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Metallica Are Back in Action with a Festival and 3D Movie

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james hetfield metallica
James Hetfield of Metallica performs at The Fillmore in San Francisco.
Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage

James Hetfield

This is a busy year for you, even without a new album. When you come to this studio, does it feel like your version of an office?
Not one bit. I look forward to coming here. It feels safe. It feels real. I can be my total self. Out there, not so much. When I get here, I feel grounded. I feel OK.

There was a different energy when we worked in other places. When we recorded in Denmark, we slept in the tape [storage] room. We'd wake up, go downstairs and record, then go upstairs and go to bed. But this is the ultimate. If you're in a rock band, you want this. And we got it.

The place where we wrote [1986's] Master of Puppets was over on Carlson Boulevard [in El Cerrito]. There was a garage where we never parked a car. There was a drum kit, a few amps – the smell of that carpet... ugh! It was going to be torn down, that historic little building [grins]. I wanted to buy it and put it in there [points to the recording room]. Put the old garage in our new garage. I had to let that one go.

After 30 years, a lot of bands would start slowing down.
A lot of bands would say, "I wonder what 30 years feels like. We never made it." There's a lot of people who want us to stop. This is a gold-plated problem. Why would you stop? There are so many cool things still. I don't want to say no to something and then think later on, "What an asshole. You missed out on something that is not coming again."

Twenty years ago, a lot of those people thought you walked on water.
It's mostly "They're not doing the things I want them to. They made an album with Lou Reed. I don't want that." They're in love with something that isn't. Or they're in love with something that morphs, that needs its own space. They can't contain it.

When you played the older songs at your 30th-anniversary shows last December at the Fillmore, did you recognize your younger, angrier self in those lyrics? You're a different man than the one who wrote "Of Wolf and Man."
Or "Dyers Eve," which is pure spite. [Pauses] I look back at pictures and see someone who is happy – smiling, goofing, using foul language at the wrong time, kind of obnoxious, but happy. But behind closed doors, there was a lonely, ugly, hateful person. Thank God for that music.

There's a romantic part of those days that I miss. I look at those photos and want to be that again. Then I look at my relationship with my band, my friends, especially my family, and I think, "I wouldn't have this if I was that person."

Are there songs on the Black Album that you find difficult to sing now?
Lyrically? No. It just solidifies what I was going through. I can see it clearer. "The Struggle Within" – I'm no psychiatrist, but it's right there. "Don't Tread on Me," "Sad but True," "My Friend of Misery" – it speaks a lot of what's to come. When [the artist] Pushead did the original [sleeve] art for "Sad but True," with the skull looking at itself, I had no idea the duality was so blatant in that song. He picked up on that: good and evil; the secret me and the public me. I'm glad I'm a little more transparent than I think I am. People have helped me more because of that.

How do you write angry metal lyrics now if you've left the rage behind?
Ask my wife why I get pissed off and want to smash the car into pieces. It's still there. I wish it wasn't. But why run from it? Just understand it. Use it. When I'm feeling like that, pick up a pen and paper. Pick up the guitar. Start doing it. Because it's not gone. My family wishes it was. But it's not.

Do you have a mental or emotional regimen to manage that?
Obviously the 12-step meetings. Meditation. Prayer. They all help me at least know that what I'm feeling is coming from somewhere for a reason. It's understanding my cycle: feeling insecure, using rage to prove who I am and get what I want, then depression. And then it goes back to insecurity. It's a cycle, not unlike drinking – all or nothing. History tells me it won't last forever. But when I'm in it, I'm in it.

How far have you gotten into writing for a new album?
I only have 846 riffs.

Is that an exact figure?
In iTunes, you can see how many things you've got. And that does not include the soundchecks, the stuff we goof around with here. You plug in an amp. Suddenly it makes you feel good – you come up with a riff. "Dude, did you get that?" You can't get away from being recorded here.

But Lars, the hoarder of Metallica, is obsessed with revisiting every stone, turning it over: "That could be great!" Yeah, it could all be great. But I've got a new one right now. That's the Catch-22. You've got a riff from five years ago on tour that's amazing. Do I still feel it? Don't worry. Something better will show up.

Are there too many distractions – tours, the festival, the movie – that take you away from the primary business of...
Writing songs? Absolutely. This week is interviews, photo shoots, shooting videos for things. When are we going to start writing? "We've got to rehearse the Black Album." I would love to sit and write a record without having to think of other stuff.

What is your take on 3D movies? When I hear that phrase, I get worried.
You think Pixar. You think hokey-ness. Our intention is to make something that is completely insane and blows minds. I also want a story line. I want this to be a cult-type film. It's kind of silly, talking so in-depth about it when I don't know what it even is yet.

Whose idea was it?
[Co-manager] Peter Mensch. It came from capturing the best stuff from all of the past tours. A lot of kids didn't get to see the destruction scene [on the...And Justice for All tour], or the Snakepit [on the Metallica tour]. Put it all into a best-of. And hey, why don't we film it in 3D?

Do you have a budget?
Yeah. It's ungodly. It's our life savings, basically. We don't know what the hell we're doing. But we know we want to try.

I'm surprised that after your 2004 warts-and-all documentary, "Some Kind of Monster," you would make another movie.
Maybe someone else will go into rehab for this one. [Laughs] Rehab – in 3D!

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