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- Posted on Sep 11th 2008 5:00PM by Steve Baltin
Listening to 'Death Magnetic' and the rest of your catalog, Metallica certainly knows how to write a live anthem or two.
Being the singer and the cheerleader of sorts I have to know what parts will be good for singing along and getting crowds motivated. You don't really know what's going to work until you get in that situation, but in the studio I try to identify with parts that the crowd will join in on without becoming too corny. Quite a few bands try to write the ultimate live anthem and it becomes very corny.
What song do you consider to be the ultimate live anthem?
AC/DC is pretty good at that. They've got quite a few: 'For Those About to Rock,' 'Hell's Bells.' You can usually tell a song has become very anthem-y if you hear them at a sporting event, like a football game. The Oakland Raiders here come out to 'Hell's Bells,' the big bells at the beginning. It becomes not so much about the song, it becomes the feel in the stadium. So, 'Hell's Bells' is pretty darn good.
The video for 'The Day That Never Comes,' the first single from 'Death Magnetic,' is quite cinematic and seems to have some prominent political undertones, especially concerning the war in Iraq. What was the thought behind the video's concept?
We're watching videos and getting pretty frustrated with how bland they all have become. We wanted to steer away from just a music video and somehow capture a small film with music. We were looking for some new filmmakers that were up-and-coming or that we had a good vibe with. [Thomas] Vinderberg was one of [them], plus he was Danish so Lars could speak his hurdy-gurdy stuff. There was a little bit, especially on my part, of uncertainty and doubt in going with so much of a current event. It somewhat ties into Desert War, which is going on now. We were connecting with the current event and trying to not make a political statement -- just showing the human side of what people have to go through over there day in and day out. Without making a big political statement, this was hopefully showing how difficult it is for the troops and civilians that are just trying to live through this.
What issues do you consider to be most important in the upcoming presidential election?
Politics is a dangerous place to venture into. It borders on soap boxing. My opinion is no better than any others just because our band is popular. But as a father and having three children, I want the world to be the best it can be. Everyone wants security, safety, a sense of feeling grounded, and I believe that it's time to focus on America -- on internal issues. Policing the world has gotten us spread pretty thin. We need to focus at home.
The album's title seems to be a cryptic reference to the war, as well. Did current events inspire the album as a whole?
I would say that as we, in this band, all get older, we're all coming to terms with certain things; we're growing new fears and new wonders. The world has always been crazy and throughout history there have always been big scary moments. This is no different. But having some sense of faith and belief in man -- that man will do the right thing -- we will adapt. The will to survive, the will to help each other survive is greater than the will to destroy all.
The last time we spoke was when you were honored by MusiCares for your sobriety, and you mentioned how happy the band was. How did that factor into the making of 'Death Magnetic'?
'St. Anger' was the type of cleansing where we were all able to get out what we needed to get out, accept what we needed to accept and take a look at some of the issues we needed to deal with, both personally and with our relationships internally within the band. Once that healing process started, we were able to focus and go forward together instead of just battling within. As a band, the mission was to prove to ourselves that, "Hey, we're not becoming a nostalgia act. We are relevant and have a gift that we're able to write good music now." And with having [bassist] Rob [Trujillo] in the band, the dynamic has changed quite a bit. Where Lars and I are pretty comfortable fighting over the steering wheel in the front seat, the other two are very comfortable sitting in the back, looking out the window and asking where we're going -- absolutely being there and being supportive. It's kind of the two A and two B personalities that balance this band out pretty well.
Why do you think Metallica is still relevant?
Well, without trying to figure out why, the great thing for us to do is be honest and enjoy it. If we try and figure out why it is then we become focused on that. Honesty is a large part of that -- recognizing that yes, we're artists and we have to do this for ourselves. The fans will come if you're honest. If you're writing for somebody else, it's not going to work. It seems there are a lot less career bands than there used to be. Without sounding grandiose, there's a belief and a hope that Metallica is able to fly the flag for heavy music and keep it alive, and hopefully inspire more bands to get out there and do it.
What did Rick Rubin bring to 'Death Magnetic'?
Rick is pretty well known as the phantom producer -- he shows up when he feels he's needed. It seemed to fit in perfectly with where we are as a band. After having so many people around us doing so much work in the studio -- enhancement coaches, management getting involved to make sure we're staying together -- this album was the exact opposite. There was no one there. We were able to take responsibility for our own band and step up and say, "OK, here's the schedule.We're going in." Rick Rubin's not going to hold our hand through all that. Rick's the producer that doesn't care about any of that stuff -- he's not gonna hold hands or mediate fights. He's gonna show up, listen to a song and tell you, "This is good, this is not so good. Let's do more of the good stuff." He's very objective. It's easy for him to listen to it and not be attached to all the personal drama that goes on within bands. That's exactly what we needed. His blunt, but appreciated, critiquing of our music was at difficult at first to accept but through time we figured out that it was not a personal agenda. He was really good at having us focus on the skeleton of Metallica. "Let's get back to the essence. Let's carve away all of the fat and the fluff, and get down to the skeleton and build from there."
What needed trimming?
We had gotten into the habit of writing too much material. I think that started around 'Load.' We started writing, writing, writing. There was so much material that we felt we could spread it out over 20 some-odd songs. In the early days -- 'Lightning,' 'Puppets' -- we wrote eight songs and they went on the record. I really was trying hard to get back to that. As the lyricist, it's a lot easier to focus on those songs and make them very potent. But, again, we ended up writing 24 songs. We whittled it down from 24 to 14 songs, and we're picking off the other car's parts -- stealing little pieces off here and there, and then eventually getting it down to ten. Until we got the ten, I didn't feel we had what we needed. I wanted diversity as well. Getting back to 'Lightning' and 'Puppets' -- some of the magic of those records was diversity. There was a ballad, an instrumental, a long epic, a slow heavy. All of those were showing the taster sampler -- the poo poo platter of Metallica
If you had to pick the songs that best sum up Metallica, what would they be?
I would say 'For Whom the Bell Tolls,' 'Sanitarium' and 'Enter Sandman.'
Metallica have been on numerous world tours, performing with rock's elite. Which tour is the most memorable?
The obvious one is the first big tour with Ozzy Osbourne -- that was 'Master of Puppets' and we were supporting Ozzy through the States. That was pretty unbelievable. We, at that point, felt it was pretty much it -- we had made it and we could die now. But obviously there was more in store for us.
Can you recall one album or concert that made you realize that music was what you wanted to do?
Absolutely. That was Aerosmith and AC/DC, 1978 at Long Beach Arena. That was unbelievable -- the vibe. I went with my older brother and I just knew that I wanted to feel this every night. And for some reason, thank god, it has happened.
Troubles within the band have certainly been no secret. How close did Metallica come to their demise and thus, this album never happening?
Well, if you watch the 'Some Kind of Monster' movie ... When you're in a relationship -- I use marriage as the metaphor because essentially we're kind of married to each other -- and if you don't work on things, the relationship goes south. In the studio, the big "D" word -- divorce -- was mentioned once in a while. "Well, I don't care. I can walk away right now." You kind of throw that little thing out there even though you really, really do care. You want to see how far you can push the other guy. And there were some scary points when it was, "You know what? This isn't worth it anymore. I'm tired of working on this." My advice is when you think it's over, try some more [laughs].
Metallica is very grateful to still be around because of our near-death experience with 'St. Anger.' A lot of 'Death Magnetic,' within the lyrics, has to do with that near-death experience. The reality of it, but also the gratitude that comes afterwards with where we are now, remaining together and being able to do what Metallica does best: create music.