METALLICA's "performance coach" Phil Towle, a former psychotherapist who was brought into the picture in January 2001 to help James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich repair their relationship with Jason Newsted, spoke to the METALLICA-centric podcast "...And Podcast For All!" about the bassist's decision to leave the band 20 years ago. Asked if he thinks Jason "really legitimately wanted to quit" METALLICA or he "just wanted to shock" the other members "enough to where they would either change their ways or beg him to stay," Towle said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Have you ever had a fight with your wife? When we're fighting with our spouses or significant others or good friends or whatever, it's hard. It's easy to build up the animosity and the resentment when you're feeling uncomfortable. And I think that Jason — this is my second-hand knowledge — but I think that Jason, coming off of [late METALLICA bassist] Cliff's [Burton] reputation and the way that Cliff died so tragically, and that he was so instantly a replacement for Cliff, that he became what the guys would say a 'whipping boy.' He was the way that they grieved unhealthily. And Jason, because he was so — like anybody else — so grateful to be a part of the band, never felt like he could quite make it. He was hazed to the point where I think it blew because he'd had enough of something. And when we've had enough of something, then it's hard to go to somebody and say, 'Can we sit down and talk about this?' No. It's, 'Fuck you.' It's a straight head-on… It's, 'This is what I'm pissed off about.' So you have to ride that wave out. And because it was stunning, and because the band had certain resentments — the rest of the band had resentments — these are cumulative effects. And the fact that they never talked out — this is what Lars [Ulrich, METALLICA drummer] would say — the whole never really took the time to talk out the issues they were involved in, then this becomes an explosion. Then you have to pick up the pieces of it."
Towle continued: "I don't think [Jason] wanted to leave the band. I think he wanted to leave the reality of what existed. And this was the only way he could start to do something with it. And that triggered a whole bunch of things. That contributed to ultimately James [Hetfield, METALLICA frontman], months later, going into rehab. It wasn't the exact fact, but if you look at the overarching life of METALLICA and you see that they were trashing each other in Playboy magazine, in that interview, and you see then a month later they come in, or maybe two months later they come in — January of 2001, I think — and there's this kind of animosity, that Jason is acting out. He's the identified patient of the therapy, so he's acting this act. And then the fight ensued."
Newsted's exit from METALLICA was documented in the band's 2004 documentary, "Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster", which followed the members of the group through the three most turbulent years of their long career, during which they battled through addiction, lineup changes, fan backlash, personal turmoil and the near-disintegration of the group while making their "St. Anger" album.
While initially helping METALLICA towards restoring band harmony, the film shows Towle attempting to increasingly insert himself into the band's creative process, submitting lyrics for the album and even attempting to join them on the road.
"Some Kind Of Monster" also documented Hetfield's spiral into alcoholism and decision to check himself into a rehab facility. Hetfield's re-emergence from rehab is when the film really gets into gear, with the chief worry in his mind whether or not he could do METALLICA sober.
In a 2004 interview with The Kansas City Star, Towle spoke about being present when Newsted told the band he was leaving, though that scene isn't in "Some Kind of Monster". Asked how that went down, Towle said: "We'd been sitting around talking for about a half-hour when Jason says to me, 'I want to talk to the guys. Will you excuse me?' So I went into the other room in the suite. I could hear all this pain resonating from the room they were in, and after about 10 minutes, I went back in. Jason says, 'I don't want you in here.' I said, 'I was hired to be here, to work with you guys and your issues, and I can't in good faith stay in the other room.' There was silence. Then Lars says, 'Let him stay.'
"They were all jarred so much that a family member for 14 years was leaving for various reasons. They said, 'We gotta do something about this.' Here's what I offered: Rather than invest energy in being pissed at Jason, use this thing to explore the underlying issues of discomfort and conflict that led to his leaving.
"In a very dysfunctional family, Jason had the courage to stand up. He was the one who set in motion this process of calling everyone out. I'd read an old interview with METALLICA in Playboy in which the band members separately trashed each other. So now the conflict had come to a head."
Towle also spoke about the scene toward the end of "Some Kind Of Monster" documentary where he and James and Lars get into it over Phil's continued role with the band. Asked what happened there, Towle said: "The band was going through a moment of indecision about whether to continue with me and on what terms. I needed an answer. I said I gotta know because I'm thinking about moving out here. Off camera we had talks about continuing. So I really felt a little ambushed. I felt I'd had one understanding where I'd do it part time to resolve some issues.
"But it was also difficult for me to think about leaving. … I was with this one client every day for almost two and a half years. We started with two- and three-hour sessions, and then when things heated up as they made the album, I was in the studio every day. I just didn't want to leave the process, the intimacy. And I thought we had a deal in place. But, you know, the thing to come out of that was Lars coming to James's support. That really cemented things between them."
Newsted was METALLICA's third bassist, following Ron McGovney and the late Cliff Burton. Robert Trujillo took over in 2003 after Newsted's exit.
Jason spoke in detail about the reason he left METALLICA in a 2013 interview with Scuzz TV. Newsted said that his eventual split with the group was over the way his then-side band, ECHOBRAIN, was handled. Newsted explained: "The management of METALLICA was very, very excited about ECHOBRAIN, wanted to take it out for me, wanted me to do ECHOBRAIN also, with METALLICA. They felt ECHOBRAIN was that good, the singer was that good, and it didn't affect METALLICA because it was a totally different kind of thing, and I was in METALLICA; that would give it its pedigree already."
Newsted continued: "They had told me, pretty convincingly, 'This is a great record, we've been playing it around the office, that's all I’ve been hearing, it's fantastic, this kid has a great voice. Let's do something with this.' That's what they told me, and then James heard about it and was not happy. He was, I think, pretty much out to put the kibosh on the whole thing because it would somehow affect METALLICA in his eyes, because now the managers were interested in something I was doing that had nothing to do with him."
Newsted told The Pulse Of Radio a while back that he never saw how ECHOBRAIN could have interfered with METALLICA. "I never felt that it was going to affect METALLICA in any way," he said. "There was no way that it could. The monster and the integrity and the legend that METALLICA's built, it would take a lot more than that to ever affect it."
Newsted added, "The people that I had counted on for 15 years to help me with my career, help METALLICA, take care of my money, do all of those things, told me, 'Your new project is fantastic, we'd like to help you with it.' James heard about it, the manager calls me back a couple of days later — 'Sorry we're not going to be able to help you with that ECHOBRAIN thing.'"