JAMES HETFIELD On METALLICA's Songwriting Process: 'We're Out For The Best Songs'

November 28, 2016

METALLICA frontman James Hetfield was recently interviewed by Steffan Chirazi of So What!, the band's official fan-club magazine, about METALLICA's new album, "Hardwired… To Self-Destruct". A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.

So What!: It feels to me like it's the first record in maybe 25 years that has been made with the full comfort of you and Lars [Ulrich, drums] driving this ship. In the sense of, everyone brings their flavor and ingredient, you're all in the band, but you're not struggling for songwriting democracy. Does that sound accurate?

Hetfield: "There's definitely truth to that, but I would say that we're out for the best songs. And wherever the material comes from is where it comes from. And we're not trying to be exclusive and we're not trying to be, you know, all-inclusive where everyone's gotta feel good. It's 'Here's what's best for the band. These are the best riffs we have. These are the best parts and we're gonna put ‘em together.' So I wouldn't read into that too much about the contribution, the non-contribution, all of that. You know, after being in a band for 35 years there are times when someone's more creative than the other person and you know, you don't see it as much in METALLICA as maybe some other bands, where [it's] 'Well, this is really his album. This was a lot of his stuff, and this is more his stuff!' It's always been the best it can be for METALLICA."

So What!: Sure, okay. But it feels that there was a point of comfort achieved with recognizing that balance between all of you on this album, and with this process, that maybe there wouldn't have been even three or four years ago. Is that fair comment?

Hetfield: "That is a fair comment. I would say that between the four of us there is an understanding that Lars and I have shared the steering wheel since day one on this, and why deny that, or why try to change that? Accept it and embrace it, and try new things."

So What!: Talking about sharing that steering wheel as you have, I think, and you will correct me, you're someone who enjoys playing a little more on the fly. And I think Lars is maybe someone who has in the past enjoyed being maybe a little more surgical in the process. How much of an influence did the way you worked on the "Lulu" material have when it came to doing this stuff? Because Greg [Fidelman, producer] told me that several of these songs were basically recorded live off the floor, and as I discussed with Lars, to me it's been the shortest mix period you've ever had for a record.

Hetfield: "I would say that having the honor of Lou Reed in our studio, him, you know, kind of driving or I would say steering the ship in the way he saw that record, and how he worked… he's really… I don't want to say 'was,' but yeah, he was a true artist. That moment happened. We recorded it, and he wasn't doing it again. [Speaking as Lou] 'I don't think I could do it again, and if I could it's just gonna be confusing. Why do I have to decide? I've done it.' You know, things like that. A little more 'trusting your craft' or 'trusting the moment' with Lou. And you know, you can get very, very analytical about all of that, pathologize everything that happens all the time. 'He's just saying that because he really doesn't want to do it again!' Or, 'He thinks it's good, I think it could be better.' All that crap. But that's what makes art, art. If you're the creator then when you say you're done, you're done. When I come into the studio and when Lars starts, there's this thing that we joke about all the time. I'll just sit down and goof around, warm up or crunch around and get my sound together and he'll go, 'Hey, what was that? What was that? Na, nana, n-nah, n-nah nah? Play that again and do that.' It's like, 'Dude, I don't know what I played.' 'Play it back.' 'Oh, my God, can we move on? I mean, let's play!!!' He's really into documentation and knowing histories and maybe hoarding. But he has such a memory of things, and he's really afraid of any little moment not being highlighted. I'm glad he can do that, because I can't. So it's a great team. A great team, I tell you, because he'll hear something and go, 'That was amazing." And I'm thinking, 'I was just warming up,' or you know, "I wasn't even thinking!" He's like, 'Well, that's the key,' or 'Let's do more of that,' when I'm saying, 'Let's go forward; there's something better than that.' So it's a good combination. I don't like the word 'jamming,' but creating together and seeing what happens? There was not a lot of that in METALLICA until 'Lulu' showed up."

Read the entire interview at So What! (free registration required).

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