James Hetfield is ready to rock. Standing amid the high-tech clutter of a control room at Right Track Recording, in midtown Manhattan, Metallica’s singer and guitarist locks his legs in a gunfighter’s stance and grips a ’60s-vintage Danelectro guitar — a cream-white-and-burnt-copper-colored beauty — like a hunter holding an antique rifle, anxiously waiting to take his best shot. As he listens intently to the music roaring through his headphones, Hetfield’s stern, leonine features crack into a devilish leer. “Yeah,” he says with a contented growl, “I’m starting to feel a good hate buzz in here.” Hetfield is recording a last-minute overdub for “Wasting My Hate,” a hot blast of rolling-thunder guitar and sneering vocal contempt on Metallica’s new album, Load. The part is a short, slinky bit of fuzz-box roughage that has the thick, rubbery menace of classic Motörhead, and when the tape rolls, Hetfield attacks his instrument with such muscular intensity that you can actually hear the guitar strings bend and groan under the stress of his picking. His studio audience — Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, bassist Jason Newsted, the album’s producer, Bob Rock, engineer Randy Staub, and a small platoon of assistants and technicians — nods in silent, smiling approval.
But Ulrich and Rock, sitting next to each other at the mixing desk, are not quite content. Ulrich, sporting a black T-shirt that reads, JESUS LIVES IN TEXAS . . . WITH A MACHINE GUN, wonders if the song’s intro needs an extra sound effect “to pretty up the vocal so it contrasts more when the band roars in.” Rock, a broad-shouldered man whose wide smile and easygoing manner belie his firm hand and steely authority at the console, says that Hetfield’s vocal — “Ain’t gonna waste my hate/Ain’t gonna waste my hate on you/I think I’ll keep it for myself!” — sounds “a little too serious.”
Hetfield listens stonily for a minute. “That’s because I am serious,” he finally declares with a thin smile that suggests he’s only half joking. “All those things I say that you think are sarcasm — well, I’m not kidding.
“Besides,” he says of the intro, the level of argument rising in his voice, “I thought it was supposed to be simple so that it sounds like some kid in his garage just trying to do his best.”
Ulrich swings around in his chair, cackling. “Getting pretty intense in here, huh?” he announces. “Maybe we need some more ballads on the record.”
That’s the last thing Metallica need right now: more songs. Hetfield, Ulrich, Newsted and guitarist Kirk Hammett have been planning, writing, rehearsing and recording this album since the fall of 1994. It is now the second week of April 1996, nearly 18 months later. The no-bullshit, no-excuses deadline for mastering Load, Metallica’s sixth studio LP, is May 1. The release date of June 4 is set in stone. Three weeks after that, the San Francisco-based arena-metal overlords open their controversial headlining stint on this year’s is-it-or-isn’t-it-alternative Lollapalooza tour.
The clock is ticking big-time — and these guys are still cutting tracks. Hetfield and Hammett haven’t finished putting down guitar parts. Three of the album’s 14 songs are missing lead vocals. Tapes are shuttled back and forth between two studios at Right Track and a third studio, Quad Recording, across the street, where additional mixing is going on. Even by Metallica’s standards — the group’s 1991 album, Metallica, which sold more than 12 million copies worldwide, took over 10 months and cost in excess of $1 million to make — this is fucking insane.
“THAT’S HOW METALLICA HAVE ALWAYS WORKED — A TUG OF WAR, A CONSTANT BATTLE.” —JAMES HETFIELD
“The weight, the expectations of other people — that’s all there, and that’s all huge,” admits Newsted during a session break one night, noting that he started learning the songs for Load 13 months before he put anything on tape. “We knew we had to make this record that people are gonna dig. But it still has to cover what we’re feeling, what was coming out of James at that moment. It’s not just a corporate trip: ‘You guys gotta do this by that deadline.’ It still comes from the core of Hetfield. He sings the songs he wants to play, whether 40 people like it or 40 million. “
The anticipation, the pressure — fuck yeah, that’s there. But it doesn’t weigh on us so heavy that we don’t put out the music that we want to put out.”
“It’s Metallitime,” explains Hammett cheerily. “We’re the master procrastinators. We tend to work 80 percent of the time on the first 10 percent of the album and spend the other 20 percent of the time on the last 90 percent of the record. We tend to sweat and toil on the beginning of a record, and a lot of that has to do with establishing a stride that works for us. And sometimes establishing that momentum is very difficult.”
Actually, nailing the Hetfield over-dub on “Wasting My Hate” is a breeze compared with the next evening’s chore: cutting a simple, tingling Hammett guitar flourish in the moody verse sections of the epic grinder “Bleeding Me.” Hammett does take after take — to no one’s satisfaction. Ulrich feels the song needs something, but he can’t quite articulate what that something is. Hetfield proposes a riff in the style of “Fade to Black,” his meditation on hopelessness and suicide from Metallica’s 1984 album, Ride the Lightning, but he and Hammett can’t agree on where the beat should go.
“I finally said, ‘You know, guys, we’d get a lot more done if there were less people around,’ ” Hammett recalls bemusedly the next day. “When those guys left the room, I got the part down just like that.” He snaps his fingers. “Then they came back. I was working on something else, and I said, ‘C’mon, guys, do you really need to be here?’
“By that time,” says Hammett, “James was drinking: ‘I’m just having a beer.’ I looked up at Lars, and he was reading a magazine. Then my pizza came, and they helped themselves to my pizza. I just thought, ‘Fuck, I can’t get these guys out.’ “
“I was fine not having the part there,” Hetfield says later with characteristic frankness. “Then Lars comes in: ‘There has to be something there. What’s Kirk going to do right there?’ Well, does he have to do anything? He can fucking smoke a cigar at that point.
“That’s how we operate,” Hetfield confesses, laughing wearily. “We can be at separate ends of the studio — I will say one thing, and Lars will be on the other end, saying the exact opposite. It’s not on purpose. I wish it was. Then we could coordinate it. But that’s how Metallica have always worked. There’s a tug of war, a constant battle, and it ends up in the middle somewhere, where each of us can live with it.”
There is one difference these days, according to Ulrich: Hetfield’s temper. “The other day, we were talking about some song title, and there was something that didn’t make sense,” Ulrich explains. “We were standing in the kitchen at the studio. I’m going, “What does this mean?’ And he goes, ‘Fuck all this. I don’t know what the fuck this all means. Jesus Christ!’ Bark, bark, bark! Then he storms out of the room and leaves the studio. I’m just standing there laughing.
“The next morning, I spoke to him, and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m really sorry I lost my temper last night.’ That’s probably the only thing that’s changed” — Ulrich grins — “James apologizes.”
Kirk Hammett got a rude shock the other day while walking down a New York street. “Some kid came up to me,” he recounts, “and said, ‘How ya doin’? You’re Kirk from Metallica. I used to be a big fan of yours.’ I looked at him and went, ‘What do you mean, “used to”? ‘ And he said, ‘Yeah, when I was 8 or 9 years old.’ “
Hammett shakes his head in amazement. “It was really weird,” he continues. “Then I realized that represented a certain part of his life, and he grew out of it — and in turn out of our band.”
That’s fair enough. Metallica have spent the half-decade since the release of Metallica shedding the big-hair, mad-dog-metal disposition they had assiduously cultivated since their 1983 declaration of attitude, Kill ‘Em All. Hammett, who is 33, and Hetfield and Ulrich, both 32, have all cut their metal-dude locks in the past year. (The 33-year-old Newsted, who buzzed his crop about three years ago, is letting it grow out again.) Hammett, a body-piercing enthusiast, has a labret — a small, silver spike — dangling from just below his lower lip. And Hammett, a Bay Area native who was studying English and psychiatry in college when he got the Metallica gig in early ’83, went back to school for a semester after the band’s marathon 1991-93 tour. He took classes in film, jazz and Asian studies (Hammett is one-quarter Filipino) at San Francisco State University and, he says, got straight A’s.
“LET’S NOT KID OURSELVES. ME AND JAMES RAN THE SHOW. WE WROTE THE SONGS.” —LARS ULRICH
“You can only be what the public thinks you are for so long before it becomes boring,” Hammett contends. “I felt quite objectified by it all two or three years ago. When I met people, they’d go ‘Wow, I always thought you were this big mean person. But you’re really very nice — and kinda short.’ A lot of people get fixated on what they need us to be — appearancewise, how we should sound.”
“Being stagnant is one thing I don’t understand,” Ulrich says testily. ” ‘Why don’t you make another record like Master of Puppets?’ We already made it! There is a percentage of people who think they own Metallica, and this is what Metallica is to them. And you know what? They’ve been bitchin’ for years.”
Load gives those mid-’80s Puppets-era purists more to bitch about: the elegant country twang in the grim hymn “Mama Said”; the slick mood swings between liquid melancholy and brute-rock anger in “Until It Sleeps” — like the Cure on steroids; the way enriched vocal harmonies and guitar dynamics (particularly the Lynyrd Skynyrd-like slide breaks) have displaced the single-minded staccato attack of yore. There is still much about Load that is loud, robust and true to Metallitradition. The long guitar solos in “Bleeding Me” and “The Outlaw Torn” recall the instrumental extremes of 1988’s … And Justice for All. The go-fuck-yourself vigor of “Ain’t My Bitch” and “2 x 4” (“Can’t hear ya/Time to meet my lord/I can’t hear ya/Talk to 2 x 4”) is classic, howling Hetfield. But even he acknowledges that a little of that heavy sentiment can go a long way. In fact, he wrote a song, “Wasting My Hate,” about it, although he credits the original idea to a friend, the country singer Waylon Jennings.
“He was telling me this story,” Hetfield says, “about a guy who was sitting in a Cadillac while Waylon was in a cafe. Waylon’s eating, keeps looking over at the car, has this feeling this guy is staring at him. So he’s giving the evil eye back.
“This is going on for 45 minutes. Finally, Waylon went outside to walk by the car, see what’s going on with this guy. He looked in the car — and the guy was asleep. He wasn’t looking at him at all. Waylon said, ‘Man, I just wasted all my hate on that guy.’
“You find yourself doing that,” Hetfield admits. “Now it takes a lot to get me pissed. To actually get mad and say shit to somebody. It’s an intimidation thing. And it works good. It’s easier to let people in than push them out.”
That 24-hour battle-stations posture isn’t just a Hetfield thing. It’s been the defining core of the Metallica survival aesthetic since Hetfield and Ulrich founded the band in Los Angeles in 1981. Ulrich, the well-traveled son of a Danish tennis star, and Hetfield, who was born in suburban Los Angeles and raised in a strict Christian Science family scarred by divorce and the death of his mother when he was a teenager, quickly formed a bond based on mutual ambition and a venomous contempt for the sad-ass poodleheads overpopulating the L.A. metal scene. Ulrich rails their relationship — and by extension, Metallica — “the unbreakable fist.”
“Let’s not bullshit ourselves,” Ulrich says sharply. “Me and James ran the show. Me and James made the records. Me and James wrote the songs.”
“I didn’t have any problem with that,” claims Hammett, who replaced early member Dave Mustaine after the future Megadeth guitarist lost a prolonged war of wills with the Hetfield-Ulrich tag team. “It was evident that it was Lars and James’ band. We still made major decisions together. But whenever I had to push for an idea, I had to assume the role of diplomat. I had to sell them the idea.”
That autocratic rigidity came through in the music. When Ulrich first met Bob Rock on the eve of the Metallica sessions in the summer of 1990, the producer told him, “You guys have never sounded like a band on any of your records. You always sound like the Ulrich and Hetfield show.” According to Hetfield, Hammett doesn’t even play on the Metallica track “Nothing Else Matters.”
“Kirk — that guy’s happy no matter where he is; he is so go-with-the-flow it drives me insane,” Hetfield says with a broad grin. “He wanted to come in and do a note on that song just to be on it. But he doesn’t care: ‘Go on, do the solo. If it sounds better, go for it.’ He’s so easy that way.
“But Jason,” Hetfield adds with a pregnant pause, “he felt really closed off, I think.” Newsted was a serious Metallica fan, playing in an Arizona thrash band called Flotsam and Jetsam when he passed the rigorous auditions held shortly after the September 1986 tour-bus accident in Sweden that killed Metallica’s popular bassist Cliff Burton. Born in Battle Creek, Mich. (his mother worked for, of all things, a hearing-aid center), Newsted endured a year’s worth of serious hazing from Hetfield, Ulrich and Hammett. “We raked him over the goddamn coals,” Hammett confesses.
Newsted was more frustrated about what he saw as his tightly circumscribed role as a writer and player in the Metallica hierarchy. Since joining the band, he had racked up only two co-writing credits, “Blackened,” on Justice, and “My Friend of Misery,” on Metallica. “I ate myself up for a long time about that,” he says quite seriously. Then, just before work on Load got under way, a demo tape that he recorded at home with a couple of friends under the band name IR8 ended up on the radio in San Francisco. Hetfield and Ulrich went ballistic. “It was,” Ulrich says, taking a stab at diplomacy, “pretty ugly for a while.”
Hetfield is more direct. “I was fucking pissed,” he snaps. “I always thought that when one guy jams with somebody else, that will fuck with Metallica. The fist is no longer four fingers. It’s not as strong. But he was strangled. He wants his music to be heard. And who am I to say no?
“There were times on this record when I’d walk into the control room while he was doing his bass thing. He’d be doing some Flea funk part, and I’d count to 100 before exploding.” He laughs self-deprecatingly and continues. “But he likes playing that. Why did we get him in the band if we didn’t like him? Let’s go with it, give him a chance.” Hammett benefited from the thaw as well: He has seven co-writing credits on Load, a personal best.
Newsted insists that he never intended the IR8 tape — which he describes as “crazy shit” — to be a challenge to Hetfield’s or Ulrich’s authority: “I said, ‘You guys are always getting to be out there doing your thing. And I always want to back you up. But somehow, somewhere, I gotta let my shit out.’ “
But like Hetfield, Newsted learned something from the crisis. “I came to the realization that I can’t have this animosity,” he says. “Who wrote the song — Hetfield-Ulrich? That used to be a big thing with me. And it doesn’t have to. If it doesn’t say Newsted in the credits, I don’t give a fuck. I still put my signature on it.”
Besides, Newsted continues, “it’s always been their band. That has proven to be right for them. They’re not just the Lennon-McCartney of metal. They have a friendship. Kirk and I, James and Kirk — nobody has that same bond as those two guys.”
It looks harmless enough. In fact, it’s quite beautiful — an iridescent, amoebic melting of strawberry-red and milk-white hues against a mottled black backdrop. The languid, abstract grace of the photograph recalls the oil-and-water blob action of a ’60s Fillmore light show. But the momentarily frozen vitality of the shapes and colors, caught as the vanilla-and-crimson rivulets bend and blend with aqueous momentum, also suggests the genesis of life itself — a tight-focus shot of primal, cellular marriage.
Which it is. The picture is entitled Semen and Blood III, and it is one of three photographic studies by Andres Serrano created in 1990 by mingling the artist’s own semen and bovine blood between two sheets of Plexiglas. It is also the cover of Load — with no pun intended, according to Kirk Hammett.
“We had no concept for the album: no title, no artwork,” says Hammett, who stumbled across the photo in a book of Serrano’s work, Body and Soul, which he bought at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “When I first saw the picture, I thought it looked like hot-rod flames, because I have a hot-rod-flame tattoo.”
Serrano’s art has elicited more extreme, censorious reactions. In 1989, the Rev. Donald E. Wildmon, the family-values vigilante, launched a major campaign against Serrano and his 1987 image Piss Christ, a misty-gold rendering of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine. Republican senators Jesse Helms and Alfonse D’Amato denounced Serrano from the Senate floor; D’Amato ripped up a photo reproduction of Piss Christ, and Helms called Serrano “a jerk.”
The 45-year-old Serrano — a Brooklyn, N.Y., native of Hispanic-African ancestry who dropped out of high school and survived a period of drug addiction before becoming a rising figure in contemporary-art circles in the mid-’80s — became, like the late Robert Mapplethorpe, a popular target in the right-wing war against federal funding of the arts. Oddly, the Roman Catholic Church in Europe found nothing terribly blasphemous in Serrano’s photographs. Two years after the Piss Christ blowup, Serrano was permitted access to nuns and friars in Europe for a series of portraits also featured in Body and Soul, alongside other examples of his work with icons and fluids, and several graphic close-ups of corpses laid out on morgue tables.
“I’m always trying to expand my audience, and it’s great when a band like Metallica comes to me,” Serrano declares enthusiastically. “The thing about [Semen and Blood III] is that it can function on a very abstract level. People will appreciate it for that and not think twice about it. Maybe other people will know what it is and have a slightly different reaction.”
But, Serrano says, Metallica gave no hint of “any concern about the ramifications of using that image. I thought they were pretty cool about it.”
That’s not entirely true. In a striking example of the shifting dynamic of influence and argument within the band, it was Hammett and Ulrich who pushed to get Semen and Blood III on the cover of Load. “I jumped on it the second I saw it,” says Ulrich. Newsted jumped the other way; he declines even to talk about it.
“I really don’t want to get into that,” Newsted says with a taut, disapproving look on his face. “Let somebody else do that.”
Hetfield is ho-hum about the whole issue: “To Kirk and Lars, it’s art, and it’s so deep. To me, it’s just a picture some guy took. I remember when I first saw it, it was, ‘So what?’ Then they told me what it was, it was: ‘Oh, it’s definitely more interesting to me now.’ But that’s about it.”
Still, Hetfield was concerned about the potential backlash from skittish retailers and conservative bulldogs. “I was worried about not being able to get the music into the Kmarts of the world because of a cover they don’t like,” he says irritably. “I think it’s bullshit. I want to get music to people who want it. I want it readily available for everybody. Controversy? I don’t give two shits about that.”
“James is not as conservative as one would think,” says Hammett. “Him and I went through our phases where I was ultraliberal and he was . . . I wouldn’t say right-wing, although he had that reputation. More right of center. And over the years, I’ve come closer to the center, and so has he. James is more tolerant than he used to be.
“We don’t really know how Jason stands on a lot of things because he just walks out of the room shaking his head,” Hammett continues with a mock-helpless shrug. “I think he cares too much about what the fans think. Whereas I care what the fans think, but I’m not going to let that dictate or censor what I do.”
“I’m not just the bass player,” Newsted contends. “I’m also the devil’s advocate. I want to dig everything up. I want all the uglys and bads to show their face before we sign. And a lot of times I make myself look dumb. But I have to bring up the questions.”
Given the unshakable oneness they project on record and onstage, Metallica are actually a divergent, motley crew. Hammett lives in the heart of San Francisco and has a lot of friends, he says, “who are living ‘alternative’ lifestyles.” Ulrich is an amiable, speed-rapping character with a manic passion for music and a palatial Marin County hilltop home across the Golden Gate Bridge. He also has a good head for business: He was the band’s point man in the settlement of Metallica’s 1994 exchange of lawsuits with Elektra Records and in the satisfactory renegotiation of the group’s contract with the label.
Hetfield is an avid hunter who prefers the solitude of the Northern California wilds. Newsted lives with his girlfriend in a quiet East Bay suburb and is down with the neighborhood kids. “We get basketball games going,” he says, “and they watch out for us: ‘Some guys were driving around your house, Jason. Here’s the license number.’ And when I come home from a tour, I’ve got a box load of shirts for them.”
Yet as the band members get older, they’re finding renewed strength in their differences. According to Ulrich, “The unity in Metallica comes from how we are all at ease with one another. We are tolerant, more respectful of one another, not, ‘Kirk, I can’t believe you have a trinket sticking out of your face.’ “
Metallica eventually reached a compromise over the Serrano picture. It’s on the cover of Load, and Serrano is credited with “Front cover artwork.” But the title Semen and Blood III does not appear on the record. “We’re holding back a touch; I’ll cop to that,” Hammett concedes over the phone from a promo-tour stop in Toronto shortly before the album’s release. “But the reason I thought it was a strong album cover was that it’s a beautiful picture. It was the form, not the content, that was great. If that’s what we had to do to agree on it as a band, that’s what we do.”
Surprisingly, Serrano has no problem with the arrangement. “It’s entirely up to Metallica,” he says. “It’s their right to do what they will with the image. When I was approached about this, someone said to me, ‘But, Andres, don’t you want control over how the image will be cropped or what the title of the album will be?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ They’re artists just like I am, and I wouldn’t think of interfering with their creative process.”
Serrano thinks there are a few other potential album covets in Body and Soul (Takarajima Books, 200 Varick St., New York, NY 10014), such as Budapest (The Model) — a 1994 full-frontal-nude portrait of an 84-year-old woman smoking a cigarette. “And if a band were to be really bold,” he suggests with a touch of mischief in his voice, “they could choose one from the morgue.”
Not long ago, someone pointed out to Lars Ulrich that 1996 marked the 10-year anniversary of Cliff Burton’s death. “It was like, “Wow! Ten fucking years,’ ” he exclaims. “Cliff was only in the band three and a half years. Jason’s been in the band for 10.”
Burton, who was only 24 when he died, had a ferocious bass sound and stalwart, never-say-die personality that created an enduring godlike aura around him that has long outlived his passing. “Cliff is a martyr,” Ulrich says. “Cliff is a tie to the past for a lot of people who feel we have taken some different steps in the last few years.” Yet within a month of the tour-bus mishap that killed Burton, Metallica had confronted their grief by holding auditions and hiring Newsted.
Hetfield had to go through that scene all over again recently. On Feb. 29, his father, Virgil, died after a two-year bout with cancer. Four days later, Metallica arrived in New York to finish Load.
“He still smiled, he cracked silly jokes,” Newsted says of Hetfield with genuine awe. “He doesn’t wear anything on his sleeve. He wants your respect. He wants you to show his father respect. But as far as any sign of pity, fuck that. Don’t even think about it.”
“I kind of went back to when Cliff died,” Hetfield explains soberly. “We got back to work and got some of the feelings out through the music. And keeping busy, talking to family a lot, helps.
“I’m not the most talkative person in the world,” Hetfield notes with a wry smile, “but you do have to talk about shit like this.” And he does, eloquently and at length, one afternoon during a recording break at Right Track. As he outgrew the apocalyptic-party-animal tone of his early lyric writing, Hetfield turned to his own rough adolescence for inspiration, particularly his parents’ separation and what he considered the oppressive ideology-over-medicine stricture of the Christian Science faith. And, Hetfield confesses, during his father’s illness, “I went through the religion thing again, my phases of feeling total disbelief in a lot of things. It really got to me.”
But Hetfield says Virgil, who had been the owner of a Los Angeles-area trucking company, held fast to his creed the entire way. And Hetfield says it with true admiration: “He stuck with it to the very end. And that, I think, helped him keep his strength — his knowledge that he did it his way.
“He studied the religion religiously,” Hetfield continues, chortling at his own joke. “He got up every day before the milkman, before the cows, studying his lesson for the day. How that could give him such strength was amazing to me — how he lived that in the way we live Metallica. You put all this effort into it, and you get the rewards.
“We talked a lot about religion, and I let him know there were no bad feelings. I felt, over the past few years, we had been closer. I had sorted out a lot of my anger in his departure, his never being around.
“We didn’t talk too much about that,” Hetfield says, referring to the rebellious discontent that he once channeled into songs such as “Dyers Eve,” on Justice, and “The God That Failed,” on Metallica. “But I know that he was proud that I was getting some of my thoughts out and not keeping them bottled up.”
Hetfield is reluctant to divulge where or how on Load he has dealt with his recent ordeal. ” ‘Until It Sleeps’ is the obvious one,” he concedes warily. “But I don’t want to give a song-by-song list of what I’m feeling. The whole thing of this record is vagueness. What do you think about it? What does it mean to you?
“A lot of people die in a bus accident, and you don’t get to say goodbye to them; I got to,” he says firmly, gratefully. Still, he acknowledges with a slight, momentary shiver of his body, “it’s tough to deal with, ‘Wow, I got no parents.’ I’ll sit down with the band members, their parents, at dinner. And I’m, like, by myself. It’s really freaky.”
Lars Ulrich was in the Manhattan office of Metallica’s management company, Q Prime, looking at plans for a proposed summer tour of indoor venues, when co-manager Peter Mensch handed him a fax. It had the 1996 Lollapalooza dates on it. “I look at it, and I just start laughing,” Ulrich recalls. “I’m like, “You can’t be fucking serious.’ ” An hour later, he says with a hungry smile, “I was jumping up and down: “Let’s do this tomorrow!'”
With their typical disdain for the ordinary, Metallica have confronted both the droning predictability of big arena shows and the tribal polarity of the modern- and hard-rock audiences by crashing the Lollapalooza mosh-pit party — at the top of the bill. This isn’t the first time the band has played to, or with, the denizens of Alternative Nation. In Europe, Metallica have shared stages with Sugar and Sonic Youth; the group spent last Labor Day with Hole performing at a Molson Ice-promoted show in the Arctic Circle village of Tuktoyaktuk, Canada.
Nevertheless, Metallica’s pole position in this year’s Lollapalooza lineup generated a shit storm of debate. The Internet has been abuzz for months with pro-and-con dialogues among fans. Lollapalooza co-founder Perry Farrell is negotiating the sale of his share in the enterprise and has excoriated the ’96 main-stage menu — a testosterone blowout co-starring Soundgarden, the Ramones, Rancid and Screaming Trees — as a betrayal of his original anti-mainstream, indie-rock concept.
Ulrich doesn’t understand the stink: “I go through AOL and check things, and some kid posted this one thing saying, ‘I’ve been to Metallica shows. I’ve been to Lollapalooza shows. The audiences aren’t that much different. Good night.’ That’s it in a nutshell.”
Besides, the band members point out, Metallica started as an independent act. Their 1982 cassette, No Life ’til Leather, was distributed free throughout the metal underground. Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning were first issued on the indie label Megaforce.
“People forget about that,” Hammett observes tartly. “We were living very, very meagerly. The only time I had money was when we went out on the road and had per diems. I remember, on our first tour, we got 10 bucks a day on days off and seven bucks on a show day because we could always eat free at the gig.”
“I don’t understand the elitism of it all,” says Hetfield with a dismissive sniff. “I thought the whole thing about it was supposed to be weird shit going on. The part I like most is we’re hated again. I kind of miss that. People like us too much now.”
Ironically, Hetfield, Ulrich and Newsted have never been to a Lollapalooza show before. Ulrich and Newsted plead laziness. Hetfield simply wasn’t into it: “I saw some pictures of a guy hanging a rock off his dick [the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow]. I thought, ‘I don’t need to see that.’ ” Hammett has been to every Lollapalooza and has played at a couple of them, jamming with Ministry and Primus. “I found myself explaining to the other guys the vibe that Lollapalooza has,” he says.
Hammett was quite successful. “It’s the hunger thing,” says Newsted eagerly. “We don’t have to do Lollapalooza for the dough and exposure. We want to be contenders as long as we’re strong enough. Why would Mike Tyson stop boxing? We still have something to prove to folks.”
Although not as much, Ulrich claims, as Metallica still have to prove to themselves. “This record and what we’re doing with it — that, to me, is what Metallica are all about: exploring different things,” he vows. “The minute you stop exploring, then just sit down and fucking die.”
“If you believe you’re doing the right thing for yourself, that’s all there is to it,” asserts Hetfield with decisive finality. “People run around and cry, ‘They didn’t make the music I wanted. His hair looks funny.’ Listen past all the bullshit. Listen to the tunes. Because there is a lot of good shit in there — I think.”
“Sometimes we get into it: ‘Is that Metallica?’ ” Ulrich admits. But the discussion, he quickly adds, always ends the same way: “James, if me and you do it, it’s Metallica. End of story.”