Interview: Metallica’s Lars Ulrich Talks Golden Gods, Lifetime Achievement, New Album, and More
Tomorrow night, Metallica will accept the Ronnie James Dio Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Ernie Ball, and play the closing set at the 2013 Revolver Golden Gods. The award show will be broadcast live on AXS TV, Xbox LIVE, and Revolver’s Facebook page. In anticipation, Senior Writer Kory Grow sat down with Lars Ulrich a few days before the big night to look back–and ahead.
A little over three decades ago, Metallica recorded their first song, the whiplash-inducing thrash rager “Hit the Lights,” for a compilation called Metal Massacre. Since then, the little garage band that could went on to become not just heavy music’s biggest group, thanks to indisputable anthems like “Enter Sandman,” “Creeping Death,” and “Master of Puppets,” but one of the most revered and best-selling musical acts of all time. That’s why bestowing James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, and Robert Trujillo with the Ronnie James Dio Lifetime Achievement Award this year—a year in which the band is staging its second Orion Music + More Festival, releasing the 3-D IMAX flick Metallica Through the Never, and maybe even recording a new album—is really our honor.
REVOLVER What does it mean to receive the Ronnie James Dio Lifetime Achievement Award?
LARS ULRICH Well, having Ronnie’s name attached to it is an honor. Second, when you get a lifetime achievement award, that’s always very special. It gives you a moment to pause and reflect on things that you’ve done. And certainly one thing you realize is that you’re not quite done yet. Hopefully, there’s still a lot of those memorable moments in front of us.
Also, this is the leading American award of its type, so it is super cool to receive it. When I introduced Avenged Sevenfold’s performance two years ago, the energy in the room was insane. There were some incredibly passionate kids there. So when we were invited to come and partake in the shenanigans this year, that was an easy decision. Revolver is obviously a magazine where we have a lot of friends, but it has also supported us for many, many years. I’m grateful.
When you look back at Metallica’s 30-plus years, what are you proudest of?
I’m probably proudest of the fact that we’re still around and functioning as a band, making the occasional record, doing other projects, and still being somewhat relevant. After 32 years in the business, that’s probably the greatest achievement. Also the fact that we overcame a very well documented meltdown in 2001, 2002, and we not only survived that meltdown but we feel we came back a better band. All the work we put into trying to better ourselves then paid off.
As a band, Metallica is in great shape. We actually talk to each other. We can all be in the same room. We can sit on the same airplane together. We can stay in the same hotel. We can hang out at dinner. And I think that’s probably the greatest achievement of all of them.
What keeps you together?
Metallica is who we are. It’s our lives. I was 17 when I formed this band. I’ve never really known anything else other than a failed attempt at a tennis career. [Laughs] I guess obviously it’s what defines us. Obviously, there’s our families and our children, but in terms of our careers or whatever, it’s what we do. And it’s something we’re fiercely protective of and fiercely proud of. I think the one thing you learn, if you want to be in a band and persevere, is that you have to be able to coexist and you have to find a way to compromise and figure all that stuff out somewhere along the way. Just figure that out. And we realized it was more important for us to be together and survive than for us to not survive. We just worked really hard at that.
Thinking about when you got that first copy of Metal Massacre, where did you think Metallica was going?
I never really thought ahead very much. I think part of the reason that we made it is because it was never about making it. It was never about becoming successful. We just wanted to play music. I think that there was an honesty and a purity in that that people related to. None of us thought in a million years that the type of music we liked and the type of music that we wanted to play could ever be successful on a big scale. We were outsiders who found great joy in being together with other outsiders and loners. And we always felt that we existed outside of the mainstream, we existed outside of the rest of the world in our own little bubble and our own little universe. We never really cared too much about what everybody else was doing.
When I was growing up, I was always suspicious of having career goals, because I always scared that if you didn’t achieve your goals the way that you were planning, that you would alter or falsify your course to achieve that goal, and it could become impure or contrived. I was never a goal-setting person. So at the time Metal Massacre came out, I think we were just trying to figure out how to write the next great riff and figure out where we’re going to get $10 for the next bottle of Goldschläger or whatever nasty shit we were drinking at the time.
What do you feel is Metallica’s most underappreciated release?
I think Load and Reload are great records. They are creatively on par with every other record we’ve made. Obviously, they’re bluesier records, and at that time, we were listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and AC/DC, and we had a different kind of foundation than records before or after. And I understand that there are people who couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with the haircuts and the rest of it, and that’s fine. But musically, if you strip all that other stuff away, if you just listen to the 27 songs—Load and ReLoad were intended as one double-record—it’s a great collection of songs that is on par with everything else that we’ve done creatively. But, I mean, who needs another person to sit there and argue about, you know, fucking “Carpe Diem Baby”? They are different records, but that was the intention. [Laughs] It’s not like we sat there and thought we were remaking …And Justice for All. [Laughs] We are obviously aware of that. But I think personally there’s great songs on both of those records and I’m very proud of those records.
Looking to the future, you have a big movie coming out in September. Have you seen Metallica Through the Never on an IMAX screen yet?
No, but I’ve seen it on everything from an editing bay to some special screenings we’ve had in movie theaters. It’s going to be a mindfuck. I think that Metallica fans that are really into action films and movies with a lot of energy are going to be blown away. This is a very unique film. I don’t know what people are going to think of it. I like it. But obviously I’m biased.
Since you’re a film buff, did has anything surprised you about the filmmaking process?
No. I have a lot of people in the film world, both actors, producers, writers, directors, people that work at the different agencies. So I know a lot of the different elements of filmmaking. It’s very, very intense. When we’re making music, it’s James and I, Kirk and Rob, Rick Rubin, [engineer] Greg Fidelman, [producer] Bob Rock, [engineer] Randy Staub, one or two crew guys. It’s a very contained environment. When you’re making a film, there are so many variables, so many people, so many different departments and there’s just a lot to oversee. And when you are paying for it yourself—we haven’t taken any partners on this film, so we’re everything—it’s a big undertaking.
We have a tendency as a band to go along with things that sound like fun, especially things that are different for us. Anything that’s different is always appealing because we’re always up for new challenges. But I don’t think that we quite understood the scope of this when we undertook this project a few years ago. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I want you to understand that. And I’m not complaining about it; that’s really important also. I’m just saying the size of it, in terms of the amount of time that it’s taking up, it’s a big thing. But out of chaos comes great energy. So far, we haven’t lost our heads quite yet. [Laughs]
You’re also working on a new Metallica record. How is it sounding?
We’re in the early stages of writing, and all I can say is there are some good things lurking. It’s fun. Between doing the film and the Orion Festival, we’ve been taking a few days here and there to shift through riffs and get all that shit done. We’ve got to put them into song shape and get our asses in the studio. I hope we can do that by the end of the year, maybe early next year. 2014 is a bit optimistic for the album to come out, so ’15 is more realistic.
But listen, there’s no rush. It’s gonna take what it takes. I don’t feel stressed about it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care. Ten years ago, 20 years ago, we were in this whole cycle where we would write-record-tour, write-record-tour. Now we have a different way of being in the band. We like to play every year, but we don’t want to play 200 shows in a row and then take a year off. We like to play 30 shows, 40 shows. It’s better than playing 200 shows one year, and then no shows the next year. It’s cool to be doing these different types of things and new records are fun and cool, and there will be a new Metallica record, but I can’t stress myself out over it.
Finally, who do you think deserves the Lifetime Achievement Award next year?
Growing up with Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore has always been close to my heart. People like Lemmy, the Black Sabbath boys, the Judas Priest guys, [Iron Maiden's] Steve Harris, [Motörhead's] Phil Taylor, [Deep Purple's] Ian Paice, [Diamond Head's] Brian Tatler and Sean Harris. The list goes on: Jerry Cantrell, Kurt Cobain, Slash, Axl Rose, I don’t know, [Oasis'] Liam and Noel Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Marley. [Laughs] People that do what they believe and their heart is in it. There are so many.
Sounds like you’ve got our next decade or more of award recipients planned.
[Laughs] Induct all of them next year. I’ll come and induct all of them. We’ll do them all in one fell swoop. [Laughs]