The Return of Jason Newsted
The former bassist of Metallica on his new band, EP and album plans
When Jason Newsted speaks, he has a sort of endearing drawl in his voice – a drawl that lends itself to a musician who has been on stage with the world’s biggest metal band, all those years ago. The confidence – not arrogance – is palpable in his voice and the words he chooses, as he speaks about his new band and his new EP. Newsted is well aware of this. “As far as I see, I’m in an exclusive club – there’s only six people in the club that I’m in. Four of them are in a band called Metallica; one of them leads a band called Megadeth; and you’re talking to the other one on the phone right now. That’s where my confidence comes from,” he says with zero trace of pomposity. “So it’s inevitable that the [new] music is going to be pretty good. It might not be the freshest, it might not be groundbreaking and innovative. But it’s still good and it’s heavy – check both boxes.”
What prevents a statement like this from teetering over into the chasm of conceit is the new EP that he’s released with his new eponymous band, Newsted. Released on January 8th on iTunes, the four-song package simply titled Metal is just over 22 minutes of old school metal. “Soldierhead,” the first video single, is a bludgeoning thrash cut that would not have been out of place on the earliest Metallica albums. “Godsnake,” “King of the Underdogs” and “Skyscrapers” are slower thrash-meets-groove-meets-sludge tracks. As Newsted admits, these tracks don’t break new ground. But what they certainly are doing with their massive riffs and insistent grooves are delivering some fantastic music. “I named it very simply Newsted: Metal, so that there’s no confusion. There have been a lot of different styles of music through my career – Echobrain, Gov’t Mule, DJ Shadow. But this is metal music; this is the real thing,” says Newsted. “Everybody needs to know what they’re getting with this one,” he says, explaining the rather straightforward naming. He also lets on that he is not exactly the biggest fan of genres. “Whenever a style of music stays around for a certain amount of decades, it’s going to get derivative, deluded, with these sub-categorizations – death metal, black metal, blah blah blah… it just doesn’t matter. Either the music is good, or it’s not.”
Newsted, the band, is Jason Newsted on vocals and bass, Jesus Mendez Jr on drums and Jesse Farnsworth on guitars, though “Jesse and I rock back and forth on guitars and bass,” according to Newsted. While the trio has been playing together for over five years now, they decided to formally call it a band and name it about six months ago. “What’s different about this thing is that my name is on it. It’s the first time I’ve ever put my name on anything like this,” he says. “I’ve written all the songs myself, written all the lyrics… So that makes it very exciting for me to share with people,” says Newsted, who was the bassist with Metallica from 1987 through to 2001, and played and sang backing vocals on …And Justice For All (1988), Metallica (1991), Load (1996) and ReLoad (1997).
After quitting Metallica in 2001, Jason Newsted pretty much went under the radar, atleast as far as metal was concerned. He got busy with Echobrain, the alt-metal band he’d founded a couple of years ago, which was one of the reasons he left Metallica. In 2002, he joined Canadian thrash metallers Voivod, with whom he would create three albums – Voivod (2003), Katorz (2006) and Infini (2009). Newsted joined Ozzy Osbourne’s band after his stint with Voivod. Then he got hit by shoulder injuries. “There were three different shoulder surgeries through the decade. I had only one arm at a time for about three years,” laughs Newsted. And that’s when he started painting. “Through the shoulder injuries, I did about a 1000 pieces of art.”
Metal is Jason Newsted’s first offering after this musical hiatus. Having already recorded about ten songs with the band, he plans to release them in installments over 2013. “I am really trying to find out what’s out there. Being on the internet and being back in the music world is new to me again,” he says. “I am trying to see how many fans are actually interested, and who’s out there.” His plan is to take the band out on the road starting April. “There’s so much business to be done now, starting off this whole thing in a new world. There are a lot of avenues familiar to me, but there’s a lot of new avenues and new ways of doing things that I’m just learning now. So that’s gonna take a while to make the right decisions.” Once he gets the band on the road [with a fourth member on guitars], Newsted is building up towards hitting the festival circuit in summer 2013. The idea right now, as he says, is to put the feelers out to see who’s interested in his music. “The three EPs that we release will all add up to one final album in the middle of the summer. It will be on CDs, vinyl, with artwork and booklets and all that.”
Though the bassist is rather active on Facebook and Twitter, he says that he’s still finding his way around the new digital world. Do the concomitant dangers of online piracy bother him? “There have to be those concerns in this day and age, but we have to accept that that’s how music is going to be shared,” he says stoically. “We just have to take the music out to the people. And the people that want to come to a live show, people that want to buy a T-shirt, people that want to be part of that band in those ways, they’re still going to be that way.” While he admits that piracy bothers him, he likes the fact that he is now able to share music all over the globe at a press of a button. “Back in the days, in tape trading, I used to have to do one tape at a time, one envelope at a time, and that was crazy,” he laughs. “Piracy can work for you if you have everything in line. You have the music out there to let people know that you have music, and then to draw them to your live show. That’s all you can do in this time and age.”