A keen sense of survival plays a strong supporting role in Metallica's lasting success. The heavy metal band founded in 1981 by drummer Lars Ulrich suffered a tragic blow in 1986 when bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a tour bus crash. In 2001, Burton's successor, Jason Newsted, departed the band after nearly 15 years and frontman James Hetfield entered rehab. The band absorbed the shock of these latest bumps in their career by looking inward and talking about their problems. In the wake of this introspective period, Ulrich, Hetfield and guitarist Kirk Hammett regrouped, adding former Suicidal Tendencies bass player Rob Trujillo. Their most recent album, St. Anger, entered the charts at No. 1 in June. Ulrich says the album's genesis was partly due to the group's new willingness to discuss and process the changes in their lives, both professionally and personally. TMR caught up with Ulrich at the Summer Sanitarium festival tour to hear more about the album and how Metallica has managed to stay on top in the volatile music industry.
TMR: What was the inspiration for your new album, St. Anger?
ULRICH: After the last Sanitarium tour three summers ago, we took a bit of a break. And then a bunch of not-so-great things happened. You know our bass player left. We started dealing with the things in the wake of that. And then James [Hetfield] needed to go away and deal with some things of his that were maybe at a deeper level. And deal with some of his own things and rehab and some issues.
So for the first time in Metallica's, at that time, 20-year career, we were in a bit of a time-out and just taking a little while away from everything. And that gave us a chance to reflect on certain things within the band, certain things around the band, priorities, friendships, reasonings, why things are the way they are.
All this type of stuff that when you're in the thick of the whole thing and everything's just moving so fast, and you put a record out every year, and the touring never stops, you never really sit down and think about it. So we had a year where we got a chance to sort of evaluate certain things in the band. When we got together again to play music, after that time, after James came back from rehab and so on ... we just sat down and started playing music together. There was no agenda, no master plan, no anything.
So I think the inspirations were reconnecting, were once again surviving something, the speed bump -- probably after the death of our bass player 15 years ago, probably the second biggest speed bump that we had to deal with in our career. And just coming back recharged, refocused, reconnected, so on. So the inspiration behind the record is mostly that. Being comfortable addressing vulnerabilities, weaknesses, fears and so on. And kind of being, for the first time in our careers, comfortable enough with each other to not only talk to each other about them, but also talk to everybody else about them.
So I think that this record, in a sound byte, that would be probably just about being comfortable with your weaknesses. And being at a place where you feel that you can talk about them, write about them, sing about 'em, scream about 'em, share them. And maybe there might be some people here or there that connect with certain elements of that and find something good that they can get out of it.
TMR: How do you think Metallica has stayed on top for over 20 years?
ULRICH: Umm, our good looks ... no, scratch that one. Survival instincts? I don't know, tenacity? Probably a bit of, a kind of -- we have this perverse need to continuously change what we do because we get so, kinda, bored with it. Well not bored, I don't think 'bored' is the right word. We get kind of afraid that we'll get stuck in a rut. So we're always manically looking for something different to do musically 'cause we just don't wanna [get] stuck. Fear of repetition.
And then, I guess also a little bit of the old -- we sort of occupy our own little bubble within the music world. So we're not really particularly connected to any movement, or scene, or city, or wave, or fashion. Do you know what I mean? So when all these different things come and go, we kinda just hover. So we're not really part of the L.A. [scene], we're not really part of something in Seattle, we're not part of this or rap. You know, we're just sort of doing our own little thing. So, because it's never really particularly in vogue, it also is never particularly out of vogue. And that's not a bad thing.
TMR: Twenty-plus years is a long time to be together as a band. What do you guys have planned for the future?
ULRICH: Take it in small cycles. I mean, I don't look at it like in 2018 we're gonna -- I mean, right now I'm taking it through the end of August. We're going to Japan in October. You just take it in bits. I think that I'm still in my 30s, although not for long. I'm still in my 30s so people sit there and go, 'The Rolling Stones who are 62 years old -- they're still doing it.' I'm like, 'Well, wait a minute, I'm still in my 30s. I started this band when I was 17, but I'm still in my 30s.'
I've heard myself say that three times now, but I guess I feel this inherent need to reemphasize that. So I don't know, when I'm 60 years old, I don't know, I ... have no idea. But one thing that's kinda weird -- or I would say 'uncharted,' as I like to put it -- is that playing the kind of music that we play, I don't know if it's possible to play it when you're 60 years old physically. It doesn't mean the Rolling Stones can't play what they do and God bless 'em and I totally respect what they're doing. I just don't know if you can play a song like 'Damage Incorporated' when you're 61 years old. I'd love to be the first to find out, but I'm just not sure.
DAS is doch mal interessant,ich mag den letzten satz