Interview: Metallica’s Lars Ulrich on Orion Fest, the Golden Gods and Getting Punched at a Black Flag Concert

Lars Ulrich at Orion Fest 2012, photo by David Mead

There’s only one solid explanation for why Metallica have decided to throw another Orion Music + More Festival this year. “We had a great fuckin’ weekend, and it seemed like everybody else had a really fun weekend,” Lars Ulrich tells Revolver with a laugh. “I don’t think it has to be much more intellectualized than that.”

When we catch up with him, the Danish drummer is en route to Brisbane, Australia’s RNA Showgrounds, where he and his bandmates in Metallica are playing their first gig of 2013, a year that will find the group playing gigs everywhere from the Middle East to Tokyo. As of right now, though, the only U.S. shows they have planned are their appearance at Revolver’s Golden Gods Awards, May 2 in Los Angeles, and at their very own Orion Music + More Festival, which takes place June 8 and 9 in Detroit.

The band announced the lineup and details for Orion 2013 yesterday, and it looks like it will be just as diverse and equally as incredible as last year’s. In addition to appearances by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Deftones, Tomahawk, Flag (members of Black Flag), and of course a double-shot of Metallica, among many others, it will feature each Metallica member’s personal lifestyle showcase (for Ulrich, it’s a film-screening tent), the fan-favorite Metallica Museum, and a newly added EDM stage. It’s the sort of festival the drummer tells us has got him excited, and he hopes it excites not just Metallica fans but also residents of the Motor City. “Obviously Detroit is a city with such a rich diversity and a rich musical heritage,” Ulrich says in his signature cool, breezy manner. “If it works out this year, I think there’s a good chance Orion will stick around Detroit for a couple years.”

REVOLVER What are your favorite memories from last year’s Orion Music + More Festival?
LARS ULRICH That whole experience I had in my film tent. It was just so cool to show movies to 300 Metallica fans and do Q&As with the directors and the producers. I also enjoyed getting a chance to play Ride the Lightning and doing the “Black Album” thing in its entirety, which was the only time we did it in America. And just hanging and being part of the scenery for a couple days.

I had fun seeing the bands, too, in the various tents, from the Hot Snakes to the Jim Breuers of the world. Seeing Avenged Sevenfold and The Sword and Sepultura and Arctic Monkeys. I got a chance to introduce the Arctic Monkeys, which was really cool, because I have a 14-year-old kid who worships the ground that the Arctic Monkeys walk on. So I actually was a pretty cool dad for a couple minutes when I introduced them.

Which artists are you most excited to see this year?
I saw the Chili Peppers in San Francisco about six months ago. They’re on a fucking roll at the moment. They’re better than they’ve ever been. I was completely blown away for two hours. We did a run with the Deftones in 2003 on our Summer Sanitarium Tour, which was really cool. Those guys are always good. Dropkick Murphys, those guys are so much fun and have so much energy. [Laughs] There’s such a positive vibe in what they do. Bringing in the 2013 incarnation of Black Flag, minus the “Black,” is obviously going to be pretty fun. My 14-year-old has turned me on to Japandroids, and I’ve heard some of their stuff, which is pretty amazing. I’ve become kind of a late fan of Fu Manchu. My girl actually turned me on to them a little while ago, so I’m a brand new fan of theirs. I’m glad that they’re with us. You know, [proto-punk band] Death. [Laughs] We’ll have Death come out and do their thing in Detroit again! And the Dillinger Escape boys. Lots of different stuff.

You mentioned Flag. Did you ever see Black Flag during their original run?
Yeah, we did. We actually saw them in New Jersey around 84 or 85. That was a very special night, because up ’til now—I’m not saying it won’t happen again—but up ’til now, that’s the only time I’ve been hardcore punched. We were hanging out at the Black Flag gig, and one of the bouncers asked us to leave. And I gave him a pretty obnoxious remark back, and the motherfucker just hit me hard in the stomach. And my stomach sort of caved around his fist. That’s the other thing I remember about that night other than seeing Black Flag.

What made you want to include an EDM stage this year?
When we played at the Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco in August, both Hetfield and I went over to the… OK, now I’m lying. Our kids dragged us over to the electronic tent. [Laughs] And I stood on the side of the stage and watched 20 – 25,000 14-year-old kids go absolutely fucking apeshit to Skrillex. And the energy and the whole spectacle with the lights and the sound, it was just such a fucking vibe. And so we both stood there with our kids and were like, You know what? We’ve got to bring some of that to the Orion Festival. And Bassnectar is awesome. He’s one of these dudes within that whole world, and he’s actually one of the local Northern California dudes and we hear he’s a bit of metal fan. So he’s headlining the whole electronic tent

Will you be playing any of your classic albums this year?
If I was a betting man, which I’m not, I would probably  not put too much money on that. I think you’ve got to be careful that it doesn’t become something that people expect from you every year, especially when you only put records out every five years like we do. We’ll run out of records to play at some point pretty quick. But I think, listen, we’ve played Puppets [in 2006], we’ve played Lightning, and we’ve played the “Black Album.” I think it’s something that we’ll keep doing throughout Metallica’s next decade or so, but I don’t know if we’re going to do it at this year’s Orion Festival. Obviously there’s an anniversary there. People say, “Oh, it’s the 30th anniversary of Kill Em All.” But we haven’t made a firm decision on that. I don’t want to become predictable.

Photo by David Mead

Your performance of Ride the Lightning last year, featured the song “Escape,” which you’d never played before. Was that fun? James Hetfield made it sound like you all never wanted to play it.
I love “Escape”! James is just being James. We always jam on that, mostly to piss him off. And he’ll start playing along in a different key or something. James told me that he actually heard the live version of “Escape” from Orion on the radio, and he said it sounded pretty good. So maybe there’s hope for “Escape.” Maybe it will make an appearance again in the next decade or so. That poor little song never did fucking anybody anything. It just sits on that record for 28 years, waiting to be played. Anyway, it was fun to let that one out.

Since it is the 30th anniversary of Kill Em All. What are your favorite memories from making that record?
We were in Rochester, New York, for six weeks. It was just fun because we didn’t know what the fuck was going on. There was just an innocence to it. We were making a record, and we had no idea what the fuck we were doing. We all lived in a house together, and we were living and eating and breathing and shitting Metallica, 24/7. That gang mentality was really, really fun.

Also, just the fact we were actually making a record. It was kind of a different thing 30 years ago, because nowadays anybody with a computer can get their music up and out to people. But back then it was more like, “Oh my God, we’re making a record.” It was pretty special. So we were fucking psyched and out of our minds and living the dream, you know?

Speaking of being out of your minds, I’ve read that Cliff Burton used to carry around a hammer and that’s what inspired the cover.
Yeah, he used to, man. He was just in his own world. He just lived in his own world. I don’t remember the specifics. I think most of those have been kind of lost to alcohol, uh, whatever, alcohol-fueled instances, but there was definitely pretty weird shit going on.

Lastly, you’re playing the Golden Gods this year, where Metallica is receiving the Ronnie James Dio Lifetime Achievement Award. What can we expect from your performance?
Obviously, it’s going to be a lot of fun. I was there two years ago and had a fucking blast. The energy is spectacular in that room. I’ve heard of some of the other guests that are going to be there and some of the other recipients of awards. It’s going to be a fucking blast. In terms of what we’re going to play, there’s a few songs to pick from. I’m sure we’ll figure it out as we get closer. Your crew reached out to us last week about some potential collaborations, and we’re just starting to figure those out right now. It should be pretty amazing.

Photo by Cambria Harkey

 

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