The So What! Metallica Summer Round Table 2018
BY STEFFAN CHIRAZI
VIDEO BY BRETT MURRAY
It is the last day before school’s out in Helsinki. The last day before summer break that we will hear “Hardwired” kick the teeth of WorldWired attendees down the back of their necks. The last day before summer break (which in itself is something else – no Metallica gigs during a summer!) that we will revel in drones and fire. The last day before summer break that we will see Metallica bringing the WorldWired Tour to even more people in ever more wide-ranging global climbs. The last day before what appears to these eyes an extended, well-earned break. A vacation. Oh, how naïve can one get?! As I soon learn once the four are gathered around the large rectangular table, “vacations” per se don’t exist. Breaks? Sure. But lounging around beaches with piña coladas and the phone turned off? Not so much. I also wanted to know more about how various aspects of the WorldWired tour had affected (or inspired) the band thus far…and yes, there were tangents, chuckles, and other assorted bits and pieces, so without further ado, let’s get cracking.
Steffan Chirazi: So it’s the first summer off that this band has had from the road for some time. Excited not to be working this summer? You want to go through what you will be doing instead?
James Hetfield: Well, I’m kind of jumping on a moving train. I get home and it’s my son’s birthday. He’s graduating. We’re moving. There’s kids going off to summer camps. There’s lots going on, lots, lots going on, and we have some fun travel stuff planned. My son’s graduation gift, we’re going… we’re renting a boat and going somewhere crazy, so…
SC: Not quite off then.
JH: Well, you know, for me “off” is not getting on an airplane. For me, that’s what that means. Whether I’m driving somewhere or just sitting at home, but there’s still some airplane travel.
SC: Cool. Lars, what does off mean for you, this summer?
Lars Ulrich: Off means the 30 minutes twice a day when I’m on the bog. That’s “off.” The other 23 hours of the day? Well, I guess sleep is part of maintaining... People always say, “Oh, you’re home, you’re off.” To me, “off” just means not having a schedule. Everything with Metallica is incredibly scheduled and this thing about, “You gotta be here, you gotta be there, you gotta do this, you gotta do that,” all that stuff. So for me, a summer off means a little more… Jess and I are gonna spend some time in Europe. There are a couple things here, couple things there, but it’s not so rigid. And I think increasingly for me, or for us, or for our family, we counter that kind of “everything being so scheduled” by enjoying more impulsive, last minute kinda things. Like, we know we’re gonna be in Europe and spend some time in Europe this summer, but maybe we go up “here,” we can go “there.” You know, hang in the mother country a little bit, blah-blah-blah. But it’s not like “July 17th at 8:00 am, I gotta be here” or whatever. That to me is the best part of off time.
Kirk Hammett: Well, in contrast to James’ reply, after this show I go back and deal with lava, earthquakes, floods, and a potential tsunami. But you know, that’s life! That’s normal life where I live.
LU: Missiles. Lava.
KH: That’s always a part of just living where I live [Kirk is currently based in Hawaii – ED], and you know, you just kinda accept it. You’re a little bit more vigilant about the ocean, looking up at the sky, feeling the ground and just breathing the air. And other than all that, I had an incredible run of sickness and injury that went from September to about March-April.
KH: Yeah. It was just like a big daisy chain of when I was injured [and] I was sick. When I was sick, I couldn’t exercise to help my injury, and when I wasn’t sick I’d injure myself again. It was ridiculous, so I’m making this summer a point to just get in better shape so that, you know, I don’t injure myself. And there are parts of my body that need to be stronger, and one of my goals this summer is to just try to offset the option of getting injured because it’s really debilitating for me, I don’t want to be injured. Or sick, for that matter.
SC: Before we continue, you’ve mentioned something about tsunamis and earthquakes and so on. I just want to know, did everyone around this table send you a text when the alert came into Hawaii [on January 13, a false ballistic missile alert was sent to all Hawaiians/people visiting – ED]?
KH: Yes, yes.
SC: And would you care to share with us what it is like to be on an island where they say they’re sending a nuclear weapon?
KH: I guess it is newsworthy. But yeah, my phone went off, you know, [like] one of those AMBER [Alerts]? It was very similar to that; it just kind of did this little “alarm” thing. I was doing yoga. I was on my back, upside down or something, and my son said, “Hey, Dad, your phone just made one of those funny sounds like there’s a tsunami coming or something.” And I’m like, huh? I walked over to my phone, and picked it up and it said, “Missile Alert. Incoming missiles imminent. This is not a test.” And I’m reading this going, what? And where I live, I can see the airport out my living room.
Robert Trujillo: See Korea!
KH: And I can see Pearl Harbor! And there’s no action there. No action whatsoever, in fact it was so quiet everywhere. And I know for a fact that there’s an early detection system that sits at Pearl Harbor. It’s this huge thing that looks like a golf ball, it’s like four stories high, and it’s the early detection system for all the Americans in the entire Pacific. Nothing was happening. There was no jet scrambling, no boats leaving Pearl Harbor. There were no sirens or anything, you know, no air raid sirens. So I thought, “This has got to be a mistake.” And I just continued doing my yoga.
KH: Fifteen minutes later I went online and it said, “Yeah, mistake,” and I was like, “It’s okay, boys.”
SC: That’s a great response.
KH: But check this out. A friend of a friend had a heart attack. This [other] guy someone I knew was talking to was up on the mountains on a trail, got the alert, and thought about just jumping off the cliff.
SC: My God. I mean unimaginable.
KH: It’s crazy.
KH: Anyway, so yeah! That’s what I’m gonna do. And play a lot on my guitar.
SC: And for you, Rob?
RT: I’m looking forward to getting back in the water you know? I don’t remember the last time I surfed [in] Southern California. And I know Chloe wants to go to – she hasn’t been to Europe much [this year] so she wants to do a two-week deal in France but in the countryside. Along the coast, I think we’re doing the Mediterranean side this time. Two or three years ago we did the Atlantic side, so we went from Brittany down to Biarritz, and that was cool. And you know, [during] the last long break we had I actually had surgery. I had a hernia surgery, so I didn’t really get to do much during that break, you know? So, looking forward to some outdoor time and some water time. And also Tye’s gonna record a record in June and I look forward to helping him prepare for that. I’ll be in Sweden with Lars and receiving the Polar Prize, while [Tye’s] in the studio, which should be very, very cool. But at least prepping him for all that is gonna be really cool. I’ll look forward to that. And that’s kind of my summer. Usually the summers go pretty busy when you have things like all this that we’re talking about going on, but I’m looking forward to it.
SC: Before we leave the subject of “a summer off,” I think there’s going to be a point during this summer where someone’s gonna have an idea that they want to text someone else about…you know, “Hey, I came up with a riff!” Or, “I came up with an idea!” Is that how it works? I mean, this is three months, quote-unquote. Will there be a point where someone’s gonna text someone, and if so, when do you think that point’s gonna be?
JH: I don’t think…
SC: There’s not a cabin fever point?
JH: If I text Lars and say, “Hey, I have a riff!” something’s wrong.
LU: Text Francesca immediately and go, “What’s up?”
SC: There’s no cabin fever?
JH: No. I mean we all have our own thing, we all have our own hobbies and we want to take time to enjoy them. But you know, one of my, not “hobbies,” but one of my joys in life is writing music…
LU: Sending a text with a riff in it!
RT: I think in general it’s fair to say that we’re all, for the most part, thinking about music. It’s something that’s a part of our DNA. I was up at 3:00 am yesterday playing my little drum machine in my VOX amp, coming up with ideas, so it just kinda happens all the time.
LU: I think you gotta understand that the break’s a part of moving it forward. It’s not, “Oh, all the venues were booked for the summer, so we’re forced to sit at home.” In order to tour like we tour, in order to play like we play, in order to deliver what we do, in order to be out here away from home, away from our families, in order to sit around this table and talk to you about this, there’s a whole thing that makes it all happen. And to me… I don’t know what the right word is… it’s almost like maintenance of something, you know? So part of that maintenance, part of being able to step out on that stage in Madison in early September, is there’s gotta be some time away from it, or else the whole thing would fucking collapse. It feels like on this Hardwired… campaign in the last eighteen months or whatever it’s been, with 50 shows [a year], with the way we’re structuring our timeline, it feels like we finally mastered how to make this thing work. Or continue to get closer and closer to making it work at its best.
SC: You fed directly into a question I wanted to ask, which is what have you learned in this last 18 months? What are you learning about yourselves? What things are you discussing that you’re surprising yourself with? What are you learning about each other? What are you learning in terms of, “Wow, I didn’t know he had that in him”?
KH: I have to say, ever since I started messing around on my little drum kit, I have a new drum teacher sitting right next to me. Doesn’t even know it!
LU: [He] has a new favorite drummer, and it’s not Stewart Copeland anymore.
JH: It’s Myles Ulrich.
KH: Yeah, Myles!
RT: I see [Kirk] looking at Lars onstage. I see him watching him intensely.
SC: Alright, alright, let me focus the question a bit more. Rob and Kirk have developed, well, it started as a noodle and then it became a doodle and now it’s become a thing. Right?
LU: A duet.
SC: It’s become a point of the show.
LU: [Turns to Rob and Kirk] Maybe this summer you two guys could go out on the road and do that thing in every country…
RT: I don’t think so!
LU: I could help you plan it.
KH: I don’t think my family would like that, so.
SC: Talk about what you think it’s brought to the show.
JH: I love the fact that I’m not a part of it! I love that fact, that someone else in this band is coming up with an idea and making it happen. It’s coming to fruition but it’s happening organically. It’s just happening, it’s like a rap that’s onstage [James is referring to his onstage between-song chats – ED], and I know these guys could probably say, “Wow, that rap was better than that one,” or “That one went over well, that one’s not,” but I think they trust me that whatever I’m saying, it’s happening right then. I have an idea what I want to say. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And there’s nights where it’s more comfortable, it gets longer or gets shorter or whatever it may be, but I’m more talkative. And same with this section, I think. That they’ve come up with something that’s really cool.
Sometimes it really works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s hit and miss, but the fact that they’re doing it, that people identify with the risk around it, and the fact that “the big metal band on the planet” is fucking around with an a-ha song, or that I’m saying “hi” to a little kid, I think it shows the human side and a respect side that people do identify with. At the end of the day, it’s all good news that goes out there and it comes back. You’re always gonna have the people that are judging it, but they weren’t there. They weren’t experiencing that fun moment. So I find it very exciting to see what’s gonna happen every night. There’s no guarantee that it’s gonna be great.
LU: But it’s also really cool that it’s something that people actually look forward to now. It used to be the joke, and obviously we can say this without disrespecting anybody, but you know, a drum solo, a bass solo, a guitar solo: the bathroom breaks. They’re, you know, “go to the t-shirt stand” or whatever. Now people are talking about it. We do the meet and greets… “What are Rob and Kirk gonna do tonight?”
KH: Yeah, there’s a lot of anticipation.
LU: “What’s gonna happen next week?” So now it’s this other thing that has a life of its own, and that’s really cool. And the fact that it’s a part of the anticipation of the show to me is the great thing about it.
JH: And we get a break!
RT: Well, for me, I always appreciate the concept of growing, learning, and being able to tour right now at my age, have fun with the risk and also learn about “a band from Hungary” or “a band from Budapest” or some Catalan rumba artist called Peret from Barcelona. It is really neat. I find things in songs that I didn’t realize were as interesting as they are, and then on top of that, the language thing. You know, learning to sing in German or something is really interesting, going to my mother-in-law, who is German, and asking her for help, or to my wife Chloe. It’s kind of an interesting thing. So the whole thing has turned into quite the adventure, but at the same time, like James says, it’s the risk. There’s a certain fear that happens to me during “Halo…” when I’m playing and I’m thinking about, “Okay, I’m gonna have to sing this song in Czech in about two minutes…” and I’m taking deep breaths….
LU: I’m thinking, “I get to sit down in two minutes and chill.” And he is fucking freaking out!!!!
JH: “Have” to sing Czech. The thing is, you don’t have to. You want to.
RT: But I want to. You know why?
KH: He’s singing in Finnish tonight.
RT: Yeah. Here’s the deal. And this is what I really believe.
JH: Your singing’s finished tonight???
RT: Actually, yeah.
KH: After tonight.
RT: What I wanted to say real quick, is that to me, we’re giving our best. And what I generally feel is that the people in the room realize that’s what’s happening. I know when for some reason we aren’t, which isn’t very often, they know. You know what I mean? So the work ethic has to be strong, and these last two legs we’ve been working really hard. I look forward to getting together with Kirk and having a little bit of that camaraderie to go up there and pursue this challenge, especially in Europe where I think people connect with the idea of at least not knowing what they’re gonna experience and then all of a sudden, “Here it is!”
The other night I told these guys, “Look, we’re gonna do an a-ha song. They’re gonna boo at first. Get ready. And then they’re gonna love it.” Well, the good news is they didn’t boo, you know what I mean? But I didn’t know that. I’m my own worst critic. If I’m out there and I’m flailing, I’m more pissed at myself than anything. So at least if I know I’m giving 100 percent, I don’t care what they say. I’m like, “I gave it my best shot. I’m proud of that.”
JH: See, that’s Metallica right there. That is Metallica.
RT: We take chances and it is what it is.
JH: You know, from him – Rob – being afraid to even get near a microphone.
RT: Oh, yeah.
JH: From that in the early days when he joined… he knew I wanted some help singing, stepped up, did some vocal lessons, got more and more comfortable. Now he’s doing shit I wouldn’t do. Singing songs in Czech, yeah!!!
RT: In a foreign language it’s crazy. But the whole thing is fun, it’s new, it’s fresh and it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. It’s happening organically and it’s fine.
KH: It’s been a complete outgrowth of just wanting to do something cool. At one point Rob and I sat down and he asked me, “Do you want to do these songs, you know, for all these different dates?” And I’m looking at this going, “You know, sure.” I like the challenge of like having to learn something really quick and like pulling it off, you know. That’s a cool thing for me. And I also like the challenge of learning different styles. Some of this stuff is really super local stuff, like in the Czech Republic [with] Jožin z bažin.
LU: [Continuing with earlier quip to Rob – ED] …do a little tour just around cool local songs? So first we’ll pick the cool local song, then we’ll book a date there.
JH: The thing that’s really great about Europe is, you know, just like their sports, their football team(s), they’re very, very proud, there’s a patriotism about—
SC: There’s an anthem.
JH: –their sports, their language, their song. You know, “This is a historic song for us.” So the challenge will be when you get to America or Australia or somewhere. It’s more vast in one country. So how do you tap into the local pride?
KH: Yeah, we were talking about that yesterday. We actually went through the first three or four months of the next legs, just throwing back ideas and suggestions on what we can do, if there are more than one artist in one place. We were talking about even doing mashups, or medleys, whatever works…
RT: …keeping it within the time frame but doing a minute, or a minute and a half, of this and a minute and a half of that. And it gets pretty interesting, because in the States it does get complicated [when] you’re in a city that has so much variety.
KH: Yeah, like Detroit or Chicago.
RT: Right. Well, Michigan in general, there’s a lot already in Michigan, you know? I mean, so many possibilities. So it’s neat mapping it out, at least for 2018, looking ahead, seeing what’s gonna be really cool, and then what’s gonna be a challenge.
KH: There’s enough “localism” in the United States, and when I say “localism,” [I mean] this band, this city, this band, this state, this town. There’s a lot for us to work with.
RT: Like in Sioux Falls or Grand Forks, there’s some cool stuff but you gotta find it, and also you go, “Whooo, that’s a good one!” You know what I mean? It’s all a surprise.
SC: So I have to ask, as this has grown and as it happened, I presume that you kinda just tell Lars and James, “Hey guys, we’re gonna be doing this tonight,” or whatever. How hard is it for you (Lars and James) if you hear of a song that they’re doing that maybe you don’t innately trust or you don’t “feel,” how hard is it for you guys to keep quiet?
LU: Like James said before, we stay out of it.
JH: I trust it. I trust the moment and, you know, when I introduce these guys it’s like, “Hello! Yeah, we’re a big fucking rock band but we’re gonna get really silly… Come with us!” Simple as that. And if you don’t then you’re missing out. There you go.
SC: I think that is a huge sign of this band’s growth, to be honest.
LU: I don’t get involved. I trust, and I am curious sometimes, and interested, but I don’t get involved. I don’t judge it.
KH: And the one factor that is inevitable is that when Rob and I decide to take on a song that’s kinda “poppy” or “off kilter,” it’s filtered through us. So it’s bound to sound different 99% percent of the time.
JH: I believe it’s much easier to do either a super pop song or punk or something that’s not our genre. It’s much easier to do that because people aren’t gonna judge it so much. They’re just gonna go, “Hey, that was interesting!”
KH: Out of the blue.
JH: If you’re trying to do, like a local rock or metal – another contemporary band – it’s better to go outside of our box, way outside.
RT: And I don’t think this has ever been done before, you know? Someone texted me the other day from the States, and they’re going, “Oh this is so awesome!” I’ve been getting a lot of texts from the States saying, “…this is awesome what you’re doing.” This friend of mine was saying that [Frank] Zappa used to do this. I said, “That’s awesome; Zappa’s rad. Was Zappa singing in Hungarian? In Czech?” “Nope, he wasn’t doing that,” you know. So it hasn’t ever been done, especially by a band that does what we do.
SC: Spot question before we move on to the final topic. For each of you, your favorite cover that they’ve done so far?
LU: I thought “Don’t Look Back in Anger” in Manchester was a moment because of all the emotional—
KH: That was a moment!
LU: –things that were in the wake of that, so that hit at a different level.
KH: Yeah. I agree.
LU: Just because of the history of the song and what had happened in Manchester recently.
KH: That was probably the most emotional time we had done it, in terms of it signifying or relating to something bigger.
JH: There’s been a couple. I mean, whenever the crowd forgets where they are for a second, yeah, that’s why they’re at a Metallica show, they want to forget what’s going on. And then within that, you know, they’re injected with a respect for where they’re from, and here’s a song that they know. Whenever they’re singing loud, it’s a frigging – it’s a connection! And whether Rob has to sing it in their language or not, it’s a melody, and if they’re all able to get into that head space and they sing it loud, that’s the best feeling.
SC: Cool. Obviously the next leg is gonna be back in the US, in the “B-markets,” as they’re called. I think that if you don’t know what that term means it can seem weird, but these are the smaller towns in the US that a lot of bands don’t play anymore, right? And am I right in saying there’s probably at least half of those dates that you guys haven’t been to for at least two decades?
LU: It’s not that black and white, but you do 30 stadiums. And going in and playing a stadium in Wichita Falls, there’s obviously not enough people there to play a stadium. So playing arenas in “secondaries” which is, I guess, another phrase that people use, it’s just places that you hit when you do a US arena tour. We hit a lot of these places on Death Magnetic. But you know, like a Grand Forks or…
KH: Sioux Falls.
LU: Some of it has to do with what’s called “routing.” You know, in terms of, it’s not just that you sit down and go, “Here are the cities you’re playing and now you’re playing the next 30.” If you gotta get from A to B, something’s got a route, you gotta go here or there or whatever. But America’s a big place. Lots of cool music fans in lots of great pockets of the States, and we haven’t been there for a long time so it’s gonna be fun to come back and do this experience.
SC: Is there more electricity going back to a Sioux Falls? These smaller towns, these smaller cities? Is it a little more of an electricity, a little more like a “foreign audience” than the typical American stadium audience?
LU: For me, every time we go to any of these places it’s twofold. It’s, “Oh I’m back in Helsinki.” And at the same time, I’m looking at it through completely different eyes in a way, and I have to remind myself, “Ooh, this is where we played on the beach five years ago and played ‘Frayed Ends of Sanity’ in 40-degree weather!” Or, “This is where we played on the Load tour where it was dark for 48 hours,” or whatever, do you know what I mean? So it’s both. I come here, we’re in a different hotel. The sun is shining. It’s like, “Have I ever been here before?” Do you know what I mean? Then you kinda go through this thing where you connect the dots to your past. So I’m looking forward to stepping out onstage in Louisville again and going, “What’s it like in Louisville, 2018? What’s that energy?” And that’s so awesome, for me, about what’s going on with this band, is that still 37 years later it feels like it keeps you hitting the refresh button. It always feels like it’s new. It’s not, “Here we are, back in the same city, playing the same fucking songs on the same fucking stage, the same audience that’s just grown the same amount of years that we did since we were here.” It’s people that haven’t seen us before, that are experiencing all this for the first time. That are hearing “Seek and Destroy” for the first fucking time in their lives. Do you know what I mean? The fact that that can still happen 37 years in, that’s fucking mind-blowing.
SC: Watching you play now, it’s hard to apply an age or an era.
KH: Seriously? You really think that it’s hard to find a point of reference when you experience this?
SC: That’s not what I mean necessarily. I’m saying this band could’ve been playing for only a few years or it could’ve been playing for X, it doesn’t look like a band that’s been playing for 37 years. It doesn’t have the luggage I would say of a heritage act. It is a heritage act, but it isn’t.
JH: No luggage, but experience. Yeah. And I agree that it is pretty fresh most of the time and the fact that we’re only doing 50 shows a year, if you’re a fan, you’re traveling! You’re doing a little more traveling than maybe you had been before, and if you want to see us.
SC: Well, so are you.
JH: Well, yeah, but I got people that said, you know, Denver. “Hey! Why aren’t you playing Denver on this tour?” It’s like, we did. We played the friggin’ Mile High Stadium. “But on this leg!” Well, yeah, we’re going indoors, we’re playing Salt Lake instead, so if you want to see us [again this time around], you get to travel.
SC: One more tour question. Will next year be the final year of WorldWired, or is it going to edge into 2020?
LU: I mean obviously there’s an end at some point. We gotta just sit and look. There’s Japan. There’s Australia. There’s New Zealand. There’s a couple other pockets that obviously Metallica has a long and very cool relationship with, so we just gotta sit down and figure it out. But to me the most important thing is, and this goes back to what we were talking about [the last time], the maintenance thing. We gotta go to Japan, we gotta go to Australia, we gotta go here, we gotta go there. That’s fine. As long as it’s done within the boundaries that exist. And so you know, I don’t think whether it’s ’19 or ’20 or whatever, to me we’re in a mode where there’s a balance to it now that’s manageable.
With that, the next pre-gig engagement must be entertained, and it is hard to fathom the reality that we are about to enter (or have, indeed, started as you read this) that most rare of musical situations: a summer-less Metallica. September isn’t too far away. Honest.