Jul 01, 2021

Marc Reiter: The So What! Interview

Long-time member of the Metallica management team and Blackened Recordings “show runner,” Marc Reiter was the originator of The Metallica Blacklist concept. Who better for So What! editor Steffan Chirazi to get the recipe from?!

It is fair to say that Marc Reiter is one of the most passionate music lovers I have ever known. No artist – or genre – is beyond a spirited discussion, and whether cheerfully making clear how utterly vital The Clash, IDLES, Kamasi Washington, and The Police are to him, or robustly explaining that “Kickstart My Heart” is Mötley Crüe at their finest, this is a man whose ears are always engaged.

It came as no surprise to me that it was Marc whose mind had conjured the concept – and along with Blackened Recording’s Eleni Psaltis and Brant Weil, determined the way in which the concept was to be delivered upon.

“Some of the most surprising and therefore some of the most fulfilling versions on this album, are the international acts that we had never heard of before,” he roars from his car en route to the Metallica HQ, and having heard the project myself, I could not agree more.

Steffan Chirazi: Marc, let me start by asking when this enormous project first started percolating?

Marc Reiter: Well, about two years ago, I read an article in Billboard magazine that talked about streaming and how it is such an important part of getting new ears on artists. I started to think about what we could do to attract some new listeners to Metallica, which was when it dawned on me that we’re remastering all of Metallica’s catalogue. I was thinking, “Okay, what can we do besides just remastering The Black Album to try and draw some people that may not yet be Metallica fans – or may be very, very casual Metallica fans – towards listening to new Metallica music?” Because my theory has always been once you start listening to Metallica, you never stop listening to Metallica!

So the idea was okay, what if we could get some newer, contemporary artists to cover Metallica songs? Maybe that would attract people and convince them to go and check out the original songs as well. So I mentioned the idea to Cliff Burnstein [Q Prime manager – ED], and he thought it was a really good idea; he’d just had a meeting with Spotify, and they had coincidentally mentioned something similar to him. So he said he thought it was a great idea, but who’s gonna do it? I said I would, as long as we could talk the band into going along with it, and they can give us a list of artists that they would like to see covering their songs (this was late 2019). And then I incorporated the rest of the Blackened Recordings team, which is a total of two other people, Eleni Psaltis and Brant Weil, and together we made it happen.

SC: This is obviously a band who are very protective of their studio work in particular, and I think we can safely say there haven’t been too many officially endorsed covers in their history. So how did those first conversations go?

MR: They were really enthusiastic about it. And you’re absolutely right, as you say, there haven’t been many, or any covers projects sanctioned – or curated by – the band. So what really jazzed the guys about this was that that they were going to curate it. To be honest, some of the artists on this project were directly chosen by the band and others weren’t, but they were all approved and overseen by Metallica and they’re really happy about. They really enjoyed the fact that there were some artists they’d never heard of, and some of those tracks are among their favorites. So it really was a best-of-all-worlds situation in that we were able to get a lot of the acts they wanted, and we were able to get them a lot of acts they didn’t ask for.

SC: Metallica is a band that likes to rip up the rule book, and this is another opportunity to celebrate the biggest album of their careers in a very unorthodox fashion. Do you think that was the icing on the cake for them? It’s like, “Yeah, we’re throwing a curve ball, this is where we’re (arguably) at our most comfortable.”

MR: I definitely think that was part of it. I think the other part of it, really, was the charity aspect of this project. That creative element of hearing a lot of new artists pay homage was flattering and really intriguing to them, but the charity element was big, and I have to give credit to them because the idea came from them.

They felt we should make this a charity album: take all the profits and put them towards All Within My Hands. Initially it was going to be 100% to All Within My Hands, and later, as the project started to develop and we started to get a lot of the artists participating, Lars came up with the idea to split the proceeds 50-50 with a charity of each artist’s choice. It took a little for the project to get going, but during the middle of the pandemic, artists started spending more and more time in the studio because they weren’t on the road; that’s when we really started to see things move forward, and then when we mentioned the charity of their choice idea, it was a tipping point. We already had a bunch that were interested, like I said, but the word of mouth started generating about this really cool project and how it would not only benefit Metallica’s charity, but also could benefit the charity of their choice. And it just started gathering more and more momentum.

SC: We’re looking, potentially, at over 50 charities.

MR: Yeah. There are 52 charities all together. 53 artists are participating, each selected the charity of their choice [with two repeat picks from two pairs of artists – ED] for 50% of the profits going to a total of 51 charities, and then one overall charity for 50% of the profits going to All Within My Hands.

SC: That is an impressive undertaking. Before we get deeper into the creative stuff, I should ask, you said it was a streaming born idea, so what will the physical realizations be?

MR: As you know, it is very important to the band that all Metallica releases are available in every way, shape, and form.

Metallica fans love the physical formats, so The Metallica Blacklist will be released on vinyl [as a seven-disc set], and it will be released on CD [as a four-disc set, both formats available on October 1]. It’ll be available as a download digitally and of course on all streaming platforms as well [available September 10].

SC: So I guess the next question is how you managed to sonically wrangle all the tracks, because they were obviously created in various locations, yet equally, there is that album consistency. Who wrangled the project?

MR: The Blackened Recordings team and the band went out and secured the majority of the participating artists. Universal Music, our partners overseas, and Q Prime definitely helped with artists as well. Greg [Fidelman] would certainly have been involved here, but the only reason he wasn’t is because he was attending to another very high priority Metallica matter. Fortunately, we have a great partnership with Universal Music, and they were very helpful in securing the great Giles Martin to serve as executive producer of this project. Giles was able to coordinate the tracks coming in and assemble the project, EQ-ing the whole thing, getting the mastering done at Abbey Road Studios [in London], and yes, he got a lot of very diverse recordings to sound very good together.

SC: As the early tracks were coming in, what was your reaction to what you were hearing versus what your expectations had been?

MR: The first tracks to come in were My Morning Jacket’s version of “Nothing Else Matters” and Juanes with his version of “Enter Sandman,” and we were all very happy with them! But I remember that as we started getting commitments from artists, it was looking like we were going to have trouble securing all twelve tracks being recorded, and that was our concern. It wasn’t that we were going to have fewer than twelve participants, it was just that we were going to have fewer than all twelve Black Album songs recorded, because we never steered an artist towards a song. We basically said, “It’s a blank canvas; you take any song that you want.” And as the project started to develop more, we saw that a lot of artists were gravitating towards certain tracks and not necessarily gravitating towards some other deeper cuts from The Black Album. But the problem, if you even want to call it a problem, took care of itself, and every song was represented at least one time… as you can see from the track listing, some were represented a lot more than one time! One song in particular is represented 12 times; we thought that would be “Enter Sandman,” but it wasn’t.

SC: It’s also fair to say that this is far, far from a “replicate take” covers project.

MR: Yes. We were very pleasantly surprised by how much latitude some artists took with regards to reinterpreting, and the band especially really loved when some artists stretched it out and went completely off the map with regards to reinterpretation. At the same time, some artists were very straightforward in their versions, and that’s cool too because again, all we asked was that the artists did whatever they felt was their version – their tribute – of that song. It’s super cool to hear just how different they all are and just how heartfelt they all are.

The band members were regularly saying, “Holy shit, this is so cool.” James on more than one occasion was saying that the hair on his arms was standing up when he heard a particular version, how he got goosebumps listening to another version. It was great to hear that.

SC: Has there been any feedback? Have you had any feedback from the participants within Blackened Recordings of like, “That was a bit of a challenge actually, but we really enjoyed it”?

MR: A little bit of both. The biggest challenge that I heard from several acts were the vocals, either trying to emulate James’ vocals or trying to stray away from what James had done. And also the drums, but they really relished the opportunity and had a lot of fun with it.

SC: Okay, let’s look at our crystal balls and imagine a moment that Covid is not affecting global touring to the extent that it has. Do you see a situation afoot where maybe a handful of these artists will be invited to participate in a live performance of Black Album material? Is that something that’s been discussed?

MR: We’ve been talking about it, but I don’t know. It’s such a high bar to try to clear logistically, it would be very difficult, but we never say never! The beauty of Metallica is that they love the impossible and they love every challenge put in front of them, so I would say that it’s certainly doable. But as of right now, there are plans to try to do something that may involve a couple of artists, just from a promo standpoint, but I’d say the better option would probably be for the band to choose to have some of these artists open for them on future tours.

SC: Can you shed some light on who has designed the packaging?

MR: David Turner, who’s done the last several Metallica albums, has done it. He and his team outdo themselves every time and it’s very much reminiscent of what The Black Album was while at the same time reminding you of the 53 artists that are involved on The Metallica Blacklist. So it, you know, it serves both masters in a very reverential way while being very irreverent in a Metallica way. So I think it’s perfect.

SC: All right, final pop quiz question for the moment for you. Who would you love to have seen contribute that didn’t or couldn’t?

MR: Oh, wow. It’s a great question… there are artists who are no longer with us. I think Chris Cornell would’ve been amazing. Now I’m thinking about it… the best contributions would probably be from artists that I’ve not yet heard, because so many of my favorites on this album fall under that category. The possibilities were – and are – endless, but we had to stop it at 53 otherwise it would never be completed!

The Metallica Blacklist Tracklist:

  • Enter Sandman – Alessia Cara & The Warning
  • Enter Sandman – Mac DeMarco
  • Enter Sandman – Ghost
  • Enter Sandman – Juanes
  • Enter Sandman – Rina Sawayama
  • Enter Sandman – Weezer
  • Sad But True (Live) – Sam Fender
  • Sad But True – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
  • Sad But True – Mexican Institute of Sound feat. La Perla & Gera MX
  • Sad But True – Royal Blood
  • Sad But True – St. Vincent
  • Sad But True – White Reaper
  • Sad But True – YB
  • Holier Than Thou – Biffy Clyro
  • Holier Than Thou – The Chats
  • Holier Than Thou – OFF! 
  • Holier Than Thou – PUP
  • Holier Than Thou – Corey Taylor
  • The Unforgiven – Cage The Elephant
  • The Unforgiven – Vishal Dadlani, DIVINE, Shor Police
  • The Unforgiven – Diet Cig
  • The Unforgiven – Flatbush Zombies feat. DJ Scratch
  • The Unforgiven – Ha*Ash
  • The Unforgiven - José Madero
  • The Unforgiven – Moses Sumney
  • Wherever I May Roam – J Balvin
  • Wherever I May Roam – Chase & Status feat. BackRoad Gee
  • Wherever I May Roam – The Neptunes
  • Wherever I May Roam – Jon Pardi
  • Don’t Tread on Else Matters - SebastiAn
  • Don’t Tread on Me – Portugal. The Man
  • Don’t Tread on Me – Volbeat
  • Through the Never – The HU
  • Through the Never - Tomi Owó
  • Nothing Else Matters – Phoebe Bridgers
  • Nothing Else Matters – Miley Cyrus feat. WATT, Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, Robert Trujillo, Chad Smith
  • Nothing Else Matters - Dave Gahan
  • Nothing Else Matters – Mickey Guyton
  • Nothing Else Matters – Dermot Kennedy
  • Nothing Else Matters – Mon Laferte
  • Nothing Else Matters – Igor Levit
  • Nothing Else Matters – My Morning Jacket
  • Nothing Else Matters – PG Roxette
  • Nothing Else Matters – Darius Rucker
  • Nothing Else Matters – Chris Stapleton
  • Nothing Else Matters – TRESOR
  • Of Wolf and Man – Goodnight, Texas
  • The God That Failed – IDLES
  • The God That Failed – Imelda May
  • My Friend of Misery – Cherry Glazerr
  • My Friend of Misery – Izïa
  • My Friend of Misery – Kamasi Washington
  • The Struggle Within – Rodrigo y Gabriela

All profits from every track on The Metallica Blacklist will benefit Metallica's charitable foundation, All Within My Hands, along with a charity of each artist's choice.