Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lars Ulrich on Bald Knob, signing dinner rolls and the bassists of Metallica

Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2008 at 3:55 PM

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The Times Paul Peterson, who's played drums around town for years, caught Metallica's loquacious drummer Lars Ulrich on the phone in St. Louis in advance of Saturday's show at Alltel.

Do you happen to recall a brief stop in a little Arkansas town called Bald Knob about 27 years ago?

Oh yeah. It was a field full of moss and mosquitoes and large insects probably I'd never seen before. It was August of 1983 and it was about 140 degrees and 95 percent humidity and not a very fun place to wake up when you're very hung over. I think we played to about 12 people on a big slab in the middle of the Balk Knob amphitheatre. Had a good time doing it and lived to talk about it.

So, one month into the tour. How's it treating you?

It's going great. You know, we haven't played the States in about four years so it's good to be back. Nice to feel a little American love, a little American energy. We haven't been indoors sine '04, so it's cool. We're playing in the round, in the middle there, having some fun, kind of getting our chops. It's a different energy, playing in the middle. We change the set list every night. We have a couple of great support acts out here. I'm happy. 

I've heard that James has made visit to Arkansas to purchase hot rods.

He's always doing something with cars and hot rods in his spare time. He sits on a plane and always has these magazines and hot rod dudes around backstage. But I'm sure he comes in and out of Arkansas kind of under the radar.

It's been almost 20 years, but I was backstage in February 1989 on the 'Justice' tour, you guys are coming down the table signing this and that, shaking hands. We're seated facing the huge buffet and a friend urged me to ask you to sign a dinner roll, you know, 'cause we were hungry and . . .

(Laughs) Where was this again?

Barton Coliseum.

Sure, sure.

So I summoned up the nerve, asked if you'd sign a dinner roll for me. You looked me straight in the eye and said, "Are you out of your fucking mind?" and kept on going. Ten or 15 minutes go by and I'm feeling like a dumbass because I asked you to sign a piece of bread. But heading back to the dressing room, you stopped, looked as if you remembered something, grabbed the roll, scribbled on it and tossed it over to me. I sprayed it down with so much Aqua Net that it's as shiny as the day it came out of the oven.

Wow! Well, 20 years ago, young, drunk and full of spunk back in the day there. Sorry if I seemed put off at first.

Your father was a music journalist with a fond affection for jazz. Did you hear a lot of it spinning on turntables growing up?

Oh, sure. A lot of jazz. I grew up in a house full of music, full of art, stuff from different cultures, very culturally rich. But it wasn't just jazz, it was Hendrix and the Doors, a lot of Stones and Beatles. I mean, this was in the heyday, late ’60s, early ’70s.

So, what about your first kit? When did you first get your paws on one?

1977.  I got down on my knees in front of my grandma and somehow ended up with a drum kit that was more like a kind of thrash around thing, down in the basement.  I'd  pretend I was the drummer for Deep Purple, Black Sabbath. I had a kit that looked like Ian Paice's from Deep Purple. So that's what I grew up. But I didn't start taking it seriously until years later, after the tennis thing, but the drumming just started as a bash-around thing at first.

So, have either of your three boys gravitated toward the drums? kit yet?

No, not a lot yet, but hopefully it'll come.

You guys have paid great, great homage to a slew of bands you admire. From Budgie ("Breadfan") to Queen (“Stone Cold Crazy”), you've done Bob Seeger justice. I mean your version of "Overkill" gives me chills every time I hear it.

Oh, why thank you.

Ever played "Stone Cold Crazy" live?

Actually, yes. We're playing it on this tour, maybe three or four times in the past few weeks. And there's definitely a chance we might play it this Saturday.  

So, even with your extended catalogue, there's room for cover tunes?

Oh, yeah, yeah. We definitely make room for at least two.

Are there any covers that you particularly enjoy playing? Maybe it's hard to pick favorites, but does any tune come to mind?

Since you mentioned it, I really love playing "Stone Cold Crazy." I love playing the Misfits songs, "Last Caress," and all that. And I definitely like playing the Diamond Head ("It's Electric") stuff, naturally. Most of the cover songs we feel are songs that are should be Metallica songs. Do you know what I mean?

Ones you wish you'd written yourselves?

You got it. Absolutely. It's been fun to have that side of Metallica, a little lighter side, if you will. We take our own songwriting somewhat seriously sometimes and it's been pretty funny, a lot of fun, to play those songs and have that kind of outlet.

Any similarities playing live now to when you first began, 27 years ago, cutting your teeth in San Francisco and on early road shows? I mean, from Bald Knob Amphitheater to Alltel is a large difference, but is there a certain gratification from playing live that remains the same?

There certainly is. It's the anticipation, the possibilities, that feeling you never quite know what's gonna happen, being onstage sharing that experience with a bunch of people you don't know but have something in common with. It's a very alive thing. There's a great human energy that I think is very much the same as it was 27 years ago, obviously on a bit of a larger scale. And it's indoors and you're in the middle of the building. It's awesome. Absolutely awesome.

At a time in the early to mid 1980s, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax were breaking the American mold of, without trying to tag a label on the genre, but the metal scene. Do you feel part of the genre's evolution, now that bands you've taken on the road, among others, are now citing you as influences, as you once did with bands such as Diamond Head? Sort of like a cyclical rotation.

Well, it's very cool, but not something you spend a lot of time thinking about. I increasingly feel like I have two different lives, one out here on the road, that started about two or three hours ago, and then I have my home life, where I was all last week, doing my thing with the family and kids, and so a lot of that type of stuff, when I'm at home getting up at 6:30 in the morning arguing with the kids about whether they're going to wear long sleeves or short sleeves, all the bands that you may have inspired isn't something that comes up a lot. It's part of interviews, part of conversation if you're talking about Metallica, but not something that occupies a large part of my life. But it's obviously awesome to hear that from people. It's awesome we have bands out here who're inspiring us. Having four members of Machine Head standing behind me while I'm playing makes me step up and play better and play harder. It's awesome to hear how Metallica's inspired them. So it's definitely been a circle of love and appreciation.

Studio vs. stage. As a musician, playing live for me often can be more gratifying than laboring in the studio, and as a lifelong fan of live recordings, the fan appreciation of the availability of your live downloads must be huge.

Definitely. You're playing to a worldwide audience, it's fun and great to be able to offer the fans that type of thing. We haven't played the same set twice, which is about five years ago since we started that web site.

Re-releases are in the works. On vinyl. What's happening with it?

Oh it's coming out, I guess. You know, double vinyl this, re-mastered that. There's certainly a lot of vinyl junkies, a lot of people who are really into this side of it, so you really want to walk the fine line of putting the stuff out there that you want to make available, but at the same time you don't want to whore yourself to the point of ridiculousness, or cheapen what you're doing. But there sure are a lot of people out there buying records these days, so I think it's good to make that stuff available for them kind of give it a notch on the old medium.

Rhythm sections. You've worked with three bassists, and as a drummer I'm inclined to ask about stylistic differences. 

Oh, all three are completely different. I mean, I can't rank them or
anything. . . .

No, no, no. That's not where I'm coming from. But from a drummer's perspective?

Jason was kind of the aggro-metal, played a lot with James. Cliff Burton, kind of classical. His training came from a whole unique place, with some elements of ZZ Top and Lynyrnd Skynrd who also definitely had a bit of classical training, and actually went to college. Trujillo almost has a kind of R&B background, a little bit of a different bounce, a little funk, so that's also very cool. All very, very different from each other. That's for sure. 

Any subtle, direct or indirect influences on your drumming?

Nah. Nothing tangible, really. I think more of the dynamics of what I have to go through are more what about how I feel, what I'm into at that time, and what the bigger picture is and not really who the bass player is. 

But for a drummer in a rhythm section, obviously there's gonna be some stylistic, inherent differences among the three. That's all I was driving at.

Oh, yeah. Definitely. I'm just fortunate enough to have been able to have played with three of the greatest. It's apples and oranges, really. Even though it's the same instrument, not all of them had the same number of strings on them (laughs). I could never figure it out, which has four, which has five? 

Just out of curiosity, is it safe to say Robert didn't endure nearly the amount of ritualistic hazing that Jason did?

Absolutely, yeah. Robert didn't replace a guy who got killed, somebody who was taken prematurely. Robert replaced someone who left on his own accord, so it was a little bit of a different story.

Surely you at least put a thumbtack in his chair or something, maybe once (laughs).

I might have maybe, but I'm not aware of it. But it's actually no fun if they're not aware of it.

Speaking of the Stones earlier. The 2005 gig with the Stones. How'd that come about?

About as simple as it gets. They called up and said, "We're coming to San Francisco. Do you want to play with us?" We said, "Umm. OK." It's not something you have to over-think. Let's go play with the Stones. I mean, we played with Deep Purple, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, AC/DC. I'm glad to have been given the opportunity to play with the bands I admire and idolize. Playing with the Stones is what we in Metallica call a "no-brainer." "What? What time? We'll bring our own equipment. We'll be there."



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