After nine years in Metallica, do you still sometimes feel like the new guy?
Yeah. I was so immersed in and challenged by every song we played at those anniversary shows at the Fillmore. The funny thing is, in "Phantom Lord," the next-to-last song of the last night, I missed the key change. Lars was looking over at me with the semi-stink-eye; there's a certain look Lars will throw you that you don't want to see. I remember going, "Man, after all this, I blow it right at the end."
I went up to the dressing room and said to the guys, "Man, I'm so sorry. I got lost." And they said, "Oh, you too? So did we!" But at that moment, I felt like the new guy that blew it.
How would you characterize your role in Metallica?
I'm the guy who jumps ahead a bit and dissects the music – the length of certain sections, the notes, a lot of the foundation stuff. It's better for me to be 10 steps ahead than two steps behind. They wrote the songs. They recorded them. It's a part of them. But I want them to be able to lean on me.
At the beginning, it was horrible to be the guy who didn't know the song inside and out. I started working on "The Call of Ktulu" [on Ride the Lightning] a year before we ever played it live. I hoped, as a fan of Metallica, that someday we would play it. I'm still trying to get them to play "The Frayed Ends of Sanity" [on 1988's ...And Justice for All]. But that hasn't happened yet.
Is it part of your job to keep the spirit and standards of [the late bassist] Cliff Burton alive in the room?
I really believe that, especially now that we're incorporating songs like "Orion" [on Master of Puppets] and "The Call of Ktulu." That was a major step forward, because those songs hadn't been performed live. It was a challenge to nail it and to spiritually connect with that material. Every night we play those songs, I feel like, yeah, Cliff is right there with us.
Did you ever meet him or see him live with Metallica?
No, and it's the weirdest thing. Cliff's best friend is also my best friend, [drummer] Mike Bordin from Faith No More. We played in Ozzy's band together. When I went through the audition process with Metallica, I was staying at Mike's house. I'd be in the guest room at 2 a.m., learning "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and there would be this big picture of Cliff on the wall, looking at me as I'm learning his song.
Were there any bands on your wish list for Orion Music + More that you couldn't get?
I thought it would be cool to have [Trujillo's former band] Suicidal Tendencies. I had [flamenco duo] Rodrigo y Gabriela on my list, but they couldn't make it. If it were up to me, Bootsy Collins and Parliament-Funkadelic would be there.
We have diverse interests. Lars does not like hot-rod art. He's more abstract, modern. Kirk leans more Buddhist. The festival is an extension of that. But at the end of the day, people will get "Master of Puppets" and "Fight Fire With Fire." That's what we enjoy, too.
You've been in Metallica since 2003 and appear on exactly one studio album. Is that frustrating for you, not to be moving forward faster?
Sometimes. But we've done so much in that time. Take the Fillmore shows – so much work went into that. And making a record is huge: preparing the songs, locking them in. Everything is about nurturing, like vocals. There are a lot of possibilities, and James likes to try them all. Guitar solos take time in this band. Lars always has to be a part of that.
How much have you written, riff-wise, for the next record?
I have about 20 ideas I feel really good about, whereas on Death Magnetic I had one or two. But one of them ended up being "Suicide and Redemption." Hetfield – he's a writing machine. Kirk has over 300 ideas. There's so much stuff from the tuning-room jams, from all of those years of touring. I like to think I have 20 ideas I believe in.
What's the best one so far?
[Grins] There's one that reminds me of something off Black Sabbath's Vol. 4.
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