JAMES HETFIELD DISCUSSES HIS MUSICAL INFLUENCES, HIS FAVORITE METALLICA ALBUM AND CLIFF BURTON
Metallica frontman James Hetfield spoke with Newsweek‘s Jeff Perlah. Highlights from the interview appear below.
Newsweek: Hardwired[…to Self-Destruct] pays tribute to some of the giants of metal. The deluxe edition features Ronnie Rising Medley, which was previously available on 2014’s Ronnie James Dio–This Is Your Life tribute album. The record also features Murder One, a song about Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister.
James Hetfield: We all have our mentors, and we need them, or at least I do. I need someone who I’m lookin’ up to, to either try and chase or learn from. We were asked by Dio’s wife, Wendy, to contribute to [This Is Your Life]. And that was kind of a no-brainer. We’re no strangers to doing covers. So the Ronnie Rising Medley was kind of a combination of all the good stuff we loved from Dio. It’s great to challenge myself with singing stuff like that. It helps me grow. And it also helps me push limits that I think I’m stuck in.
Lemmy in particular was an icon, sort of a godfather for people who love heavy metal. He was the captain of the ship. And we all felt he was immortal [laughs], doing the hard, hard, hard livin’ for such a long time on the road, and just really goin’ for it [laughs]. We knew it would come to an end at some point. But we really didn’t expect it. There’s certainly no Metallica without a Motörhead.
We would get to jam with Lemmy. He was a very friendly guy. We covered quite a few of their songs. You know, Motörhead never made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is a shame. But he did win a Grammy for a song called Whiplash that we had recorded on Kill ’Em All. We were trying to write a Motörhead song. He covered our song [for Motörhead’s 2006 album, Kiss of Death] that was kind inspired by him, and he wins a Grammy for it. That is very cool.
Newsweek: Can you talk about some of your influences as a guitarist?
James Hetfield: So guitar influences for me—really percussive. As I mentioned earlier, I’d love to play drums too [laughs], you know? What I do is play drums on the guitar. I’m very rhythmic, and obviously I’m a rhythm guitar player, so there’s some great rhythm guitar players out there: Malcolm Young [of AC/DC] obviously. [Scorpions founding member] Rudolf Schenker and I would say Johnny Ramone had just a great right hand: a lot of down picking, da-da-da-da [he sings a guitar down-picking part], really machine-like. I just gravitated toward that. And obviously the musicality of a riff: Somebody like a Tony Iommi, who is the ultimate riff master in my opinion—so a combination of heavy and great melodies within the riffs.
Newsweek: Looking way back, the band nailed four landmark albums, including Master of Puppets, in only five years.
James Hetfield: When you’re young and got nothing else to do and that is your life, that makes sense. As we get older, there is other things going on. Back then, there was touring, but it was not as intense as it became post-Black Album. Being on tour for three years didn’t happen back then, so we were basically going back into the studio. And also no families to raise or to be around, wanting to be there for your kids and watch them grow. And it is amazing that in the early ’80s, mid-’80s and late ’80s, there was a lot of great metal happening, not from just us and the other Big Four [Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth] but lots of other bands that were very inspired by the movement.
There were a lot of bands from the Bay Area. Exodus was a great band, we loved watching them, we did quite a few shows with them; the band in Seattle called Metal Church. But it was really while growing up in L.A., us and Slayer for sure. Who can be heavier, who can be faster? And it was a very great, and healthy, competition.
Newsweek: Do you have a favorite early Metallica album?
James Hetfield: I like Ride the Lightning a lot because I think that was the first time we got to be a part of it. Kill ’Em All, obviously we recorded and wrote all the songs for it, and they were basically songs from the first couple of years we had been playing in the clubs. So we just went in and recorded them, but we weren’t allowed to be in there for the mix or anything. With Ride the Lightning, there was no manager telling us, “Stay away from this studio” [laughs]. We were really integrated into it, and we were able to help with the sounds, help with the ideas and all that stuff.
Newsweek: Speaking of playing live, the first time you performed the Hardwired song Moth Into Flame was at Webster Hall in New York City on September 27th, 2016, the 30th anniversary of Cliff’s death [original Metallica bassist Cliff Burton]. How does Cliff’s work remain a key part of your musical life?
James Hetfield: Well, he planted a harmony seed in me that I’ve never forgotten. He was a big, big Thin Lizzy fan. We were pretty—and I hate to use the word—bombastic, we were a little punk rock, and he brought in a little more musicality. He was the one that went to junior college and studied musical theory, and he loved all kinds of different music. Obviously, his bass playing, his unique sound, continues to live in the fans and live in us. So Robert [Trujillo] is respectful of him. And Robert is his own amazing player.
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