James Hetfield on the Load tour, 1996, with drummer Lars Ulrich
on the far left. Pic: Ross Halfin
go alternative? Metallica go (urrghgh!) 'trendy'? Hardly. Despite
the advent of short(er) hair and even a facial piercing that graced
the Metalheads' heads for the '96 release of Load , Metallica
are musically as unrepentant as ever. That doesn't mean they haven't
changed, though. It's five years since the release of Metallica's
last record-breaking opus - commonly called The Black Album -
and Load keenly reflects the cultural shifts that have occurred
in the interim. Load is a highly charged 'now' statement of where
Metallica find themselves in '96 - built on a bedrock of their
trademark riffing, yet frequently swerving left to accommodate
the moody melodicism of grunge and, in its singles remixes, shuffling
onto techno-filled dancefloors to cut a rock-friendly rug. But
don't for one minute dare suggest that Metallica have put together
a trends-by-numbers please-the-mainstream record.
point, more than any other point, we can do whatever the fuck
we want," asserts James Hetfield, relaxing midway through
rehearsals for their UK tour. "Why should we succumb to something
else? Since day one we haven't thought about anyone but ourselves.
We're selfish fucks!'
no one could accuse Hetfield of being a selfish, erm, chap in
the guitar duties department; for the first time ever on a Metallica
album James has been sharing the rhythm guitar parts with Kirk
Hammett. Traditionally tagged the most conservative member of
Metallica - both in his musical tastes and his influence over
the band - Hetfield admits it perhaps wasn't the easiest of changes.
a little time for me to get used to that. Getting Kirk to play
along with me and have the parts complement each other was an
even a bigger challenge than me trying to double it and get it
tighter than a knat's ass, like we did before. And it's obviously
affected the sound - it's broadened it and made it deeper, instead
of being a one-dimensional sound. Most of the time my rhythm parts
are mixed on the left and Kirk's are on the right so you can hear
who's doing what - which is cool."
definition of roles graces what is, ironically, the band's most
united album to date. Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich have loosened
up to allow Hammett and bassist Jason Newsted more of a creative
input; Metallica are certainly no longer the James'n'Lars show
of yore. "I think, when we took a break between the albums,
we grew up on our own and came back with a little more respect
for each other," says James, lighting a cigar the size of
a large hot dog. "Lars and I were clamped down pretty hard
on a lot of the stuff in the past and we could see the other guys
were a little unhappy. Everyone's gotta be happy so you've gotta
give and take sometimes, and it's working out really good."
Metallica songs generally start with riffs which are gradually
built into songs. The CD single's demo version of "Until
It Sleeps" shows how their tracks evolve with, on that particular
take, Hetfield singing "non-words"...
It's very annoying, isn't it?," grins Hetfield unapologetically.
"We do that so I can come up with the phrasing - it helps
everyone 'cause they know where the singing's going to be. Lars
can throw fills in then and we can get the arrangement tightened
up. We started using that method on Ride The Lightening for the
song "For Whom The Bell Tolls". It was just these big,
fat open chords - I knew I was going to sing over it and I knew
what I was going to do, but no one else did. They were going,
'That song's fucking crap - it's just a bunch of chords.' And
then when I laid the vocals down they're going, 'Oh, yeah - it
makes sense.' So now we get that going earlier, before the words
with the The Black Album , Load features songs with more simple
arrangements and less chromaticism in the riffs. "Chromaticism?
You mean we all don't know what key we're playing in?," jokes
James. "Sure, the arrangements are simpler. It's a reaction
to And Justice For All which was really, really anal. Every little
bit was worked out. The arrangement was so orchestrated that it
got really stiff, and when we were on tour it got really boring.
So we knew we had to move on and The Black Album was pretty much
the opposite. I think Load is even more simplistic, in a way.
First we chose riffs that were great, and Lars and I would go
jam on them. Then, instead of trying to force one riff with another
riff, it was like, 'Let's jam on it,' and we'd see what came out
of that. 'Does it have to be another riff? Maybe an open chord
bit would sound better?' It was more of a feel thing when we were
writing this stuff. So the songs kinda started writing themselves,
in a way, which was a little more fun than just trying to stick
a bunch of riffs together."
concern in the studio, it seems, is getting a good rhythm guitar
sound in the first place. "After I've got my guitar sound
how I want it, the rest is pretty easy! On Load we got away from
the scooped sound on The Black Album by getting some more mids
going. If you've got a scooped sound you have to turn it right
up, because all the apparent loudness - as they call it - is in
the mids, which is where the guitar frequency is supposed to be.
But with the scooped sound I was taking up all the highs where
all the drums, hats and cymbals were, and I was also taking all
the lows where the bass was - I was everywhere, basically! So
we tightened up the guitar and got more mids going, and to my
ear it's a fuller sound. It's also a little easier to control
the whole band; there's a lot more room for the bass to hold its
weight and it's a little easier to look a picture-wise, sonically-speaking.
And it's louder... which is better!"
riffs and songs use the flattened fifth interval or 'Diablo in
musica' as those over-imaginative dudes in the Spanish Inquisition
called it. "Yeah - Black Sabbath was the first band I heard
using that. It has that sort of less happy and evil sound and
that fits in with our style. We've used it a bit, no doubt - just
about every song has got something going on like that."
But gone are
the Iron Maiden-esque galloping rhythms and the breakneck speed-riffing
from days of yore. Instead, James donates a distinct wiff of horse
manure to "Mama Said" with his pedal steel-like B-bender
Tele licks, and a Southern rock vibe on "Ronnie". And,
shock of shocks, a couple of the songs - "2X4" and "Poor
Twisted Me" are based on triplet feels...
Twisted Me" is ZZ Top, right there," howls Hetfield.
"That riff just came out of fucking around in Lars' dungeon.
I was goofing with an echo setting, and that set the timing for
that song. And then we came in and put a beat to it and it had
a pretty kinda greasy groove to it. "2X4" was the first
riff written for the album - it came from way back; I remember
soundchecks goofing around on that riff. And yeah, it's got that
flattened fifth thing... yet again!'
favourite Metallica tracks are the songs planned for the next
album, written whilst working on Load . "I'm already itching
to get the other songs out 'cause they're kind of relevant to
us now, and I hope they stay that way," he frets. "Apart
from that, there's bits of every album that I dig - especially
the really heavier stuff like "The Thing That Should Not
Be" and the instrumental stuff. It's like, 'Wow, we wrote
overall, I'd have to say Ride The Lightening is my favourite.
Kill 'Em All , our first album, was already written when we went
into the studio but Ride... was the first next step, when we started
to discover the studio and what we could do in it. That was kinda
the fun bit, and it still is. When all the basic drums, bass and
guitar were done on Load we got to go in and colour the song -
get all the toys out and add weird guitar noises!"
Ride The Lightning
's chief lyrical concern was - well, death, basically, and Load
isn't exactly laugh-a-minute either. Hasn't wealth and success
perked James up at all? "Well, I think I understand feelings
more now but I don't think I've mellowed or anything. Some of
the earlier stuff was just, 'I got shit in me and it's coming
out - look out!' Now, it's a little more controlled and I think
a lot of the newer lyrics are a little more therapeutic, in a
As if to prove
he hasn't mellowed too much James gives short thrift to the compulsory-for-'96
"Where's ya hair, dude?" question, but is more forthcoming
on the subject of Metallica headlining the latest Lollapalooza
alterna-fest - even though he's equally bored with being asked
forget that when we started we were pretty fucking alternative,
man, and we haven't changed to fit in with anything," he
growls. "We did Lollapalooza 'cause we wanted to and it was
cool. It was as simple as that. We got see a few great bands and
make some new friends. We played in front of some people who came
to see us and some people who wouldn't normally listen to us.
That's what it's all about for us - writing songs, getting it
together then playing in front of people and watching their faces."
on the Load tour, 1996. Pic: Ross Halfin
A few minutes
later and it's the turn of Hetfield's guitar foil to take the
TGM chair. Metallica's manager Peter Mensch almost immediately
follows him into the room. "Kirk - you're doing a guitar
interview? Oh, right, I forgot you used to be a guitar player...
before you got into this fashion thing ."
in white vest, thick black eyeliner, black nail polish and with
facial piercing in place, Kirk Hammett - the self-styled 'weird
one' in Metallica - takes this in his stride. Puffing on a cigar
(cigars are big in the Metallica camp at the moment, though the
existence of a cigar roadie is sadly unrecorded), Kirk settles
down to talk about Load .
we started, the producer Bob Rock sat me down and said, 'You know,
you're going to be playing a big of this album,' which was cool
by me. At the end of the project I sat down and looked back on
everything, and he had incorporated a lot of ideas I had and he
did make us into a band in the studio, which is something that
we've never actually been."
For the first
time, Kirk added rhythm guitar parts. "The core of the rhythm
parts were there and I would go in and just think to myself, 'Is
there anything I can do as a counterpoint to what we're doing?'
And that's how we would do it. It was obvious when we should both
play the same parts but then again there were certain parts where
it wasn't so obvious, and I'd work out a different part."
One of the
biggest guitar surprises on Load is Kirk's solo on the opening
track "Ain't My Bitch" - the first Metallica slide solo
ever. "The first solo I came out with just didn't sit well
- it didn't jump out and grab you," explains Kirk. "Bob
Rock suggested I should play some slide; I said, 'It's funny you
say that because I've brought my guitar' - a '63 Les Paul Junior
I had specially set up with a high action. We sat down, rolled
the tape and got a slide solo out of it, which is really amazing,
'cause a lot of it was just totally off the cuff! I mean, I'm
no Duane Allman or anything like that - but it works for the track
and it adds a different dimension to the song that's never really
been heard on a Metallica album before. It also made me a lot
more confident in my slide playing, and led to more slide playing
on the album."
on the album much of Kirk's soloing is based around the E blues
scale at the 12th fret, often using double-stop bends on strings
two and three. "Playing like that just felt - well, really
comfortable," expounds Kirk. "I didn't feel like being
very modal on this album, 'cause I did five albums of modal stuff.
I got modal in a few places like on "King Nothing" but
the songs somehow just didn't call for that. Lars kept on telling
me to 'lean into' the track - I would look at him and think, 'What
the fuck is he talking about?' And then one day when I played
a lick he said, 'Yeah, that's leaning into it.' I was laying back
and playing a little bit off the beat - maybe like Stevie Ray
an easier album to solo on because a lot of the songs are based
on very basic chord changes - it's less atonal than previous albums,
more blues based. It was fun for me because I'm much more into
the blues than I've ever been. Most of the solos were spontaneous
- we'd run the tape and I'd play along, then maybe after seven
or eight tries I'd be warmed up. Then on the 12th, 11th try we
were rockin' and we'd get a lot of good shit on tape. We'd do
a comp and then I would try to play it all in one pass. As well
as the slide solo in "Ain't My Bitch" I'm really proud
of the solo in "2X4" because I just lay back and let
the guitar just breathe, playing licks that took full advantage
of the sound of the guitar I was using, my '58 Les Paul Standard.
the solos on this album just weren't a real major concern to me.
It was more the texture and the rhythm playing I was interested
in - there's a lot more different sounds on this album. What I
was trying to do was come up with guitar parts that would complement
the song - to me that was a bigger challenge than playing the
solos. I have my own home studio where I worked on parts and sounds
- some of the unusual sounds on the album like on "The House
Jack Built" were even flown in directly from my home demos."
that during Metallica's early days Kirk had lessons from Joe Satriani.
"Joe was a big influence back then," Hammett grants,
"but not so much these days. He showed me how to use modes,
and he showed me a lot of theory - like what chords to play over
what scales, and vice versa. I learned a lot of finger exercises,
as well. I had lessons from 1983 'till, like '87, on and off -
maybe four lessons a year, sometimes. I never had enough time
'cause I was always touring! And then when he hit big with Surfing
With The Alien he didn't have time either. In fact, I think I
was probably his last student.
been really big on practising in the past, but sometimes you just
have to take a break from it. I found that when you take a break
and get back to it, you're so much more enthusiastic - you just
think it's important to know how to practice; I think a lot of
people just end up playing the same old thing over and over and
over. Right now, I'm really getting into jazz. I bought a book
of all the jazz standards with something like 600 songs in it,
so I'll pick that up and try to play some of the tunes. Between
that and trying to write music, that's enough practise for me
right now. Every so often I'll whip out the slide and play with
that. I find that if I don't play a certain style for a long time
it goes away and you have to kinda like play again and feel it
out again, and then it eventually comes back."
been around long enough to have seen several guitar styles come
and go. Like Hetfield, however, Kirk insists that only rarely
does hearing anyone else's approach lead him to re-examine his
own. "When you hear something new and exciting, you think,
'Well, this is a style that's very much of the moment, but will
it have longevity?'," he points out. "I think there
are certain classic guitar styles that will always be around -
blues playing, slide playing, the Eddie Van Halen school of playing.
This thrashy, grungy type of playing - how much mileage can you
get out of that? Will it be around for 10 years?
of my favourite things to do is to like come home after a night
'carousing' and just plug into an amp. I have an amp in my room
for the first time in ages, because I'm single now - when you
have a girlfriend or wife you can't really put a guitar amp in
your bedroom! And so, like, I'll walk in at two o'clock in the
morning and start playing for my own enjoyment... before you know
it, the sun's coming up!"
recently upped their notoriety via an already infamous "on
the road" feature in lad's magazine Loaded , so if you've
ever wondered what sort of "metal mayhem" Metallica
get up to in between gigs, look no further. Kirk, bless his dear
little facial piercing, admits to being a little embarrassed by
it. "Fuck me! A lot of that is fictional , really. Okay,
sometimes we go a little bit crazy, but damn it, that makes us
look like savages. And it's got nothing to do with guitar... so,
ahh, next guitar question, please...
whole concept of playing guitar for me is pretty amazing because
there's so much of it out there," he adds in a whoosh of
philosophic sensitivity. "Out of the entire scheme of things
I'm but a little pebble, if that... maybe even a grain of sand.
There's so much to learn out there. I think I'll be playing guitar
forever. Maybe I'll bury myself in a guitar-shaped coffin!'
was originally published in The Guitar Magazine Vol 6 No 12, November
Cashmere: I'll start with the most obvious question. How did you
find yourself in Metallica?
Well I can tell ya, hanging out on Venice Beach playing on a tin
can always works. It's your best audition! You can't go wrong!
No, to make a long story short, I met the guys about ten years
ago and had the opportunity to tour with Metallica with Suicidal
Tendencies in '93 and '94 and I had a great time with them back
then. Over the last ten years or so I didn't see 'em around much.
I was busy working with Ozzy Osbourne and also with Jerry Cantrell,
so I was quite busy and I wasn't up on my Metallica info at the
time. I actually got a call from a mutual friend of mine and Kirk's
who said Kirk was coming to L.A. and I should take him surfing.
So we were hanging out for a few days, not even talking about
music, just talking about surfing and getting to know each other
as people, not as musicians, and I guess a year after that they
started checking bass players out and I was Kirk's guy. The rest
is history. I just came up and was looking forward to jamming
on some of the classic songs. It wasn't like I needed a job or
anything, I was fine. I've had the good fortune over the years
to do what I wanted to do musically. I know Jason [Newstead] probably
wanted to do what I've always been doing, having the freedom to
play different styles of music and work with different people,
but for me it was "Oh shit! I get to jam with Metallica!"
and it all worked out, here I am.
TC: Like you
said, Jason has gone back to Voivod and smaller bands, while you've
stepped up to the world of Metallica. I imagine you're living
and breathing Metallica now?
RT: Yeah I
am and it's great. For me it's like being a kid in a candy store.
I want to be in a band, I want to be in a band like this. This
is a good time to be in Metallica. It's great. Every night we
jam just before we go on stage, we jam for about a half hour sometimes.
We jam to warm up, but most of the time we're working on new song
ideas. It's new grooves and sometimes we get stuck in the jam
room. It's hard for us to get out and play the concert. But we
have a little recording set up, so everything is documented, so
it's an exciting time. Then you get out there and play the classic
songs, the old stuff, which they haven't done in a while. A lot
of the material that the guys were throwing down live were more
from 'Load' and 'Reload', with a couple of classics mixed in there,
but for me to come in… no disrespect to 'Load' and 'Reload'…
but there's nothing like playing tracks from what we call the
holy grail, which is 'Master of Puppets', 'Ride the Lightening',
'Kill 'Em All'. That's awesome. The thing is too, this past year
for us hasn't been about a big ridiculous production, like we
went to Europe and every night was a different set, we always
mixed it up. The same thing in Japan, tonight's going to be a
different set to the Big Day Out set, we keep things spontaneous.
We don't know what we're going to play or the order of what we're
going to play until literally a half hour before the show, so
it's a good time, we're having fun.
TC: What about
when you were going back and learning the old Metallica tracks,
did they give you a lot of freedom to put your own thing in there?
the guys are so casual about all that. The first thing for me
was that I wanted to know as much as I could without any assistance.
I did as much homework as possible and the last thing, I know
from my own experience of auditioning musicians, that it's really,
really great when the guy that comes in knows his shit. The worst
thing is for someone to get up there and not be ready. It's not
even worth it half the time. For me I didn't want that, so I went
in there prepared as best as I could be and I just had a blast
with them. There were two auditions, the first one was in November
 and I basically went up there and had a day where I just
hung out with the band and the second day I actually played. After
the first day, I went out with Lars drinking, maybe that was his
test for me.
the Danes can drink!
RT: No shit!
Tell me about it. So I actually auditioned with a hangover. That
was not fun. Anyway, I think that was Lars' test. I guess I passed.
The good thing about that was that I wasn't nervous when I played
because I was hung over. I got a call back in February and this
time I was very prepared, I knew like twenty songs.
TC: How did
you feel backstage before your first Metallica show?
RT: My first
Metallica show was at San Quentin State Penitentiary. It was very
surreal, so how did I feel? I felt very, very strange. I get up
on stage for the first time with these guys, I'm looking out over
the horizon and I see this beautiful sunset because it was at
dusk, and I look a little lower and I see this huge prison wall
all around us and these towers with sniper shooters. You see the
brothers off in the distance playing basketball, you see another
group of guys playing baseball and in front of us is eight hundred
inmates wearing the blue uniforms, which are the lifer uniforms;
they're in there for life! They're lovin' it and it was just very
surreal, that was the strangest thing ever. We also only rehearsed
for fifteen minutes, three days before.
TC: Have you
ever played a gig like that since?
RT: No, I
don't think that will ever happen again. We had done a video for
the song 'St. Anger' the day before and our payment to the prison
was to perform a show for the inmates.
TC: So the
actual video wasn't that concert?
RT: No. Some
of the footage they got was from the concert, but obviously the
footage that you see where we're in the actual cell block was
the day before. We were there the whole day before, so I spent
the whole day meeting some of these prisoners and seeing a different
side of people's existence and it's really, really freaky. It
was a learning experience, so that was my first live and video
performance… my first show. Right after that I had the MTV
Icon show to do, so we flew down to L.A. right after the show
at San Quentin and they said "Now you get to play in front
of millions and millions of viewers all over the world as this
band is being recognized as icons". Now you talk about pressure,
because that was pretty much live. So there I was, so I had to
be the boy in the bubble, put the blinkers on, prepare myself
and not get nervous.
TC: Also I
suppose at that time you would've still been "the new guy".
TC: How did
the fans take it?
RT: Well to
be the new guy on a tribute, that was my second performance, there
was a lot of pressure. But what I did was take myself out of that
headspace of feeling the pressure and treating it like I'm going
to have fun and roll with it like that. The good thing is it was
in L.A. and the other good thing is that a lot of the people there
that were playing on the show were people that I had met previously
from other tours or from Ozzfests when I played with Ozzy. Some
of the musicians were from the local area from Los Angeles, so
it was almost like a tribute to Metallica, but it also ended up
being like a welcoming for me and a homecoming for me, given that
a lot of people there are from where I live. It ended up not being
so bad, it was like a celebration of the old, the new and obviously
the new record and Metallica re-existing back into it all with
myself. It was great; it was a lot of fun!
TC: So tell
us about www.metallica.com.
RT: It's the
best, that's one thing about Metallica is that the whole relationship
they have with their fans from what I've experienced it's amazing,
it's the best. It's day to day, there's information, and we have
a guy called Nicholas who surfs as well. He's out there with Kirk
and I getting footage of us surfing and interviewing people that
were pro-surfers and people that we're touring and traveling with,
so it's just very informative on our day to day. You can just
join up and check it out.
TC: Tell us
about the 'Some Kind of Monster' documentary.
Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger, two award winning documentarians,
they made a film called 'Paradise Lost' and 'Brother Keeper'.
They actually met Metallica through using their music on 'Paradise
Lost'. They developed a relationship with Lars and the guys and
thought it would be a good idea to film the band, so Metallica
was thinking about it and said okay yeah. Then when Jason was
going to leave the band and things started getting a little crazy,
they felt it was a good time to actually film the band because
it was going to be a time of transition and change and it might
actually be interesting and different. So it's not a movie based
on any kind of a concert or anything like that, it's basically
seeing a different side of a band like this. It's very interesting
because you're going to see the side of Metallica that's more
family oriented and you're going to see sides of their personalities
that you wouldn't even know existed. I saw it, I mean I'm in it,
but I didn't know what it was going to be about until I saw the
first screening, and I was just blown away! It was really interesting,
so it just premiered at Sundance film festival to rave reviews
and things are going good. It was kind of an experiment. We didn't
know what was going to happen or if people were even going to
be interested! It's not a concert... it's not even the making
of St. Anger. There is definitely a chunk of St. Anger in there,
but it's not based on the songs, it's based on what went down
and the energy of the band. Anyway they got through it and here
we are and we're having a blast man!
TC: Will that
be available soon?
RT: Well it's
going to be in the theatres first, then it will be on DVD. Right
now there's deals being worked out and it's all coming together.
Hopefully maybe in like two or three months.
TC: Your new
single is 'The Unnamed Feeling'. You're judging a competition
for the cover art of the Australia-only single. Have you picked
a winner yet?
RT: We narrowed
it down to about three. I don't know what was decided from the
three, but yeah, we had people send in their ideas for the cover
art, and there was about thirty different images on the floor.
They set 'em up so we'd be in the dressing room getting ready
for a show and there'd be thirty pieces of paper with different
artistic and beautiful colours actually. A lot of them are great,
we narrowed it to three and I don't even know who won! Also too,
with that, the b-sides to the single are going to be three songs
from this tour from the Big Day Out shows.
TC: Do you
know what they are yet?
RT: I don't
know what they are yet. We record every night, we have a system
where every show is documented.
TC: Well thanks
for your time.
RT: Cool man!