Jason Newsted Talks "Metal", Album, and So Much More
Thu, 18 Apr 2013 07:33:11
Few people personify the word "Metal" quite like Mr. Jason Newsted does.
As far as metal goes, there are few musicians who have lived and breathed it like he has. He served as an anchor for seminal Metallica albums, toured with Ozzy Osbourne, had a stint in Voivod, and the list goes on. However, the most shining example of his heavy prowess is his debut solo EP, Metal. It's a brilliantly brutal four-song massacre that's meant to be cranked at ear-splitting volume. It's also one of the best releases this year. Still, it's only a prelude to his forthcoming full-length featuring none other than Staind shredder Mike Mushok on guitar.
ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino spoke to Jason Newsted in this exclusive interview about Metal, the full-length record, and so much more.
What ties the EP together for you?
That's interesting. I guess it's probably the obvious thing. For me, this is the first time I got to write the songs from top to bottom. They're my lyrics and my voice. I'm close to it. I know where the sources of the lyrics came from. I wrote them all in the same timeframe with the same guitar in the same headspace under the same full moon. There's my thread right there. I created most of this under full moons. Our concept at the Chophouse has revolved around the full moon for a long time. It's the heaviest magnet for us that we can see in the universe and it brings out the metal. That's how we go about that. That's the thread.
What were some of themes you wrote about?
Just like any poet or musician, what's around you, what you take in, and how you regurgitate it—good or bad—is what usually churns out the initial idea sparks for the songs. Lyrically, "Soldierhead" was inspired by the Pat Tillman story. He's a hero who went on to be a further hero. He sacrificed his career and millions of dollar to help protect what he believes in. That deserves honor. It's a tip of the hat to our service personnel. It's not about shooting guns and killing people. It's about honor. That's what "Soldierhead" is. "Godsnake" comes from a Bible story about not judging others. You don't judge a book by its cover. If God came down as a snake, how would he be judged—as a snake or as God? Don't judge people until you discover the truth with a closer look. "King of the Underdogs" is more of a personal thing. I'm coming back up from the underground. All of the other projects I've done over the past decade have been in the underground like Voivod and Echobrain. I'm the guy who came out of the Metallica situation. People are rooting for me, and I'm rooting for myself. "Skyscraper" is self-explanatory. It has to deal with a new plane of insane dimension putting a hole in the side of a skyscraper.
Is it important for you to tell stories with the lyrics? You can see the songs as much as you hear them.
That's a great statement. That's what it's about. It has to be something people can remember and sink their teeth into. I do not want fodder. I learned most of this from Snake from Voivod. In my opinion, he is the greatest word weaver in metal music and possibly in pop music. John Lennon did pretty good. Hetfield does good. There are a couple of other people that do pretty good as well. Snake is the very best. English is his second language, and he still manages to make it so magical. Like you said, you see the words and the story and hear the music. I got that from him mostly to begin with. I've been writing lyrics for decades. Flotsam and Jetsam was all my lyrics. I tried to paint pictures of things like that. It has to be something that makes sense. There are no wasted words in the songs.
What influences you outside of music?
A lot of them have to do with documentary films and reading. The Tillman thing came from reading. Certain influences come from that. Then you tap into experiences you've had, you start channeling, and it comes to you. At least it does for me. Once you start practicing that for years and know how to tap into the stream, then you can start pulling things out. It's like it is with my paintings. I channel it, and it happens. I don't really plan on what the painting is going to be. It just becomes what it becomes. Whatever comes out of my head is what happens. It's the same with music. The immediacy of the music is because I was able to capture it the moment it came to me. I've got my guitar in hand and Garage Band ready. The moment I channeled it I recorded it, and it became the song as opposed to knocking it around, overthinking it, and all of that crap. Modern technology has bee na big help in me getting it the way it is now.
Does painting come from a different mindset than music?
There's definitely a rhythm to it. I always have to music going when I'm painting. A lot of times the lyrics of those songs find themselves in the text in the painting. It's a direct link to the music. By happenstance because of severe shoulder surgeries, I was "one-armed" for almost four years with three different surgeries—right arm, left arm, right arm. I had to learn to use both hands equally. All of my paintings are done with both hands and both sides of my brain. It's like two people are coming at the canvas. It is a direct link. The paintings are the same as the music intensity-wise and color-wise the same as my bass playing. It's the same thing just a different medium. It has to do with channeling and finding that place. None of it comes from nowhere. I try to keep a real wide variety of listening practice, and I have for years. I listen to all kinds of music in different languages with different instruments to make myself a better player. The more you pour in with books, documentaries, and good music, the more you regurgitate it out of your filters, it becomes your own. Things will always be regurgitated. The only thing original in heavy metal is Black Sabbath. Everything derives from that. In my style of painting, everything derives from Picasso. There are certain people who are such innovators that there's no choice to just derive from that or take their lead. I try to take the lead of many great heroes, regurgitate it through my filter, and spit that shit out. I keep high standards. If it's up to those standards or pretty close, other people dig it too.
What would be the cinematic equivalent of Metal?
Right now, I call it "Music to Feed Sharks By" [Laughs]. I take in a lot of documentaries. If we're going for movies, there's got to be a shoot'em up in there. It's that kind of thing where there's a lot of explosions, and it's bombastic and fast-paced. It can be heavy things like Clint Eastwood. There's anticipation for what's going to happen. It's heavy shit all the way through until you get to that pinnacle point. It's something with a plot that takes a while to unfold. Maybe Jaws!
What are you listening to now?
Metal-wise, my favorite band is Black Mountain. I also like Red Fang, Mastodon, The Sword, and Muse. Gojira is my favorite new band. I still stay true to my Bay Area cats. I think Exodus is untouchable as far as thrash music goes. I love Death Angel. I'll always be a fan. I still listen to good hip-hop. I think Eminem is an absolute genius. I like Ice Cube. I listen to a lot of Cypress Hill when I paint. There are a few that rise to the top. I listen to a lot of Coltrane and Miles Davis.
Does the EP lay the groundwork for the full-length?
Yeah! The initial intent of EPs back in the day was to be the primer of what's going to come on the LP. We're going to re-record a couple of songs for the LP, but the rest are all fresh songs. We're delivering 13 tracks. Mike Mushok has been in the band for seven weeks, and we already completed the LP.
Did you and Mike click instantly?
Before we even played, I knew he was the dude. For the first five or ten minutes, we were just hanging around. Sense of humor-wise, professionally, clear-eyed, hardworking and determined—he was all of those things. It was like check, check, check. That's what I do and he does. Nobody is stupid drink or on drugs or any of that retarded shit. Every night we have dinner together. We'll drink a bottle of wine together. We have our fun, but we choose our time for it. We'll get a good one on, but we take our music very seriously. Once Mike started playing with us, it was on. It didn't take long at all. He makes the heavy music heavier. I didn't think that was possible. Because he plays seven-string, baritone, and all of these fucking psycho tunings, he reminds me so much of Piggy in so many ways. We set up for the auditions so we could see each other when we jam. That way we could communicate and fucking rock 'n' roll. I watched him, and I was like, "Oh my God!" With the way he was swinging his head and playing all of those psycho chords, he reminded me of Piggy. I miss Piggy so much. He was a great teacher and friend. He was taken way too fucking early. Mike brings that color and flavor. He knew the songs right away. He puts some great energy into the new songs. It's fucking amazing. There's no weak link on this stage.
Have you heard Newsted's Metal?
4/19 Walnut Creek, CA @ Red House
4/20 Walnut Creek, CA @ Red House
4/23 San Jose, CA @ San Jose Rock Shop
4/24 Fresno, CA @ The Starline
4/26 Sparks, NV @ The Alley
4/27 Sacramento, CA @ Ace of Spades
5/1 Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy
5/3 Las Vegas, NV @ Vinyl
5/4 Mesa, AZ @ KUPD Ufiesta / Quail Run Park
5/15 Battle Creek, MI @ Planet Rock
5/17 Pontiac, MI @ The Crofoot
5/18 Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge
5/21 New York, NY @ Highline Ballroom
5/22 Cambridge, MA @ The Middle East Downstairs
5/23 Asbury Park, NJ @ The Stone Pony