JASON NEWSTED DISCUSSES METALLICA, FLOTSAM AND JETSAM AND HIS LOVE OF MOTOWN
Songfacts: Who would you say are some of your all-time favorite songwriters?
Jason: Well, metal-wise, heroes like Black Sabbath – Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, that kind of thing. And Rush as songwriters. Even like Derek St. Holmes from the Ted Nugent Band, great songwriter and great lyricist, melodies and lyrics. That’s my original teacher pile, when I was 12, 14, 16 years old, my original teachers.
And as I’ve gone through time I have a lot of respect for the guys of Muse, who have fantastic songwriting abilities. Kings of Leon, great songwriting abilities. Lady Gaga, great songwriting ability as far as melody and lyrics go. I’m not so much about her band’s boom-boom computerized stuff, but as far as lyrical melody, fantastic.
There’s quite a few. I like Mastodon – I like the honesty of their songwriting, the rawness, the ugliness, but still with a little bit of sense of humor in the vibe within the lyric and within the songwriting. I like that a lot: when they don’t take it too serious. That’s very important.
The Slayer guys, I love what they’ve put together. Of course, Metallica has done some really cool shit. Voivod’s done some amazing arrangements. Gov’t Mule has done some amazing arrangements – Warren Haynes, very good songwriter. Zakk Wylde, great songwriter. There are a lot of people out there that I have respect for in that way.
Songfacts: I remember reading an old interview with you and you said that you were a big fan of also the old stuff from Motown, as well.
Jason: Oh my God, yes. Anything with James Jamerson on bass, there’s no way you could do any wrong with that, because those are the records that I wore the grooves out of first as a young man, like a lot of people of my generation. But definitely the Motown thing had a lot to do with inspiring me with the bass-dominated arrangements.
Songfacts: I’m surprised more metal musicians don’t go back and study those old albums by the Motown artists.
Jason: I was fortunate enough to be brought up in Michigan, so there was a lot of that music being played all the time on the radio and in my household by my older brothers. Now that I go back and analyze it, I think it played such a giant part in me gravitating towards the bass in general, and maybe the aptitude of songwriting and what sounds good, like what the flow is.
It’s all about the flow. It’s all about the feel and the toe tappin’ without you having to think about it, and that’s what that music was king of. It was infectious. You had to tap your toe to that music.
Songfacts: One of my favorite songs from when you were a member of Metallica was Blackened, which is a song that you co-wrote. What do you remember about your contribution to that song, as far as writing it?
Jason: That was a very special time in my life. This was when James [Hetfield] and I were first becoming friends. He was someone I looked up to greatly before I joined the band – we all did. Anybody in any other bands, even the guys in the bands around us, even Exodus and Violence, we all looked up to James. He was just a special gifted person, still is.
So we were getting to be friends and we’d stay over at each other’s house or apartments, and we’d take care of each other’s animals when we went on vacations and these kind of things, got to be pals.
We were in my one-bedroom apartment. I had my little four-track Tascam set up in the corner of the bedroom, and we were jamming on our guitars, just playing through some riffs. And I played that Blackened riff, and he goes, “Dude, what is that?” Because it was really pretty crazy. The original thing is a very fast alternating thing. Man, it’s pretty tricky, actually. I mean, the one that ended up on the record is pretty tricky, too, but the original one is really tricky.
He picked up on that and we recorded that bit. And he goes, “Let’s build it to this, and build it to this.” It was a moment. I was actually composing a song with James from Metallica and he was approving my riffs and saying, “This is going to be a Metallica song.” That was a big, big moment for me. We had already been on tour together, and so I had a giant Damage Inc. tour poster on my bedroom wall right above my little station where I had my speakers and my little four-track and the two or three guitars in my collection.
And there we were, I could paint that picture for you very plainly. It was a very, very big moment for me, because I was getting approved from The Man to have my first chance on having one of my compositions on a Metallica record. So that was a very special time.
Songfacts: This year is the 25th anniversary of the release of the Justice album. I’m sure a lot of fans were hoping, that Metallica was going to put out the album again as a reissue and bring up the bass. Would you like to see that happen as a possible reissue?
Jason: It’s their band and if they decide to do that, that’s all good with me. You know, over time there’s been so much hubbub over this thing and people make so much out of it, but whatever it is that they make out of the blend of the whole thing, to me the album is perfect. Kill ‘Em All isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect. And Van Halen I isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect. …And Justice For All isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect. Because it captured that time for those people.
And going back and changing things and doing “the Sharon Osbourne thing” [replacing previous musicians’ recordings with newer ones, as evidenced a few years ago with reissues of Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman], going back and re-recording albums that were already classics, I’m just not sure about all that stuff.
So if they decide to do a remaster and they bring up the bass frequencies or the low end frequencies and all that, right on, man. Send me a copy and I’ll blast it just like anybody else, just like a fan of Metallica. But for what it is, it does just fine. It still sells a lot of copies every day and I’m pretty happy with the outcome of the whole thing, actually.
Considering what I knew about playing bass guitar at that time, I’m not surprised it’s as low as it is, really.
Songfacts: I recently interviewed Michael Gilbert from the band Flotsam and Jetsam, and he mentioned that he’d like to work with you again. Would you ever entertain the thought of maybe doing some shows or a new album with Flotsam and Jetsam at some point?
Jason: Well, I wrote a few songs for their new record, Ugly Noise. I gave them the title for the album and lyrics for the main song and all that kind of stuff. That’s all my stuff, so I contributed to the last one. They have actually asked me this week to play on the No Place for Disgrace re-recording, and now we’re in the same territory of the last question again. I don’t believe, really, in that kind of thing, going back and re-recording stuff. It just doesn’t seem right. It seems like stepping backwards to me, and I want to move forward.
I was up until 5 o’clock this morning working on a new song that Mike Mushok and I have together, and I really think we have something with this one. So I have enough of my own stuff going on and I’m moving forward with new material.
So bless them for going back and doing No Place, and that’s all good. But I won’t be taking a part in any of that. I’ll always be a supporter of Flotsam and Jetsam, but I’m not going to be in their band or anything like that.
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