There comes a moment in every Metallica gig lately where guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo take the spotlight for themselves. It’s listed officially on the band’s set lists as “Kirk/Rob Doodle” – a sort of open-ended “they’re gonna do whatever they want” – and it’s allowed them to stretch out in interesting ways.
They started out in 2017 riffing on infrequently-played entries from the Metallica oeuvre, like “Bleeding Me” and “I Disappear” and followed them with Trujillo’s take on the late Cliff Burton’s “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth” bass solo. But then they realized the potential of these duets and started tailoring them to respective cities by interpreting a song by a local artist (Trujillo still, however, does “Anesthesia.”) The songs are pared-down covers – just bass and guitar and sometimes Trujillo singing in front of music stands – but that makes the challenge all the more fun. When they were in Winnipeg, recently, they played Canada’s national anthem of rock, BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business”; in Madison, Wisconsin, they gave a go of Garbage’s “Stupid Girl”; in Stockholm, they said screw it and did Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” It’s almost always something unexpected.
“Sometimes it gets a little bit challenging to decide on an artist or a song,” Trujillo tells Rolling Stone, early on the group’s recent North American tour leg. “You may be in Sioux Falls, and you’re like, ‘OK, I gotta dig deep here.’ But when you find the right song, it’s really cool. It’s a way for Kirk and I to show honor and respect to some of the songwriters in the bands from that particular area. When you get into [places like] Omaha, Nebraska, it’s really a lot of fun.” (Incidentally, in Sioux Falls, they went for Native American rockers Indigenous’ “Things We Do.”)
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Although not all of the choices fully land (their take on Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” which they did after a few days after this interview, was criticized online), Trujillo says they had “a few grand slams” in Europe, where they really have to dig for something unique. It’s the times when he’s taken the effort to learn lyrics in another language that seem to go over best. “I’ll sing some obscure country song from the Czech Republic [Ivan Mládek’s ‘Jožin z Bažin’], and I find out that this song is something every young person grew up with from the late Seventies on,” he says. “In Barcelona, we did a flamenco song by a Catalan artist [Peret’s ‘El Muerto Vivo’], and people were freaking out. It’s the same thing in Helsinki. The song we covered [Hassisen Kone’s ‘Rappiola’] was apparently the equivalent to the Ramones in that country, so you’re striking at an emotional connection and it ends up being on the national news.
“I’ve had people, when I got back home to Los Angeles, come up to me about those songs,” he continues. “I’ll be at a skate park with my son, and some woman will say, ‘It was great what you did the other night in Helsinki.’ I’m like, ‘What? You’re from Finland?’ ‘Yes, yes, I’ve lived here now for 15 years.'”
When they began prepping for their current run of North American arenas, which resumes in Milwaukee on October 16th, Trujillo realized just how much fun they could have genre-wise with their doodles. “Now that we’re getting into the States, there’s no rules to the styles: We will bust out a classic R&B song, a country song, a punk-rock song, and to me that’s the beauty of it,” he says. “We’ll get to blast death metal if we have to.” (And they have; in Geneva, they honored the late Celtic Frost bassist Martin Eric Ain with that band’s extra-heavy “Procreation of the Wicked.”)
“You can’t phone it in,” Trujillo says. “You always have to create the arrangement, do the homework and I give it my best shot and I get Kirk to mostly give it his best shot, too. That’s how we roll.”