METALLICA frontman James Hetfield was interviewed for the July 2009 issue of U.K.'s Classic Rock magazine. A few excerpts from the lengthy chat follow below.
Classic Rock: Were you glad to see the back of [former METALLICA guitarist and current MEGADETH leader] Dave Mustaine?
Hetfield: I don't know if "glad" is the right word, but it was necessary. There would have been myself, Lars [Ulrich, drums] and him all trying to drive and it would have been this triangulated mess. It's obvious that he had the same drive as us — he went on to do great things in MEGADETH. The way things are now, the character dynamics, Lars and I are one half of the scale with Rob [Trujillo, bass] and Kirk [Hammett, guitar] on the other. They're great idea people but very good at being okay with someone else driving. It does take that, I think. They're very un-ego-driven and Lars and I are the other way, it seems. That's what I've been told. [Laughs] So back then Dave had to go.
Classic Rock: In "Some Kind Of Monster", he seems fairly unhappy about that.
Hetfield: He's an amazing, talented person. Maybe just part of his character is having a chip on his shoulder. If I got kicked out of METALLICA, I would have one too. Ron McGovney, our first bass player — very big chip on his shoulder. They're never able to really be comfortable in the now, and that's tough to see. Lars did say that too in the interview: "Can't you see what you've done?" But none of that matters because he's chasing something unreachable.
Classic Rock: Were you uncomfortable with the band's new image for "Load"?
Hetfield: Most definitely. Lars and Kirk drove on those records. The whole "We need to reinvent ourselves" topic was up. Image is not an evil thing for me, but if the image is not you, then it doesn't make much sense. I think they were really after a U2 kind of vibe, Bono doing his alter ego.
I couldn't get into it. The whole, "Okay, now in this photoshoot we're going to be '70s glam rockers." Like, what? I would say half — at least half — the pictures that were to be in the booklet, I yanked out. The whole cover thing, it went against what I was feeling.
Classic Rock: What didn't you like about the cover?
Hetfield: [Laughs] How can I put this? I guess when I talked [earlier in the interview] about the resentments of being left out of the bond that they had through their drug use — Lars and Kirk were very into abstract art, pretending they were gay. I think they knew it bugged me. It was a statement around all that. I love art, but not for the sake of shocking others. I think the cover of "Load" was just a piss-take around all that. I just went along with the make-up and all of this crazy, stupid shit that they felt they needed to do.
Classic Rock: A lot was made of the haircuts at the time. Was that a group decision?
Hetfield: [Laughs] It wasn't like we went in together and went, "Hey, can we get a deal on four haircuts?" It just slowly happened, with age, thinning hair. Long hair just didn't feel right anymore.
Classic Rock: Musically, was that the first time METALLICA was unsure?
Hetfield: I would say so. That whole period. Why do we need to reinvent ourselves? A lot of the fans got turned off quite a bit by the music, but mostly, I think, by the image.
Classic Rock: Were you uneasy about Kirk and Lars kissing in the photographs?
Hetfield: Totally. That's why they did it. I'm the driving force behind their homosexual adventures. I think drugs had something to do with it too. I hope. [Laughs] There are many times in our career that people have jumped ship, and that's going to happen. It's more hurtful to hear, "Okay, people are stomping METALLICA records because they're suing Napster."