While Metallica have only days before they have to turn in the mixes of S&M, the live album documenting last April's bombastic collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony (due out Nov. 23), the mood at the Plant recording studio is upbeat.| This is the same place where every Metallica album since 1993's Binge, Shit, & Purge has been recorded, as well as Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life. The metallurgists liked the place so much they invested more than $1.5 million to revamp studio A, before spending an entire year recording Load and its moody companion, Reload. This week the former thrash band has beckoned journalists from the four corners of the globe to this woodland paradise, tucked into the tiny resort town of Sausalito, Calif., to listen to a handful of songs that will make their way onto the album. An unshaven and sleep-deprived Lars Ulrich talks to RollingStone.com about what it's like go highbrow, and why Metallica plan to take a year off.
What has it been like, putting the art project together?
It was a year and a half from when we first met [conductor] Michael Kamen until we played the two shows. I can't speak for the other guys, but after we did the two shows with the San Francisco Symphony, I didn't hear any tapes for almost three months because I wanted to come back to it fresh without any recollection of what I felt when I was playing it. For me, the last six to eight weeks have been the most enriching part of the process because it's where I've learned the most about us as a band.
What about when you were onstage with 102 new musicians?
It was very intense and very real. I find when you do something like that, the reality of the moment becomes really thick and all encompassing. Nothing else exists. It's this thing about your body and your instrument and what goes on around you. You feel so at one with everything. Other than sex, it's as focused as your mind or body ever becomes. Even though I was onstage with the three other guys in the band, Michael Kamen, the 4,000 people in the hall, the orchestra, the tape machines, the cameras, they weren't there for me. I was mainly concerned with holding up my end and nothing else. Understanding what was going on around me, at least musically, was really something that I didn't fully appreciate until we sat down to listen to the tapes. The full picture didn't hit me until eight weeks ago.
You did seem swept away by the intensity of the whole thing.
During the performance, I realized the enormity of the thing, and the need to just f---ing hold down my end of it, and not let anyone on the team down because I was not focused. Or because you had gone out and stayed up until eight in the morning the night before. There was an incredible respect for the situation, and wanting to excel at it.
When you try this in November in Berlin [the Velodrome, on Nov. 19] and New York [Madison Square Garden, Nov. 23], will you play the same set?
Theoretically, we'll be doing the same set or very close to it, but by reviewing the tapes we've gotten a better sense of what worked, what was special, what didn't work, what was adequate, so now maybe it would be interesting to revisit a few near-misses. We haven't spent much time talking about it. Just like how I feel about the acoustic thing [playing at Neil Young's Bridge School all-acoustic benefit in 1997], this is now part of something we can fall back on. If in 2001, we're doing twelve dates in Australia, we can always throw in a one night with the Sydney symphony. It's one more layer of things that this band can do, and I think that's been the best thing about this experience: feeling good about the dare, and not being scared about wanting to do this again. And having it in our arsenal as one of the things we can pull out of our sleeve.
What does scare you? Is there anything you wouldn't try?
No, there's nothing I wouldn't try. I would say bungee jumping isn't high on the list, or joining one of those guys from the National Weather Center who fly through hurricanes -- that's not high on the list either. I don't need to drink anymore Jaegermeister in my life. But in terms of creativity, writing musical things, film things, anything that is some kind of creative challenge on any level is something I could step up to. There's a difference between having aspirations and chasing them. I wouldn't say I'm chasing things. I'm not the next guy in line to chase movie parts. Or pushing the script I've been working on for five years. I'm not necessarily chasing that, but if somebody came to me and said, 'You'd be perfect for this,' certainly under the right circumstances, I'd be game. The bottom line is certainly I'm at a point in my life where I would welcome almost anything creatively.
What's in store for Metallica next, given that premise of new challenges?
I've been thinking a lot about the next record the last couple of months. I'm starting to get very excited about proving to myself, proving to the band, and proving to everybody else that we can and will reinvent it once again and come up with something that will be unlike anything you've heard from us. I think we've done the English-blues-based riffage thing enough in the last three or four records. We've done the slash stuff enough on the first record. But there are a lot of different things that we can do next time around, and I think there's a lot of new things that have come up that we can draw inspiration from.
Anyone in particular that inspires the band?
I wouldn't say anyone in particular. I'm just talking about how hard rock music continues to evolve, and it continues to fuse different elements. You have a band like Korn who has five different elements, and one of the five elements might be Metallica during the And Justice for All period. Maybe by fusing the five elements that Korn did and they morph and morph and morph, then one day I hear something in Korn and I take the one thing of theirs and fuse it with four other things. It becomes like a mushroom cloud that just continues to morph into all these different shapes. I think next time I'll want to make a really brutal, harsh record. We've done the southern rock thing, AC/DC riffs and all that. I want to do something different from that, and that's new for us. I look forward to experimenting with sounds, and being much more adventurous with sounds and noises, and loops. That's not jumping on any bandwagon, that's continuing to take advantage of technology and what's out there, and what you can f--- with and make your own. Whatever happens, I know the next Metallica album will sound like a total natural Metallica album for the year 2001. But it will be once again, very different. I look forward to getting on with that sometime next year.
So you're taking a year off?
I think we're going to skip a year. When we're done with our two weeks of millennium dates on Jan. 9, we are going to chill the f--- out for awhile. And we're probably going to take our first extended break since 1994. We're doing these dates with Kid Rock, which will be a lot of fun. I couldn't think of a better way to end the five-year run that we've been through. James [Hetfield, singer/guitarist] and I were just talking about it last night, that we'll be able to sit down for the first time in six years and have a situation where we don't have any dates in front of us. I wake up on Jan. 10 and I don't have dates staring at me. There's nothing. When he feels like it, or I feel like working, we'll give each other a call and get on with it. But there will be no date. It is a luxury, but we've worked our asses off for the past six to seven years, and it's really time to just chill out. Not just for us, but I think everybody could use a break from Metallica for a year. Get the f--- out of the way for a while.