What are you learning from playing the Black Album?
For the longest time, I thought "My Friend of Misery" was an instrumental. In 1990, when we were getting it together for the album, we always played it as an instrumental. Before we finished, we decided James should write lyrics. When we were talking about playing the Black Album live, I listened to it, to relearn it, and went, "My God, it has words." When we rehearsed it this time, it was the first time we'd played it with James singing.
But the simplicity of that album, the structure of it, verges on the poetic. A good poem has the right word in the right spot at the right moment. The Black Album has all that. The guitar solos almost wrote themselves.
It wasn't like you slowed down and simplified to become more successful. But a lot of your fans considered the Black Album a betrayal of your speed-metal origins.
Metal is one of the most conservative forms of music. The conundrum is that it's also rebellious music. It's supposed to be extreme. It's not anything anybody talks about. You just know what the terms are. Is that metal? Yes, it is. No, it's not. And if it's questionable, it's probably Metallica [grins].
But like at our festival – I am very excited to see [blues guitarist] Gary Clark Jr. There hasn't been a guitar guy in a long time who has been this interesting to me. I loved the fact that when we did Lollapalooza [in 1996], we were playing with the Cocteau Twins, the Ramones and Cheap Trick. I loved that dichotomy. If you're just going to throw the same ice cream at me, I'm outta here.
Your Orion festival is a huge undertaking. Do you expect to make money?
Let me let you in on a little secret. Whenever we go on these kinds of endeavors, it's never to make money [laughs]. We want it to be fun and exciting. Maybe we break even. Or lose money. Whatever. It's not a financial thing. We're trying to come up with something cool.
So what supports everything you have in this studio – touring? Yeah. The merchandise. We basically take funds from wherever we can. This is a real luxury. But great things come out of this. We have a place to rehearse, to write songs, to come up with new ideas. We don't necessarily save money having this place, because of the way we work. We take our time, doing what we need to do, and do it until it's done.
Do you have years where you have to go on the road to pay the bills?
That's every year. The cycles of taking two years off don't exist anymore. We were able to do that because we had record royalties coming in consistently. Now you put out an album, and you have a windfall maybe once or twice but not the way it used to be – a check every three months. We have to go out and play shows, and we're totally fine with that. We're a great live band that enjoys bringing the music to the people. I never thought it was enough, just giving them a CD.
That also means you've fallen way behind in making new music, because you're so busy with touring, the festival and the 3D movie.
We've known for at least two years that we have to start writing songs. It feels like I'm standing on the side of a hill: There's this big boulder at the top that I know is going to start rolling one of these days. And when it does, we won't be able to stop it. But it hasn't started rolling yet.
It's on everybody's mind. When we finished at the Fillmore last year, I thought, "A year from now I'm going to be 50. At this rate, does that mean I have two albums left in me? Three?" But if we run at a different rate, who knows? Five? The one thing I've learned is you can't be too prophetic in this band, because something happens, and things completely change.
You also have a funny sense of timing. You're performing the Black Album on its 21st anniversary, not the 20th.
It was only yesterday that I realized that my 29th anniversary with the band was last week. I totally forgot about it. I joined Metallica on April 12th or something, 1983.
Thanks. I don't know if anyone else in the band noticed. Nobody said jackshit.
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