ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 27, 1998
By Steve Newton
If there’s one thing you can bet on about a Metallica concert, it’s that Lars Ulrich will not pussyfoot around behind his drum kit. The diminutive Dane always plays like a man possessed, fiercely punishing the skins while his face contorts in a tortured grimace. He’s an intense individual, both on- and offstage, and his cocksure and confrontational tack often makes for lively interviews.
But when the heavy-metal maniac calls from his home in sunny San Francisco, there’s an uncommonly subdued tone to his voice, which probably has to do with the fact that he’s cradling his recently arrived son in his lap. His wife, Skylar, gave birth to Myles (“no middle names needed”) Ulrich two weeks ago; two months earlier, singer-guitarist James Hetfield became a proud poppa too. All this domestication leads yours truly to wonder aloud if we should expect the band to start softening up, maybe include some new-agey touches on the next Metallica CD.
“Uhh, I wouldn’t hold my breath,” says Ulrich, momentarily dragged away from the euphoric wonders of fatherhood. Although he admits that he’s “infatuated” with the whole daddy trip, his paternity leave is about to come to an abrupt end, with the Bay Area quartet set to play UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium next Friday (September 4). At that gig—which includes performances by Days of the New and Jerry Cantrell—Metallica will focus on tunes from last year’s Reload CD, which Ulrich explains was basically an extension of 1996’s Load.
“I still look at it as a double album,” says Ulrich of Load/Reload, “just spread out over two separate records. You know, for a band that’s as anal and meticulous as we are in the studio, tryin’ to execute 27 songs in one go just turned out to be too much of a good thing. So splitting the two records up just seemed like the smarter thing to do once we got goin’.”
Although the tracks on the Bob Rock–produced Load and Reload are very similar, one on the latter release, “The Memory Remains”, stands out for its cryptic vocalizing by Marianne Faithfull. When asked how Metallica came to record with the legendary Brit chanteuse, Ulrich regains some of the cocky composure of his pre-dad days. “Pretty much somethin’ like this,” he intones. “ ‘Hi Marianne. Lars of Metallica. I’ve got a track that I need a really characteristic female voice on, some melody singing. Are you interested?’ ‘Oh yes, that would be lovely!’ ”
The band inhabits a place in the rock pantheon where it can casually recruit the likes of Marianne Faithfull, but getting to that level of prestige hasn’t been all fun ’n’ games for Metallica. The most devastating blow occurred in September of ’86, when a bus crash in Sweden killed original bass player Cliff Burton. But the group soldiered on with former Flotsam and Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted in tow, and achieved great success—not the least of which involved bringing metal to the mainstream with the barricade-breaking radio hit of ’91, “Enter Sandman”. Another career milestone must have been the band’s headlining of the ’96 Lollapalooza festival, although Ulrich drily downplays the significance of that feat.
“When they write the history of Metallica one day, I’m not sure that’s gonna be the first chapter. But I’m glad that we tried it, ’cause what I like to do is move in as many different fields as possible. So it’s fun playing package tours, it’s fun doin’ your own thing, it’s fun playing stadiums, it’s fun playin’ clubs, it’s fun playin’ your neighbour’s lawn, you know what I mean?
“So you try and mix it as much as possible, and playing something like Lolla…you know… Look, the spirit of Lollapalooza to a lotta people is a very social thing, where all the bands hang out and barbecue and drink Budweiser together and stuff like that. But we’re just not the most sociable type of band like that; we’re not really one to sit around and drink beers all day with the support acts. We just kind of do our own thing, and there were some people going, like, ‘These fuckin’ big rock stars, they’re travelling around on their own private plane,’ or whatever. For us it was sort of show up, play, and leave, and because of that it was just like any other tour, to be honest with you.”
The usually flippant Ulrich does get uncommonly reverential when asked how he felt about the post-Lollapalooza breakup of one of those support acts, Soundgarden. He says that he “truly respected” the volatile Seattle band, which fell apart last year after a decade of recording.
“I think that it’s too bad,” he relates, “but at the same time, you know, a lotta times true creativity and true brilliance come from tension, and tension is something that never lasts forever. And maybe if that tension hadn’t been there they wouldn’t have been so good. It’s almost like a catch-22 for a lot of bands.”
So how much of that creatively stimulating tension is there within the Metallica ranks these days? According to Ulrich, not as much as there used to be. “We’re definitely lower on the tension meter than we should be,” he says, “which is also why we’ll sort of slip into the boring-old-fart mode at any time. But at the same time I think the one thing that we have goin’ for us is that we’re still around—still sticking our faces in their faces.”
A little less tension might actually suit Ulrich these days. Cuddling his healthy firstborn, the wealthy 34-year-old rocker must be pretty satisfied with how his life in Metallica has panned out so far. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” he asserts. “Well…maybe I would actually change a thing. There was a time in 1991 where I spent, like, three months wearing a white leather jacket. I’d change that if I could. Other than that I wouldn’t change anything.”
As an afterthought, Ulrich adds one final amendment to his fantasy Metallica bio. “Actually, there is one other thing I would change, and that is that—nothing against Jason, but I would not have had a bus accident in 1986.”