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James Hetfield

Metallica’s frontman on headbanging injuries, his favourite album and field-dressing a moose

Austin Scaggs Jan 19, 2009

How did Metallica celebrate when their ninth studio album, Death Magnetic, debuted at Number One? “We bought a bunch of drugs and cars,” jokes frontman James Hetfield. “No, we just looked at each other, our jaws dropped and we said, ”˜Man!’ ”
The moment was especially sweet for Hetfield: “A couple of years ago, we were yelling at each other, breaking up the band ”“ and now look!” he says. “It’s surreal. And for me, being here very clean [and sober], it seems extra meaningful.” Hetfield, 45, checked in from Glendale, Arizona, hours before the kickoff of Metallica’s 70-date, nine-month world tour.

You guys have been gigging all year. What new songs have been the most fun to play?

Over the summer we did ”˜Cyanide’ and ”˜The Day That Never Comes.’ On this tour, we’ll be rotating in four or five new ones every night. We want to give them a chance to become evergreens, like ”˜Fade to Black’ or ”˜Seek and Destroy.’ They didn’t become evergreens by being a good song on a record, but because we played it, and the crowd learned that they have their own parts to sing.

Where did you write the lyrics for Death Magnetic?

Mostly at home. There was one song called ”˜Shine’ ”“ it’s not on the record but will come out sometime ”“ that I wrote at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in 2006, when we inducted Black Sabbath. I just got inspired, and I wrote it like poetry.

Most likely, Metallica will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next April. Who will be onstage with you?

Everyone that played on a record should be there. You’re considered for the Hall 25 years after your first recording, not after you formed.

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That would omit Dave Mustaine.

He wasn’t on a record. Jason Newsted should be up there ”“ he was in the band for 14 years and played on quite a few records ”“ and so should Robert Trujillo.

Will it be weird to be there with Jason?

There’s no reason for it to be weird. We don’t want to be part of the soap opera of the Hall of Fame. Everybody wants to see a train wreck, like with Blondie onstage arguing over crap [at the 2006 ceremony]. That really cheapens the moment.

Have you listened to the leaked tracks from Chinese Democracy?

I haven’t. I’m sure Lars has heard it ”“ he’s a big-time Axl follower [laughs]. He’s followed him around and annoyed him, trying to capture some of the rock-star-ness. We played a festival with them in Germany in 2006 ”“ not on the exact same day ”“ and we went down and watched them. The guy’s a good frontman. There’s a lot of extra stuff that goes along with that, but he is talented.

On the new cut ”˜Broken, Beat and Scarred,’ you sing, “Show your scars.” Are you permanently scarred by that 1992 pyro accident onstage?

From the human barbecue in Montreal? There’s some scars, for sure. And I think at one point we did a body scan and put it in our fan-club magazine, highlighting my broken wrist, broken ribs, the burns, this and that. I ruptured a disk in my back on the Summer Sanitarium Tour a few years back. That’s the nagging one.

What are you listening to these days?

Hard Attack on Sirius is the station I’m plugged into, all the time. There’s a DJ on there named José who is so in love with metal ”“ he’s like a friggin’ firecracker. And I’ve been listening to Little Steven’s Underground Garage. The dude’s a wealth of information, and he’s got Handsome Dick working with him ”“ I’m learning stuff all the time.

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You are an avid hunter. Can you field-dress a moose?

In a dress? Or black tie for a formal affair? I know what you’re talking about, but I’ve never had to do it. We’ve done some elk.

What album have you listened to more than any other?

I’d have to say Aerosmith’s Rocks. When I was 15, I went over to watch this band rehearse. All I had was this little combo amp, and they had a real PA, the smell of the gear, the smell of tubes burning”¦ I got hooked. In the back they had some Aerosmith records, and they played Rocks. At that point, I fell into the rock & roll fever. That was it.

What single piece of Metallica memorabilia do you cherish the most?

You mean one piece that Lars doesn’t have?

He’s hoarded everything?

Lars has enough to open up four Metallica museums. One with his stuff, one with my stuff, one with Kirk’s stuff”¦

I would say the best thing I have is a poster from the tour we did with Raven, from a gig in Bald Knob, Arkansas [in the Eighties]. The show was basically on a slab of cement in the middle of a field filled with insects. There was a guy on the side selling catfish sandwiches.

It reminds you how far you’ve come?

Yeah. The poster itself says, “Raven: Number One Metal Band in Europe.” Which was not exactly true. Then below, it says, “Metallica: Potential to Become US Metal Gods.”

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