Godsmack Talks Decision to Make New Album ‘Lighting Up the Sky’ Their Last

It’s rare for a band to reach a point of satisfaction and contentment where it can say “enough” — and then move on to a new era.

But that’s the case for Godsmack as it releases Lighting Up the Sky, which the heavy rock quartet says will be the final album of its 28-year career, on Feb. 24 via BMG.

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“There’s a time in everyone’s life where we have to honor what we promised ourselves, when we arrive at what we set as a goal,” frontman Sully Erna explains to Billboard from his home in New Hampshire.

“We’ve enjoyed decades of doing this and we’ve sacrificed a lot of time. But the reality is — and I say this with zero ego — we’re at 27 top 10 (Mainstream Rock Airplay) singles, 12 No. 1s (including ‘Surrender’ from the new album). We could pull three or four more off this new record — it’s a strong record, we feel. That means we could do back-to-back nights in an arena, play 15 songs each night and never play the same single, let alone deep cuts. That’s a helluva place to get to…so you think, how much more do we need?”

But Erna and his bandmates — Tony Rombola on guitar, Robbie Merrill on bass and drummer Shannon Larkin — are quick to add that while the albums may be over, Godsmack is far from it.

“This isn’t ending,” Erna says. “We’re just ending one chapter in our lives, but we’re opening a whole new chapter for our sunset years: to be able to create, now, a greatest hits show, and enjoy the rest of our career playing live, which is really what the reward is for all the work that we do in the studio.”

Larkin, who’s been with Godsmack since 2002, concurs. “We don’t want to break up the band. The whole band has never been on more greased wheels. Everything’s just right. But, being honest, we’ve always felt like making records was more of a chore. Our reward and what we really love about this life we’ve chosen is to play live. We pride ourselves on that, and it’s what we’re going to dedicate ourselves to from now on.”

There’s no question Godsmack has done the record thing well since its debut, All Wound Up, in 1997. In addition to the impressive run of singles, nine of the band’s releases have been certified gold or better and two (1998’s Godsmack and its followup, Awake, in 2000) are multi-platinum. The group has also been nominated for three Grammy Awards and has won 16 of its hometown Boston Music Awards as well as a Billboard Music Award for rock artist of the year in 2001.

“Proud, that’s the best word that I can use,” Erna, who’s released two solo albums and overcame some acknowledged substance abuse issues, says of Godsmack’s legacy. “We’ve been through so much and so many challenges, so many hurdles, so many mountains we’ve had to climb. These guys have been there for me when, literally, I’ve fallen on my face. They’ve been my rock and trusted me and allowed me to lead and capture a dream all of us always wanted since we were kids. So, I’m grateful. And I’m so proud of us ’cause we didn’t do the selfish thing when things got really bad and break up and disappoint the fans and disappoint the work. That’s the best part of it.”

With the members all in their mid- and late 50s, Larkin says age was also a factor in Godsmack’s planning. “The elephant in the room is age,” the 55-year-old drummer says. “We’ve all agreed that we’d like to remain a band until we feel like we’re too old to be cool and perform our songs right and we look like a bunch of old farts or something. I won’t mention any names, but we’ve all seen bands that are probably past their shelf life, and they should wrap it up ’cause they have such a great history. We don’t want to leave a weak impression, like the old and gray Godsmack 10 years from now or whatever.”

An air of finality is palpable throughout Lighting Up the Sky‘s 11 tracks — right up to a riff from “Moon Baby,” the first song on their self-titled major label debut, on the new album’s title track at the end. “That made me think this could really feel complete if we bring people back to the beginning as they finish this one,” Erna, 55, notes. “I think that what you get on this record is really a montage of all things Godsmack. There’s stuff for the old fans like ‘Red White & Blue.’ There’s stuff for the newer fans that echo, like, (2018’s) ‘Bulletproof.’ And then there’s stuff in there I just love myself and wanted to stretch these songs out, ’cause I’m such a fan of the old classic rock sound and arrangements that Peter Frampton and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and those kind of bands brought us. So when you hear songs like ‘You and I’ and ‘Let’s Go’ and there’s these really great, tricky middle sections, that’s just me being inspired by the people who paved the way and wanting to create that atmosphere and a full-album journey for the listeners.”

“He doesn’t write singles,” Larkin says of Erna. “He’s looking at the record as a body of work that has a 45-, 50-minute listening time and takes you on a journey, like the records all the bands we loved made. It’s the same with this one.”

Erna and company also reached back to the past in choosing a co-producer for Lighting Up the Sky — Andrew “Mudrock” Murdock, who had the same role on the Godsmack and Awake albums.

“It just made sense that if this was gonna be the last one, why not end it where we began and bring back the original team that helped us have success in the first place?” Erna says. “It just felt like the right thing to do. He’s such a great guy and as soon as we saw each other it’s like we picked up right where we left off. Godsmack changed his life in so many ways and I know he’s grateful for that — as we are for him to give us the opportunity in the first stages to be able to make our first record for 2,600 bucks over a weekend. That was a big favor. We’re both part of each other’s success stories.”

Erna and Larkin acknowledge that making Lighting Up the Sky was “very emotional” throughout the process — so much so that guitarist Rombola “was there every step of the way,” according to Erna. “He even looked at me at one point and said, ‘Y’know what, Sully — I want to be here because this is the last one and I don’t want to miss any of it.’ We sat in the studio a few different times and shared tears.”

Larkin, meanwhile, recalls a profound moment when the band members and a longtime assistant, “drills in hand,” spent a full day together dismantling the band’s studio, which was first built in New England and then migrated to Los Angeles and Nashville before being set up in Florida, where three of the four now reside, for Lighting Up the Sky.

“We even took the soundproofing off the walls and we stacked it all up against the back wall,” Larkin says. “The four of us were just standing there looking at this big pile of our studio and…it was a touching moment, a personal moment when the finality hit us that this is the last time we’ll do that as a band.”

Another resonant moment for the band was “Best of Times,” which Larkin refers to as “a love letter from Sully to Tony and Robbie and me.” Erna composed the lyrics around an idea that had been around since 2014’s 1000HP album and wouldn’t allow the band in the studio while he was recording his vocals, “which they were very confused about,” the frontman notes. “Once I had a pretty good rough (vocal) laid out, they came in and I gave them all the lyrics, and I will tell you it was a really emotional moment — caught on camera. A couple of the guys broke down.

“I mean, how can you not love guys that you’ve spent 30 years of your life with and not have a true brotherhood and care and respect for. It was just a tip of my hat to say, ‘Thank you for being with me the whole way and tolerating me even when I didn’t know how to manage myself.’ They’ve been my rock.”

The band is now turning its attention toward touring. Their trek begins April 21 in Santiago, Chile, and the group has announced a May run of U.S. shows with I Prevail opening, starting May 4 in Denver. Godsmack plans to cover North America primarily this year, then eyeball other territories during 2024. After that cycle for the album, Godsmack plans on “playing live shows whenever we want,” according to Erna.

“We’re looking forward to that,” he says. “We’re gonna build the show as big and beautiful as we can and play the best of the songs we’ve written that had the most success and the ones the fans have chosen to be their favorites. What feels right is for us to honor our career and end this strong — whenever we decide it’s the right time to end it.”

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