Tom Trakas of Chicago's now-defunct Midwest Metal magazine conducted an interview with METALLICA drummer Lars Ulrich on September 5, 2008. A few excerpts from the chat, which can be found on Trakas' None But My Own blog, follow below.
None But My Own: I'm sure at certain points in METALLICA's life you've been completely overwhelmed with press, where are you in 2008 in regards to promoting "Death Magnetic"?
Lars: Generally, because we've been touring all summer, [when we're out] we try to keep it to about two to three hours per day because any more than that then it starts to affect the show. But back in the '90s we used to go on these crazy fucking promo trips where you'd spend like two weeks in Europe or the Far East or wherever. While you're there, you'd do like eight to ten hours a day for, like I said two or three weeks straight. That would drive you fucking crazy because you'd be sitting there and literally [in the middle of an interview] you couldn't remember if the point you were about to make, whether you already said it to that guy or to the guy a half an hour ago (laughing)! It's been crazy though, we've got some shows coming up next week so we've been rehearsing and while we're doing that we're trying to keep it to a few hours a day. I did do a full day in Copenhagen which was like, eight to ten hours or so but we haven't done any of the full-on things, I suppose we're just trying to preserve our sanity, but it sure feels like at any time it can go!
None But My Own: Back after the success of 1991's self-titled "Black" album there was a cover story in Issue #38 of Classic Rock magazine, it had a photo of you and the caption was something like "Lars Ulrich, this man simply did not want to settle for being the 'next' IRON MAIDEN"…
None But My Own: But my thing is, you had the balls to actually dream that dream, and more or less set this goal for your band and sonofabitch if it didn't happen.
Lars: I gotta tell ya, man, that's a little far-fetched, I mean if someone would've told me in 1981 or '82 that maybe one day we could be equals or even in their shadows (pause) listen, IRON MAIDEN is a different generation. I'll always look up to IRON MAIDEN because I grew up looking up to IRON MAIDEN. The rest of all that is up to the other people to figure the rest out. Like I said, I'll always look up to IRON MAIDEN, I had IRON MAIDEN posters on my wall growing up. Talk about bands holding a place in your heart, IRON MAIDEN holds a very special place in my heart. Yes, we've been fortunate enough to, at least in America, to have bigger numbers or whatever but if you or anyone would've told me in 1981 when James and I started this band that one day we might be able to be mentioned in the same breath as IRON MAIDEN, it would've blown our minds. We were not as goal oriented as the press in England tagged us to be, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Maybe later, by the time you could sense that whatever it was that we were doing was kind of working and turning people on, we're talking about the late '80s. But when we started? We couldn't fathom any of this and we simply did not have such goals. When we started it was drink some beers or some Goldschläger or Schnapps or whatever horrible shit we were drinking and get together to play our favorite heavy metal songs. The first six months the band was together we didn't even write any songs! I mean we had "Hit The Lights" and then the next ten songs we had were all covers, it wasn't until "Jump In The Fire" with (Dave) Mustaine, that's when we thought, "OK, it's kinda fun writing your own songs." (laughs) Those first few whatever was just about having a good time and sweating it out and banging into some shit. A few years later, there was a turning point and you may have heard me talk about this before, but there's a few turning points for METALLICA that can be looked at upon and this was one of them. I remember the last date of the Ozzy tour and this would be James' birthday, so that's August 3, 1986 in Hampton, Virginia, and our manager, Cliff Burnstein, came down from New York for the last show. So we're all sitting there in the back of the bus and he said, "You've now sold enough records and you've made enough money to go and buy houses." We'd been on the Ozzy tour, at that point for five months. All of us, band and crew on one bus, drinking twelve hours a day, fucking, just living every crazy fantasy about girls and heavy metal and being on the road. We were completely blissfully ignorant to what was going on, you know on that side of it. I remember Cliff [Burton] sitting there and going, "Fuuucccckkk, I can buy a house," and the rest of us were, I mean the rest of didn't want to buy a house — we wanted to stay on tour (laughing)! We didn't want to go home! So yeah, I remember that day because it was like, "Whoa, you mean you can actually make money doing this? You can buy a house and buy shit?" And this was what? Five years into it? Then we did the VAN HALEN thing in the summer [Monsters of Rock in 1988] and then all fall we did Europe and then we came back to the States to start in November of 1988. We had AC/DC's production manager, Jake Berry, and we had a real stage show and we were playing the arenas and they booked two nights at Long Beach Arena and I seriously didn't think we could even sell one out, but we sold both out and that was another turning point. It was like, not only can you make enough money to buy a house, but you could make enough money to buy a big fucking house (laughs)!! But the first six years or so was ignorant bliss, four nerdy dudes out there banging away, having a lot of fun. But "Justice" was when we actually had to get it together as we were the headliners and we had a two-hour show to play every night, but you know after that it just kept building and all of a sudden you're making records with Bob Rock. But man, as far as IRON MAIDEN is concerned, I'm a fanboy of IRON MAIDEN, always will be. We did a few shows with them in Spain back in 1988 and it was us, ANTHRAX and IRON MAIDEN and it was like, "Fuck, we get to play with IRON MAIDEN," and we got a chance to hang back at the hotel and party with them. Dude it was super-cool. I'm super-psyched that they're still out there and kicking major fucking ass all over the world. I got to see them at Long Beach Arena four or five months ago and it was awesome! Steve Harris, I swear to god, I met Steve Harris for the first time in 1981 and it was the last show they ever played with Paul Di'Anno in Copenhagen, Denmark at a place the size of your living room. Steve Harris, when I saw them back in February of this year, he's the exact same guy, the exact same guy as the guy I met back in '81 except he's got longer hair now! How many dudes that are 50 years old have hair down to their ass? I mean why can't I grow my hair, what's up with that (laughs)?!
None But My Own: In your book [2004's] "So What!: The Good, The Mad, and The Ugly" in the Cliff tribute section, you write "I wish I could spend some time with Cliff in your current state of mind." please elaborate.
Lars: Sure. I think it would be interesting to sit here with kids and obviously twenty-seven years of doing this and have a slightly healthier outlook on life as well as a less narcissistic outlook. More open-minded, less linear or one track minded and all this stuff, so it'd be interesting to share some of that with him now. It would be very interesting to see what he would have contributed to some of the wackier paths METALLICA has gone on musically. He was so all over the place, very hard to pin point musically. He was very open to different and fucked up shit and I'm pretty sure he would've thought playing with the San Francisco Symphony would be way cool! I'm pretty sure he would've got off on the pummeling aggression of "St. Anger" but I'm not so sure he would necessarily agreed with the way it was kind of put together on a computer, but the naked aggression of that record, I do think he would've dug. He would have probably wanted a few more melodic elements on it, but in some ways he was quite contradictory, he was all about a lot of melody and stuff but at the same time "Damage Inc." was one of his favorite songs. So there was a lot of opposing energies going on and it would be great to just share with him the nuttiness that's going on right now.
None But My Own: Are you still the obsessive METALLICA collector you once were?
Lars: Increasingly less, but I do try to the best of my ability but at one point and we're talking a few years ago, it got so big it became difficult to handle. I have maybe the first one-hundred bootlegs that came out but during the "Black" album when we allowed everyone to start taping the shows it just became too much. I have most of the official stuff, but again it's hard to manage that too. You have to call the office and make sure you get two copies of the Spanish thing with the poster that's a different poster than the Portuguese one, so yeah it's a little much. I will tell you this, I have everything up until the mid-'90s, then you start having kids and stuff and you almost have no choice but to ease up. (laughing) I still have twenty-five, unopened "$5.98 Garage Days…" in the original long boxes, still shrink wrapped, so when the whole thing falls flat on its face, I can start eBay-ing those!
Read the entire interview from None But My Own.