Just ask Robert Trujillo, making his Milwaukee debut Friday at the Bradley Center as the bassist for Metallica. Trujillo has played here before - he was a member of Suicidal Tendencies and has toured with artists such as Ozzy Osbourne - but never as one of the "Four Horsemen."
Trujillo is the band's third bassist and perhaps its most unexpected.
Original four-stringer Cliff Burton played a tremendous role in establishing the band's sound in the early '80s.
Instead of staying in the background, Burton made the bass as much a lead instrument as the guitar.
After Burton's death in a 1986 tour bus crash, Flotsam & Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted was tapped to replace him but was rarely allowed to step out of the long shadow cast by his predecessor.
Newsted left the band in 2001 citing stress and creative constraints, and for more than two years, Metallica was bass-less. It's a period chronicled in "Some Kind of Monster," the acclaimed Metallica documentary opening in Milwaukee on Aug. 27.
In the film, frontman James Hetfield and his remaining band mates, drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett, try to learn how to get along with the help of performance coach Phil Towle.
In the middle of Metallica's personal transition from "The Call of Ktulu" to "Kumbaya," Trujillo was invited to join the band. The Southern California surfer had already made a name for himself with an aggressive, heavily funked-up style, full of popping and slapping. Trujillo also had a reputation for a more improvisational approach to bass.
Would the notoriously controlling Hetfield put up with Trujillo's looser style? Would the notoriously outspoken and demanding Metallifans accept the new dude?
Trujillo answered all our questions - and revealed Metallica's secret funky side - when he chatted with us by phone from his home in Venice, Calif., during a recent break from the road.
Q. What do you bring to Metallica?
A. As a performer, physically, technically, I play the way I feel. Of course, when I'm out there (on stage), I go hard. I give it everything I can. I feed off the music and the fans feed off that. No disrespect, but I'm playing because I'm feeling it, not because I think I have to please that fan over there, or that fan there.
Q. Metallica fans aren't shy about voicing their opinions. How have they been treating you?
A. I ignored the media and even the fans. I just told myself, I'm going to be Robert. . . . I'm going to give 100 percent as me. The fans have picked up on that.
My history with the other groups has helped. Suicidal Tendencies toured with Metallica, like, 10 years ago, more than 10 years, and a lot of the hard-core fans respect that. If I was coming right off the street, it would be a lot rougher for me.
Q. You've known Metallica for a long time from the outside. What was the biggest eye-opener for you when you joined the band?
A. Obviously the whole performance coach thing. That was my first encounter with the guys in years, with the exception of going surfing with Kirk a couple times. . . . They invited me into the studio and I got to hear the "St. Anger" tracks in their prenatal stage. I would have thought the old, guarded Metallica wouldn't have allowed that.
They welcomed me into their world, and I wasn't even part of it at the time. There's this whole mystique about what they're like, you know, the evil Metallica. I didn't see that. Actually, at first, not seeing that evil Metallica kind of made me uncomfortable.
Q. How does your style square with James' exacting expectations?
A. It's a combination. I think he's mellowed out. If he feels something's not right, maybe in the past he'd attack it more aggressively. Now, when we're playing, I can sense if something's not working. He'll look at me, look at the fretboard, look at me, then eventually he'll say something like "Uh, I think it goes this way" . . .
But when I got the job, I said to myself, leave no room for error. They were finishing the album ("St. Anger, on which producer Bob Rock played bass), there was a lot of media. With that kind of workload on their shoulders - and they have families, too - I wanted to not bother them too much worrying about what I was doing, so I mapped out as much (of the music) as I could.
Q. How is a Metallica live performance different than that of your other bands?
A. Metallica for me is actually the most physically demanding. The shows are a lot longer than I'm used to, the music is pretty demanding, it's fast, and with a fair amount of movement (around the fretboard). Also the amount of songs, the catalog they have to work with, we never play the same set night after night.
Combine that with a stage the size of an aircraft carrier, and it's like a workout on a treadmill. It's kind of freaky for the new guy. When they asked me to join, Lars said, "We're like a freight train. When we take off, we go hard and fast and don't stop."
Q. Tell the truth: Before you joined, how funky was Metallica?
A. I grew up listening to metal but also to James Brown, the Parliament. I know when a guy is funky. And James Hetfield is funky. I mean that. In the context of, like, Lynryd Skynyrd. There's something really soulful in him. He also plays the drums, so his approach to rhythm guitar is very funky.
I always thought there was a lot of groove in Metallica. That's Metallica's secret ingredient that they have over other bands. Now worship me. The groove factor that James has is the heartbeat of the band.