Make no mistake. Sully Erna is the rightful leader of Godsmack. Throughout various incarnations of the band, he has exerted control over every aspect of its output. You can find his distinct thumbprint imprinted on every track from the band’s past three releases, culled from songwriting sessions conducted as group exercises with Erna acting as team leader and the creative authority.
But as preliminary work began on the group’s fourth CD, it was clear that the chain of command would be a bit different this time. “When I joined the band for the Faceless record, which was the third record, we all moved in together in a house in Miami. We basically wrote the whole record from scratch, and Sully was with us the whole time. But he had a little bit of craziness and drama in his life this time around that…”
Godsmack drummer Shannon Larkin stops short, allowing the words to drift while searching for just the right phrase to express what he wants to say: “He needed to find his way and he needed to be alone to do that.” The net result was that for the first time the other members of the band were encouraged to come up with new song ideas without their bandleader managing the process.
So Larkin hunkered down in the band’s Boston rehearsal space with guitarist Tony Rombola and bassist Robbie Merrill and started tossing ideas around. It was a fruitful exercise. “We wrote over 30 songs,” he proudly claims. “We would write them, demo them, and then move along. And then Sully would come in two or three days out of the week and pick the ones that he liked the best. It was cool and fresh for the band, because for one, he wasn’t there for every single second and every note and every drumbeat. It allowed the three of us to have a lot more freedom.”
In the end, the rhythm section wrote a whopping five out of the eleven songs that appear on the new Godsmack album, simply titled Four. One of those tracks, “Speak,” was picked to be the album’s first single and, not coincidentally, also our choice for this month’s featured drum part. Unlike many other new songs that were true collaborations, Rombola wrote all of the parts that compose “Speak,” one of the earlier songs to emerge during the songwriting sessions. After hammering out his basic ideas, they tracked a rough demo and moved on.
“We really rehearsed the crap out of the Faceless record for three and a half months — and I mean eight hours a day, going in playing the same song ten times,” Larkin remembers. “This time, I didn’t even listen to any of the songs after we wrote them until the day we recorded them. And then I would bust the demo out just to get an idea of where I was.
“I went in this time with the mind frame of just totally playing off the top of my head and let something great happen,” a strategy that the bandmembers and coproducer Andy Johns agreed to try in order to breathe more spontaneity into the sound. But when push actually came to shove, Erna reverted to his classic role as ringmaster and began to put Larkin’s parts under the microscope.
“Sully is a guy who really likes to create in the studio,” Larkin continues. “So Sully and Andy both started throwing ideas in. Basically, I go with the flow. It gets a bit taxing sometimes when you have three drummers.” Well, let’s call it two and a half, because while Johns is a great producer with big ears, Erna is actually an experienced drummer who tracked all of the drums on Godsmack’s first two albums.
Which leaves Larkin trapped between two producers with lots of opinions. Just take a look at what he had to deal with while tracking “Speak”: “Sully would say, ’In the verse, I really want you to clamp down tight on the hi-hat, where it’s chink-chink-chink.’ So that’s one idea. And then Andy will say, ’Halfway through the lead, do an inverted fill.’ Now we’re at two ideas. And then Sully will be, ’And in the chorus, stick the ride a little closer to the bell.’ And then there are three ideas. ’Oh, and then add a little more groove to the chorus by putting in a China type on the ands at the last four.’ All of a sudden I’m at four ideas, all brand new. And then Andy will throw in, ’And make sure on your fast rolls that you really whack the snare, mate, so it doesn’t ruin the whole take.’ So now I’m concentrating on five different ideas in one song.”
Larkin is an easygoing guy, but even he can lose his cool. And as it happens, Erna shook Larkin’s pop bottle a bit too much while recording “Speak,” and it exploded. “It was at the very end, where the song was, ’All right, we’re done. We’ll put the X on the board and move on,’” Larkin says. “Tony and Robbie and Sully tracked all the guitars and vocals. And then Sully came in and was like, ’Dude, you know in the verse if you would do the chicka-chicka on the hi-hat ….’ I had been doing eighth-notes on the hi-hat, and he wanted me to play sixteenths with two hands. And I was like, ’I don’t want to re-track that song! I really don’t think that it will make it better.’ And at the end, the four of us sat down and talked about it. We had a vote, and as much as Sully’s the leader and he’s the boss, for sure, he’s pretty fair. The three of us were going, ’Look dude, it sounds great.’ And I ended up keeping the track.”
We can see why, because Larkin manages to rock and swing all at once on “Speak,” with a full complement of juicy fills and big bashing beats that are sure to test your power and skill. So dig into the following transcription and see for yourself if the take was worth arguing for.
Drums Yamaha Birch Custom
Absolute (in Antique Black)
1 24" x 18" Bass Drum
2 14" x 6.5" Mike Bordin Signature Snare Drum
3 14" x 12" Floor Tom
4 14" Toca Timbale
5 10" x 8" Tom
6 12" x 10" Tom
7 16" x 16" Floor Tom
8 13" x 11" Tom
A 14" Paragon Hi-Hats
B 19" Paragon China
C 12" AA Splash
D 18" AA Rock Crash
E 12" Ice Bell
F 22" Hand Hammered Power Bell Ride
G 13" AA Splash
H 20" AA Medium Crash
I 10" AA Splash
J 19" Paragon China
Shannon Larkin also uses Vic Firth sticks, Remo heads, and Yamaha hardware, pedals, and