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Metallica Interview - Playboy Magazine Interviews - Article With Metallica

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Metallica: Playboy Interview

Even when Metallica's quiet, they manage to make noise.

On a mid-January morning, in the middle of the longest respite from touring and recording the band had ever taken, Metallica issued a terse but emotional press release, in which bassist Jason Newsted announced his departure from the group because of "private and personal reasons and the physical damage I have done to myself over the years." A few hours later, a source close to Metallica told Playboy that Newsted's decision had capped a nine-and-a-half-hour band meeting the day before at the RitzCarlton Hotel in San Francisco, the sequel to a similar marathon caucus a week earlier. Newsted's resignation, the source said, had been "very well discussed" by the band.

In some ways, it was just the usual tumult for Metallica, who spent much of last year waging an assault—or, they might say, a counteroffensive—against Napster. The website drew an estimated 38 million users in its first 18 months by allowing fans to trade sound files without paying any tariff; in short, by providing free music. Metallica sued for alleged copyright infringement and racketeering, and on July 11, drummer Lars Ulrich—whose press campaign against Napster was full of typical bravado—testified against the website before the U.S. Senate. Between politicking and press conferences, Metallica played music, too. I Disappear, a new song on the Mission Impossible: 2 soundtrack, was nominated for five MTV Video Music Awards. The band released S&M, a two-disc concert album recorded with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. They toured during the summer with Kid Rock, who handled some lead vocals when singer James Hetfield missed three shows because of a Jet Ski accident. Even VH1 embraced these one-time scourges, profiling the band in a particularly bloody Behind the Music. The year 2000, says bassist Jason Newsted, "was possibly the highest-profile year for Metallica ever."

Of the thousands of bands that have crawled out of rehearsal garages into recording studios, only seven have sold more albums in the U.S. than Metallica has. Of those, two are long-gone legends (the Beatles and Led Zeppelin), and the others—Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones and Van Halen—are nostalgia acts, grandpas past their expiration dates or culturally inconsequential. Among rock's most epic groups, only one—Metallica—is still touring, still vital and still not in need of Rogaine.

When Hetfield and Ulrich met in Los Angeles in the spring of 1981, united by an ad in a local rock magazine, they had little in common except a shared fanaticism for the most extreme mutations of rock. Lars' father, Torben Ulrich, was a great Danish tennis player, a bohemian and a jazz fan; Lars' godfather was jazz great Dexter Gordon. Lars had had a privileged, expansive childhood, full of travel and freedom. Hetfield, a product of a broken home headed by a father who followed the restrictive Christian Science religion, was working dead-end day jobs and had seen little outside of suburban LA. Ulrich and Hetfield relocated an early version of the band to San Francisco to secure the services of bass overlord Cliff Burton, and added guitarist Kirk Hammett, a Bay Area native who, like Hetfield, embraced loud rock as a refuge from teen misery.

The bands that inspired Metallica are pretty obscure, unless you know European thrash pioneers like Diamond Head and Blitzkrieg. But Metallica spread pure metal to the mainstream. They did it by touring with an almost demented determination, earning the nickname Alcohollica as they floated from town to town like marauding vodka Vikings. They did it by avoiding metal clichés (after discarding their spandex tights, that is) such as singing about chicks and sex, instead giving voice to raging, almost biblical parables about warfare and brutality. And they did it, beginning with 1991's Metallica (also known as the Black Album, for its unadorned cover), by working with Bon Jovi producer Bob Rock to add experimentation and melodic appeal. Where he once vowed "volume higher than anything today" (on the band's ear-blasting Kill 'Em All debut), Hetfield began to expose the vulnerability that always lies under anger. On Enter Sandman, he sang about a child's nighttime terrors, an allusion to his own convulsive youth. "Now I see the sun," he sang hopefully on Unforgiven II. And Nothing Else Matters, a ballad, brought Metallica into territory they'd never explored: love and satisfaction.

We sent freelance writer Rob Tannenbaum to interview the last of the big rock bands. He found that although the band members were out of touch with one another during the hiatus, they were not out of one another's minds. His report:

"I wasn't surprised that Jason Newsted quit Metallica. Just two months earlier, I'd spent a day with each of the four, and I've never seen a band so quarrelsome and fractious. Most of the barbs were cloaked in humor—Newsted mocked Hetfield's singing, Hetfield mocked Ulrich's drumming, and Ulrich, whom I interviewed last, responded to several of Hetfield's quotes with scorn.

"But genuine tension was evident in these interviews—the last ever to be conducted with this Metallica lineup—because they shared one trait: Each talked about his need for solitude. Paradoxically, this is a band of loners, and the conflict between unity and individuality was pretty clear. Because they weren't speaking, I became a conduit of information. 'How were Jason's spirits?' Kirk Hammett, 38, asked anxiously when we met at his home in the Pacific Heights section of San Francisco, an haute Gothic mansion full of dark wood and crucifixes, with a stuffed two-headed sheep in the parlor. 'And how was James?'

"Hetfield, 37, invited me to his house, behind a secured gate in a town less than an hour north of San Francisco. It seemed odd that he lived in notoriously mellow Marin County, but Hetfield set me straight about the neighborhood. 'This is more a kind of Losertown,' he said with a deep chuckle. 'I'm more up for that vibe.' The den where we talked felt like a rural lodge—above a fireplace, the walls were decorated with the heads of nine animals he'd killed, including a boar, an antelope and a 1600-pound buffalo he took with four shots of a rifle. Hetfield, who earned the nickname Dr. No for his control of the band, often talks in animal metaphors, which shape his decidedly Darwinian perspective. 'It's a pretty difficult time for us right now,' Hetfield said in a rare somber moment. But when his wife, Francesca, and three-year-old daughter, Cali, came into the room, the author of 'Seek and Destroy' jumped up and yelled, 'Big hug!'

"When I met Lars Ulrich, 37, he was separated from his wife Skylar and their child, and was living in a downtown New York hotel suite while mixing an album by Systematic for his label, TMC. Ulrich is the band's bustling businessman—as he ranted and scoffed, his cell phone rang constantly—as well as its emissary to nonmetal worlds: He's friends with Matt Damon and Courtney Love and plays tennis with John McEnroe. Affectionately referred to as 'The Danish Midget' by some in the band's circle, Ulrich somehow manages to be friendly and disputative at the same time, as though arguing were just another way of saying hello.

"The most unhappy Metallican was Newsted, 38, whom I met at a Marin County recording studio. Newsted, who joined the band after Cliff Burton died in a bus accident while the band toured Sweden in September 1986, was straining at Hetfield's restrictions which kept him from releasing a solo album. He jokingly dismissed Hetfield's singing, saying, 'At least we call him a singer now, instead of a screamer or a shouter. Five or six years ago, they would have called him a shouter.' Newsted gradually admitted that he felt 'almost stifled' in Metallica. But when I asked if he was unhappy enough to quit the band, he turned grave: 'I would not leave Metallica for another band. If I ever happened to choose that path, I would do it to live my life, not depart to play in another band.'

"A source within the Metallica camp told me Newsted is 'not 100 percent healthy, and has been playing in pain'—the bassist also told Playboy he would quit 'when the day comes that I cannot perform' with his accustomed ferocity. According to the source, Newsted (who declined further comment) said he might move to Montana and not touch a bass for two years, though it's hard to imagine such inactivity from a guy who suffers anxiety attacks 'if I even try to go six days without playing music with somebody.' Newsted may have retired purely for health reasons, though the source admits that the bassist's clash with Hetfield was 'a precipitating factor.'

"Soon, Metallica will end their hiatus and return to the studio as a trio to record a new album. Metal bands aren't supposed to evolve: AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Motorhead sounded basically the same on their first record as on their latest. But Metallica is motivated by 'a fear of repetition,' Ulrich told me, so it'll be interesting to hear their next move. Then they'll hire a new bassist and go back on the road, as loud as ever."

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