Exclusive Interview: Metallica's James Hetfield Talks "Through The Never" and More
Mon, 07 Oct 2013 07:27:12
"Music gave me life," smiles legendary Metallica frontman James Hetfield. "It's everything."
In turn, Hetfield's own music has given life to countless bands and millions of fans worldwide. It's the ultimate form of reciprocation as Metallica's legacy inspires endlessly. Now, they're about to inspire via another medium—film. The band's recently released Metallica Through the Never is the ultimate music experience on the big screen. Intertwining a thought-provoking and action-packed narrative featuring Dane DeHaan with equally explosive intimate live footage, it's unlike anything else to hit theaters ever. Metallica come to life like never before…
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, James Hetfield of Metallica discusses Through The Never, writing lyrics, the first time he saw The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, what's next, and so much more.
Metallica Through The Never really codifies the storytelling element of Metallica's music.
Thanks for sharing that thought with me! It was difficult. There are really two movies in one here. There's the narrative and the filmed footage of us live. It was tough to get both of those things on the same track. Which one is leading? Which one is telling the story? Is the music the background to whatever Trip is going through? Is his life just a metaphor of what the song is doing? The answer is all of that. There are times when I think the show is leading it, and there are times when the narrative is leading it. We had to really let go of the control. It's not like, "There's this concert footage with some narrative in it". It's both, and they both have to give and take to make it work.
As a songwriter, how important is it to tell stories? Your lyrics have always been vivid and cinematic.
I take that as a huge compliment because some of the music I love is soundtrack music to movies [Laughs]. Ennio Morricone has obviously been a big influence on me and how his work moves you without the cinematic elements. Then, you add the visual to it, and it takes you to another level obviously. As far as storytelling and writing lyrically go, it has not been that. I've set out to tell stories, and it always ends up just so flat and scripted. It's like a history lesson [Laughs]. It's like I'm telling you something instead of what I'm feeling or what I'm going through thinking. A lot of times, I'll have a goal, I'll start writing, and I'll end up in some far off place, which is good. It's nice to have a focus, but letting the lyrics write themselves where they need to go is important.
The visuals of the film and the songs do coincide in an intriguing manner.
Yeah, there are a couple of scenes that really make my hair stand up on end and get my goose bumps going. I think of the "Wherever I May Roam" intro where Trip finds himself in the middle of conflict. He finds himself stuck between two decisions. The metaphor there is deciding which side he's on. He's actually stuck in the middle. Then, when "Cyanide" kicks in, it's poison. This riot is happening, and hate is rising from both sides. The rider, who is the embodiment of hatred, rises. He's half of each side, and he's the thing that kills man. There are tons of metaphors in this whole thing, which I love. I could talk for days about stuff like that!
At the end of the day, is the movie really about the journey music can take you on?
Well, I agree. Music is the soundtrack to my life. Certain bands have been that growing up. I associate times with certain music. It still is that for me. It's telling the story of our lives. Lyrically, I'm able to do that. I have the best job in the world. I'm able to express myself, and people attach themselves to it if they identify with it. Music certainly is a driving force in my life. There's not a moment where I'm not in it. Especially if I'm driving, music is on. Music is there. I'm able to let loose, warm up vocals, and get pumped up for something I'm going to. There are certain playlists you have that either adapt to your mood or, if you'd like to alter your mood, you put on a certain playlist. If you're in touch with that and you're able to be moved by it, that awareness is key to a good part of yourself and how to get yourself through life—the day-to-day stuff.
Trip's awareness is a big part of the film. It's that awareness of when he's out on his journey. Also, there's something interesting which happens when he's watching you play. The audience watches him watch you…
He's the guy who's shown up. He's a real kid who gets a gig there because he wants to see the show. That's kind of true for a lot of people who are working security or doing shows. They get a gig there to catch a free show. He actually gets sent off during the show, and he's pissed. He has no idea what's around the corner. He's just a dude showing up for work, and life happens to him in a huge and extreme way. It's about how he addresses life. Like you said, he's able to come back. He becomes a hero to himself, he returns, and he actually gets his own show at the end. He's getting something a little more special.
What does the song "Through The Never" from The Black Album mean to you? Even though the song isn't played, why did you use the title for the movie?
Well, when we were naming the movie, it was similar to how we name songs or albums. We thought, "What's this thing's nickname? What's it telling us?" Sometimes, there are song titles you write and they're intense. They need to have a song around them. Other times, you're just naming it. We had a working title for this movie. We had no idea. With the album Death Magnetic, we had no idea what it was going to be called. We came up with the encompassing topic or name that could sound-bite what it is. Through The Never just fit that because there was no way of describing this movie. What is it? Is it concert footage? Is it narrative? Is it an action film? Is it a documentary? What is this thing? Nobody knows what it is. We don't what it is to be known. We came up with a title that was just as vague as the movie could be [Laughs]. On the episode of The Colbert Report we did, there was a joke like, "What is Through The Never? Beyond the Sideways?" He was making fun of it, which put me in stitches, man. It was like, "What the hell does that mean?" For me, the song "Through The Never" was about exploring man's mind and how limited we are. In a way, this movie maybe breaks through some boundaries.
When did you first see The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly?
Oh my God, I guess it was when I was a kid. Obviously, I was a kid at some point [Laughs]. I still am in other people's eyes. It was probably some Sunday afternoon at home sitting on the couch and I ended up watching this thing. I really loved that the dialogue was very minimal. It was all about the eyes and the face telling the story. I just loved that, especially the shoot-out scene which is one of my favorites. Then, there's the discovery of the gold in the graveyard. We had this stupid intro tape for a long time. It was a heartbeat racing. We actually got to use it at the beginning of Death Magnetic. That was our original intro tape until our first manager Johnny Zazula suggested "The Ecstasy of Gold" from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. So, I instantly connected with it and really feel the triumph in that intro.
We really don't know. Obviously, the album would be nice [Laughs]. Since we are a band that makes music, that's what we do best. I would love to do that. However, whatever thing is going to come at us, I have no idea.
What's your favorite Metallica song?
See our feature on the band's show at Comic-Con at the intimate Spreckels Theater here!
See our interview with Kirk Hammett about Too Much Horror Business here!
See our photo feature on the Obey Your Master art exhibit here!
See our tribute to the band from artists here!