METALLICA drummer Lars Ulrich spoke to Eddie Trunk of the "Friday Night Rocks" radio show on New York's Q104.3 FM Friday night (March 2) about the group's upcoming studio album and their future touring plans. Few excerpts are follows:
Q: So many people wanna get an update and are jonesin' for new music from METALLICA. So what can you tell us about what's going on in the studio?
Lars: Well, we're just finishing pre-production right now and we're gonna start recording next Monday. So we've got another week of pre-production next week and then tapes should start rolling for real on Monday, [March] 12th, [which] is D-Day, as it says on my calendar upstairs. We're pretty psyched about that. It's been about a year of writing and getting ideas together and the whole thing — going through a couple of years' worth of riffs and all this stuff. We started out about six months ago with about 25 songs and now we've narrowed those down to 14, and we're gonna start recording 14 songs next Monday. So we're all pretty stoked.
Q: Everybody knows what exactly went on with the recording of the last album, because, of course, it was documented in a movie. So this time around I imagine things are pretty different than what went on with "Some Kind of Monster", right?
Lars: It's very, very… I mean, it's about as opposite of that… It's very chilled out and there's no movie crews or psychiatrists or any of that stuff — it's four guys in a rock band, hanging out, having fun, making music and doing their thing. It's pretty chilled. There's not any dramas or any kind of stuff. [Laughs] I think a lot of people would actually be… I don't know if they'd be disappointed, but they'd probably find it fairly uneventful. [Laughs] It's just kind of us doing our thing and after all the bullshit that we went through in 2001 and 2003 and all the stuff you were talking about with the movie, this whole go-around has been really chilled out. Everybody's kind of getting along and having fun. The spirit is a lot like back in the day. Like I said, when people would ask me about the new record in the last few months, "St. Anger", I think increasingly when I look back, was kind of like an isolated experiment, about trying to write and record and do all that in the studio, kind of in the moment, not bringing in ideas and kind of getting away from everything we had done for the previous 20 years. And this record, this go-around, is more like what we used to do, with kind of getting together, going through ideas, writing songs together, doing demos, doing pre-production. Rick's [Rubin, producer] big thing is to kind of have all these songs completely embedded in our bodies and basically next Monday, on D-Day, just go in and execute them — basically, just play them instead of... so you leave the creative element of the process out of the recording, so you go in and basically just record a bunch of songs that you know inside out and upside down and you don't have to spend too much of your energy in the recording studio creating and thinking and analyzing and doing all that stuff. His whole analogy is, the recording process becomes more like a gig — just going in and playing and leaving all the thinking at the door.
Q: Obviously you are aware that there was, let's just say, mixed fan reaction to "St. Anger". There were a lot of longtime METALLICA fans that weren't happy with it. What's your thoughts, looking back on it now that it's been a few years, when you listen to it? What do you think of that album?
Lars: I think it kind of set out to do what it wanted it to do, which was to be, like, a moment and to have this incredible, raw energy and to go in after the "Black" album, the "Load" records and the symphony experience and all that, which were projects that a lot of thought went into, a lot of time went into and a lot of… you know, analyzing and sort of micro-managing every moment, we really wanted to go in and try and capture something completely different than that, which was just like a burst of energy. I think "St. Anger" has an incredible amount of raw energy and kind of just nutty… I don't know, like, guttural kind of… you know, "throwing the whole thing to the wind" kind of stuff. I'm really proud of the fact that we actually had the balls to not only try it but to pull it off. I know that there were obviously some people that were disappointed with snare sounds or lack of guitar solos and all that, but after what we'd been through for those couple of years after Newsted left and so on, it was really what we had to do, if not for anybody else then for ourselves. I'm really proud of the fact that we had the balls and the guts to stick with it, but now we're, once again, in a very different headspace and I'm glad we got that experiment out of our systems.
Q: I remember when "…And Justice for All" came out and people were a little bit thrown by the sound of that record at the time, and now I talk to METALLICA fans and that's grown on them to become one of their favorite records.
Lars: Yeah, for a lot of people that's the blueprint for a lot of the stuff that's happening now. Listen, it's difficult for me, too, because I have such a personal relationship with each one of these records that's mostly based on the experience of making the record and living all the moments that not only went into the record but the moments that came in the wake of the record, you know what I mean?! I'm not the best one to probably sit and give neutral opinions about it. I've always said that all our records are in some way like your children — it's difficult to sit there and kind of pick favorites or kind of put one on a pedestal over the other. I mean, the one thing that at least all the hardcore METALLICA fans know that every time we make a record, for better or for worse, they know that it's always a totally true and pure reflection of whatever headspace we're in at the moment, so I don't feel that I ever have to either apologize or defend it too much. I know that when you are fortunate enough to have a career as long as we've had and with as many different nuances and dynamics to it, you're always gonna have people that really like a particular thing or dislike something else or yearn for something of this, or do this, or more old school, or more new school, or more bluesy, or more aggro… Like I've said a million times, the minute you start absorbing too much of that stuff, your head's gonna start spinning. But one thing that I'm fiercely proud of and can look back on on every moment of METALLICA's career is that we've always been true to ourselves and as honest to ourselves and to the music and to the fans to give them whatever extension of ourselves and whatever headspace that we were in at whatever particular moment.
Q: Is it fair to say that the experience that you guys went through in making "St. Anger" and documenting it and the film and everything that went on, all that drama with the band — is it fair to say that the positive effects of all the therapy and the things that went on are gonna show themselves more on this record, which also is the recording debut for your new bassist, Rob Trujillo?
Lars: I think that's pretty fair. The one thing that Phil [Towle] — the psychiatrist or whatever you call him [laughs] — said back in the day was that everything that we were going through with the experiences of the "St. Anger" record, that that stuff was really gonna come to fruition on the next record in terms of the relationships and in terms of everybody getting along and so on. The last year that we've been fiddling around in the studio, I mean, it's been amazing. We're having fun again, which we didn't for many, many years in the Nineties, and in some way, it feels to me like it's kind of come full circle in that all the external crap and all the extra-curricular stuff has kind of subsided and now it's just a bunch of guys hanging out in a rehearsal space/studio, having a lot of fun together and sweating and laughing and making music, and kind of… to me, doing what this band has always been about, and I think probably more so than certainly for some time bringing it back to its kind of point of origin, you know what I mean?
Q: You mentioned him and I've gotta ask you, are you still in touch with that guy Phil?
Lars: Yeah, he lives in the 415 [San Francisco telephone area code] up here… I see him once in a while in social functions, but we haven't worked with him since the "St. Anger" record. And listen… one thing about the movie, which was that... We were fortunate enough that, as the movie and the experience was unfolding that there was kind of a, what you call in the film world, like a dramatic art that started kind of intertwining itself into the movie part of it, and obviously in some way he kind of became the villain, like the Belushi character in the "Saturday Night Live" skit, you know, the thing that wouldn't leave?! But it's all good. He lives up here and he's doing a bunch of work with mostly sports people and a few other people up here, and I see him around town… San Francisco is a pretty small place, you know, so I see him around town and so on. But the one thing… the way he kind of got put in a position of being the villain, I'd like to defend that somewhat and say that I truly do believe in my heart that he saved the band and all the work that he put into it certainly has made the band what we are today. It's a little odd when you do interviews — I've done probably about a dozen interviews in the last year — and people are still talking to me about the movie and "St. Anger" and stuff, which is four or five years ago. The bottom line is that I am obviously fiercely proud of the fact that we had the balls to kind of see it through and stick with it. I think we made a decision pretty early on in our career that the relationship that we wanted to have with our fans was to be as accessible as possible. Growing up on rock in the Seventies and so on, the whole thing about your ZEPPELINs and your PURPLEs and your KISSes and so on was that whole kind of larger-than-life element — the mystery and not knowing what was going on. But we came from… Our roots, at least in terms of attitude, came from the punk movement, about being as accessible as possible and kind of letting everybody into what we were doing, so in some way I think that film, for better or for worse, was sort of the ulimate in letting people in and seeing what was going on and not having barriers between you and the fans and having as much of an open door as possible and feeling that there was nothing that was hidden away. And that's something that we've always believed in. I think that that's been certainly a big part of the awesome relationship that we've been fortunate enough to have with most of our fans.
Q: Speaking of landmark METALLICA albums, last year was the 20th anniversary of "Master of Puppets". I know you guys played in Europe and you did the album start to finish, right?
Lars: Yes, we did. We did three weeks' worth of gigs last summer. There's no place better than to visit Europe in the month of June, and we got invited to do a couple of festivals and then it kind of turned into a three-week thing. Kerrang! magazine out of England had done a tribute to the "Puppets" album by having all these awesome up-and-coming bands, like TRIVIUM and BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE, and MACHINE HEAD and a few other guys who've been around for a while, doing these, basically covering every song on "Puppets", and we were kind of sitting there getting caught up in all that misty-eyed emotion of the whole thing as we were sitting there planning the tour and the dates and so on. We were also inspired by my friend Mike [Portnoy] from DREAM THEATER, who was telling me that they used to, back in the day, go out and play all of "Master of Puppets" as an encore. He was definitely part of the inspiration, too. And we went out and played over the course of three weeks the "Puppets" album from start to finish more or less note for note. What happens with us a lot with the older songs is we go through the years, we have a tendency to continue to edit them and re-edit them and put different bits in and kind of take them different places. But we kind of went back and played the album note for note and it was a lot of fun, and in some way I think it kind of set the bar for the record that we're making now in terms of the level that we know we're capable of writing and recording and it was an awesome experience to play that every night for 50, 60, 70 thousand people and feel that kind of love and respect and appreciation. I mean, playing it for 75,000 people at Donington (England), it was unbelievable.
Q: Did you document any of that? Did you shoot it or record it at all?
Lars: You know what? These days you can never get too far from a film camera or a tape recorder. [Laughs] There's a always a couple of guys around with a camera in case somebody gets desperate for some content, as they call it. That stuff is there. And listen, I'm not saying that we're gonna do it again, but I'm not sayng that we're not gonna do it again. I mean, that's an experience that you can always come back to. You know us — we're saracastic enough and self-deprecating enough to… maybe this year we'll go out and celebrate the 21st anniversary of "Master of Puppets" and in a couple of years celebrate the 23rd. You know what I mean?! That's something we can always come back to because it was so much fun.
Q: I know that was the big thing in America. Everyone was like, "Damn, I wish they'd be doing that here."
Lars: You know what? I know that it's difficult for the American fans. This year again we're going over to do a couple, two-three weeks in Europe, different countries than we were at than last year. I know that a couple of the American fans, rightfully so, are obviously moaning about why we spend so much time in Europe every summer, but I'm telling you, there's no better place to go on vacation in the month of June — throw on a few gigs and have some fun. But all our American fans out there must rest assured that there will be no end to the love coming everybody's way in the next couple of years with the new record and so on. And I'm sure in my heart that we'll do the "Puppets" thing again. If not, next year we'll do the "…And Justice for All" version of that. Who knows? The great thing about being in a band like is that obviously nobody tells us what to do, or there's no particular sort of formula or any of that crap that we have to follow. I would like to get into, and that's kind of what we're trying to do now with… We went to South Africa last year, we went to Japan, we played a couple of weeks in Europe, and like I said, this year we're doing three weeks… I'd like to get into more of a thing where it's not that you only tour on the back of your records and you have to promote your latest, quote, product and the singles and all that crap, you know what I mean?! Where it just becomes more like you go on tour when you want, you go into the studio and record when you want and everything doesn't become so segregated about "Here's a new record" and "Now here's 18 months of touring featuring 75 percent of that material" and all that kind of stuff.
Q: I would think it would be cool, too, for you guys being locked down in the studio and then in the middle of that to maybe get a jolt of a live performance. That may actually give you another kick in the ass when you get back in the studio.
Lars: That's obviously the whole point. And also we get kind of restless when the status quo thing is going on for too long at the time. So I think it's great for the creative process to get out of the studio once in a while and go and play some gigs, harness some energy from the fans, and feel the love, and give some love, and get some perspective, listen to some of the stuff you're doing in the studio while you're driving to the gig and whatever, and come back to the studio recharged again after another six weeks. So that's kind of the plan this year. We're gonna record up through early June and then hit Europe for about three weeks in, I guess, it's late June to early July, and then come back and finish recording in August.
Q: And you want the record out this year or you're looking at next year for the record?
Lars: [Laughs] Every time we put a record out, we always paint these perfect scenarios about [how] it's gonna come out and nobody's gonna stress and there's not gonna be any deadlines and everything's gonna cool and chilled out and nobody's gonna get any hernias or stomach ulcers or whatever, but it never quite seems to work out that way. We obviously wanna get it out as quickly as we can after we're done recording, to share it with everybody, but at the same time, these days, with what's going on with the music business and all the declines and all the crap, the managers are sitting there barking in one ear, going, "We need more setup time? We need this…" I'd like to try and get it out this year, I hope we can get it out this year. If it doesn't come out this year, then it will be out at the very beginning of next year. I mean, the bottom line is it will be out a couple of months after it's done and everybody should hopefully be happy.