Metallica Answer Your Questions: From St. Anger And Horror Movies To Jazz And The Black Album
It feels like a second since Metallica released their 10th studio album Hardwired… To Self-Destruct in late 2016 through their own label, Blackened Recordings.
Since then, they’ve toured virtually non-stop, beginning in Puerto Rico in October 2016 and criss-crossing the globe several times, taking in arena stops, intimate club shows and sports grounds along the way.
Some of their not-so-recent exploits are being streamed weekly on YouTube for Metallica Monday, but we’re not here to talk about gigging, we’re spending some time with drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett for a fan Q&A: a money-can’t‑buy opportunity to quiz one of the biggest bands of all time.
The door swings open. It’s Lars. He’s nursing a mug of herbal tea, while a toothpick hangs from the corner of his mouth. He’s all smiles and full of chat, showing no signs of nerves before about the questions he’ll be fielding. Kirk follows swiftly behind.
We’re offered a can of Metallica’s own Enter Night beer – gratefully accepted, thanks very much – while we settle back into a red leather sofa. Lars casts an eye on your list of questions and prepares for this fan-led inquisition.
“Alright, let’s see what the Kerrang! readers want to know!” he laughs. “Wait, is that the Steve from Cardiff with the first question? What does he want to know?”
Let’s crack on, then…
Steve from Cardiff asks: What was the best piece of advice you were given at the beginning of your career?
Lars: “Ask questions. I don’t know if it’s the best piece of advice, but it’s the first thing I thought of. The more questions you ask, the more information you get and the more you know. I kind of think it’s actually maybe a little bit of a Danish thing. I think Danes, by nature, are inquisitive and curious. We ask a lot of questions.”
Matty from London asks: Lars, what were your first impressions of James and can you remember anything of that first day you spent together?
Lars: “I remember connecting with him. I could see that, even though he was painfully shy or whatever, that there were some distinctive similarities. I spent six months talking to people about heavy metal, and they’d mention Styx, Journey, KISS or whatever. I’d talk about Angel Witch, Diamond Head or Tygers Of Pan Tang. He had a connection to the music and the things I was throwing out there that seemed a little more authentic or trustworthy. Not much happened during that first meeting because he was kind of the wing man, or the plus one, for a guy named Hugh [Tanner, who played in Leather Charm with Hetfield]. If James was sitting here, he’d tell you that the drum kit I showed up with was in such bad shape that every time I hit the cymbal, it kept falling over – which is accurate. Hetfield and I ended up staying in touch, and when I came back from travelling in Europe a few months later, I called him up and said, ‘Hey, do you want to play and see what happens?’. And he was up for it.”
Rachel from Norwich asks: Which artist have you enjoyed collaborating with the most?
Kirk: “Lou Reed [on 2011’s Lulu album], without a doubt. That, for me, was just as special as collaborating with Jimi Hendrix or something. I’m a big fan of Lou Reed and to be able to actually collaborate with him was amazing. I played on the last Michael Schenker album and that meant a lot to me too. I mean, talk about full circle, fucking hell. Doing the S&M album [in 1999] with Michael Kamen was really great, too. He was a very special guy. He was one of a kind, in that he was an established composer and conductor who fully understood rock music, fully and completely. When I have to come up with a part, I think about how seemingly effortless he was in coming up with melodies and string parts and horn parts. There was such an art to what he did.”
Pete from Gateshead asks: What was it like performing at San Quentin State Prison for the St. Anger video in 2003?
Kirk: “Well, there was a lot of tension in the air, for sure. There were some women who came with us and they had to be restricted to a certain area because it was just too dangerous for them to even be seen. At one point, one of the inmates screamed over to me and said, ‘Hey, Kirk, I know your mom!’ and I was like, ‘Excuse me?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I used to mow her lawn!’ He added that he knew so-and-so from the neighbourhood, too. I was like, ‘I might know more people here than I thought!’ But it was cool, it was really mellow. All the inmates were really appreciative of the fact that we were there and it was a distraction for them. I got a really cool thing from one of the correctional officers. It was a magazine with us on the cover and the subscription tag said ‘Richard Ramirez’ – the ‘Night Stalker’ killer who was at San Quentin while we were playing. He was a Metallica fan, but he was on death row and he could only hear us. I still have the magazine. It’s a nice little novelty item.”
Andy from Sheffield asks: How do you pick a set list?
Lars: “What’s really important is every time Metallica come to your city, you get a different experience than it was last time and it will be the next time. Everybody is game for mixing it up always and it also keeps us on our toes. We haven’t played the same set list for about 15 years now.”
Paul from Birmingham asks: I read that 1.6 million people turned up to the 1991 Monsters Of Rock festival in Moscow. Were there really that many people?
Lars: “Listen, it may go up by 100,000 people each year! I heard at the time it was around half a million. Whatever it was, it was a fuck-load of people. It was a very transitional time in Russia’s history and part of what was going on was the government were negotiating to bring music in and so on. They brought AC/DC and Metallica to come play and there was a lot of excitement, but they weren’t really used to hosting rock shows. So if you watch the videos on YouTube, you’ll see how many soldiers were there. There were helicopters hovering over the audience. It was an incredible blend of enthusiasm and energy and chaos, and it was a complete cluster fuck. One-point-six million may be a little ambitious, but like I say, there were a lot of fucking people. It was a pretty crazy day.”
David from Durham asks: What’s the greatest horror film of all time?
Kirk: “There are so many great horror movies that are being made nowadays. It’s like the third golden age of horror right now. So, if we can talk about this current age, then it’s easy for me to break down! I’ve seen a lot of great movies. I saw this one movie that I’m very enthusiastic about, called Border. I can’t really figure out if it’s a horror movie or sci-fi movie or a fairy tale, but it’s brilliant and I highly suggest it. I loved The Witch, which came out a couple of years ago. The director [Robert Eggers] is working on Nosferatu and I’m very excited about that, because if anyone can remake Nosferatu, it’s that guy.”
Darren asks: Lars, is it true you followed Chelsea for a while in the ’70s?
Lars: “Yes. When I grew up in Denmark, every Saturday from September to May there’d be an English match [on television]. We had a connection to English football that was just different than anywhere else. We’d watch teams like Stoke, Leeds, Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester United or Liverpool every week. I was a Chelsea fan and went to a couple of games at Stamford Bridge in the ’70s when we would visit London.”
Anne from Dublin asks: Which video are you most proud of?
Lars: “I would say the video for I Disappear , which we filmed at Monument Valley in Utah, on top of one of those pillars or whatever you call them. That was crazy. There was a lot of excitement about that video and it was a different thing for us, because it was tied to a movie, Mission: Impossible 2. The videos that Jonas Åkerlund made for Turn The Page and Whiskey In The Jar [in 1998] were really edgy, which I love. The videos that Matt Mahurin made for The Unforgiven [I and II, in 1991 and 1998 respectively] are very artsy, but I think that the one for I Disappear was a lot of fun to do.”
Ben from New York asks: In the Through The Never film, what was in Trip’s bag? I won’t tell anyone…
Kirk: “My brain!”
Jo asks: How do you deal with criticism?
Kirk: “None of the critics are as bad as the critics in our heads. Really, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the fuck they say. If I’ve satisfied that critic in my head, then I’ve overcome my own hurdles.”
Denise from Edinburgh: What’s your fondest memory of touring with Guns N’ Roses in 1992?
Lars: “The camaraderie. Towards the end of the ’80s, the more conventional ways of doing things in America were through radio; Metallica and Guns N’ Roses found a way to connect to fans outside of [that] and went out together in unity for the fans. That was really cool and so unprecedented and I was so proud that we could make that tour happen. All those guys are buddies of mine and we just had a lot of fun. Every night there’d be some crazy thing going on. It was a really fun summer.”
Adam asks: You’ve covered many songs by iconic bands over the years, but which is your favourite to play live?
Kirk: “Well, [Misfits’] Last Caress is just one of those songs, man. It’s just so quick and to the point. I love a lot of the covers we do. One thing that I would like to do live one of these days is the Dio/Rainbow medley [which appeared on the 2014 tribute album, Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life]. I think that’d be fucking incredible to do that live sometime because I’m a big Dio fan, I’m a big Rainbow fan.”
Paul from Bath asks: You’ve played the North and South Pole and pretty much everywhere in between. Is there anywhere left on your list?
Lars: “We’ve never played Belarus, Bolivia, Uruguay, Honduras, El Salvador, Vietnam, and Lebanon. The joke is kind of, you send the Scorpions in first and then you see how they do. That’s said with nothing but love, but the Scorpions have played in a few of these places. We just haven’t had the right situation or whatever. A few years ago, I was hellbent on playing Coachella because it’s the only big festival we haven’t played. Then my kids stopped going to Coachella, so now it’s not as important. A couple of years ago I really wanted to show them I could play Coachella, but now they’re over it, so we’ll see.”
Francesca asks: If you had the chance to go back to the start and do it all again, would you do anything differently?
Kirk: “I would have stopped drinking 10 or 15 years ago. I’m coming up to five years sober without alcohol and I really enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed being a raving alcoholic lunatic, but then everything turned against me. Every time I had a drink, it worked against me rather than helping me to enjoy myself in a recreational manner. That’s the thing about alcohol: if you’re not paying attention and something happens, it could flip on you and next thing you know, you’re on the down side of things rather than on the upside. For fucking decades, I’d go out after a show and carry on all night. I’d go back to the hotel room and play guitar for two or three hours and not remember anything the next day. I’d pick up the recorder and think, ‘What the fuck is this garbage?’ I did that for fucking decades. I stopped drinking and now I go back to my room and play guitar and remember everything! I can pick it up from the night before. I still feel like I’m growing as a musician, and I like having that clarity of mind and having a really strong relationship with my instrument and the music. I wish I had gotten to this point a lot earlier in my life. But hey, everything’s meant to happen for a reason.”
Alfred from Holland asks: It’s October 1990. You’re about to record The Black Album. What’s the first thing that springs to mind?
Kirk: “By the end of the Damaged Justice tour [in 1989], we were kind of singing riffs to each other already. The Sad But True riff was already around. Jason [Newsted, former bassist] had been in the band for a while and we had finally coalesced into a band over the course of that tour. We were feeling really good and ready to make another strong musical statement. MTV had started playing us, they were primed. Radio had started playing us, they were primed. The mainstream media knew about us and they were primed, and so everything kind of lined up. The expectation from all the external forces were like, ‘Let’s see what you got!’ I think that made us a bit more confident because it was like, ‘Oh now you want us? We’ll show you these sets of riffs, chew on this.’”
Jon asks: Lars, you’ve been championing many new bands on your It’s Electric! radio show. Who’s on your radar at the moment?
Lars: “Well, our Norwegian friends in Bokassa were discovered on It’s Electric!. I go through different waves, so lately I’ve been listening to a lot of older stuff and I’ll go through and rediscover albums. Like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t heard this Warrior Soul album in so long!’ so I’ll be banging on that album for like a month. I also end up listening to a lot of what my kids put on. Thankfully, they put on pretty decent music.”
Craig from Nottingham asks: Kirk, which Metallica solo are you most satisfied with?
Kirk: “I was thinking about the solo in The Unforgiven. I remember showing up to the studio that morning, thinking I was going to play all these certain licks and then [Black Album producer] Bob Rock’s going, ‘That’s fucking crap.’ Then it was one of the very first times when I said, ‘Just fucking hit the record button,’ and shit flowed out. I prefer to record my solos that way now because I like the spontaneity of it; that’s how that solo was pretty much created.”
John from Brighton asks: What’s your favourite jazz album, Lars?
Lars: “That’s hard. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis is sort of the gold standard. I never like to give the obvious answers, but when I hear that record, it really is like a whole other level. ”
Aran from Leicester asks: If you were going to make a Garage Inc. 2, which songs would you cover now?
Lars: “Wait and see…”
Carol from Luton asks: Will the current run of deluxe album box sets be harder to compile the further you get into your career?
Lars: “It’s definitely harder to figure how much to put in there because there’s so much more material to choose from. With the older material, it was a little easier because we just put everything in there that existed!”
Stephanie from London asks: Lars, you were knighted in Denmark in 2017. What perks does that bring?
Lars: “An additional question in a Kerrang! interview – if that’s not a perk, I don’t know what is! There aren’t many heavy metal drummers in Denmark that have been knighted, so that in itself is a very exclusive club.”
Gav from Cornwall asks: How do you unwind after a gig?
Kirk: “It’s just like when athletes come out of a game with high adrenaline; they’re shaking, they’re sweaty, they’re fatigued but still amped, and they hop in the shower and it helps them calm down. It’s the same thing with us. The warm water starts relaxing you and you start to calm down. I used to just drink until I couldn’t feel anything, but really, showering is almost meditating at this point.”
Rob from Kent asks: Have you watched The Dirt or Bohemian Rhapsody films? Who would play Metallica in a similar biopic?
Lars: “I’ve seen both of them. Who would play Metallica? Well, we used to joke that James Spader was going to play me. Then we used to say that the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard Of Oz was going to play James and I think Carlos Santana was going to play Kirk. That super bad-ass guy, Danny Trejo, would play Robert. Let’s see how it plays out!”
Gabby from New York asks: What’s the secret to being a band for almost 40 years?
Lars: “Compromise. That’s it. Number two is really far down from ‘compromise’.”
Sam from London asks: What would you most like to be remembered for doing?
Lars: “Giving it my best? I don’t know, I’m so bad with questions like that. Anything would seem self-congratulatory. Let me tell you… the thing that I’m proudest of is that we showed the mainstream that there was a different way of doing it and that there were millions of people wanting something different than what was being served up.”
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