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Q&A: Metallica's Lars Ulrich

"If we don't get along, everything else is irrelevant"

August 28, 2012 3:06 PM ET

Which is better — traveling to Metallica shows with your family or the way you used to do it with the band? Four on the bus, like a fist.
The four fists on the bus, one fist and four beers on the bus [laughs] — that was a lot of fun. But if you're going to do this in the prime years of your family life, when you're rearing the kids, then basing becomes the way to solve it. Park yourself in a city — Copenhagen, London, Paris. You hop in and out. It may not be the most cost-effective way of touring. But big picture — it's the way of keeping everybody sustained. Everybody gets their elbow room. What you don't need is a party policy, where people are dictated to, what they can or can't do. That's not going to make it fun. It's not going to give people what they need to administer their own survival skills, to get through this insanity.

Is there a price that comes with that? The unity of the band?
To me, it has to start with getting along. If we don't get along, everything else is irrelevant. If you've got four guys that are content, who get along, everything else will happen automatically. When we come to Europe every year, it's basically what we call Summer Vacation. Bring the families, park ourselves, play gigs. Where else would you rather be than western European capitals in the summer? Playing festivals with great bands, cool vibes, the long days? This is fucking paradise.

I don't take any of this shit for granted. There are no absolutes in my life. I don't think in black and white. I think in grays. Who knows where it's gonna go? But for right now, this works. It works for the family. It works for the band. And I don't think there's ever been a better internal vibe in this band. And the place where that shows and makes a difference — those two hours onstage. Because the reports I'm hearing from the people I trust — there's more fire, more spunk, more in-your-face-ness. Somehow, through the bloat of the Nineties, the excess, it's gotten back to being on fire again. Maybe it shouldn't be overanalyzed. If people are content, with themselves and their families and each other, then it shows in those two hours onstage.

In the beginning, what was your definition of success? What kind of fame did you want?
There was never a discussion about it. It was obvious there were two paths. You become or want to become Led Zeppelin, Kiss, etc. Larger than life. Mystery. No pictures on the records. Or you do feet on the ground, access, reaching out, inviting people in. It was pretty clear early on that we were going this way, with the access. Be part of it. You're welcome. This is who we are, for better or worse, warts and all. We're going to feed off your energy, that relationship.

Like those long after-show autograph sessions I saw backstage in 1988.
It's not us and you — it's we, all of us together. The movie [the 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster] is the ultimate in that access, better or worse again. Some people say, "I don't even want to know that." But once you've chosen your path, then go for it. It's uncensored. You make the choice, whether you want the access or not.

What was the lowest point for you, financially, in the band's early days?
I'll tell you exactly when it was. Kill 'Em All came out in August of '83. We did the tour. And the thing about being on tour back then was, you got your per diem, just enough money to scrape by. When we came off the Kill 'Em All tour, we had nothing. For the first time in a year, I had to call my mom up: "Listen, Mom, I need some help. Can you help me with the rent? Can you help me with some food money?"

It was all about hook up some dates, get us back on tour. Because on tour, you could go to people's houses. You could eat crap backstage. When you're on tour, you're surviving. When you were at home, fuck . . . It was tuna in cans.

People forget that to get to this level — the planes and champagne — you gotta start low.
That's the thing that was weird about the whole Napster thing. [In 2000, Metallica sued the file-sharing Website for sharing the band's copyrighted recordings online for free without the band's permission.] Nine out of 10 people go, "What was that about? It was about money." Fuck you — it wasn't about money. It was about control. We were eating off salad plates for $2.99 at Burger King in the fall of '83. Money did not matter. Money was a practical element. There was no attachment to it. In 2008, it's not something we sit around and have long conversations about. It's not like, "What's in the bank? How much are we making?" I have no emotional connection to money. And somehow I became the greedy Danish drummer, because of this Napster thing.

Give away stuff for free? Not a problem. The Internet? Not a problem. [Metallica sells complete downloads of recent shows at their Website and offers almost two dozen classic concerts from their soundboard archive for free.] Who makes the decision? We make the decision. I'll give away all my shit for free. But I'll decide when and where and how.

 

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