The Roxy on the Sunset Strip is basically empty as Jason Newsted leads his new band, simply called Newsted, through an afternoon sound check. In a few hours, the venue will be packed, as the former Metallica bassist reintroduces himself to fans after a decade away from being in the music scene – "full force" as he puts it.
He is almost shaking with enthusiasm when he sits down with Rolling Stone in a private upstairs room at the Rainbow Bar and Grill. "It's been a long time since I've been up here," he says as he is led up the stairs. All of this is new again for Newsted, who now finds himself in the frontman role for the quartet, who just released a four-song EP and will have a new album in early fall. In between he will spend the summer on tour as part of Megadeth's Gigantour trek.
He spoke with us about that tour, playing with artists from Ozzy Osbourne to Tina Turner, how he's reconnecting with old friends like Megadeth's Dave Mustaine and his renewed friendship and respect for Metallica, especially Lars Ulrich.
How is the tour going?
This'll be our sixth show in the last eight days. The whole idea was do these 14 warm-up shows, just to try to bust the rust off. It's been 10 years since I was really in it all the way, full-blown, Ozzfest 2003. It's all culminating now with being the front guy, my name on it, my words – a lot going on.
Do you appreciate it more after the hiatus?
I think the deeper the challenge – I had a bunch of shoulder surgeries to get myself together – whatever that level of thing, you come back with that same level of matching appreciation. It's new eyes, new mind, new world to recognize and appreciate, there's no question about that. It did happen so fast. We wrote the songs in fall of last year, recorded 16 or 20 songs since that time, put the EP out in January. I've got an LP done already, a world tour at our feet in six months' time, so that's pretty quick for all that to be coming around and for me to fathom it. In a big band like Metallica, in Metallica in particular, it is such a machine, and especially when I was in, the same people working together for 25 years for us, same band, same crew guys working for us – it was such a fine-tuned thing, that's what I got conditioned to. And so many of the detail things were kept from me because they're not gonna bother you with all the bullshit. So I skipped over this part that I'm doing right now in the first 30 years of my career. October of 1986 on Halloween I played the last show with Flotsam and Jetsam – 10 days later onstage in Japan, sold out Budokan with Metallica. I didn't ever do the van around the countryside, slugging it out place to place, come to the Roxy to play or anything like that. I skipped over it. Now I'm doing it, and appreciate it.
Now you're doing it, though, with a different wisdom.
That's the thing. That was Lars in Metallica – I never recognized it. I used to give him grief because, "Dude, how come you're not practicing more? How come you're not on time?" And he's like, "If you only knew what I had to do." I didn't realize, but he was so on top of that kind of stuff, and geographically aware and all these things. "We gotta go here, they're letting Western music in here, now we're going here," that kind of thing. He was so on top of it, but I didn't realize it until now. I've gained so much respect for all those guys in the camp, but especially him in particular.
Have you told him that?
No, but I will tomorrow (at the Golden Gods in L.A.). We're seeing each other for the first time since the reunion. We've seen each other two times since the Hall of Fame. They're busy, I'm busy. April of 2009 was the Hall of Fame for us and December of 2011 was the reunion. We've become so much closer as far as that goes, with respecting each other. He came to my first gallery shows of my paintings, and he's the one who actually turned me on to Basquiat. For him to come and do that, we get that special bond we didn't have before. There's some cool shit going on. We're life partners in business. We are forever. I'm always a part of Metallica, and we're always gonna be sharing decisions about different kinds of crazy stuff.
Would you see yourself playing with them again?
I'll always jam with them, but I'll pretty much jam with everybody. I'll always jam with them if they ask me.
Duff McKagan went through a similar thing – after Velvet Revolver he started the punk band Loaded, and he and I spoke about it. There's something about that renewed energy of starting from scratch and going back to basics like the van and the clubs.
I have worked very hard for what we have, but also I made a bunch of dough doing it and I invested it, so I'm doing this because I want to. The things I did before with Metallica, selling records, are what make this possible. So I love it, and now I'm back able to physically do it. I've had this stored up for so fucking long, and now it's time for me to unleash. All of June is festival shit like Sonisphere with Iron Maiden and stuff. So we just took on the Gigantour yesterday, so we've got 70 or 90 shows in front of us. There's a lot happening, but it's so exciting. It's a happy place to be right now. I feel very strong with the band – destiny has a lot to do with this, and the cats I eventually got in the band that make it up are honest, clear-eyed, hard-working, serious, committed people. We're the same in that way – we don't fuck around.
What are some of the things you've learned that allow you to be more comfortable today?
I used to take things so personal – really, really bad. We probably all do when we're younger, but especially in that kind of outfit and when it's all dudes, and when you're doing the type of tours we did. When we toured the Black Album I was home for six weeks total in three years, and that was crazy – all the things I had to sacrifice, band had to come first, no matter what. I missed some serious things in family life, like my grandmother's passing – heavy fucking shit that I had to sacrifice because of the commitment to how giant the giant was. So when things would go screwy and people wouldn't give me the mutual respect because I sacrificed like that I'd get fucking pissy. I'd take it real personal and shit. Learning not to take things personal, that's number one, I think, 'cause if it's all dudes and you're in planes, trains and automobiles, there's no diffuser, no pressure valve, no chick – it's tough.
Things are lining up for Newsted, as you say, but with all you sacrificed for Metallica, would you want Newsted to get that big, or would you rather keep it on a smaller scale?
Right, you're a prisoner of your own rewards. I want it to get recognition, I want to maintain control if I can. Getting that big would be nice and everything, but I don't think it's probably possible in that way anymore. I think it has a good chance of getting proper recognition, and I'll take it as far as I can take it. I wouldn't mind doing, in a couple of years, some headline things at some decent festivals. I'd love that, recognition-wise, for my boys especially.
What do you want fans to know as you get ready to unveil Newsted on a bigger scale?
This first time around I really want it to be simple – tight punk rock production, let the music do the talking. All I have to do, I feel, is reaffirm with people. I'm coming back the same fighting weight as the Black Album tour. It's the same dude, and I feel I'm a lot better bass player than I was, because I played a lot of music since then, with a lot of different styles. Warren Haynes, Zakk Wylde – you learn some shit when you hang around people like that, so I tried to soak that up just like a fan kid. I'm still a fan kid. I hope I can always maintain that.
Talk about the Gigantour tour and teaming with Dave Mustaine.
For us right now at this stage, the smartest thing to do is partner up with people, and as far as the pedigree and the ties I have with Dave for 30 years now, he gave us some of our first chances. He let us play. The first time Flotsam ever played California was opening up for Dave. So that's real shit, through and through. I saw him yesterday for the first time in a long time, and it was just like the old days.
How much of the LP are you playing?
A lot. We play the four songs from the EP in the set, but we're sharing a lot of new music now. It's a cool thing – we're delivering 13 songs as the four-piece band. Since Mike [Mushok] from Staind came in, it's a whole new band. I couldn't have predicted how the dimensions would change, the color he would bring to it and the fucking thump he would bring to it.
The obvious question we haven't touched upon – what made this the right time?
Once again, this is destiny, and a culmination of all the experiences I've had with all the different players. A couple of things I've already mentioned, but then there's been a diverse array of people I've been able to jam with and actually record with – DJ Shadow, Sepultura, Gov't Mule. I played bass on a single for Tina Turner that went to Number One in Europe. I really spread myself with all different kind of styles, and because of all that, exposing myself to all different people, I can regurgitate that all out. It's all heavy music, but the message is positive. The thread that goes through the lyrical content is about standing up for yourself, being true. It's all up stuff, and I get to say this from the microphone now as the frontman. I get to spread positive vibes instead of trying to out-grimace people. I already did that.