Another Animal Biography
Whitfield Crane - vocals
Tony Rombola - guitar
Lee Richards - guitar
Robbie Merrill - bass
Shannon Larkin - drums
The band name couldn't be more perfect. Another Animal features three members of Godsmack - guitarist Tony Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill and drummer Shannon Larkin. Joining them are original Godsmack guitarist Lee Richards (ex-Dropbox) and ex-Ugly Kid Joe singer Whitfield Crane. Yet the music they've created for their self-titled debut is a different beast altogether.
Incorporating elements of hard rock, metal, punk and grunge, Another Animal is an eclectic tribute to the sounds the members grew up with. Recorded in a mere three weeks in Boston with engineer John Shipp, the songs resonate with newfound freedom and excitement that's as spontaneous as it is sincere.
"It was so organic and fun to do," says Rombola. "It was a great experience because there were no preconceptions. We just did what we felt like in order to create some really cool songs without worrying about what audience it was for."
For Another Animal, diversity is a foregone conclusion. Their first single "Broken Again" starts with a dusky guitar arpeggio, a slow, shuffling beat and aching vocals, and builds into a powerful rocker driven by a galvanized rhythm and triumphant vocal harmonies. "Distant Signs" is more aggressive, propelled by a lunging riff, chip-on-shoulder vocals and a chorus perfect for crowd sing-alongs. Then there's "Black Coffee Blues," a taut, emotive cross between blues and classic rock.
"It felt really good to be able to jump around like that," Merrill says. "Our motto was, 'It's a side project, don't get too caught up in the body of work. Just do what sounds cool.' And when the end result was done, all the songs stood on their own and were really good."
Perhaps the most unexpected moment comes during "The Thin Line," a storming old-school punk rocker that features vocals by Larkin, who also penned the song. "That track just fell together," Richards says. "I had never played the song before we went into the studio, and he showed it to us and we all fell in love with it."
Almost as surprising are the acoustic folk jam "Interlude" and the mystical Indian chant that opens "Find a Way."
"Lee's brother-in-law is an Indian singer, and we thought it would be cool for him to do some chants in the beginning," says Rombola. "We didn't really plan it. He just happened to be in the area and Lee called him, so we had him come in the next day and he banged out a couple of first takes. I think it really gives the record a nice flavor."
The seeds of Another Animal were planted in 2004 when Godsmack was on their tour with Metallica. During down time, the musicians sat in the back of the bus jamming. "Tony and I wrote 'Broken' and 'Fade Away' right there in the lounge on an acoustic, and it was so fun we figured, 'Man, we should do this as a side project," Richards says.
The rest of the songs on Another Animal were written during Godsmack sessions for the band's 2006 album IV. At the time, frontman Sully Erna was unable to join his bandmates. So, Rombola, who had been stockpiling riffs since the Metallica tour, worked with Larkin and Merrill on new songs. "We were writing for Godsmack, but we didn't care what style it was in," Rombola says. "A lot of the songs were different than the typical Godsmack stuff, but a lot of them were really good in their own way."
By the time Erna was ready to continue with Godsmack his bandmates had assembled 40 tracks. Erna picked four of them for IV, but passed on the others. That's when Larkin, Rombola and Merrill decided to bring Richards into the studio and start recording their own album.
"Tony and I went, 'Geeze, we have almost two albums of really strong material," Larkin says. "'We're not just gonna let this fade into the ether.' And that's when we got serious about the side project. I mean we already had 'Before the Fall,' 'Amends,' 'Find A Way' and 'Broken Again,' and with those four songs right there, we said, 'We're definitely gonna have a band because these are too good be passed over and never heard."
The group entered a studio in Tewksbury, Massachusetts to record a three-song demo with John Kosko from Dropbox that eventually got the band signed to Universal. But when it was time to record the actual record, Kosko was unavailable to cut vocals. Since the band had only a month to record before they were scheduled to return to the road with Godsmack, Larkin picked up the phone and called his old Ugly Kid Joe bandmate Whitfield Crane.
"I was in my backyard in Palo Alto after a nice jog, feeling super clear and healthy when I got the call," says Crane.
Larkin asked Crane what he was up to and if he was interested in being in a new band. "I said, Do I have to try out?' recalls Crane. "And Shannon said, 'No.' And I was, like, 'What? You're joking,' And he said, 'No. You got your backpack ready?' And I said, 'Dude, I'll be there tomorrow."
In addition to saving Another Animal at the eleventh hour, Crane provided the band with a new soulful vocal approach that perfectly fits the music, but takes it further away from its Godsmack-based origins. "I love heavy music, but I'm not a fan of the screaming and everything sounding so rhythmic vocally," says Richards, who wrote most of the vocal melodies and sang back up. "Whit really sang his ass off to make in-your-face heavy music that grooves and makes you want to move with real old-school melody. I can write any melody, key wise, scale wise, and Whit can do it. He's got such a wide variety of vocal talent, it's ridiculous."
There's no question that Another Animal are grateful to Crane, whose authoritative voice and dynamic stage presence give the band the energy and charisma to win over arena audiences. However, Crane is equally indebted to his bandmates for recognizing he was the man for the job.
"Nobody usually gets a second chance in this industry at this level," Crane says. "So, I really feel lucky and kind of reborn. And, it's been awesome to play with Larkin again. We were meant to hang out together and play together. When we were in Ugly Kid, I treated him exactly how he's treating me. As far as karmatic flux, it's been fascinating to see Shannon come and say, dude, full circle, back at ya."
While the vibes in the studio were strong and the musicians had a blast recording the songs, the tone of Another Animal is far from jubilant. Richards wrote most of the lyrics in 2005 at a time when his band Dropbox was experiencing some major setbacks. "Music is my therapy," he explained. "I'm not the kind of guy who talks to my wife or family members about stuff. I take it in stride and swallow it and it comes out through songs. So, these songs are really about how we were feeling at that time. I was bumming out that my record wasn't doing well."
While songs like "Left Behind" and "Fade Away" sting with betrayal and disappointment, nothing reflects Richards' frustrations like the first single "Broken Again," which features lines like "There's my dreams/bloody dying, face down on the floor/ I can't believe the emptiness, struggle all alone." "When I wrote that song, Dropbox was coming to an end," he says. "So, I was there on tour watching it all go away and not being able to do anything about it.'"
There's no question how committed the members of Another Animal are committed to their new band, and they can't wait to start touring as soon as Godsmack finish their upcoming acoustic tour. But while they want to achieve success on their own terms and hope to release more material in the future, Another Animal is a side project for Rombola, Larkin and Merrill, and they have no intention of leaving Godsmack.
"If this blows up, we'll be just like Corey Taylor and Jim Root in Stone Sour," Larkin said. "We'll just be in two successful bands. We love Godsmack and when [frontman] Sully [Erna] is ready to do another record, we'll be ready. But it's nice to take a break from something that's been around for ten years. So, in that way, Another Animal is like a little vacation."