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The Metallica Interview

Bassist Rob Trujillo talks about collaborating with Lou Reed on Lulu and the forthcoming Metallica album

Bobin James Oct 31, 2011
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Robert Trujillo, bassist for what is arguably the biggest metal band in the world, on their  India show, working with Lou Reed and their next album

In the thirty years that they have been around, Metallica has almost single-handedly brought metal into the mainstream, a move that got them both fans and detractors. But what is indisputable that they epitomise metal: Even if you are not a metal listener, you would still have heard of Metallica. They finally brought their juggernaut to India at the annual Rock ”˜n’ India festival in Bengaluru, on October 30.. The same weekend also saw the release of Lulu, a collaborative album with Velvet Underground founder Lou Reed. The band has
also started work on their 10th studio album, the follow-up to 2008’s Death Magnetic.
Before boarding the flight to India, bassist Robert Trujillo spoke to us from California about their India gig, the Big 4 series of shows and why metalheads might not like Lulu.

So, finally, India at last. It’s been a long while coming. What was the band’s first reaction, Rob, when you got the invitation to play in India?

Actually we’re very very excited. For us, we really really enjoy kind of reaching out to different fanbases around the world, so it’s a very special moment for us, because there’s a lot of mystique to India. And we would love to embrace that and experience that. And we also feel that not knowing the unchartered territory is exciting for us too, to bring our music to India because we’ve never been there.

Have you heard much of Indian music?

Well, most of the Indian music that I’ve kinda grown up listening to has everything a lot of stuff from Ravi Shankar to you know, there was a band called Shakti which came out in the Seventies, which I was a big fan of. And there was a great guitar player who’s actually English, his name is John McLaughlin, he played with L Shankar and a lot of these great musicians that were percussionists as well. So I have always loved the sound and the feel of Indian music. So I expect to hear a lot of that when we are there.

For me, the music of India is very powerful. There’s a tabla player called Zakir Hussain in India. And when I hear Zakir play, it reminds me of Slayer, it’s so powerful. He has the impact of the hardest, heaviest music. My wife and I saw him play about two years ago and it was just him and one other guy. And I tell you, it felt like ten heavy musicians playing the fastest hardest music ever. We know, we know the intensity is there. And I’m sure the audience will give us the same back.

Rob, it’s been a pretty busy year or two for Metallica. There’s been Big 4, there’s Lulu, there’s also the rumoured new album. I wanted to speak a bit about each. First of all, Big 4. How was it, especially for James and Lars, hanging out with fellow musicians leaving all the bad blood, real and imagined, behind?

Basically, the Big 4 was a great experience because it really did reunite James especially with Dave Mustaine from Megadeth. Coming into that the whole idea of Big 4, the first thing that came up was “Oh, wow, what’s it gonna be like being around Dave Mustaine again?” and to be honest, it was fine. We had a dinner the night before the first Big 4 show. And you know Dave obviously was there and in a situation like that, you leave all the bad blood behind and you come into a fresh start. And it really became a celebration of the music and focussing on the future and focussing on the positives of the experience. So Dave was great.

At one point for me, standing on the side of the show, when Megadeth was playing, I saw James Hetfield going over to Dave’s area, where his guitars are – kind of his little zone – and James was just standing and watching them, headbanging a little bit in appreciation of what Dave Mustaine was doing, as Dave was singing and performing. And that was a special moment. I also thought it was very interesting how the only two guys wearing white shirts out of all the thousands of people around the stage area were Dave and James [laughs].

You are somebody who has actually opened for Metallica and Slayer early on in your career. How was it for you personally, hanging around with these guys?

You know, for me, it was such a lot of fun, because I have toured with all of these guys. All of these bands, I have history with. The first tour I ever did, the first big tour I ever did, was [when I was with] Suicidal Tendencies. We were opening for Anthrax in Europe. I think that was somewhere around 1989 and so that was an experience for me. It was a very special moment. Now of course, Anthrax is opening for us, but it takes me back to that time when I had my first real live experience on stage with these types of bands. And Anthrax kinda helped to bring me into that world. Just because as Suicidal Tendencies, we were able to open for them on a bigger stage. That was a big deal. We are playing arenas in Europe with Anthrax, yeah! And we had not done that before. So that was a kind of a step up for us.

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And then of course, with Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies had done Clash of the Titans back in 1991 and that was with Megadeth and Slayer, and we eventually opened for Megadeth for a tour run, back around the same time. And of course, we toured with Metallica in ’93 and ’94. So all those bands have a history with me personally and the fact that they had never shared the same stage on the same day was always interesting to me. I was like, “Why didn’t that happen? That doesn’t make sense to me personally.” So I actually started to propose it a long time ago. Just like “Wow, wouldn’t it be great if we all did a show?” and gradually over the years, pretty much James Hetfield kinda took the torch so to speak and helped bring this to reality. He became excited about the idea. And my wife and I had dinner with Kerry King a few times a couple of years ago and he even thought it was a great idea. So it started to kind of work itself into reality and fruition and became what it is today. It’s great to have been a part of that, through the process.

Are you planning to continue the Big 4 series of concerts? Any chance of us in India getting to see it?

I’m not sure. I gotta tell you, with the Big 4, I think right now we’ve got bands in different places. Meaning that Metallica is just now starting to write music for a new record, a new album. Anthrax is done with their new album. Their CD is already coming out. Same with Megadeth. Slayer hasn’t even started writing yet. So everyone is in different places with their creative process right now. Some of the bands are finished, some of the bands haven’t even started. So that’s a tough question to answer right now. I think the last show for this tour cycle for the Big 4 shows was definitely the Yankees Stadium that we just did a few weeks ago. Beyond that I don’t know. I think that would be something that would happen towards the end of a tour cycle for us.

We’re just kinda getting back into gear, getting ready to record and we’re excited about that. And then we have to do our own shows. So it will be a few years, a couple of years, before we get into”¦ but you never know”¦ with that said, in the world of Metallica, anything is possible. Next year, something could come up, “Hey, we’ve got a really great Big 4 show opportunity,” and we’ll end up going there. So I can’t really say. But I would hope so. But it’s not on the charts right now.

Speaking about Lulu, your project with Lou Reed. I know it germinated during the Hall of Fame concert. And I believe he already had the songs ready. So you guys just came in and did the music, is that right?

Right, yes. I will just kinda give you a brief history and rundown. We had performed with Lou Reed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a couple of years ago in New York City. After the show, Lou Reed was very excited and said, “I wanna record an album with you guys.” And we thought, “Oh yeah, that would be great.” But we didn’t think he would really really pursue this. But he did. Lou surprised us by actually being very motivated ad pursuing this opportunity. So it ended up possibly becoming a kind of a collaborative effort on his songs from the past. He thought it would be a better idea for Metallica to sort of collaborate with him on his lyrics. And Lou Reed had a body of lyrics that pertain to the play Lulu which was coming out of Germany. But he wasn’t really satisfied where it was going instrumentally or musically. And that’s when he decided to present this to us. And we basically just jammed. A lot of it is just spontaneous. We listened to his words and we figured out what we thought sonically and musically, what would go well with that”¦

Was this jam just the four of you or did it also include Lou?

No, no, it was with Lou. I mean, initially we came up with some ideas on our own. And then we got together with Lou and then it was literally like get on the floor, Lou has a microphone and we’re gonna make the music with the basic idea of what we thought would be interesting in conjunction with the lyrics. And it was almost like literally, press record and Lou would start doing his thing and we would start playing. We would nurture the jam around the dynamics of his lyrics and his performance. And that’s how Lulu was really really created. And this was a great opportunity for us because it helped us open creative quarters and areas of our ability that we hadn’t explored together. Especially for me with Metallica – it’s like, I’ve done this before, in the past with other musicians and other bands – but Metallica has never done this and I had certainly had never done this with Metallica. So it was a really fun experience. James and I actually had a lot of fun with this.

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Do you think it’s an album that you might take out on tour?

We don’t know yet. I mean, we are gonna do a few shows, we’re gonna do some performances in Europe and they’re really gonna be centred around more TV shows, like Jools Holland. As far as a full-on tour, we’ll see”¦ we’d like to. It’s just that we’ll see what happens in the next couple of months. We’ll probably do a couple of shows in New York, ’cos that’s where Lou’s home is. And I think that would be something that he would really want and embrace. I know Lars is very interested in taking the Lou Reed/Metallica shows to Europe, at least a handful of shows. But we’ll see”¦ it’s a bit of a nurturing process for us right now. Both of us are just so busy, it’s pretty crazy right now.

Rob, the reactions to the snippets from Lulu that you’ve put up online, they’ve been extreme at both ends. People have either loved it or they have hated it. Were you expecting that kind of a reaction?

Oh, of course. Absolutely. I would have been surprised if it would have been anything different. The beauty in this”¦ and something with the Metallica fans, I think they’re waiting, they’re always waiting. And then when they have something that’s new and if they don’t like it or they don’t agree with it, they get a bit hysterical [laughs]. I guess you could use that word. Because they think, “Oh my god, this is the new Metallica! Oh wow, I can’t handle this.” The reality is that there’s many sides to Metallica and we have fun doing what we do. And this is one side of Metallica that we’ve explored with Lou Reed who we have a lot of respect for. And whether people like it or not like it, the beauty in it is, it is what it is, but there’s always gonna be more Metallica. So they don’t need to get too scared or freaked out by this.

This is definitely not for everybody. I knew this and we knew this going into that. There are gonna be fans, there are gonna be new fans that really love it, that appreciate it so they’re probably gonna wanna be part of Metallica’s music for the future. And there’s gonna be the old fans and fans from the past, a lot of metalheads, that are gonna not appreciate it. Because they don’t understand it, you see? A lot of it is understanding the lyrics and also understanding the fact that it is related to a play called Lulu. And you just kinda jump into the music and it’s hard to embrace for some people.

We really love it, and we think it’s great. Again, but we’re part of it, it’s something that we helped create, so we’re gonna feel close to it. It’s just an extension of what we do and what we explored. That’s all. People don’t need to worry too much about it. If people don’t like it, you know, don’t listen to it [laughs]. At the end of the day, there’s gonna be more metal, there’s plenty of metal to go around, and plenty of music to go around in our world. We’re just happy to have been part of it. And hopefully it will grow on people and they’ll learn to appreciate it for what it is. It’s hard to appreciate it at first.

Speaking about Metallica albums, how’s the new Metallica record coming along? Do you have any datelines on it yet? I was told that you are getting into a recording studio right after this interview”¦

Well, we’re just starting the process right now. We’re going into the studio actually today to work on a couple of new ideas. That’s very very exciting. There are a couple of songs. There’s a really fast one and then a really power groove jam. I don’t even have a title for you on the songs, but I can tell you this, the stuff is great. And the scary thing is that we have still most of next year to record and write and we’ve got a lot of ideas and it is a long process. But I can tell you it’s not gonna be as long as it was last time. During the last process of writing, we had five children born in the Metallica camp [laughs]. So there were a lot of starts and stops along the way. So I personally think that in a way, Death Magnetic was a launch pad or a starting block for the music that we’re gonna be doing here. And it’s very exciting, because really we all feel we’ve gotten better since that and you know we played so many shows and we jammed. And even the Lou Reed experience has helped us grow. We’ve really grown over the last few years and I think it will show in our music. Again, we’re still a long way off. I can say that the mood is positive. We were with Rick Rubin the other day, we’re gonna be with him today. So the machine is up and running and we’re ready to move forward.

Photo Credit: Soren Starbird

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