Rolling Stone magazine conducted separate interviews with the four members of METALLICA — guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo — during a recent visit to the band’s headquarters in San Rafael, California. The full interviews can be found in Rolling Stone’s “The Big Issue”, available on newsstands now. A few excerpts follow below.
Rolling Stone: How far have you gotten into writing for a new album?
James Hetfield: “I only have 846 riffs.”
Rolling Stone: Is that an exact figure?
James Hetfield: “In iTunes, you can see how many things you’ve got. And that does not include the soundchecks, the stuff we goof around with here. You plug in an amp. Suddenly it makes you feel good — you come up with a riff. ‘Dude, did you get that?’ You can’t get away from being recorded here.
“But Lars, the hoarder of METALLICA, is obsessed with revisiting every stone, turning it over: ‘That could be great!’ Yeah, it could all be great. But I’ve got a new one right now. That’s the Catch-22. You’ve got a riff from five years on tour that’s amazing. Do I still feel it? Don’t worry. Something better will show up.”
Rolling Stone: Are there too many distractions — tours, the [Orion Music + More] festival, the [upcoming 3D] movie — that take you away from the primary business of…
James Hetfield: “Writing songs? Absolutely. This week is interviews, photo shoots, shooting videos for things. When are we going to start writing? ‘We’ve got to rehearse the ‘black’ album.’ I would love to sit and write without having to think of other stuff.”
Rolling Stone: How much will playing [the “black” album in its entirety on METALLICA’s current tour] affect your next album?
Lars Ulrich: “I’ve been sitting with [the songs from the ‘black’ album] for a month now, listening to them while I’m driving, immersing myself before we play them: ‘Why did we go one key up there? Why did we repeat that thing four times instead of two?’ I was thinking about it again today. There was a moment in ‘Sad But True’ with that half-chorus in the middle. Then it went back to the guitar solo, and then there was a little break before it goes into the third verse.
“I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Why was it put together like that?’ Maybe we can slightly borrow that?’ If you can’t rip yourself off, what’s the point? It will be interesting to see, once we take this album out to people in different countries, what we’ll come back with for the writing sessions in the fall.”
Rolling Stone: You do have a lot of projects that get in the way of making new music.
Lars Ulrich: “I don’t want to be that band that just does record, tour; record, tour. I will say to my dying day, ‘Who wouldn’t want to make a record with Lou Reed?’ They are adventures, uncharted territory, places where you do more than just use muscle memory. I want to get away from that model, that the sole reason for a band to exist is to just make another record.”
Rolling Stone: How do you look at your long-term future? You just celebrated your 30th anniversary. Another 30 years might be optimistic.
Lars Ulrich: “I still don’t feel we’ve challenged ourselves enough. We still talk about ‘the next album.’ We can do whatever we want with our music. ‘We’ve hidden a new METALLICA CD in each ZIP code in America. Go find it!’ There’s nothing but options.
“Just don’t mention the word ‘work.’ The a.m. grind, getting my three kids ready for school — that is the work part of my day. When I come in here, that’s when the fun starts.”
Rolling Stone: You’ve fallen way behind in making new music, because you’re so busy with touring, the festival and the 3D movie.
Kirk Hammett: “We’ve known for at least two years that we have to start writing songs. It feels like I’m standing on the side of a hill: There’s this big boulder at the top that I know is going to start rolling one of these days. And when it does, we won’t be able to stop it. But it hasn’t started rolling yet.
“It’s on everybody’s mind. When we finished [playing the 30th-anniversary shows] at the Fillmore [in San Francisco] last year, I thought, ‘A year from now, I’m going to be 50. At this rate, does that mean I have two albums left in me? Three?’ But if we run at a different rate, who knows? Five? The one thing I’ve learned is you can’t be too prophectic in this band, because something happens, and things completely change.”
Rolling Stone: How much have you written, riff-wise, for the next record?
Robert Trujillo: I have about 20 ideas that I feel really good about, whereas on ‘Death Magnetic’ I had one or two. But one of them ended up being ‘Suicide And Redemption’. Hetfield — he’s a writing machine. Kirk has over 300 ideas. There’s so much stuff from the tuning-room jams, from all those years of touring. I like to think I have 20 ideas I believe in.”
Rolling Stone: What’s the best one so far?
Robert Trujillo: “[Grins] There’s one that reminds me of something off BLACK SABBATH’s ‘Vol. 4’.”