01. Flesh Storm- Probably the best song off the mostly disappointing “Christ Illusion”. Good opener. Sounds even better with the “Metal Storm” intro.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
01. Flesh Storm- Probably the best song off the mostly disappointing “Christ Illusion”. Good opener. Sounds even better with the “Metal Storm” intro.
Monday, October 20, 2008
PEOPLE magazine interview October 1977
Too old to Rock-N-Roll, Too young to die is just a sardonic song by the Jethro Tull group. The terrible reality of this 25-year-old art form is that a disproportionate number of its stars have died in their creative prime.
Some OD'd on the instant fame and the temptations of too much disposable income. Some artists confused drugs and drink for a muse until they became a fatal addiction, especially in combination with overpowered motorcycles and cars. Life in the fast lane (as the Eagles hymned it) only worsened the actuarial odds.
The more money that was spent on dangerous pursuits, the more that had to be earned on merciless touring schedules in which the all-night travel miles--and the risk--inexorably mounted. Sometimes, admittedly, the blame was greedy management or perverse fate.
But major figures from Buddy Holly (1959) to Otis Redding (1967) and Jim Croce (1973) were lost in plane crashes. The latest was buried near his native Jacksonville last week.
He was Ronnie Van Zant, 28, co-founder, writer and lead singer of LYNYRD SKYNYRD. It had supplanted the Allman Brothers as the reigning Southern boogie band and as a leading U.S. challenger to the British hegemony of the concert coliseums.
The group members who eight years ago were working $100-a-week Florida honky-tonks this year reached a new peak of commercial importance--and threat of drunken self-destruction. Single concert-concert guarantees ranged up to $150,000.00
Three of their LP's sold a million. At the same time Van Zant was noting, "We made the WHO look like church boys on Sunday. We done things only fool’s do." Ronnie, after a dozen arrests for brawling and misconduct himself, helped convince Lynyrd Skynyrd this summer that "we had one last chance to get it together--we ain't getting any younger."
Their latest LP, 'Street Survivors', which just hit the stores gold, had been recorded, uncharacteristically, cold sober. Similarly, they jokingly dubbed the three-month, 50-city journey they launched last month as "The Torture Tour"--their first in years when they would try to face audiences without being dead drunk.
Then, between Greenville, S.C. and Baton Rouge, en route to their fifth date, the band's chartered Convair 240 prop jet, reportedly low on fuel, nosedived into a swampy thicket in southwest Mississippi. Van Zant was killed instantly. Also dead at the site were guitarist Steve Gaines; his backup vocalist, sister Cassie Gaines; the assistant road manager, and the two-man flight crew. There were 20 survivors, but many were hospitalized.
If ever reconstituted, LYNYRD SKYNYRD could not be the same. Stunned and mournful, the rock world had lost one of its most colorful and distinctive artists. A few days before his final week on the road, Van Zant had invited PEOPLE's Jim Jerome for a rare interview at his home in Doctor's Inlet, Florida.
The most devastating irony of the Skynyrd tragedy was that Ronnie Van Zant really seemed to be recovering from what he himself described as "five years of alcoholism." Anyone who had heard his pained and snarling blues delivery in performance, seen his barefoot inebriated swagger and met him backstage afterward--often thick lidded and stuporous--would hardly have recognized him.
Alert and athletic, he was trimmer than he had appeared in years and exuberantly personable in conversation. It was a jolt to meet the new Van Zant, legendary thrasher of hotels, when he knocked on the door announcing "Room service." He strode in confidently, his long hair past his shoulders, shoeless and precariously carrying a huge tray of food playfully borrowed from a bellboy. "Will that be all?" he asked, before cracking into a smile. It made one believe that musicians as well as politicians can be reborn.
As he hunched over the wheel of his pickup truck driving to his lakeside home 30 minutes from Jacksonville, Ronnie was a vision of self-renewal. He pointed out the track where he was jogging two miles daily to get in shape for the tour, and he detailed the high-protein diet his wife was holding him to. Then he gave in and stopped for a six-pack, apologizing, "This is the most I'll have drunk in the past six weeks."
As the guided tour continued, he drove by a prison farm. "Hey," he said, "if prisons, freight trains, swamps and gators don't get ya to write songs, man, y'ain't got no business writin' songs." Once at his home, the serenity he enjoyed around his wife of five years, Judy, and daughter Melody was clear. (He also had a daughter, now 10, by a failed previous marriage.) Van Zant crawled around on the living room rug, circling an armchair with his delighted daughter on it, playing "gonna GETCHA.""
The baby's had a lot to do with my maturing," he believed. Ronnie showed off his own superstar toy, a '54 white Mercedes "that I found setting' up on blocks in a junk shop. Found out there was only nine in the world," he explained, "and I put $11,000 into it already" Then Van Zant decided to try some fishing. He carried three poles and a long sleek gun "to blow away any gators that might come up on my land." While casually fly-casting and sipping beer, he talked about his tumultuous past.
"I was abusing' myself on the road, because after all, man, if it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth it." But he didn't condone the "fool things" like pouring Jack Daniels into the TV set until it exploded. "If you're into drinking' and tearing' up hotels and blowing ' gigs, that's fine. But it'll take years off your life too. I am not as old as I look," he added, "and there are plenty of false teeth in our group. There's been treatment by doctors and hospitalizations for our drinking'."
The extent of treatment was understandable, as his narrative of the bad old nights continued. "We were doing bottles of Dom Paragon, fifths of whiskey, wine and beer, and we'd all have to puke once each before going' onstage. We couldn't even remember the order of the songs. Some guy crouched behind an amp and shouted them to us. We once looked at tapes of shows--man, we was sloppy drunk," he flushed. "I couldn't believe kids applauded for that crap."
Other audiences--around his hometown, oddly-- were less accepting, and he hadn't played there in six years. Ronnie claimed he was once so zonked "I spit up one of my tonsils onstage and walked off. The people demolished our equipment, threw bottles, and four cops were hurt."
Later that October evening, which was to be one of his last at home, Van Zant was visited by his two younger brothers, both lead vocalists in rock groups--Donnie with the promising 38 SPECIAL and Johnnie with the local AUSTIN NICHOLS BAND. His brawny ex-trucker dad, Lacy--who first got young Ronnie hooked on music while highballing up the east coast to the crackling sound of country (their favorite: Haggard)--also stopped by.
Van Zant grew up in a tough shantytown section of Jacksonville, got his first highs singing with the family's Holy Roller church choir. As a teenager he had already formed a primitive precursor of LYNYRD SKYNYRD with Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, both guitarists (and survivors of the crash). The title was a corruption of the name Leonard Skinner, who was a hard-nosed high school Phys Ed teacher.
The name began to mean something nationally in 1974 with their hit single, SWEET HOME ALABAMA. As for their own Florida home, LYNYRD SKYNYRD was rarely off the road for more than days at a time. That was before this summer, when Van Zant seemed ready to end the disorienting years on the run.
He'd bought 29 acres of choice Tennessee hill country where the family had recently camped out for a few days, but Ronnie also pondered a more family-style neighborhood in Jacksonville. As he said in his idiom, "My wife doesn’t want our daughter to grow up a swamp hermit. Other kid’s be good for her." Yet on the eve of four rehearsals, Van Zant conceded he felt restless after the unprecedented six weeks hiatus. He could not deny that "the road is home to you after 12 years. I went crazy eight years ago," he said with a devilish grin, "so the road don't matter no more."
What did matter to Ronnie Van Zant was headlining for the first time ever at New York's Madison Square Garden. To him the gig--it would have been next week--represented LYNYRD SKYNYRD's official recognition among the rock super elite.
He also knew, looking back, that he had given--and taken--a lot to earn the honor. "In the beginning," he said, "we use to play one joint till midnight for kids; then they turned it into a bottle club and we'd go til 6 a.m. It really tightened us up as a band," he recalled. "When you're from the south, man, you learn to work your ass off, and we did. It was HELLATIOUS." He stopped and turned to invite a lasting eye contact. After a pause he added: "Hellatious and the best years of our lives."
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Back in 1998 I received a phone call from someone at Century Media Records. I had a very good relationship with the publicists there at the time, so getting several calls per day/week was nothing new. Back in the day, zine Editors, writers (there’s that word again!) and publicists worked together for what seemed to be a common cause. So I got a call asking for a favor. Emperor, who were riding higher than ever on the release of their 1997 album ‘Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk’, were set to play the 1998 Milwaukee Metalfest.
The band was worried the keyboard was going to be sent to ex-Metal Maniacs writer Tomas Pascual because they wrote “there’s no way that little guy will be able to carry it!” [[I Have nothing against the guy but folklore has New York based Tomas Pascual as the main component in the ill-fated/disastrous 2003 Metal Gods (Halford, Testament, Immortal, Carnal Forge) US Tour- so maybe we can thank him for the Judas Priest reunion??]].
So the case arrived safe enough and yeah, it was heavy as fuck, that’s for sure.
A day or two after the arrival of the keyboard I received another call. Would I be interested in picking up Emperor at O’Hare Airport and getting them to Milwaukee on the Thursday before the fest? Hmmmm, why not? I thought. I wasn’t the biggest Emperor fan, but it sounded like it could be adventurous and again, you do favors for friends when possible.
So I agreed. I’d pick up the band at the airport and then we’d make our way up to Milwaukee where the Century Media crew would be waiting to get them prepared for what was to be a hectic, yet highly anticipated weekend.
I ended up renting a mini-van as including me; there would be a total of seven people and we'd need a bigger vehicle. This was all easy compared to the true task at hand…getting Emperor into the United States of America. A few members of the band had/have criminal records, some served time in prisons for various offenses and now they needed to enter our country to play a Metal Festival.
We arrived in Milwaukee sometime that evening, met up with the Century Media crue and had a few drinks to celebrate the bands arrival and a toast to the great weekend that lay ahead. The CM guys were cool enough to bring me a TON of shit to listen to on the way home, and on the way back up the next day, all very cool.
I’ve seen both Samoth and Trym a few times since 1998 and they still remember their maiden voyage to Milwaukee in July of 1998…Cool.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I just write.
Me being me, I will not allow others to compliment me too much, for some reason it makes me uncomfortable. When the Lars Ulrich interview went up, fuck! I received a lot of praise. So as uncomfortable as it may have been to be on the receiving end of so much positive feedback, it was very cool and I thank you all for it.
Several months ago I got involved in the re-release of USURPER’s ‘Threshold of the Usurper’, originally a MCD release from 1997. This was to be the 10th anniversary of it’s release and the label, Primitive Reaction was really going to go all out on the packaging. My role, as a “writer” was to come up with liner notes for the re-issue.
This was/is a big deal for me. I’d written and worked on/contributed to several biographies for bands [Machine Head, Vio-Lence, Cold As Life, Usurper etc.] but getting a chance to do liner notes for an album was a huge honor.
As a music fanatic, there was nothing greater than to dive headfirst into a new release and soak all the information in. There was of course the music and lyrics, but to the junkie there was nothing better than something more to sink your teeth into.
Liner notes, extensive and sometimes exhausting details about everything that revolved around the music you were holding have always been a thrill for me.
So when I thought of how to present Usurper in the way I feel they deserved to be presented I came up with doing a current day interview to go along with the album notes. I conducted interviews with two of the guys, trying to get to the core of what was happening around the recording and release of this MCD. I felt the interviews complimented the other writing and when I received a finished copy of the LP/CD I couldn’t erase the smile on my face.
I truly felt like a “writer”. I felt a huge rush of accomplishment. I’d never been “on vinyl” before, so to sit there and hold a final version was such a thrill. I went home, opened the gatefold, popped in the CD (turntable is broke!) re-read my work and listened to the music like it was the first time hearing it.
In case you’re wondering, the music has held up incredibly well . Although I’m not 100% sure what, if anything the label has done other than press it? (Check out the links above for ordering info)
Having something “real” to show for your efforts is what makes the World go around.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
When looking at the big picture, this is more than just a conversation to me; this in many ways encompasses something I’ve pretty much dedicated my “entire” life to. Of all the music I’ve grown up with, it truly seems to start and stop with Metallica.
Metallica inspired me, took me places I’d never been, kept me company during good times and bad and was always the ultimate release for a young kid trying to find his way when life seemed toughest. When I needed them, they were always there. Metallica, no matter what they release will always have a place in my Metal heart. However, no matter what I write here - one thing is crystal fucking clear.
Without this band, I wouldn’t be writing this and obviously you wouldn’t be here reading this. I wouldn’t have the life I lead, nor the people in it. All of it would be completely different. Not just a little, we’re talking 100% different.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as well prepared for an interview before but one thing still totally shocked me. The public perception of Lars Ulrich is the Lars Ulrich I thought I was interviewing. I thought I was going to be speaking to Lars circa 1990. The over obsessive, micro managing every last detail about everything on the planet as it pertains to his band of twenty-seven years, Metallica.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The guy who called me on September 5, 2008 instantly set me as ease and spoke to me as if I were a journalist doing a cover story for Rolling Stone. He was honest, friendly, attentive and most of all, real.
The second that phone rang; it was 1986 all over again. I was a kid in my bedroom in Brookfield reading Metal Forces or Kerrang! No other band on Earth mattered; it was time to check out a Metallica interview, only this time… I was the one asking the questions. Interview: Tom Trakas
NBMO: As of today I’ve heard the six ‘Death Magnetic’ songs you released on the web, what can I say man? I guess all I can say is ‘it’s good to see you again’.
Lars Ulrich: Thank you.
I’m sure you’re being bombarded by praise, so what I’m trying to say is enjoy it because I really feel it’s deserving.
You know what, my eyes are as open as they can be to everything and it’s been a pretty amazing Summer (laughs). So it’s awesome the way people are vibing on this music is pretty cool, it’s all kind of a blur because people keep asking me what I think of it. I’m standing in the middle of all of it going “I don’t know, I think I’m too close to it”, you know? Right now I’m kind of going mostly on what people tell me. We had this radio thing last night at HQ with Dave Grohl and a bunch of fan club members and it was kind of like one big giant love fest (laughs!). So yeah, a lot of people are saying some good things.
You know, speaking of press, I always wondered if you knew, I mean of all the press you speak to and have spoken to, do you ever really know who you’re talking to? Could you give an interview to someone and say something about your album “Kill the Lightning” and they’d have no idea you’re talking shit to them?
(laughing)…I tell ya it’s funny, it’s not as big of a World as you think it is when you do this stuff and you’ve been around for a while. It’s interesting that you end up talking to a lot of the same people (laughs). When we’re done here I’m talking to USA Today and you think “ooohhh USA Today”, but it’s Edna Gunderson I’m talking to and I’ve probably done fifteen interviews with her over the past ten or so years. So yeah it’s a lot of the same people and I don’t know if they just throw a lot of the same people our way or not?
Yesterday I was talking to the San Francisco newspaper’s [SF Chronicle-ed.] Joel Selvin, he’s probably interviewed us, I mean he’s been running the music department at the paper for as long as I can remember you know what I mean? So yeah it’s a lot of the same faces, more than you actually think but yeah, that’s an interesting point you bring up.
I’m sure at certain points in Metallica’s life you’ve been completely overwhelmed with press, where are you in 2008 in regards to promoting ‘Death Magnetic’?
Generally, because we’ve been touring all Summer [when we’re out] we try to keep it to about two to three hours per day because any more than that then it starts to affect the show. But back in the 90’s we used to go on these crazy fucking promo trips where you’d spend like two weeks in Europe or the far East or wherever. While you’re there you’d do like eight to ten hours a day for, like I said two or three weeks straight.
That would drive you fucking crazy because you’d be sitting there and literally [in the middle of an interview] you couldn’t remember if the point you were about to make, whether you already said it to that guy or to the guy a half an hour ago (laughing)! It’s been crazy though, we’ve got some shows coming up next week so we’ve been rehearsing and while we’re doing that we’re trying to keep it to a few hours a day. I did do a full day in Copenhagen which was like, eight to ten hours or so but we haven’t done any of the full-on things, I suppose we’re just trying to preserve our sanity, but it sure feels like at any time it can go!
I need you to take a step back and look at Heavy Metal from a fan’s perspective, which you still are…
Absolutely, of course.
So there’s roughly, let’s go with an even number, let’s say there’s forty to fifty Heavy Metal albums/CD’s released each and every month. Now, we’re talking from the major labels down to the major indies (Century Media, Roadrunner, Metal Blade etc.) down to the basement labels of the World. So multiply the fifty times twelve months times however many years and here’s the question. Why are people relying and/or waiting for Metallica to bring the Metal?
I mean what does this do to you? You’re in touch with “your people” [the fans], you hear what they want, you basically hear them asking for it-every time you release an album it [the question of “when”] seems to get louder!
I hear what you’re saying and I have two relationships with that. One is obviously I appreciate that and I understand it, because I “get it” but it’s also, listen, you know what’s going on. When you’ve been around as long as we have there’s certain times where you kind of feel, O.K. now we have to go do this for our own sanity, for our own survival we’re going to do this and knock on that door and see what’s under that rock, that type of thing.
However, over the last couple of years and the way momentum goes it seems, I mean as you’re well aware, we’ve done a few things over the years that’s pissed a few people of, right? [But] It’s usually based on what people wanted from us or expected from us or yadda, yadda, yadda but we needed to go and do it anyway because that’s what we do.
A few years ago when we got Rick (Rubin) involved it, especially over the past few Summers, the right balances have happened upon this band in terms of the live stuff, the shows themselves as well as the twentieth anniversary of ‘..Puppets’ and all this kind of stuff, it’s been really good the last couple of years. I think we’ve played, probably as strong or stronger and harder than we have in maybe forever.
During these Summers we really felt on top of our game, everyone’s healthy and getting along, so between all that and getting Rick involved there’s been a lot of anticipation for this record.
Like I mentioned before, the really good momentum, there’s a lot of that right now and everyone seems to want us to do well, everyone wants us to do the right thing, everyone wants us to make the record of our lives. If not the record of our lives, then the defining record for 2008.
Now that’s all well and good but sometimes you sit there and think to yourself, that’s a lot of shit to carry around on behalf of everybody else, you know what I mean? Because you do sit there like, I really appreciate the praise and the support and the goodwill from everybody, especially it seems in the last couple of years a lot of our peers have really stepped up and we have great relationship with a lot of the other guys in the bands out there. But at the same time you feel like, you’re continuously just like, [being asked things like] “what did James Hetfield have for breakfast yesterday?” It gets a little tough because you’re dealing with a genre where people take it very, very, very seriously, you know what I mean?
So sometimes it gets a little overwhelming that you are sort of like the ones that have to carry the genre of Hard Rock to the next level. It can be totally overwhelming because I think people, especially in Europe, people have a tendency to think of us as this machine. Where it’s management, record company, marketing people and all this stuff, this whole juggernaut of precision military, fucking the whole thing, right? I think a lot of times people would be stunned if they, like sat in on a day in the life of Lars or in the life of Metallica or something like that (laughs)!
There’s always an element of chaos, there’s always an element of kind of making it up as you go along. I think people think Metallica sit around with, like support groups and you know the things they do with movies where they have the people fill out the questionnaires? Like what do you think of this or that and have them answer like thirty-eight questions.
None of that stuff exists, we’re just four dorky dudes in our mid-forties trying to play the music we get off on and trying to do the best we can, just like everyone else. Yeah, the success gives us a freedom to not have to worry about a lot things that other people have to worry about...and I’m totally aware of that. I’m totally thankful that I’m sitting in a 14,000 square foot building right now that’s basically ours. We can come and go as we want, we have our fan club and our merchandise and our gear all here and there’s yogurts in the refrigerator and everything is fucking hunky dory.
But when I think of Metallica, I think of Metallica as this kind of thing that occasionally knocks on the door of professionalism, but is still this whirlwind of chaos where you want everyone to just chill out for a second. We want to make the best record we can also, we want to do everything we can to contribute to the future of Heavy Metal, but we’re doing the best we can.
I mean when someone hears something new from us and they say “Uh oh my god, it’s not ‘Master of Puppets’”, well of course it’s not fucking “Master of Puppets” it’s 2008 and if “Master of Puppets” came out in 2008 it wouldn’t be “Master of Puppets”. So that’s the kind of stuff you deal with and I think generally, we deal with it pretty well. Listen, I increasingly have two lives, which is say ten years ago or twenty years ago my life was Metallica.
Now Metallica is part of my life where, with kids and the family and the lady and there’s so much other stuff going on, we live out here in the suburbs and we get up and take care of our kids…I don’t know if you have kids or not…
Yes, we have two…
(laughing) Well then you know, man do you know! It’s the same shit everyone else deals with, it’s “can we have the sugar cereal instead of this one” or of course the arguments about the lunchbox, it’s rushing out the door trying to get to school on time..all the same shit. Then once that’s done I head down to HQ and then all of a sudden I have to “save” the Heavy Metal world and it’s like, whoa, peace-I’ll do the best I can.
But here’s what it comes down to, maybe it can never quite be what you want it to be. Maybe the people’s expectations are just too high? Maybe that say’s more about the state of Metal than it say’s about the state of Metallica?
One thing I’ve been asked about a lot over the past few months is the question, you know people have been nice enough to call us the “kings” or whatever the fuck they call us and this whole thing about nobody else “stealing our thunder” or “dethroning” us, you know what I’m getting at right?
Absolutely, of course.
I sit there and go, well it’s not like we wouldn’t welcome it (laughing) you know? It’s not because we wouldn’t welcome a change of the guard, it’s not because we don’t advocate it, I mean it’s not a fucking competition. We sit there and take the Machine Head’s, the Mastodon’s, the Sword’s and the Lamb Of God’s on tour with us, we’ll do everything we can to try and fly the flag for Metal as much as we can, especially over the last couple of years.
Dude, I welcome it, then maybe it will truly be less about what James Hetfield had for breakfast or about the third snare roll in the second verse of the seventh song on the new Metallica album is great or not or whether Mike Portnoy can do it better..you know what I mean?
Holy shit man…I know exactly what you mean, you just nailed it for me… you really did. I mean sure, let some one else deal with the shit, it’s like “I’ve got bigger shit on my plate, you deal with the constant nitpicking and everything that comes along with it!”Exactly! So we’re doing what we can to support the greater cause and try to get everyone involved, but the question still stumps me, every time. In my mind I think Iron Maiden is equally big or whatever, but I cannot answer that without sounding totally self congratulatory, it’s just that I don’t know.
We’re not trying to keep people off this imaginary mountain top. Tom, at the end of the day it’s a bunch of Rock-N-Roll songs on a piece of plastic or whatever, there’s a lot of other shit going on in the World.Leading to the anticipation of ‘Death Magnetic’ I’ve had several (hundred) conversations but my closing statement is always, even if ‘DM’ is better than both ‘Ride the Lightning’ AND ‘Master of Puppets’ combined, I’ve still got to go to work on Monday. (Laughing) We all do… I think when a piece of music comes out and you really like it, all that does is make the time you devote listening to music that much more enjoyable. I hear what you’re saying. Let me tell you something that I haven’t told anyone else…I’m 100% sure on this (laughing)! When we sat down to pick the first [new] song to play live [“Cyanide”], we purposely picked what we thought would be the most middle of the road song.
When I sat down to start picking the snippets to give away on the sites, I purposely sat there and tried to find the least dynamic, least interesting parts of every song…
Yeah, instead of starting with the best riffs or the best entire new song I just decided to go the other way. Like here’s “Cyanide”, [I] love the song, love playing it live, but you know it’s not the thrasher right off the top, it’s not “My Apocalypse”, it’s just a great middle of the road song. With the snippets, I was hoping people would hear a bit and say, you know, “fuck, this rocks” or whatever, I wanted to be able to build on that. It feels like that was the right thing to do, people continued to find new things as we let more and more out there. To me, it psyched people up instead of giving them something, that anything after would essentially be downhill from there.
So the past few weeks have been amazing in that respect. As of today (Friday Sept. 5, 08) people got to hear the full album a few days ago when it leaked and stuff, people wanted to hear the whole thing and that’s been a plus too because of the reaction.A few minutes ago you mentioned Iron Maiden, throughout Metallica’s career I think the importance of the IM/Metallica, uh, interplay if you will has been very important. Back after the success of 1991’s self-titled ‘Black’ album there was a cover story in Issue #38 of Classic Rock Magazine, it had a photo of you and the caption was something like “Lars Ulrich, this man simply did not want to settle for being the “next” Iron Maiden…
But my thing is, you had the balls to actually dream that dream, and more or less set this goal for your band and sonofabitch if it didn’t happen.
I gotta tell ya man, that’s a little far fetched, I mean if someone would’ve told me in 1981 or 82 that maybe one day we could be equals or even in their shadows (pause) listen, Iron Maiden is a different generation.
I’ll always look up to Iron Maiden because I grew up looking up to Iron Maiden. The rest of all that is up to the other people to figure the rest out. Like I said, I’ll always look up to Iron Maiden, I had Iron Maiden posters on my wall growing up. Talk about bands holding a place in your heart, Iron Maiden holds a very special place in my heart.
Yes, we’ve been fortunate enough to, at least in America, to have bigger numbers or whatever but if you or anyone would’ve told me in 1981 when James and I started this band that one day we might be able to be mentioned in the same breath as Iron Maiden, it would’ve blown our minds. We were not as goal oriented as the press in England tagged us to be, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Maybe later, by the time you could sense that whatever it was that we were doing was kind of working and turning people on, we’re talking about the late 80’s. But when we started? We couldn’t fathom any of this and we simply did not have such goals.
When we started it was drink some beers or some Goldschläger or Schnapps or whatever horrible shit we were drinking and get together to play our favorite Heavy Metal songs. The first six months the band was together we didn’t even write any songs!
I mean we had “Hit The Lights” and then the next ten songs we had were all covers, it wasn’t until “Jump In The Fire” with (Dave) Mustaine, that’s when we thought, OK, it’s kinda fun writing your own songs (laughs)! Those first few whatever was just about having a good time and sweating it out and banging into some shit.
A few years later, there was a turning point and you may have heard me talk about this before, but there’s a few turning points for Metallica that can be looked at upon and this was one of them.
I remember the last date of the Ozzy tour and this would be James’ birthday, so that’s August 3, 1986 in Hampton, Virginia, and our manager Cliff Bernstein came down from New York for the last show.
So we’re all sitting there in the back of the bus and he said “you’ve now sold enough records and you’ve made enough money to go and buy houses.” We’d been on the Ozzy tour, at that point for five months. All of us, band and crew on one bus, drinking twelve hours a day, fucking, just living every crazy fantasy about girls and Heavy Metal and being on the road. We were completely blissfully ignorant to what was going on, you know on that side of it.
I remember Cliff [Burton] sitting there and going “Fuuucccckkk, I can buy a house” and the rest of us were, I mean the rest of didn’t want to buy a house - we wanted to stay on tour (laughing)! We didn’t want to go home!
So yeah, I remember that day because it was like whoa, you mean you can actually make money doing this? You can buy a house and buy shit, and this was what? Five years into it? Then we did the Van Halen thing in the Summer [Monsters of Rock - Summer 1988-ed.] and then all Fall we did Europe and then we came back to the States to start in November of 1988. We had AC/DC’s production manager, Jake Berry and we had a real stage show and we were playing the arenas and they booked two nights at Long Beach Arena and I seriously didn’t think we could even sell one out, but we sold both out and that was another turning point.
It was like, not only can you make enough money to buy a house, but you could make enough money to buy a big fucking house (laughs)!! But the first six years or so was ignorant bliss, four nerdy dudes out there banging away, having a lot of fun.
But ‘Justice’ was when we actually had to get it together as we were the headliners and we had a two hour show to play every night, but you know after that it just kept building and all of a sudden you’re making records with Bob Rock. But man, as far as Iron Maiden is concerned, I’m a fanboy of Iron Maiden, always will be. We did a few shows with them in Spain back in 1988 and it was us, Anthrax and Iron Maiden and it was like “fuck, we get to play with Iron Maiden” and we got a chance to hang back at the hotel and party with them, dude it was super cool.
I’m super psyched that they’re still out there and kicking major fucking ass all over the World. I got to see them at Long Beach Arena four or five months ago and it was awesome! Steve Harris, I swear to god, I met Steve Harris for the first time in 1981 and it was the last show they ever played with Paul Di’Anno in Copenhagen, Denmark at a place the size of your living room. Steve Harris, when I saw them back in February of this year, he’s the exact same guy, the exact same guy as the guy I met back in ’81 except he’s got longer hair now!
How many dudes that are 50 years old have hair down to their ass? I mean why can’t I grow my hair, what’s up with that (laughs)?!
You mention Cliff Bernstein coming to the last Ozzy/Metallica show, I have to ask this. How the hell do you end up with Q-Prime, especially in 198 fucking 4? At the time you’re with Johnny Zazula and things are “happening”, but it’s like these days and a band like Darkthrone signing with Doc McGee or something!
(laughing) It’s really a simple story believe it or not. It’s the Summer of ’84 and had done a couple of things at that point. We’d done the Venom tour in Europe [February 84] and recorded ‘Ride The Lightning’ in Denmark [late Feb/March] we also did a bunch of dates with Twisted Sister in June and then we were back in the states, completely broke, I mean no money at all, in fact I was still borrowing money from my Mom for rent. So where James and I were living at the time [the Metalli-mansion in El Cerrito-ed.] of course we didn’t have a phone.
So we’re in July 1984 and I got a message from a guy named Xavier Russell, who was a good friend and one of the first writers at Kerrang! He got a message to me to call him, so I went over to the pay phone and when I had to make overseas phone calls I’d borrow Kirk Hammett’s mom’s phone card, so I call Xavier in England and he tells me Peter Mensch wants me to call him, you’re my age, right?
OK, do you remember when Def Leppard was the biggest thing in the universe in 1983?
Of course, ‘Pyromania’ was kept out of the #1 spot by fucking ‘Thriller’ (laughing) that say’s a lot!
(laughing) Exactly, exactly. Back then we’d be going to record stores and I remember clearly one day we were looking at the Def Leppard record and James and I had this conversation after seeing the back of the album where it said ‘Management: Q-Prime, Inc.’ We saw that and we were like “FUCK”, that just sounds so big time, you know, like polished offices, big conference tables with a bunch of managers sitting around planning every fucking step of Def Leppard’s career, just like, you know, how everyone thinks it is now with us!
So I get the call and I hear Peter Mensch wants to talk with me and I was like “fuckin’ Peter Mensch”, oh my god this was like getting to talk to the president or something!
So I call him up and he was a little rude, [yet] kind of comical, a little obnoxious and certainly sarcastic [and he say’s] “ If me and partner see one more fucking Metallica shirt when we’re walking around” and “who are you guys and what are you doing” and essentially “we want to meet you”. I don’t know if you remember but there was a store in London called Shades…
Yes, I remember their sales ad’s in Kerrang!
You know it, so apparently Mensch and whoever had been down to Shades a few times and started talking to the guys that ran the store, even before that they were passing by the old Marquee club and saw a bunch of kids wearing Metallica t-shirts so they started asking the guys at Shade’s what was up with us and they said things like “they’re the next big thing” or whatever (laughs).
About a week after the phone call we’re playing in New York at Roseland [September 4, 1984] with Raven and Anthrax was on the bill too. So yeah, at the time we’re with Johnny Z. [as manager] and the day before the show we’re staying with this guy named Metal Joe [“Old Bridge Militia”-ed.]. So Metal Joe let us borrow his car to drive and meet Peter Mensch’s partner, Cliff Bernstein, in Hoboken, New Jersey.
So we got directions and we’re driving to Hoboken and we’re going straight to his house so we figure we’re headed to where all the mansions and giant houses are, right? Now Hoboken is a working class neighborhood that looks like every other working class neighborhood in New York/New Jersey, small houses maybe a little on the dirty side, and I don’t mean any of this disrespectfully, but we’re picturing mansions and golf courses! So we’re in Hoboken and I’m thinking I wrote the directions down wrong or something, we find the street and it’s all matching up there’s the house and we walk up and knock on the front door.
The door opens and this ½ Rasputin/½ Jerry Garcia looking guy answers the door wearing this smelly old t-shirt and puts out this kind of limp handshake and say’s “Hi, I’m Cliff Bernstein”. We all looked at each other like ‘what the fuck?’, it was just so bizarre from what we were expecting, I mean there’s no one in an Armani suit, you know? So we get invited in and the inside of the house was just in shambles and chaos with stacks of shit everywhere with piles of dishes because no ones done them in a week type of thing. So we’re sitting with this guy and he was clearly passionate and very smart and wanted to manage us and it blew our minds.
In so many ways it was so Metallica because this guy was so cool and just like us, a nerdy music fan, exactly like the four of us. But we were so wrong with the whole Q-Prime Inc. vision of boardrooms and shit. We played him a copy of ‘Ride The Lightning’ and then a few weeks later we met his partner [Mensch] in England and he was as unique and charismatic and sort of “out there” as Cliff Bernstein and off we went, this was the big leagues but we were surprised at the big leagues! They were perfect for Metallica, they were just like us.
I can totally see you guys gravitating towards that versus someone just blowing smoke up your ass, especially at that stage of the game.
Exactly, so yeah it’s been twenty-four years now.
How has the relation ship changed over the years? Both sides have grown so much, I’m sure it was a lot of learning together as the years went on.It feels pretty much the same. Obviously their whole thing is a lot bigger as they’ve got the Chili Peppers and Shania Twain, they’ve had a lot of people come and go, they managed Courtney [Love] for a while, the [Smashing] Pumpkins too. They’re not with Def Leppard anymore but our thing, I mean I’ve never been in another band other than Metallica and I’ve never, apart from Johnny Z and god bless him, we’ve never had any other managers other than Cliff and Peter. So I could never picture being or working with anybody else, it would seem way too odd.
Both of them are among my best friends, when we come to New York we’ll go to the movies or go to dinner, hang out…it’s very chill and super cool.
It’s funny though, sometime I look at all of it and there’s still this element of chaos in everything we do and I think it’s a part of the energy of Metallica. There’s times I revel in the chaotic because out of it comes spontaneity and interesting momentary things, but sometimes it drives me nuts! Yeah, there are times I wish everything was a little more together, but that could just be me. I’m a pretty particular kind of guy and I’m a detail orientated kind of guy and I need to take care of every little thing, sometimes I wish it fell on someone else’s lap.I was hoping to get a Cliff Burton story out of you. I never got a chance to meet the man and there’s the usual stuff you hear about him, but I guess I was looking for maybe something that would be “special” to this piece. How was he as a person for the three years you knew him, hanging out, living with him on the road etc. Was he a goofy kind of guy? I mean I know he was serious musically, but I think you know what I’m getting at. That’s a good question, was he goofy? [long pause] I don’t know if goofy would be the right word, he was unique and I know you’ve heard that a million times. I guess there was an element of goofiness to him, there was an element of goofiness to all of us because we were kind of loners, kind of nerdy. In some way Cliff was by far, and I don’t know if “together” is the right word, but Cliff lived with his parents, he had a car (laughs), he always had cool gear. [long pause]
This is kind of hard, because I’m sitting here and I want to use the words “most responsible” but then I think there’s no way I can say that because he was always late for everything! He was definitely just a character; there was not anybody like him. There were a lot of kids that were like me and James, you know loners or were heavy duty drinkers or whatever but Cliff was one of those guys that never seemed out of control.
I was a really, really light drinker, so if I had a lot to drink I’d fucking lay in the gutter and puke all over myself, you know what I mean? Cliff never lost it like that, sure he was into taking acid and smoking a lot of pot, but you always felt like he was together, he never got belligerent like me or Kirk sometimes could. He went to college for music, he’d show up with full pieces of music be it the stuff in “Orion” or the intro to “For Whom the Bells Toll”, “Fade To Black” the intro to “Fight Fire With Fire”…that stuff was his. Once he was in the band, you know, in the beginning he was a little hesitant…
Yeah, going back to the six months it took him to even join the band, yeah. I’m not sure quite what he thought of us and he wasn’t particularly sold on, I’d sit there and go Diamond Head, Iron Maiden and stuff like that and I think sometimes he thought the whole NWOBHM stuff was a little, uh, square. He wasn’t completely sold on that stuff the way me and James were, he came from a totally different musical place. He’d sit there and talk about Yes, Peter Gabriel/Genesis, ZZ Top and man, some of that shit was just not on my musical radar whatsoever.
But he was definitely a unique character, yeah a little goofy. Here’s something for you, back in the day it was all about, everyone walking around trying to have hair as long as possible and there was this “debate” back then. If you were growing your hair and it was long, would it grow faster and longer if you got it trimmed a little every now and then, you know cut off the split ends or whatever, right?
This was a huge topic for all of us; it was an obsession (laughs)!! It also didn’t help that everybody had a different disposition on the shit too.
So Cliff let his sister cut his hair one day, you know trim it a little, well apparently he fell asleep during the fucking hair cut and when he woke up she’d cut like twelve inches of his hair off or something! It looked like that uncomfortable six month stage when you’re trying to grow your hair long, when it won’t go past your shoulders, right? This was around the time of ‘Ride The Lightning’ or something and that’s the kind of guy he was, he was kinda innocent and yeah, I guess a little goofy in a pleasant way. So he fell asleep during his haircut and his sister kept cutting it and when he woke up he was back up north of the shoulders (laughing)!
Sure, I think it would be interesting to sit here with kids and obviously twenty-seven years of doing this and have a slightly healthier outlook on life as well as a less narcissistic outlook. More open minded, less linear or one track minded and all this stuff, so it’d be interesting to share some of that with him now. It would be very interesting to see what he would have contributed to some of the wackier paths Metallica has gone on musically. He was so all over the place, very hard to pin point musically.
He was very open to different and fucked up shit and I’m pretty sure he would’ve thought playing with the San Francisco Symphony would be way cool! I’m pretty sure he would’ve got off on the pummeling aggression of ‘St. Anger’ but I’m not so sure he would necessarily agreed with the way it was kind of put together on a computer, but the naked aggression of that record, I do think he would’ve dug. He would of probably wanted a few more melodic elements on it, but in some ways he was quite contradictory, he was all about a lot of melody and stuff but at the same time “Damage Inc.” was one of his favorite songs.
So there was a lot of opposing energies going on and it would be great to just share with him the nuttiness that’s going on right now.Looking back, I’ve probably listened to the Cliff era albums, you know, easily a few thousand times each and I feel very grateful to have seen you guys a couple of times in 1986 with him.
So throughout all that time of audio and visual stimuli, [big word!] it wasn’t until just recently my head just about exploded when I saw the track “Ride The Lightning” taken from the Rock Band video game, where they boosted the hell out of the bass and he’s doing things that either weren’t picked up in the mastering of that album, or people just plain missed.
Not even that, it’s like you meet some one and then you meet someone else and after a while it’s like this guy is like that guy, or this guys personality reminds me of that guy, Cliff was just off the charts, completely just one. There’s not a clone of him anywhere else. But I’ll have to check out that game, we’ve got it, that download package thing with “…Lightning” and “…Justice”.
I made mention of the only “official” Metallica book, ‘So What!: The Good, The Mad, and The Ugly’. Will we ever see an official Metallica biography?That’s a good question. We sometimes talk about it, it’s not been [seriously] discussed, it’s more or less just banter about it. There are a lot of stories, there’s a lot of way nutty shit, a lot of it would certainly be [rated] NC-17 or somewhere between that and R. the problem is it involves other people. I’m sort of on the fence about it. Some of the stuff would be hilarious to share with people, they’re just fun stories.
At the same time, whenever I read other people’s books I have mixed feelings about them.
For instance, I read someone’s book whom I know very well and it’s way watered down compared to what really happened. So you sit there thinking if you’re supposed to tell the truth, you really have to tell the truth! However when you do that you might end up hurting people or piss people off, so it’s a very fine line. Right now it doesn’t feel like there’s a need to spill the guts of what has happened, it feels like it’s better left, sort of half lies, half truths.
Maybe one day who knows, I mean if Jason Newsted is going to write a book, I can’t stop him, if James Hetfield wants to sit down and write a book, who am I to stop ‘em? It’s not something I have a particular need for at this point in my life, but I have been known to change my mind (laughs)!
Speaking of history, are you familiar with KISS’ “Kissology’ DVD series? Where they package everything from classic shows to current shows, really comprehensive, really fan friendly and admittedly very cool. Do you foresee any type of Metallica DVD’s like this in the future? Are there Metallica vaults with stuff like that?
Beyond, yes. We’ve got, just hours and hours and hours, I have every show on tape, since probably ‘Justice’ forward, and every show’s been recorded. Every show when we would play the Pine Knob’s or the Popular Creek’s all those kind of amphitheaters that were the first ones to do the video we have the tapes of those, there’s a lot of that stuff but the hardest thing is taking the time to figure out what to do with all of it.
Sit there and say ‘fan can’ this, or ‘vault’ that or you see something and say that’s too fucking cool to release, we should hold on to that. Maybe we’ll do what Pearl Jam did and release a fucking hundred shows or whatever all at once; I mean if you’re looking to make a special event out of every one of them it’ll be up to your grandkids to do the shit!Are you still the obsessive Metallica collector you once were?
Increasingly less, but I do try to the best of my ability but at one point and we’re talking a few years ago, it got so big it became difficult to handle. I have maybe the first one-hundred bootlegs that came out but during the ‘Black’ album when we allowed everyone to start taping the shows it just became too much.
I have most of the official stuff, but again it’s hard to manage that too. You have to call the office and make sure you get two copies of the Spanish thing with the poster that’s a different poster than the Portuguese one, so yeah it’s a little much. I will tell you this, I have everything up until the mid 90’s, then you start having kids and stuff and you almost have no choice but to ease up. (laughing)
I still have twenty-five, unopened ‘$5.98 Garage Days…’ in the original long boxes, still shrink wrapped, so when the whole thing falls flat on it’s face I can start Ebay-ing those!
Lars, I don’t know how to thank you for this other than to say THANK YOU! The final words are all yours.I’ve gotta piss like a motherfucker (laughing)!!! http://www.metallica.com/