Metallica’s Lars Ulrich On Cocaine, Oasis, Megadeth And That Quietus Incident

In the first of an occasional Quietus series, Lars Ulrich puts himself through the Rumour Mill and answers Joel McIver's questions on cocaine, whether 'St. Anger' was bobbins, and that little reviews hoo ha a few months back.

Lars, rumour has it that you’ve enjoyed a line or two of coke in your time.

“I don’t do that any more. That’s all done, thank you for asking! A couple of years ago I was like, ‘You know? Enough of this. I don’t need it’. It was literally something that happened one morning, like ‘Y’know? Fuck that’. I was very impressed with Noel Gallagher: as you know, I’m an Oasis fanatic, and Noel was like [adopts stentorian tone] ‘You know what? No more cocaine!’ and I thought, ‘If he can do it, everybody else can do it’. I had my fun with it, it was always more of a social thing. We were never like rolling around and spending days in bathroom stalls, and peeking out the keyholes of doors for days.”

For the record, was cocaine anything to do with the anxiety attack you had in 2004 which prevented you from playing at Download?

“No, not at all. Not at all. I wish! That would have been easier to explain. That [the anxiety attack] was the result of… I was at the tail-end of my divorce and there was a lot of things going on that were running amok.”

Rumours have been flying around about that for some years.

“Well, I’m glad I don’t pay any attention to them. Is there anything else we can clear up while we’re at it?”

Sure. It’s also rumoured that you stole the name ‘Metallica’ from Malcolm Dome’s book Encyclopaedia Metallica. True?

“No, that’s not true at all. I give 100 percent credit to the fanzine writer Ron Quintana for that [the band name].”

Rumour has it that you and Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine still aren’t friends. Do you have a relationship?

“No. We did the movie [Some Kind Of Monster, 2005], and as has been well documented, he was not pleased with what came in the movie and what came in the wake of it, and since then we haven’t spoken. I’m sure we’ll cross paths one day, and usually when we cross paths it’s all OK. There’s the public relationship and there’s the private relationship. People say, ‘Kerry King and Metallica – whoo!’, but whenever I see Kerry King we hug, we laugh, we talk, we embrace. I haven’t seen Dave since I filmed that scene in the movie, and I’m sure I’ll see him again and maybe it won’t be the same – but when did he leave the band, 24 years ago, 25 years ago? Every time I’ve seen him since then, it’s always been ‘Hey, how are you doing? What’s going on?’ and then there’s the shit-talking thing in the press, and then I see him three years later and it’s fine again.”

All this childish squabbling has been going on for decades. Can’t you just call him and say, ‘Let’s stop this now, once and for all’?

Yeah, but I gotta tell you, honestly – I don’t feel that I’m the instigator. I don’t have a problem with him as much as I think he has a problem with me. I’ve always quite liked the guy. It has a tendency to depend on which mood he’s in. If he’s in happy-go-lucky mood, then it’s ‘Lars is OK, ha ha, the little Danish guy, we used to dig holes in the earth and smoke bongs’ or whatever, and if he’s in a particular type of mood then it’s ‘Lars is a fuckin’ asshole’. I can’t control that, so when people say to me in an interview, ‘Dave Mustaine says this and that and that’… I can take on anybody in verbal diarrhoea match, but I don’t feel the need to. I keep coming back to the statistics, which are interesting: he’s never played on a Metallica record, he was in the band for 10 months, 25 years ago! That’s an amazing statistic when you think about it, and still Metallica is such a prominent part of his existence. That’s just mind-blowing, because he has made some of the best heavy metal records of all time. It blows my mind.”

There are rumours that you’ve thought about issuing a remix of …And Justice For All with audible bass?

“You know what, of course we’ve thought about it, and every time we think about it we go, ‘That’s not necessary’. You know, we even thought about remixing St. Anger. You think about it for 12 seconds, and you hear yourself have a conversation about it, and you go ‘No!’ You do the best you can in the moment, and you don’t go back and fix it.”

Do you still maintain that St. Anger is a ‘punishing’ or ‘challenging’ album, rather than just a horribly bad one?

“I’m so beyond ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Terminologies like that don’t work for me. I know a lot of people don’t think it’s a good album, I appreciate that and I respect it. I know a lot of people find it very difficult. What I am 100 percent sure of, is that if it wasn’t for St. Anger, Death Magnetic wouldn’t sound the way it does. St. Anger had to happen: if you can’t find anything musically to appreciate, which I respect, at least respect St. Anger’s existence. If it wasn’t for us completely reinventing the [songwriting] process for the sake of our own survival, me and you probably wouldn’t be on the phone right now, because there would be no Death Magnetic. James Hetfield would be in Nashville playing country music, I’d be off producing films and Kirk Hammett would be on tour with Joe Satriani. It had to be the way it was: if we’d fallen into making records the way we used to in the 1990s, I’m pretty sure the band would have imploded. We had to go down that path of sitting in a room with a guy helping us, holding our hand and making us talk to each other. We did it, and we survived it, and we can now talk about it in the past tense. A lot of people are talking about how wonderful Death Magnetic is, and I can appreciate that. So St. Anger has a role in all this that is beyond whether the album is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”

What you just said about James playing country music, you producing films etc sounded rather plausible. Is that a likely future path for you?

“Ha ha! Well, I don’t know… maybe James would be off hunting and I’d be selling my Metallica collection, I don’t know. Luckily, we don’t have to find out just yet.”

In June, your management company Q-Prime decided in their infinite wisdom to play six songs from Death Magnetic to some British music journalists. When said hacks wrote about the album online, Q-Prime ordered them to take the reviews down, all of whom followed suit (except The Quietus – read our review and account of the saga). Then you, Metallica, countermanded that order and said that it was OK for us to write about the album after all. Rumour has it that the whole episode was designed to get people talking about the album. What’s the truth?

“It was just like, let’s play some songs for a few people – fine. Let the people talk, what’s wrong with people talking? The managers sometimes get a little overprotective and listen, they’re just trying to earn their commission, but just relax – it’s a fuckin’ rock’n’roll song. When everybody gets super wound-up about this stuff, it just gets a little ridiculous. So – fine, a bunch of people have heard some songs, and they seem to like the songs: I think it’s OK that they talk about liking the songs. The whole thing was weird, because they asked people to take the stuff down and we didn’t know anything about it – then all of a sudden we heard about it and it’s like, ‘Don’t tell people to take something down that’s positive’.”

What was the point of the playback anyway?

“I wish I could give you an answer, but sometimes I have to remove myself – I can’t micromanage every detail of the band any more, it’s just not that interesting to me. But every once in a while you have to get involved and say, ‘Everybody just fuckin’ chill out for a second!’… I mean, we even have a part of our own website where we put the links up to these reviews. Sometimes I get into a little bit of a pissing contest with our managers: I wanted to start playing some of the new songs in May, when we started touring, and they got all bent out of shape about that. But everything’s all fine, we don’t take it too seriously.”

Metallica’s new album Death Magnetic _is released on September 12th. Read John Doran’s full track by track review here.

Also read our classic interview with Metallica from the release of ‘. . . And Justice For All’.

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