METALLICA guitarist Kirk Hammett says that he was "pretty shocked" that he got the "blessings" from all of his bandmates to release his debut solo EP, "Portals", especially considering that METALLICA's former bassist Jason Newsted famously left the group more than two decades ago over the way his then-side project ECHOBRAIN was handled.
"It was amazing because our band has not had a lot of great progress with band members going solo, as everyone knows," Hammett told Rolling Stone in a new interview. "But all that went down almost 20 years ago, and we're such different people now. We're all just older, wiser, and more mature. Well, I don't know if we're wiser, but we're definitely older, and a little bit more mature, a little bit more responsible. So something like this takes on a different sort of meaning now than it would have 20 years ago."
Asked what has changed since the 2001 interview METALLICA gave to Playboy magazine in which frontman James Hetfield said, "When someone does a side project, it takes away from the strength of METALLICA," Hammett said: "Well, we kind of see it like this: We're not musicians, we're artists. Ethically, morally, and creatively, it's wrong to deny someone the opportunities to express themselves and create. And I think that's kind of where everyone is sitting right now. Also, now we're so much more accepting of what happens in our lives because so much stuff has happened to us in the last 20 years — so much stuff has happened in the last five years.
"I think we're a little bit more aware of our own mortality and how much more time we have as functioning artists, musicians, and band members," he continued. "So there are other things that are more important to consider, like the longevity of the group, the mental health of the group, the creative energy of the group.
"And those guys know I ain't fucking going anywhere. METALLICA is my fucking bed. METALLICA is my home, and it would be fruitless to leave the band because, if I did, people would be reminding me every single day of how I was the METALLICA guitar player. I don't want to be put in a situation where I have to resist that. I want to always fucking be seen as just another guy in METALLICA trying to make the best music along with these other three guys because that's basically what we do. That's our calling. It's what the freaking universe wants us to do. I think along those lines."
Jason spoke in detail about the reason he left METALLICA in a 2013 interview with Scuzz TV. 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.'"
During last year's chat with Apple Music's Zane Lowe, METALLICA drummer Lars Ulrich said that Newsted's decision to leave METALLICA in 2001 "now makes complete sense."
"We write the songs; we make the decisions; we do all of it," Lars said. "You have no creative outlet in this band; you have no creative voice. And then when you go and do something that gives you satisfaction and a way for you to express yourself to the rest of the world, then we get fucking pissed at you. And then that resentment then goes to you leaving the band. I mean, that's kind of Psychiatry 101 here. But we weren't equipped to see that side of it. Twenty years later, so now it makes complete sense."
Ulrich added: "Jason gave 14 years — every day, every performance, he was there always... I mean, we always used to joke. It's, like, 'He's so fired up. Come on, dude. Slow down.' He was the fucking first guy in and the last guy out. He was signing autographs when we were driving by waving on the way out of the buildings. I mean, he really was. And I now [am] finally equipped to appreciate every moment that he gave. And we have, I think, so much respect for each other now, so much appreciation. Ten years ago, when we did the 30th anniversaries, when he came up and played four nights with us at the four Fillmore shows, played two nights with us, seeing Rob [Trujillo, current METALLICA bassist] and him together up there, that felt like it was the beginning of the thawing of where we are now."
"Portals", an all-instrumental four-song EP, is being released today (Saturday, April 23) digitally and on CD and "ocean blue" vinyl for Record Store Day. The effort was recorded in Los Angeles, Paris, and Oahu and was produced by Hammett, who drew inspiration for the songs from horror movies, classical music, and the work of Ennio Morricone, whose "The Ecstasy Of Gold" has been opening METALLICA live shows since 1983.
Photo credit: Ross Halfin