M. SHADOWS INTERVIEWS METALLICA’S JAMES HETFIELD AND LARS ULRICH
This story was originally published in August 2005. FULL ARTICLE VIA REVOLVER
“The first Metallica record I ever got was …And Justice for All,” remembers Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows. “The video for ‘One’ was my dad’s favorite. He got me the tape, and I just flipped out. I went out and bought the entire back catalogue. So the day we met Metallica, up at the Fillmore [in San Francisco], we were like, OK, we can quit now — we met Metallica, we hung out and they were supercool!”
Thankfully, Shadows and A7X didn’t actually pack it in after that momentous meeting, because they would have missed out on opening a number of European arena shows for Metallica this summer, during which they’ve occasionally joined the band onstage for some end-of-set hijinks: Just a few nights ago, Shadows and bandmates Synyster Gates, Zacky Vengeance, Johnny Christ and the Reverend assisted James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo in Berlin in a rousing version of the Ramones’ “Commando.” Later tonight, they’ll be up there again, this time in Arnhem, Holland, providing the backing vocals on a cover of the Misfits’ “Die, Die, My Darling.” For a diehard Metallica fan like Shadows, it’s the kind of experience that makes you pinch yourself to see if you’re hallucinating.
“To do this tour, let alone singing onstage with Metallica in Berlin, it’s something you can’t even imagine when you’re just starting out in a garage,” says Shadows.
“It’s insane. It’s a dream come true. You can’t even put it into words.”
Backstage in Arnhem with Shadows, Hetfield and Ulrich, it becomes immediately clear to Revolver that, despite their difference in age, the Metallica guys have a healthy respect and admiration for the A7X singer, as well. Though Shadows is a little nervous about interrogating his heroes for the magazine — “If you don’t want to answer any of these questions, I won’t be offended,” he tells them at the start of the interview — Hetfield and Ulrich are never less than friendly and candid when talking about everything from Metallica’s album-in-progress to the joys of watching their children play together. “And anyway, it couldn’t be worse than the interview I did earlier today,” jokes Ulrich, as Revolver‘s tape begins to roll.
M. SHADOWS: YOU GUYS RECENTLY WENT TO SOUTH AFRICA FOR THE FIRST TIME. HOW WAS THAT? HOW WERE THE SOUTH AFRICAN FANS?
JAMES HETFIELD It’s hard to believe that, in 26 years of Metallicadom, there’s a continent we still haven’t played. [Laughs] It’s good to go to a place that you’ve never been and experience it for the first time. And they’re getting to see you for the first time — we could have gone up there and farted in a mic, and it would have been, “Yeah, the best!” [Laughs] But it was really, really exciting and probably a very different experience because we’re a little older. We were taking in more of the sights. I had my wife there, and we went on a safari. I really went out of my way to wake up and check out the country itself. You know, there were some scary parts and ugly parts, just like any other place, but some really amazing great parts, too. Capetown is a beautiful city.
MUSIC HAS CHANGED A LOT SINCE YOU BEGAN, AND I’M SURE YOUR INFLUENCES HAVE CHANGED, AS WELL. WHAT DRIVES YOU TO CONTINUE PLAYING, AND WHAT ARE YOUR CURRENT INFLUENCES IN MUSIC AND IN LIFE?
LARS ULRICH Honestly, it’s you guys. Seriously! You guys put out music that inspires us, and I appreciate the love we get from all of you guys, from Trivium, from Bullet for My Valentine — everybody. That’s what inspires us — hearing people re-reinterpret what we’ve done in the same way that we re-reinterpreted Black Sabbath and everything through that whole lineage. You guys spit stuff back in our face, and it keeps us on our toes and fresh. We’re all just music fans, and the reason we do what we do is because we love music. We’re always listening to new stuff and trying to keep our finger on the pulse to the best of our abilities. And I’d say just being in a musical environment that continues to reinvent itself and be stimulating is what inspires us. We’ve been doing it so long. There’s so many ups and downs and so many dynamics in the relationships. And I think what’s really inspiring us right now is that we’re all getting along, we’re all really having fun. As you can see, there’s no psychiatrists around — there’s not all this bullshit going on. Phil [“enhancement coach” Phil Towle, whose group-therapy sessions with the band were captured in the 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster] said the whole time that all the work we were doing three or four years ago was going to pay off on the next record, not on St. Anger. And it’s really true — every day going into the studio to write and seeing these guys, it’s fun again. It’s not like, “Now I’ve gotta go battle James Hetfield all day,” you know what I mean? And it’s showing in everything — the way we play onstage and just the whole vibe.
HETFIELD Yeah, for sure. The fact that we don’t know our potential, and we’re still striving for that ultimate thing — “never satisfied” is both a curse and a blessing, you know? The next song you write is always going to be the best of your career. And bands like yourself are getting us to step up again and getting us to remember the roots where we came from. Also, hooking up with a Rick Rubin, another entity. It’s like, Imagine if ‘Tallica did a record with Rick Rubin? Whoa, what would that be like? There’s a lot of untapped stuff, and we don’t know where we can go until we try. Also, when you evolve in life, you listen to music differently than when you were younger. Songs from way back take on a whole new meaning and inspire you in a whole new way — especially lyrically.
METALLICA HAS HAD AN AMAZING CAREER AND IS AN ICON FOR ALMOST EVERY METAL AND ROCK BAND NOWADAYS. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT — AND IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD CHANGE ABOUT YOUR CAREER IF YOU COULD GO BACK?
HETFIELD Anything we’d change in our career? For me, what-ifs can’t exist. I have to really be right now. Because if I’m back a little bit or ahead a little bit, I fuck up and wish I was somewhere else. [Laughs] So, right now is it, and I want it to soak in right now. Cliff dying — it would be great if he was still here. He is still here in spirit and he lives on with us, but every once in a while I’d love to look over and see Cliff at the side of the stage and find out what he thinks about what we’re doing now.
ULRICH I don’t think I would ever change anything, and I’m proud because everything that we’ve done has always been in the moment, and it’s always been the best that it could be, the best that we could make it at that moment. You can look back and go, “What the fuck were we thinking in 1996 when we looked like that?” or whatever, but it is what it is. And in the moment, that’s what it was, and that’s what it needed to be. As far as the whole iconic thing, when I’m at home and I get up at 6:45 in the morning with my kids, and I’m making lunchboxes and fighting with them about what kind of cereal they want, I don’t feel particularly iconic. [Laughs] Or when I’m driving them to soccer practices or taekwondo — when you’re living your life, none of that shit kind of enters the radar. Then you come out here and you hang out, and all of a sudden it’s like, “Fuck! Whoa!” But I feel much more of a kinship with you guys and with the Triviums of the world. I feel like we’re of the same generation, because all my heroes — like Sabbath and AC/DC and Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and Deep Purple — they’re all a generation older than us. I feel much more on the same level with you guys than with those guys, because those guys were always my idols, my heroes. I was sitting with Matt from Trivium last night, and he goes, “Man, the reason we exist is because of you.” It’s such a mind-fuck, because I feel like we’re on the same page because we all look up to Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden and Judas Priest together. So I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of this kind of stuff. And it’s pretty weird, because I still feel like a kid inside. The only time I don’t feel like a kid is when I come offstage and my arm feels like it’s 100 years old. But other than that, dude, I’m 22 years old, just like the rest of you guys! [Laughs]
JAMES, YOU RECENTLY SANG ONSTAGE WITH ALICE IN CHAINS. HOW WAS THAT EXPERIENCE FOR YOU, AND HOW CLOSE WERE YOU WITH LAYNE?
HETFIELD I wasn’t really close with Layne, but I remember going to see Alice in Chains many times. I remember when we were down in L.A. [in 1991, making “The Black Album”], I left the studio early to see them play on Clash of the Titans with Slayer. I was driving like a madman in this rented van, going on the median and scaring the shit out of my friend — “We gotta get there!” And we get there, and they’d just got off. I was like, “Aw, man!” [Laughs] I hung with them a little bit, always just loved their music, and I’d say that Jerry and I share some life experiences, like getting a second chance at life and realizing how cool things can be. So we’ve got kind of a kinship that way. And seeing them play — I just love hearing those songs. Those songs are awesome and should be heard, you know? They were so unique, so ahead of their time. And out of all the Seattle stuff, that stuff is the most timeless. Unfortunately, Layne just loved the junk too much, man, and that was that. I just read in his lyrics his obsessiveness about it. And he knew where he was goin’! It’s like, in the school of driving, look where you want to go — and that’s what he was doing, it seems like.
WHICH ALBUM TOOK YOU THE LONGEST TO COMPLETE?
HETFIELD [Laughs] The next one, and the next one. The longest to create? The Load stuff just seemed like years for me.
ULRICH That’s because it was! [Laughs]
HETFIELD Well, St. Anger obviously took years for other reasons, you know? [Laughs] But they all take long. They all seem like they take a little too long, to me.
WHICH ALBUM ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
HETFIELD The hokey answer is that we’re proud of them all, because as Lars says, that’s just history. We’re true to now! Right now, it’s the 20th anniversary of Master of Puppets, so we’ve been playing it live. I’ve forgotten how solid all of the songs are on it, and it seems to be the album that inspired a lot of the younger kids that are out there. It’s helped us plug into our history again and made us feel good about what we’ve done.
ULRICH I’d say for me, the biggest mind- fuck of all is the first one [1983’sKill ‘Em All] because of the fact that we could actually make a record. Twenty-five years ago, making a record, that was a big fucking deal! We got together to play music and have fun and sweat and drink beers and whatever — and then two years later, we had a record. That was the biggest mind-fuck of all of them. So I’m just really proud that that happened. The rest is history, but that was really nutty.
METALLICA TAKES UP THE MAJORITY OF YOUR TIME, BUT WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN YOU’RE AT HOME? JAMES, I KNOW YOU’RE INTO HOT RODS AND BIKES …
HETFIELD Yeah, creating things that aren’t popped out of a factory — it’s like, Make the car that should have been. That’s fun. You know, cutting into a car — there’s just an intense feeling about that. It’s like, am I sure I know what I’m doing? [Laughs] But envisioning what could be and making a unique car — you drive your kids to school in a ’52 Olds, and it’s this bright-green thing called the Grinch, and your kids hop out of it and all the moms are like, “Oh, my God,” and all the other kids are going, “Cool!” Just taking old rust and bringing it to life again — kind of giving it a second chance. [Laughs] It’s really a big metaphor for my life, you know? Taking something that’s been put out to pasture like some old junk, and then you bring it back …
ULRICH What I do is not nearly that poetic. [Laughs] I pretty much take care of my kids, and that’s really it. I find I scramble for “Lars time.” And when I get some Lars time between “Metallica time” and “family time,” I just go see movies. I love movies — I love moviemaking and writing and that whole thing. I’m infatuated by that world. But when I’ve put the kids to sleep and I’ve got an hour of Lars time, I’ll just sit and find some Sonny Boy Williamson or old Sam Kinison on YouTube. It’s like, what more do you need in life than YouTube? Can anybody answer that? [Laughs]
HETFIELD Yeah, I’ve watched Danzig get knocked down about 1,500 times! [Laughs] And that fat chick on the motorcycle — boom!
ULRICH We played a new song [in Germany] two days ago, and now it’s all over YouTube! So I’ll sit back with a glass of wine and watch YouTube for an hour before I go to bed. That’s pretty much it.
I CAN’T LIE — I WAS UP ON YOUTUBE THE OTHER NIGHT, LOOKING AT THE NEW SONG. [LAUGHS]
HETFIELD There are three different ones — the side view’s the best. [Laughs]
WHAT DO YOU FEEL HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT AWAY FROM METALLICA?
ULRICH My kids.
HETFIELD I would agree. Keeping a marriage together and creating three healthy kids — I just never would have thought it was possible! [Laughs]
ULRICHI would say keeping two healthy kids together in a marriage that fell apart is equally tough — maybe even tougher. That’s it — once you have kids, there’s no other answer.
HOW HAS HAVING A FAMILY CHANGED YOUR LIFE ON THE ROAD?
HETFIELD It’s changed a lot. Just in terms of being out for long periods of time, I can’t have it. I just won’t do it. I’m not going to miss my kids growing up, you know? And if we are out — like the Download Festival is on my daughter’s birthday, and we’re taking her out of school early and bringing her over for it. Stuff like that is pretty important — you don’t get second chances at that. That doesn’t mean that gigs will always be there for us, either, but there’s a priority there. And having them live together … really, introducing them to each other was pretty important. You know, “Family, meet band! Band, meet family! You’re gonna live together, so you’ve got to get along.” So that’s going pretty good. And the fact that Lars and I are on the same page with the kids and the time off and the priorities — that is the saving grace with this band. I think if we were very different on that, it would be very difficult to get anything done. [Laughs]
ULRICH Yeah, it used to be Metallica, and now it’s family and Metallica. Like James says, it’s also helped us in our relationship, because our kids are exactly the same age. We have a lot of differences — the things we share are Metallica and family. Just a couple of weeks ago, before we came out here, we threw a little Memorial Day barbecue. His son and my son were playing air hockey together, and I was like, “Wow, this is really cool — the kids are getting along!” The fact that they can coexist in the same space makes everything a lot easier. You asked about life on the road, and obviously the days of two-year, never-ending tours and drunken blitzes and endless strip clubs and hookers and all that shit — it’s a different thing. Back then, it was about staying on the road as long as possible — like, “I don’t wanna go home! I wanna fuckin’ stay out here and get laid every night!” And now it’s like, two or three weeks max, and you’ve gotta get back and deal [with reality]. When I was your age, I was like, “Fuck, having kids? Ugh!” But I’m proud to say that we’ve had kids and can still rock as hard as ever on stage. I know it’s a cliché, and I know it sounds hokey to some 19-year-old kid, but we’re playing harder now than in as long as I can remember, and playing better.