Americans like to remake old Japanese films like The Grudge, and The Ring? They did the same thing with the Guinea Pig series. So I recently witnessed the American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore. Dude, that’s some sick-ass shit! You’ve gotta be a real gore hound to enjoy that. I thought I was desensitized, but then you see something like that. It’s beyond horror, it was the grossest thing you’ve ever seen. It becomes a rite of passage for horror hounds. It’s amazing. Very scary by the way.

CrypticRock.com – Interesting. Those are some titles Horror hounds should check out.

Shannon Larkin – Yes! I also recently saw Rob Zombie’s 31 (2016) and it was fucking incredible! It’s got Rob Zombie written all over it. I’m a fan of House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005). Anyone who’s a fan of the two I just mentioned, needs to watch 31. It’s very gory, scary, and there are clowns! Everybody’s scared of evil clowns, I highly recommend 31 for anyone like me. There’s been some movies over the years that stand out. There’s one called Inside (2007) from France that I thought was as scary as The Exorcist. Now that you mention it, I need to move and get a new house because I have boxes of movies in my garage because I’m so addicted. Every single night I watch a Horror movie.

Warner Bros.

New Line Cinema

CrypticRock.com – That is really cool that you are so passionate about it. What are your thoughts on Italian Horror cinema?

Shannon Larkin – I love it! I love Phenomena (1985), which was one of Dario Argento’s films. It wasn’t as great as say, Suspiria (1977) or Tenebrae (1982), but it’s great. I love Argento films and there are a few that are recent that look like they could be Argento films, so that genre is still alive.

The dialogue and the strange colors that Argento picked creates this surreal but in-your-face atmosphere; that is complete opposite of something like Bouquet of Guts and Gore. The gore is there; you’re going to see an eyeball punctured by a blade or whatever, but he did it in such ways that it was more intense than if you watch one of the Guinea Pig movies where it’s just gore the whole time and lessens the effect.

Argento is the king of suspense rather than gore. He would make you so nervous before the knife even comes out that when the knife finally comes out and the blood comes you’re in ecstasy of horror! 

CrypticRock.com – Agreed. They are two vastly different styles, although effective in their own ways.

Shannon Larkin – Yes, and I’m one of these fools that even love the old cheesy B-movies from the ’80s and the kind of films that most people write off. I kind of enjoy everything. People will say that sucked and I’ll say no it didn’t suck. As long as there’s that one moment in a movie, I’ll keep that movie. When I get a new film, and I probably have a thousand if I counted all my horror movies, I’ll give it a form of two line review and rate it on a star system of one to five. If it’s a one, then I put it in the trash. Well, actually I’ll give it to a local mom and pop store and trade in maybe ten movies that didn’t make my collection and maybe I’ll get one big one out of it, right? There are a few two star movies in there, but if they are a two star then there’s a moment in it that keeps it in the collection. If I think the movie was shit then I’ll keep it because, man that was a killer eye-gouging scene!

It’s hard for me to remember each movie because I have a thousand songs in my head at all times. So for me to remember a Horror movie, there has to be at least one moment in it and then I’ll highlight that moment in a notebook under the title and star rating. Then I put the moment that made me keep that movie and love that movie in there. So then when I’m going back over it in the future, which I’ve done, I’ll go and read my review and star rating on it and I’ll re-watch the movie so that when I talk to people like you I have some knowledge about film. There’s so many of them and it helps. I start to get on these collection kicks, and then the world opens up to the collector, then there’s so much stuff that you want to get and it’s too much to get. You would think you would reach a point where you’re like okay, I’m done, I have what I want. Then the next week something new comes out that you’ve got to have and then your wife’s going, “You don’t have any more room in this house for this shit! What are you doing?”

Produzioni Atlas Consorziate

Unearthed Films

The Apocalypse Blues Revue Tour Dates:
Sep 17 Nevermind Awesome Bar & Eatery Cape Coral, FL
Sep 19 Ashley Street Station Valdosta, GA
Sep 21 The Cotillion Wichita, KS
Sep 23 Blue Fox Billiards, Bar and Grill Winchester, VA
Sep 24 Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead Homestead, PA
Sep 26 Carolina Theatre of Durham Durham, NC
Sep 28 Center Stage Atlanta, GA
Sep 29 Orpheum Theatre New Orleans, LA

For more on The Apocalypse Blues Revuetheapocalypsebluesrevue.com | Facebook | Twitter

Purchase The Apocalypse Blues Revue: Amazon | iTunes

For more on Godsmack: godsmack.com | Facebook | Twitter

 

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Frank Malerba
frank@crypticrock.com
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