Interview: Godsmack (Sully Erna og Shannon Larkin)

Foto: Bjørn Haldorsen
Sully Erna: "The good thing that I feel blessed about with this band is that we don’t need to have a big production to make a great show."

Hardrock veteraner i Den Grå Hals arena

Den gamle ridehal fra 1853 var allerede nærmest fyldt, da jeg og min norske fotograf skubbede os frem til scenen, hvor Godsmacks manager Kevin Carter tog imod os med et smil. En ordentlig kleppert, der også ville kunne gøre det som udsmider på en strip joint i Alabama, men i dag skulle han bare vise vej til tourbussen, hvor Sully og Shannon sad klar med fødderne oppe på de smalle bussæder. Efter de sædvanlige høflighedsfraser fik jeg møvet mig ned i et smalt plastiksæde med Shannons smalle markerede fjæs foran og Sullys bestøvlede fødder på sædet til højre for mig. Sully Erna er ubetinget bandets leder og frontmand – i alle sammenhænge – så tilstedeværelsen af den tynde trommeslager var egentlig en behagelig bonus, der gav de to venner mulighed for at udveksle spydige, men kærlige bemærkninger til hinanden som samtalen skred frem. Men for at starte et sted spørger jeg, hvorfor der skulle gå tyve år, før de besluttede sig for at besøge Danmark igen.

Sully: It’s not like we try to avoid Denmark. It’s just that we’ve had a lot of complications over the years. We’ve had a lot of bad luck, but I will tell you that the bands priority – we’ve talked about this for decades now – why aren’t we big in Europe? Why aren’t we playing stadions and arenas? Because this band is known to have a big production, a big show, and we want the European audience to see that side of us. But unfortunately – without getting into every single detail – it started back, when we were with Universal and we were touring with Black Sabbath, Limp Bizkit, Metallica and the list goes on and on, but there wes just no support. There were no records in the stores, there where no photographers, no press, it was just like they forgot about us. And it started to become very expensive for us, and we had to stop at one point. It is really hard to come out here and be here for as long as you need to break that audience without any support. So there was a time, where we just pulled the plug on it, and maybe we were just not meant to be in Europe. And we started focusing on other markets. But then again we got together and we talked about that it is ridiculous that we don’t do what we were supposed to be doing in Europe. And we made a commitment! We got a new booking agent, we brought back our original management team and we have a brand new label. And we told them all that our first focus, our first priority is to make sure that we get this European crowd! We have this three phase plan: We are on this tour, smaller venues, make a lot of noise, sell them out; come back in June and do the festivals; and come back either winter or early 2020 expanding the venues three times the size. We told them that we will do the work, even though we are getting a little older and tired (laughing). We will do this job one last time, and the rest is up to the fans. That is were we are at right now.

Diskant: Will you be playing Copenhell or Roskilde this year?

Sully: It’s not gonna be his year. We are on the standard festivals like Rock Am Ring and Donnington, but Copenhell is not on this one. But I am not saying we couldn’t come back the following year.

Diskant: What is the biggest difference between the band twenty years ago and today?

Shannon: You’ve got a drummer! (laughing and poking Sully in the side). There are four years between each of our records, and every record we try to make differently, and especially on the new record with a new production and outside writers and all that. But in the four years between production we get sometimes apart from each other, and that gives an opportunity to play other jobs and being a bit experimental.

Sully: I don’t know what the biggest difference between then and now is. I mean, obviously experience. Me and Shannon has been on tour for a really long time, well before Godsmack was formed. But even coming in to this and starting this band and seeing how it happened. You know, when you are in it, you are just in it! You don’t realize now that you are the band that everyone in Boston is coming to see. All we could think was, ”shit, we are out of t-shirts, and we are gonna make more fucking cd’s”. So when this thing grows, you are just kind of in it, and you get really busy and all of a sudden you get a record deal and we are just … working!

But we’ve also learned a lot about each other over the years. We went through some really great times and some horrible times. There were times when we didn’t even speak to each other and things got messy. But the band is just great now. We somehow weathered that storm and just grew as men. But you need to balance the things that just happens in your life with relationships and kids and all that stuff and having a career at the same time. Those complications can really break a band up. We have enough respect for each other, even when we were not doing well. We didn’t deeply hurt each other to the point, where it’s not repairable. And I think because of that silent respect and when enough time went by, we were able to sit down and just say ”hey, listen, we love each other and we just gotta figure this out”, and we did. Now we are on the other side of it. Way on the other side!

Diskant: Does the new and broader sound on ”When Legends Rise” reflect the fact that you have grown older?

Shannon: I don’t want to sound old, even though we all have turned fifty, but we decided to try and sit down with some outside writers and new producers and see what we can do, so we don’t feel fake on stage. We are not young and angry men anymore. We have families, we are happy, we love each other, we are like brothers. And we can’t go on writing songs about hate, when we don’t hate anymore. We used to hate, so the aggression back then was real, and especially the metal, the rock and the punk fans they understand if you are fake or not, they can see through that shit. So I feel that the new sound is more mature, but it sounds like Godsmack. A mature version of Godsmack that I feel I represent on stage. I am not pretending to be something I am not!

Diskant: How do you see yourself as a singer in Godsmack with a very rock music approach and with your solo material, which is a totally different music style?

Sully: They are both very different and very similar. They are different because the energy in the music is very drastically different. I’ve always said that Godsmack is like a ’hate fuck’, where the solo band is a more caressing, passionate and emotional side of a man, who wants to cry on a woman’s shoulder (laughing), but you would be surprised to see how exposed I am with Godsmack. You can follow my life story through my lyrics from record one and up until now. But of course on ”Avalon” I got vulnerable and I decided to choose to open that up. And when you put that lyrics up against piano and violin it is gonna sound more dramatic. People often say to me that ”you are so much more exposed on your solo material”, but I don’t think I am. There are some pretty powerful things in Godsmack if you read them and know what they are about.

But ”Avalon” is an anomaly. Something really magical happened on that record. We were a different group of people, writing music and everyone were kind of adding bits and pieces that would come from different worlds. One is a classical pianist and one a cello player from Bulgaria, and guys with the blues background and a rock guy, so it doesn’t surprise me now that the music came out as different, and something happened on that album that I can’t quite explain. But they are really two different animals, and I feel happy that I have an opportunity to explore different kinds of music. We all grew up with hard rock like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and stuff, but I also grew up under the piano with my dad, who’s a trumpet player and I grew up with blues and jazz music. As I grew older, it was like a calling I had to play piano more and eventually I would get that out as well. And I am grateful that I have a band that allows me to do that, because it really helps balance me musically.

Shannon: We’ve been friends even fifteen years before I joined the band, and we are family now. So when he gets in these situations where his heart is in turmoil, and he is walking around quite broken with this dark shadow over him, we feel sorry for him and think, ”ahh, this sucks, he is going through that again”. But then we hide behind him and say, ”we are gonna get a great fucking album out of this”. Because then we know he will have a whole new batch of songs (laughing).

Diskant: When do you feel most happy?

Sully: When I am with my daughter! But there are many things in my life that makes me happy, and one of them is being in this band being able to tour. Being able to work as a unit, as a team, and make decisions that we are going to break this one more time. We are on a mission! All those things excites me, I love being challenged. I am definitely not a person, who will sit home and be bored. I may wanna go home after a long tour and decompress, but I can promise you, after a week or two I will start chewing my fingernails and think, ”hey, I need to get the fuck out of the house”. But I love simple things, I love playing poker, ride motorcycles, shooting guns. Things that make me happy in small stages. But being on the road this much means that the time I have with my daughter is super important. And this goes for all of us. When Shannons daughter comes visiting, you can see this little bit … a certain kind of glow or comfort that happens when a father and daughter have this time together. We watch them grow older and turn into small women until they live their own lives.

Shannon: It’s a feeling of an accomplishment that nothing else can touch! Even million record sales or whatever. When you see your daughter become a little adult and all of a sudden she has dreams of her future, her life, it all comes together in the universe.

Diskant: And your music is about this?

Sully: Some of it is. It’s all about life, that’s for sure. Wether it was about a relationship I was in, wether it was about my daughter, wether it was about my band, you know, everyone’s made it on the record (laughing). When it affected my life somehow emotionally. It’s not always a bad thing. It just so happens that I had a rough upbringing, and it took me a while to battle those demons, it took me a while to get pass that tough edge and that defensive survival that was distilled in me for so many years of …

Shannon: Fighting!

Sully: Yeah, fighting for your life, your future or whatever it was. But the older you get the more you think, ”ah, fuck it, it doesn’t matter. Why am I getting mad about those things? It doesn’t matter!” If you have your health, you win. End of story, period.

Shannon: I don’t make many mistakes as a drummer, I’m fucking almost perfect (laughing).

Sully: The good thing that I feel blessed about with this band is that we don’t need to have a big production to make a great show. I think we’ve always had a good connection with the audience, and I think that even if you don’t know the music, you can come to a Godsmack show and really have a good time!

Med disse ord forlader vi bussen og begiver os ind i den nu fyldte hal, hvor danske Franklin Zoo allerede er godt i gang med at varme publikum op. Spændte på at se, hvad Godsmack har i posen til os en times tid senere!

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