Big Noise Archive:
Metallica's Jason Newsted 1992 interview
Note: The following is
the first interview that Metallica granted after winning
their very first Grammy Awards. The interview was conducted
on the evening of February 15, 1992, two weeks before the
band appeared at the Providence Civic Center in Providence,
Metallica : Stand By Your Fan
by Al Gomes and A. Michelle
The Nice Paper
First published on February 27, 1992
Besides the Grateful Dead, no other major American rock act has done more to incite the riotous loyalty of their fans than Metallica.
After-show autograph sessions in their tour bus, audio and video recording sections at their concerts (encouraging instant bootlegs), mosh pits in the center of their stage, and free listening parties at Madison Square Garden have all helped to erase the enigmatic line that separates performer from fan. Metallica knows that it isn't the critics that pay the bills and that the kids are indeed alright.
The band's mercurial rise to chart prominence with the commercial success of both 1988's '...And Justice For All' and their new eponymously-titled album (simply 'Metallica') caught more than a handful of nay-sayers off guard, but it came as no surprise to their vast family of fanatic devotees.
To the first legion of followers, Metallica's sound was as arresting as the crunch of a car slamming into a tree - hard, fast, loud, and death-defying. Hard rockers that spurned the barking of safety-pin punk and the castrato screech of spandex jumped all over the sonic boom that blasted out of songwriter James Hetfield and company's collectively amplified psyche. Their debut 1983 LP, 'Kill 'Em All,' has inspired as many innovators and imitators as 'Meet the Beatles,' 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols,' and R.E.M.'s 'Murmur' did for their respective generations.
Metallica was not content to reiterate any album, however successful, and again upped the ante of their musical gamble when they returned to the studio to cut 'Metallica.' Responding quickly to requests for shorter tunes ('Touring behind ...And Justice, the general consensus was that the songs were too fuckin' long,' said lead guitarist Kirk Hammett) and eager to explore new frontiers beyond CNN (the basis for many of Hetfield's lyrics), the band hired producer Bob Rock and punched out twelve concise rounds that propelled the band to the top of the charts and around the world on one of the year's most successful tours (at a time when things are tough for artists on the road).
'We're number one completely on our own terms,' says Hetfield. He ain't kidding. When it comes to their music and their fans, Metallica sports a no-bullshit approach, exemplified by an unflinching rejection of superficial music business trappings. And it's this hard-won confidence that was readily apparent when we spoke with bassist Jason Newsted.
The Nice Paper: When did the tradition of talking to the fans after the show start?
Jason Newsted: I think ever since the beginning, ever since I've been in the band, anyway. It's always been there and it's continued to be very important to us. We're very conscious of making sure that it happens every night and even on nights off, as it were, when kids line up outside the hotel or maybe find us at a club. As you already know, Metallica has always gone out of their way to keep the intimacy, to keep the bond there. It's very important to us. We know where the bread and butter is coming from and it's important to us to keep the strength and the loyalty intact.
The Nice Paper: With your growing popularity, has it become harder to maintain the tradition?
Jason Newsted: Yes, it has. That's just the way it is. With more people that's just what's going to happen. We just have to have a bit more patience, that's all. So far it hasn't been a problem.
The Nice Paper: Do you ever ditch security after the show?
Jason Newsted: Personally, I do. I can't really answer for anybody else, but so far there's been at least a handful of times on this tour that I've walked outside by myself, just to hang out, have a beer and talk to the kids. I'm not really very fearful about somebody wanting to hurt me or something that would cross other people's minds - like a psycho fan that you see in the movies or something like that. I've never been really fearful of that. And I also think that if anybody ever did mess with any of us, that the however many other number of people that were also there would take care of them within a matter of seconds.
The Nice Paper: It's kind of like having fifteen thousand bouncers.
Jason Newsted: Exactly. That's what happens. The other night, some kid threw a bottle at James, and that's totally uncalled for, absolutely.
The Nice Paper: Did he get hurt?
Jason Newsted: No. It just missed him. He got pissed off and said, 'Throwing shit, that's not fair. Because I can't see where it came from so I don't have a chance to retaliate. So what kind of shit is that? I don't come here to get stuff thrown at me. I'm here to have fun with my friends. So if any of you guys happened to see where that came from, could you take care of that for me?' And I looked up to where he was pointing, and all of a sudden it was like in the cartoons where there's smoke and stars and Bing! Bang! Boom! like in Batman.
The Nice Paper: There's not a Walkman to be found in any of the stores around Providence, RI this week. How did the taping section start?
Jason Newsted: The idea stemmed from the Grateful Dead. They've always let people record their shows. It's not completely new to us. At one time it was only audio. Now it's audio, video, whatever you want. And there's just so much bootleg stuff happening with Metallica. We're a very collectible type of band. Kids are really into getting every single possible type of thing that they can have. There's just hundreds of bootleg albums and bootleg videos, shirts, everything.
The Nice Paper: Many artists would be cautious about this kind of thing, especially since monetarily it could be quite damaging.
Jason Newsted: It doesn't really affect anything retail. The way that we view it, it's pretty much just adding fuel to the fire. It's not really worth the effort of trying to make up for it or to try to chase people down. It's not really worth our time or the headaches. We put it into the kind of perspective that this is the ultimate souvenir or memento that a person can take from the show. It's a Metallica live album that they produced or the Metallica movie that they filmed themselves that they can narrate or put in their own little other pieces and edit and make a cool personal thing that they made with their own hands and their own machine.
Jason Newsted: Yeah. It's the ultimate souvenir that you could possibly have. It's just one more thing that we can give.
The Nice Paper: And now you've even gone to the trouble of making your fans a part of the show.
Jason Newsted: Yes. The Snakepit. It's the eye of the hurricane. The stage is shaped like an arrowhead. The butt of the arrowhead is back up against one end of the hall and the point thrusts out into the arena. There's four front rows and nine microphones all the way around the stage. There's two drum sets. Kirk's got five different pedal things set up. And the idea was that at any time, any city, any show, any song, the focal point would always be different. James could be doing a lead vocal from the 3:00 mike, and I could be doing a backing from the 6:00 mike. And then the next song, he could be doing it from the high noon mike and I could be doing it from over here at the 9:00 mike. And back around. And then Lars could be on the left hand drum set turned 45 degrees toward the Snakepit. The show is in the round, but it's not 'in the round' in the aspect of say Diana Ross or Yes, not just sitting in the center. Tickets are sold all the way around and there's no obstructed view. No amps on stage. Nothing like that. It's just us and our instruments. Everything comes up from underneath. There's 32,000 watts of monitors that blast up from underneath the grills all the way around the stage.
The Nice Paper: And the pit is right in the middle?
Jason Newsted: The pit is a smaller arrowhead that's in the very center of the stage. It's elevated up just a little bit so that your head and arms are at stage level. So we're just milling around you and spitting, sweating, and whatever - wiping boogers on you the whole time. So it is the eye of the hurricane. We're around you constantly. I actually get in there every once in a while myself.
The Nice Paper: How do fans get in there?
Jason Newsted: There's two access points from the side. You have to come up from underneath the stage.
The Nice Paper: How did you guys come up with this?
Jason Newsted: Actually it ended up like a cool mistake. The pit was going to be an effects pit at first. We were going to have crosses come up during the 'Master of Puppets' segment, and a 'Justice' statue during that segment, a 'Ride the Lightning' thing, etc. All these different little effects were going to pop up out of there. But it was going to be really tough to bring it to realization, you know? It was just too expensive and too much trouble for the carpenters to work out. So we started talking about big orchestras, you know, like the Royal Philharmonic in London, and the New York Philharmonic. They have seats where you pay a little bit more and you sit on the stage with the band. That idea blossomed into having kids in the stage. They can't actually be on the stage with us but they're as close as possible. So we're surrounded. There's no place to hide. There's kids on the outside, there's kids on the inside. We're not separated. Even when, like tonight, we're playing to 18,000 people in Denver, we still try to keep the intimacy as much as we can by being right within the audience the whole time. That's really how the Snakepit came to be. The first 40 people are radio contest winners from local stations. Then after that MTV and magazine contest winners. And then friends and family, and then special people we see. For instance, if a kid comes in with an old, grey, battered 'Kill 'Em All,' 'Ride the Lightning,' or 'Metal Up Your Ass' shirt, you can tell that he's been with us for a long time. So we put him in the Snakepit. And that's how it gets filled up. There's usually about 80 to 100 people in there. If you have a Snakepit pass, you have open access in and out. You can go back out into the gig if you want to or you can stay in the pit.
The Nice Paper: 'Metal Up Your Ass?'
Jason Newsted: That was way back when. 'Kill 'Em All' was originally going to be called 'Metal Up Your Ass.' That was the saying, the logo, the attitude behind the whole thing at that time. Kids would chant it and there's still a 'Metal Up Your Ass' shirt. It has the hand with the sword coming up out of a toilet. That's still one of the biggest sellers today as far as the T-shirts are concerned.
The Nice Paper: Your new album cover must have thrown the record company for a loop when you came to them and said it was going to be black. What did they say?
Jason Newsted: They don't say much.
The Nice Paper: Do you have a clause in your contract which guarantees you complete artistic control over your album packages?
Jason Newsted: Yeah. They don't mess with the formula, you know. They don't mess with something that has proven itself.
The Nice Paper: We read somewhere that the reason for the album cover was that you were tired of all the cliches, all the blood and guts, and the mascots that other metal bands have.
Jason Newsted: Well,
it's not that we haven't aided it all along and played our
part. (Laughs) It was just, you know, here we are in a new
decade, and we wanted to get a fresh start. Kind of a stronger,
simpler, more-to-the-point type of music and that idea just
kind of carried through with the album cover and the photos
and everything. We're trying to keep it very to-the-point.
The new songs have been going down really well, so I guess
it seems to be working. The album has sold way more than
the last album. In 6 months this album has done 4.2 (million).
And 'Justice' did 3.2 (million) in 3 years.
The Nice Paper: How's the tour going so far?
Jason Newsted: It's amazing. It's surprising us. We can't figure it out because of the way the economy is, and big entertainers like Natalie Cole are having trouble. Even when they put four or five bands together and try to get 10,000 people into an arena, they're having trouble. Metallica is playing by themselves with no opening act and we're selling out here in Denver to 14,000 people.
The Nice Paper: In the bio that we received from Elektra, it says that there are six questions that you should never ask Metallica.
Jason Newsted: Oh no. Please don't ask those questions that are in there. Pleassse...
The Nice Paper: Question number 1 that you should never ask Metallica - 'What's it like being at the forefront of the thrash metal movement?'
Jason Newsted: I wouldn't know, really. (Laughs) Thrash metal... I know you've heard this a million times - but I think that Metallica has so much more to offer than just playing fast. Metallica definitely started a new thing in the '80s. We definitely had something to do with influencing a number of bands to do what they're doing now and that is a complement to us. It's a good thing, but we haven't sat there and thought, 'Well, what are they going to think if we change this or that?' or 'What are they going to think if we do that?' We've just done our thing. It worked and it made some people happy. Any band that has any kind of substance is going to grow and take chances, with different musics and instruments and go outside their realm a little bit. And that's kind of what Metallica has always done, just grown each time they make a record and each time they do a tour.
The Nice Paper: Question number 2 that you should never ask Metallica - 'Making a record with Bob Rock is equal to selling out, right?'
Jason Newsted: No. It's equal to growing up and learning a bit more about what our band is about and what we are able to achieve and what we can do when we put our heads together and really concentrate. That's what producing a record with Bob Rock is all about.
The Nice Paper: We must confess that it wasn't until this latest record with Bob Rock that we became fans.
Jason Newsted: That's true for a lot of people these days. But that's fine with me because you've got to start somewhere. And then you can work backwards and discover the other stuff. So whether you started with Metallica in '82 and worked up to now, or whether you start in '92 and work backwards to catch up, it doesn't matter as long as you're part of the family. That's what matters now.
The Nice Paper: Question number 3 that you should never ask Metallica - 'How can you play heavy metal, seeing as it's so sexist?'
Jason Newsted: Well, I've never even thought about it like that. We've never been a band that sang about anything that had to do with anybody being one sex or another. James' lyrics have always been an open thing to whoever it was that was listening to it, whether you were a man or a woman or otherwise. That's just the way it is. We never sang about fast cars or doing girls. Metallica has a lot more to say than that.
The Nice Paper: Question number 4 that you should never ask Metallica - 'Read any good books lately?'
Jason Newsted: I'm reading 'The Stand' by Stephen King, and 'I Am the Blues,' Willie Dixon's autobiography.
The Nice Paper: How do you like it?
Jason Newsted: It's wonderful. I'm a very big blues fan and very into Willie Dixon. Have been for a while. Let's see, what else have I got going? 'The Vitamin Bible,' I've been reading that.
The Nice Paper: Are you a 'Health Person?'
Jason Newsted: Yeah, I try to be. I have a couple of beers, but I don't do any drugs or anything like that, and I always take my vitamins and eat right and exercise and drink a lot of water. All that. The live thing is what I live for, so if I'm not at 200 percent like I have to be every night, then I don't feel strong and I don't feel right. When you're playing 2 1/2 hours every night, flying every day with a lot of climate changes, it's very important to keep yourself together as much as possible. When you do things like hard drugs and drink a lot, it's only going to tear you up. You're not going to be at your potential. I can't say that I didn't have my time way back, when I, of course, tried these different things. But I've come around to see that I cannot do that and perform.
The Nice Paper: Question number 5 that you should never ask Metallica - 'Where do you keep your Grammys?'
Jason Newsted: They're on the mantel in the sitting room of my California house. I have a house in Michigan and in California.
The Nice Paper: Do you have anything on your mantel besides your Grammys?
Jason Newsted: Let's see. I don't know if there's Bammys (Bay Area Music Awards) up there or if the Bammys are in a separate place. My girlfriend moves them around. The Grammys always stay but the Bammys get moved around. For us in the Bay Area, that's a pretty big deal, receiving Bammys. That's as big as a Grammy to us, actually.
The Nice Paper: This brings us to the last question that you should never ask Metallica - 'What's it all about?'
Jason Newsted: The Metallica crew is a family. There's 70 of us. Most of the crew guys have been out with us for years. Some of them are new - the big stage requires more hands. When people get asked to go on a Metallica tour these days, they drop everything else in order to do that because they know about the relationship that the band has with the crew. I think that's unique at this level. We hear stories about some of these other bands. When we're not on the road, these guys go in teams - lighting team, sound team - on to other tours. And we hear stories about other bands that don't even recognize these guys. The bands work with the same guys for a year, and they don't even know their names. 'Oh you work for us? What do you do?' Things like that. It's not a relationship like Metallica has with their crew. It's a big family and therefore it makes the show happen every night in a big way. Everybody from carpenters to the lighting guy to the sound guy to me, playing bass - we all work hard for each other to make this thing happen. We're all proud to do our job and to make everybody else happy and proud of what they're doing. It's really good chemistry. So to answer your question, 'What's it all about?' I think it's about pride. I think it's all about being happy with yourself, making something of yourself. That's what it's all about for me.
Metallica celebrated Leap Year on February 29, 1992 at the Providence Civic Center.
Metallica Official Website
Home >> Artists A-Z >> Metallica
Big Noise Archive Interviews >> The Police Interview
Big Noise Archive Interviews >> The Ramones Interview
All Big Noise Interviews
Christina Aguilera and Big Noise Team Up