You don’t leave Metallica, Metallica leaves you. That’s the main takeaway from a new wide-ranging, introspective interview with the metal icons and Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, in which the group dove into the pivotal move from L.A. to San Francisco that helped launch them into the rock stratosphere and the painful split with former bassist Jason Newsted in 2001.
“Jason is the only member of Metallica who has ever left willingly,” drummer Lars Ulrich told Lowe of the bassist who played on the group’s landmark Black Album, which is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary. “And that in itself is a statistic. And the resentment from [guitarist] James [Hetfield] and I was just so… You can’t do that. You can only leave if we want you to leave. And then we weren’t equipped at the time to do a deep dive into why he was leaving. So of course, now you can see 20 years later, it makes complete sense.”
Ulrich and singer Hetfield described Newsted’s frustration at the time over his songs not being accepted during recording sessions, which led to Newsted hitting out on his own with the side project Echobrain. In the end, though, the Metallica braintrust said that if they had been more emotionally available and accepting things could have turned out differently.
“We write the songs. We make the decisions. We do all of it,” Ulrich said of his then iron-fisted doom-spinning duopoly with Hetfield that has been at the artistic core of the group for nearly four decades. “You have no creative outlet in this band. You have no creative voice. And then when you go and do something that gives you satisfaction and a way for you to express yourself to the rest of the world, then we get pissed at you. And then that resentment then goes to you leaving the band. I mean, that’s kind of psychiatry 101 here. But we weren’t equipped to see that side of it.”
The split “makes complete sense” to Ulrich now, with Hetfield putting the break in philosophical terms: “He was at a point where he was at and we were at a point where we were at.” But, he added, if Trujillo came to the rest of the group now with the same feelings and said he was ready to quit, Hetfield, and the rest of Metallica, would fight for him. “I didn’t know about the fight back then,” he admitted.
In hindsight, Ulrich praised Newsted for giving it his all for 14 years, at every show, every day. “We always used to joke, ‘he’s so fired up! C’mon dude, slow down!,” the drummer laughed. “He was the first guy in, last guy out. He was signing autographs while we were on the way out of the building waving.”
Recalling Newsted joining them on stage during the band’s 30th anniversary shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco in 2011 and being a very “integral” part of the re-issue and re-release of the Black Album, Ulrich said the thaw in relations has come full circle and they now appreciate their time together even more. “I love that we’ve created music together, but we’ve also just grown up together and we’re still growing up,” Hetfield said, with Hammett adding that Newsted was there for Metallica “100%” during the very “real, real dark” time after the shocking death of original bassist Cliff Burton in 1986 in bus crash in Sweden.
The intense chat that focused on the men’s emotional growth, also touched on the pivotal 1982 move to their longtime base of San Francisco, which was based on a demand from late bassist Burton. “Fueled by contrariness” in Los Angeles, Ulrich spoke about how the switch upstate was a huge creative catalyst, resulting in them finding a kinship with the music scene in their new home and the “collection of misfits” that gave them a sense of belonging.
The discussion also included a funny bit where Newsted’s replacement, bassist Robert Trujillo, revealed that before he signed on, his former band Suicidal Tendencies would gobble up Metallica’s leftover dinners whenever they could during a joint 1993 tour. And though Metallica were all impressed with Trujillo’s playing on tour and on ST albums, Hetfield joked that when Robert’s name came up during bassist auditions, he thought, “there’s no way he’s going to join us. He’s too amazing, he’s too spectacular!”
Watch the interview below (Newsted discussion begins around 44:00 mark).