Thu, 29 Jan 2009 13:33:17
If Metallica's Death Magnetic were a movie, what would it be?
Bassist Robert Trujillo has a very appropriate answer to that question. "Apocalypse Now," he laughs with a smile. "That could be it. Death Magnetic tackles everything from fallen rock stars to people living on the edge. Demons—like addiction—are chasing these characters. Some of the lyrics remind me of what's happening in athletics today with guys like Michael Vick. Certain people gain a ton of power through their popularity. Then all of a sudden, they abuse that power. However, as we see in the end, nobody is indestructible."
Except for Metallica, that is. It's been nearly 26 years since they dropped Kill 'Em All, and the multi-platinum metallic monolith still remains rock n' roll's most fierce and fiery foursome. Death Magnetic, their Grammy nominated ninth studio album, only reasserts that with its unbridled sonic exorcism. In fact, it may very well be Metallica's most dangerous offering to date. In this exclusive interview for our Grammy mini-site, ARTISTdirect.com spoke to bassist Robert Trujillo about Death, addiction, parenting and why Metallica will never die.
Coming from an old school thrash background, do you feel like you brought a raw edge to Death Magnetic?
I think it was a combination of things. If you want to call it a new beginning, you can. It felt natural, with the new team and the new attitude. Rick Rubin was really instrumental in getting Lars [Ulrich, Drums] and James [Hetfield, Vocals/Rhythm Guitar] to reunite with that old school thrash vibe. For so many years, it seemed like they were trying to get away from it in a sense. They were doing other things, of course, and being creative, but they weren't really dwelling in the thrash zone. For me, as a bass player, it's really good to be creatively a part of this. To play thrash on my first official record release with Metallica is more exciting for me. I really love Metallica's old school years with Cliff Burton, and it's just a lot of fun.
There's also a modern vibe to the songs as well. A lot of that has to do with the new unity and your bass playing. These songs don't have a dated feel. Death Magnetic is probably the freshest thrash record to come out in the 21st century.
Yeah, I agree. There's definitely a combination of vibes on this. It doesn't sound like any specific Metallica record. It has its own identity, as any Metallica record does. The key thing about this is it's an album that we wanted to be able to perform live. That's one of the things that Rick conveyed. He was like, "Create a body of music that you can challenge your audience with. Let's take it back to the old days where you were trying to get a deal and you were putting music together for your demo tape." Getting into that mindset was crucial. There are arrangements that, at times, seem technical and a bit abstract, but they still groove. To really pull this music off, it has to groove. In that sense, Death Magnetic has a really nice live performance persona to it.
Is that what makes the album so powerful?
The dynamics of that performance persona do for sure. I think it's pretty cool that Lars and I are connecting more than maybe had happened in the past. Hopefully, we can develop that even more for the future. Certain songs, like "All Nightmare Long," "Cyanide" and "The Day that Never Comes," have a nice balance between Lars and I as a rhythm section. It's a great thing for us to be hooking up on that level. For Lars and me gaining that trust is big. It seems like he's always had the trust with James for so many years. As a bass player coming into a new situation, I think it's really important for me and for Lars.
Would you say that you and Lars anchor the symphonic orchestrations in songs like "All Nightmare Long?"
That's true. If you even go back to Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All, those arrangements were pretty involved and dynamic. I think Death Magnetic is an extension of all the earlier stuff. Some people say that Death Magnetic is maybe the album that sits between Master of Puppets and Justice. There you go. At the same time, this is the launch pad for the future. That's what excites me. Creatively, it feels like this is something that's just kicking off.
It feels like there's a real vibrant energy coming from the band, and it's easy to feel that while listening to the record.
Thank you! That's actually a compliment [Laughs].
Thematically, what do you feel like the common thread is between these songs?
I would have to say the common thread, be it negative or positive, is actually death. It depends on who you talk to. Of course everyone's got his own opinion, and it's always open to interpretation, as Metallica lyrics always are. This is an album that's dangerous. It's riding on the edge. I would give the metaphor of riding a 100-foot wave. Death Magnetic is about riding the fine line between glory and destruction. The music and the message are exactly that. It explores a lot of people who are fallen heroes—whether they're from rock n' roll or other things. Layne Staley, for instance, was on that ride that is rock n' roll. He fell off to the other side with his addictions and everything. There are certain aspects of that in what we said lyrically. James points that out in a lot of things. There are different themes to the whole spectrum of music. It's all encompassing. It's not about one song and the message of one song. It's about all of the songs.
In that aspect, it plays out more like a movie.
Exactly, it's like looking at a painting. In it, there's a lot of detail, and there are a lot of dynamics to the painting. Again, it's not about one song. You find that in a lot of classic records like Dark Side of the Moon. There's a gazillion of them. That, to me, is more or less what Death Magnetic is about—the whole body of music, not just one song. It's like an adventure or a rollercoaster ride, in a way [Laughs].
“Death Magnetic is about riding the fine line between glory and destruction…it's pretty dark.”
It seems like death is always chasing us, and we're always running away from it. However, it's still pulling us. That's what "All Nightmare Long" really says.
That's true. There are different phases of it. As far as "All Nightmare Long," that's definitely true. It's a constant chase. We've all had dreams where something is chasing us. Whatever monster that is... it could be someone's addictions, or it could literally be that chase sequence in your dream where you're on the tour bus and you're floating over the edge. You look down and you see nothing but rocks and water, which is a dream that I've had plenty of times. It's very interesting. The music has a lot of imagery to it. You can close your eyes, put on your headphones and see things. It's pretty cool. That, to me, is a sign of something special. This album took time, and there's a lot of detail. Metallica's a band of detail. Everybody knows that. Things take time because people like James are very thorough. He explores a lot of possibilities with the lyrics, the lyrical format and the arrangements. There is tons of detail to it.
Is it Metallica's darkest record?
It's one of them, yeah. I try to find the positive light in only that in this record. It's too deep. There are too many angles. You can pull positives from it, very much so. Each song has a meaning that you can take positively. There's a lot of negative to get to the positive though. If you break it down like that, it's pretty dark.
Your exploration of it is positive though, because at least you get that darkness out.
That is true. Again, I think that, coming out of the St. Anger period, it was very important for us to make this record. It's very interesting for this band. I would call that St. Anger period the "Dark Ages," in a way. It was definitely a time of transition. I think getting into the Death Magnetic stage changed things. It was a stage where James was really blossoming again. He was getting his juju back. He took a lot of pride in this record, and he put a lot of effort into everything about it. In a way, it's like James is back. Even in terms of personality, he has that wild and crazy side. Even though he's sober, he's got that attitude back. It's not like we're walking on eggshells around him anymore. There's no more tightrope or thin ice. Sometimes, you felt that way back in the St. Anger period. To me, it feels like we have him again, and we're going to get great music from him and obviously us as a team. He's there. It's not like, "Okay, it's eleven o'clock, I can't play guitar anymore. I've got to go." It's like, "Screw it, man. Let's keep going."
Is the fact that you're a father always on your mind now?
Yeah, this is an interesting point—now that each one of us has multiple kids. Kirk has two children as well. For me, it was like, join Metallica and six years later I'm married and I've got two kids [Laughs]. Life changes in this band. That's one of the main things we have in common. We're all very different people—extremely different. Lars and James are completely different. They probably wouldn't have anything to do with each other if they didn't have music. We all connect through music. That's what makes us brothers. When we're on stage, and when we're writing, we have a mutual respect for each other. Outside of music, we're very different. Our families bring us together. It's something that we share and we have in common. If I've got questions about potty training my four-year-old son or two-year-old daughter, I can go to the other guys in the band because they've all been through it. That's cool, and that's special. It also makes things easy when we're planning our tours and trying to schedule things a year or two in advance with the school schedules and recording schedules. That is something that we all share. You always think about your kids on tour or on stage. The other night was James' daughter's birthday. He brought her up on stage and sang happy birthday to her in front of 20,000 people. I felt like crying [Laughs]. I thought, "Boy, this is heavy!" I also thought, "Someday, maybe that'll happen for me." It's something that the kids love to experience and be a part of as well. It's a lot of fun.
It probably makes being in Metallica even more special.
Absolutely, we feel very lucky and fortunate to be able to be in a band that we have fun being a part of and creating our music but also going to all these special places and bringing our families, sometimes, to be a part of that experience with us. That's one of the other great things about being in Metallica.
What is it about Metallica that will never die?
There are a few things that I've noticed. The fans, obviously, are amazing. We take a lot of pride in trying to connect with our fans. Every night we have a meet-and-greet. You can only meet so many of your fans, but we try to do the best we can. We meet between 15 and 20 fans. We do that. We always try to stay in touch through the fan site and our fan club. The other side to that is Metallica—with the detail to the music and the love for the music—one of the things I notice is when we put on our instruments, it's like being a kid in the garage again, going back to the early days. People start jamming Def Leppard riffs, AC/DC or Iron Maiden. Jokes are flying around. It's a really fun time. The band loves to make music and has fun doing it. That's what makes Metallica relevant still.