With Metallica’s World Magnetic Tour hitting some Canadian dates, Cape Breton Post interviewed lead singer and guitarist James Hetfield of Metallica about the new-but-old sounds of Metallica, Death Magnetic, sobriety, and the state of Metallica.
Q: How is the tour going so far?
James Hetfield of Metallica: The tour is going good. We’re about four legs into this I think. We’ve got songs pretty well rehearsed. They’re getting better and better and we’re playing a lot of stuff from Death Magnetic, which seems to be fitting in well with the old material.
Q: Are you happy with this new-old direction?
James Hetfield Metallica: Yes, it feels right. It feels like the right time. I certainly know fans have forever been asking, basically telling us what to do, which for us, it doesn’t work. Whether it’s my Dad or a fan it never worked. I had to feel it myself, and eventually we go to the point where we were able to embrace the stuff we’ve done in the past and not keep running from it.
Q: You’re happy with Rick Rubin’s work?
James Hetfield: Yes, he put us on a mission and we saw it through. We’re very pleased with the result. We’ve always had goals but they haven’t been as focused as this.
This focus was the thinking of Master of Puppets, getting into that mindset and interjecting the youth and stripping away as much knowledge pollution from the years as we could.
Q: Talk to me about the new album and you being sober now. You went through alcohol addiction, so did that change your writing in any sense (since) thrash metal is so synonymous with drinking?
James Hetfield Metallica: The fans will have to say. This new album, I think, is pretty darn good and (I’m) completely clean and sober. There’s always people that worry for you, too . . . And then I write the angriest stuff of my life on St. Anger and everyone hates it or something. You know, you can’t do it for others. You have to be the artist (who’s) making the art.
Q: You figured things out in terms of your private life so does that make you and the band get along more than ever before?
Metallica’s James Hetfield: Absolutely. I think the fact is that we can read each other better because we know each other better, and want to know each other better, and we’re able to communicate a lot better . . . We’ve been through some tough times and because (we’ve) walked through the fire and survived it there’s almost a kind of honour that you have with each other – that we’ve gone through this we don’t need to go there it again.”
Q: You’ve mentioned before it’s important to talk about death. Maybe you can elaborate on that.
James Hetfield Metallica: The band came close to calling it quits. We got to the point where egos, and resentments and things had grown so big and strong that it was almost an impossible hill to climb.
So the fact that we got through that and came out with the strongest album I think in a long time is a testament to hard work and to sticking it through because you never know what’s going to happen. And for us it was close to death and it’s a pretty scary thought. And obviously there’s life after Metallica but is it worth it? So we started talking about that in the metaphor of life and death.
Q: Are you still political in a sense?
James Hetfield of Metallica: Never was. lyrically I was writing from what I felt . . . A lot of the things that we do are hopefully universal (such as) plugging into emotion – it’s human. Songs like One and Disposable Heroes talk about more of the ugly side of war. And there’s more than just those songs. The song Don’t Tread on Me showed the other side of that.
We in the band have pretty diverse political opinions and it’s best to leave that at the door. It gets in the way, it’s a roadblock. Looking at the bigger picture, we all want to protect our families and there are certain ways we think it should be done.
But we all have concerns about the globe and mankind and where it’s going and I don’t think we’re the first people to have concerns about that.