Magazine: MetalHammer, issue 57, December 1998.

Covering their tracks

Being in the studio with a rock band -even one as cool as Metallica- isn't as much fun as you'd think. Actually, its no fun at all, unless you like waiting around a lot, since that's what you spend most of your time doing. But while time waits for no man, some bands are worth waiting for, especially if you do it outside the studio where they've been working on 'Garage Inc.', a new double-disc collection which pairs every cover song these guys have ever recorded with 11 new ones. Cover tunes are as much a part of Metallica's history as their own songs, and with the tracklist of 'Garage Inc.' -which includes such might-as-well-be-Metallica songs as 'Breadfan', 'Am I Evil?' and 'So What', as well as the guys' long-out-of-print covers EP, 'Garage Days Re-Revisited' -guitarist Kirk Hammett and drummer Lars Ulrich were more than happy to talk about the new album. Well, they were when they found the time. In this two part interview, Greg Edwards talks to them both about the twin-CD release.

interview One: Kirk Hammett

Kirk rues the fact that he never got to record an Iron Maiden coverWhen Jason joined the band, his initiation was 'Garage Days Re-Revisited'. When you joined, did you have to go through a similar initiation?
"Well, when I joined the band, what was only really required of me was to learn the songs on 'No Life 'Til Leather' [their pre-'Kill 'Em All' demo]. To me, that was almost like playing cover songs, anyway. But I also had to learn 'Am I Evil?' and 'Blitzkrieg', because the band had been playing that since the beginning, especially 'Am I Evil?'
    We came from very similar backgrounds, New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, late-'70s hard rock. So we knew that we had a lot of songs in common, and we would just kick back and jam on them."

So it must be easy to figure out what covers to record then?
"We go for songs that mean a lot to us from the inspirational point of view. I loved Led Zeppelin's live version of 'Dazed And Confused', but y'know...."

That would be kind of difficult to put on a single
"Yeah, but that's what I mean by songs that we feel comfortable with."

Do you ever learn things from these covers?
"Oh yeah. This stuff has always been a major influence and an inspiration, and now that we're actually recording it, we're acknowledging the fact that these songs have been major influences on our musical outlook."

Have you guys ever rejected something because it was just too obvious?
"Yeah. I kind of wanted to do an old Maiden song but, y'know, it was just too obvious. It's a song called 'Prowler', which is a song we jammed on numerous times onstage at rehearsal, just to warm up on."

You've actually gotten to play with some of the bands you've covered. Does that ever feel weird?
"Yeah, because they walk onstage, thinking that they know the song, but they don't know that we've changed them. That's happened quite a bit. When we played with the guy from Anti-Nowhere League, it took him a moment to realise that we were playing our version of 'So What' and not their version."

Still, they must appreciate it. Especially since you probably turn some people onto these bands, like the Misfits
"Yeah, absolutely. I know for a fact that Glenn [Danzig, the Misfits singer] loves it when we cover his stuff because it's cash in pocket, and no one really wants to complain about that. I mean, just the other night, I told him we were covering 'Die, Die My Darling' and he was very, very happy about it and faxed me the lyrics."

Have you ever thought of doing a cover of something that has a significance to Metallica, not in an influential sense, but... like, have you ever thought of doing a Jethro Tull cover?
"Just to be sarcastic? Well, Lars and I got into this dirty habit of playing this Whitesnake song onstage all the time [laughs], and we'd always play it wrong. And then we got into this habit of playing this Dio song all the time, and of course we would play it wrong on purpose. James would improvise some silly lyrics over it. We do a lot of that already actually. It's just never been recorded."

It's my understanding that 'Garage Inc.' Is sort of an in-between albums kind of thing. Do you have plans yet to record a new studio album?
"We have a new studio project that's gonna start in April, though I'm not really inclined to tell you much more about that."

Is it something more than just a regular album?
"Yeah, it's very different. It's something that you really wouldn't expect from Metallica. It's not gonna be a bunch of new songs, either. It's gonna be a lot of our older stuff, recalled, but some new material [laughs]. I'm sorry, that's all I can say. So that's gonna start in April, and hopefully it'll be in the shops by May or June."

interview Two: Lars Ulrich

Lars: he thought about covering a Megadeath song. For a minute...So it's been a while since you guys have done any covers
"Yeah, we haven't really fucked with cover songs for a while. But we just did the two 'Load' albums more or less back to back, so it just seemed like a good time to do some, from both a time point of view and a creative point of view. Just shake that off a little bit and come back to something a little looser and a little kind of sillier. There was just a renewed interest in fucking with some other stuff."

I also get the sense that Metallica want to have some time off
"Yeah. I mean, it's been building. One of the main reasons for splitting the 'Load' album into two separate records was to try and get away from this thing of putting an album out every three years, then having to go out and support it on the road for two years. To try and shorten those cycles, basically. More sort of like Pearl Jam or REM or somebody like that, where you put records out more often and tour more sporadically."

I'm sure this has come up already, bur is it weird that this album will have both Jason and Cliff on it?
"I actually thought about that two, three days ago, when I started dealing with finished artwork, and there's some pictures of Cliff. Is that weird? Well, it's not weird to me. It's part of our history, Jason's obviously part of our current history. That's not weird at all. You've got all these... purists, eccentrics out there who feel that the day Cliff Burton was unfortunately killed was the day that it all started going wrong for us [laughs]. But y'know, Jason Newsted has been in Metallica for almost 12 years, Cliff Burton was in Metallica for three years... y'know what I mean?"

Are there any covers that you've recorded but, for one reason or another, didn't release?
"The two B-sides that we recorded during the '...Puppets' sessions, we never actually did anything with. We ended up re-recording one a few years later, this song called 'The Prince' by Diamond Head. But this other one was 'The Money Will Roll Right In' by Fang, which is sitting on a tape in a basement somewhere. It didn't really work."

They probably don't usually get that far, though, right?
"Yeah. Kirk sometimes says, 'Let's do a Judas Priest song,' or something, and it's like, if I'm gonna do any metal stuff, I would rather do more obscure stuff. I mean, the Sabbath thing is something that there's a different link to, a different sense of nostalgia. When I got 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' I was ten years old, and 'Sabbra Cadabra' was the song that stood out for me.
    Kirk is a little more adventurous. He comes up with these pretty wacky things here and there. When we started talking about the songs for this project over the summer, we talked about doing something kitsch. Like, what would be like really wacky to cover? One of Courtney Love's songs or cover one of Billy Corgan's, or cover a Megadeath song or something weird like that. Jesus & Mary Chain, y'know? And then you sit down and go, 'That's really funny, ha ha ha,' and Random Notes in Rolling Stone would think that would be a great little write-up or something, but that's something you'd probably get really sick of after like six months."

Have you ever thought about covering someone more contemporary, or someone you've influenced? Like a Korn or Marilyn Manson song?
"Well, when I sat down and thought about doing something along those lines, I certainly thought about Marilyn. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as an artist because I think that what he says and what he stands for is something I really support. It's just that there has to be a balance. It also has to work all four ways. For example, me and Kirk would probably be a lot more comfortable covering a Korn song than James Hetfield. There's a balance there."

Have you ever considered completely changing a song around? Not in a studio context, perhaps, but maybe onstage?
"Well, we actually have something that we occasionally jam on at soundchecks called 'Dead Battery', which is the song 'Battery' played at about one-tenth of the speed of the album version. [singing slowly] "Cannot kill the family/Battery is found in me". That's something that's kind of fun. We were even talking about recording it for this project."

How do you guys figure out which covers you're going to play live? Like how did you decide that you'll play 'So What' a lot, but probably won't do 'The Prince' that much?
"I don't know. I'm a little too close to it right now to think about that. Once I get a record done it takes a while before I can sit down and listen to it objectively."

But how did it happen with the older stuff? Like, I've never heard you guys play 'Blitzkrieg'
"We used to play 'Blitzkrieg' a lot. Haven't really played 'Killing Time' very much. We did when we were playing in LA, when we started in clubs and stuff. We played 'The Prince' live all the time. All those songs were part of the live set in '82/'83. We even played these songs that we haven't recorded, like this other Diamond Head song called 'Sucking My Love', and the song 'Let it Loose' by this really obscure band from England called Savage."

How come you've never put any of these covers on an album? I mean, 'Breadfan' would have fitted in quite nicely on '...Justice'?
"Unlike other bands that go in with 20 songs and then end up recording 12, every single song me and James have ever written has appeared on a Metallica album. So it's not like, 'Oh, we need a B-side for a French single, let's just pull out one we left off' because there aren't any. I mean, what's the point of writing a song if it's not good enough to be on your record? So there's not like 20 songs lying in a vault somewhere ready to be put on B-sides. That's where other people's material comes in kind of handy."

Does that mean we're never gonna see a Metallica boxed album set?
"Well, rarities could be outtakes or something, but there aren't all these half-finished Metallica songs laying around because every single song we've written, you've heard."

I'm sure some people think that your covers are originals
"Oh yeah. There are people who thing 'Breadfan' is one of our songs. When Diamond Head sort of reformed for about ten minutes back in like 1993, we invited them to open for us. But when they played 'Am I Evil?' and 'Helpless', people starting booing them and saying, 'How can they play Metallica songs when they're opening for Metallica?' The fucking gall of these people. Do you know what I mean?"

Speaking of which, what do you think about covers other bands have done of your stuff, like ones by Primus and Apocalyptica? Are there any that you thought were really good?
"What gets me off the most with Metallica stuff is when people really fuck with it. Like this band Apocalyptica took all our music and sort of played it on cellos which was really inspiring. And there was this German band called Die Krupps which did an EP full of Metallica, techno-style. That type of stuff is really cool.
    The Primus version is cute, I like it, I respect it, and I love [singer/bassist] Les Claypool. I just prefer the ones when they really fuck with it. As the artist being fucked with is just more satisfying."

Kirk started to tell me something about your plans for recording the next Metallica album, although he said he couldn't tell me much
"There's a project we're going to undertake next spring that I can't really talk about yet and it's not MTV Unplugged, by the way, which is what everybody thinks when I say this. But we have this pretty wacky project lined up for next spring, and there might be an album, there might not be an album, who knows? Then we're going to play South America and do some dates in Europe next summer. After that we're going to get back to thinking about the next studio record. So we'll probably spend the second half of next year writing that and most of 2000 recording it."

Is the idea of you guys doing MTW Unplugged just too far out?
"No. The acoustic thing is becoming a bigger and bigger part of what we do. It's something that we really enjoy because, to me, it's not so much the fact that we're playing acoustic instruments, but the fact that it gives us an opportunity to take songs that we've played to death and reinvent them -just put a different life into them. That's really fun."

Is there anybody you wish would cover one of your songs?
"I think I'd love to hear like... The first time I ever met Noel Gallagher he told me that he thought 'Nothing Else Matters' was one of the best songs ever written. I was like 'Wow!'. So I'd like to hear Noel and Liam with one acoustic guitar doing 'Nothing Else Matters'. That would be pretty funny."