You joined Metallica in February, 2003. How much did you know about the dynamics within the band at the time?
They were in the middle of a bunch of transitional things. They were recording the album [St. Anger], still doing tracking and mixing, and also trying to find a new bass player. I received a phone call. I was in Tahiti on vacation. I checked my voice mail, and I had Lars and Kirk on there. Lars was in the background: “Join our band!” They were probably out on the town, having a few cocktails, calling all the bass players on their list.
Do you know how you got on that list?
I’m not 100 percent sure. I think it was a combination of things. One was I toured with Metallica, with Suicidal Tendencies. That’s where I originally met everybody. And less than a year prior to me receiving the call, a mutual friend of Kirk’s called and said, “Kirk and I are coming down with some friends. Can you show us some surf spots around L.A.?” I thought that was neat: that Kirk, the vampire I knew, the nocturnal man, was ready to explore daylight and surfing in Southern California. He was in an RV with three friends. We spent a weekend hitting different spots.
The whole thing, at least from what I understand, was they each had people they wanted to bring into the auditions. I became Kirk’s guy. From my understanding, Lars wasn’t aware of much that I had done. [In addition to playing with Suicidal Tendencies, Trujillo toured and recorded with Ozzy Osbourne and worked with Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell.] I don’t know where James’ head was at.
What was the audition like?
This was 2002, somewhere around December. I was going to San Francisco for a birthday party. They got word I was going to be in town: “Well, come on over to the studio, we’ll hang out.” We’re talking zero time to learn songs. I’m going north to play with the coolest band in rock, and I don’t have time to do anything. I did the best I could. I pulled a few songs together, not knowing what they were going to play.
I ended up playing “Battery,” a song I kind of knew. I played “Sad But True,” “Whiplash,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Funny thing is, it’s a two-day audition. And the first day was just hanging around, a fly-on-the-wall thing. They don’t tell you what they’re gonna be doing. They don’t tell you a film crew is going to be there, and they’re making a documentary [2004’s Some Kind of Monster]. They don’t tell you until 20 minutes before — “You’re OK with that, right?” It’s funny. Prior to that, I was always trying to hide from the cameras Ozzy had following him around for his TV show. This was obviously going to be different.
You joined at a tumultuous time.
It was intense. I had to learn the catalog of music, 22 years of music. And I had to learn the St. Anger album. “We’ve never played this material as a band, but you’ve gotta learn it. And your first gig is going to be at San Quentin State Penitentiary.” [Metallica filmed a video for St. Anger there.] It was almost like I lived at the studio then. The guys would leave at 11 PM, and I would be there until two or three in the morning, just trying to do the best I could.
It’s like you’re caught inside a massive set of waves. You get thrown, you’re down under, and you come back up again and get thrown around some more. Now I feel I’ve come out and seen the light of Metallica. I feel more comfortable with the catalog. But I also feel more comfortable with the guys. We’ve grown together, connecting on tours past, knowing how each personality clicks. You gotta know how to balance each person, because they’re so different.
You also joined the band at a time when the maturity thing hit.
We absolutely cherish our kids. But the fact that we all have them — it’s definitely created an additional bond. It’s not just Metallica — it’s our families. And we also have Metallica.
Isn’t there an irony in that Metallica now books tours around the first day of school, then goes out and sings “Seek and Destroy?”
It’s pretty funny. But that’s our reality now.