Ahead of Sonisphere UK, we catch up with Metallica's Lars Ulrich, who closed last year's Knebworth debut, to talk about the festival, the band's fans and about not to have a heart attack on stage.
Although Metallica won't be returning to Knebworth this year, they have just completed a historic blitz across several of the European Sonisphere events, marking the first time the Big Four (along with Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax) have ever shared a stage. This interview was conducted backstage at the final Big Four show in Istanbul, Turkey, recently…
Metallica’s come a long way since your underground thrash days in the eighties. How have you managed the transition to megastars?
Lars Ulrich: “Metallica’s always stuck to its guns and played the kind of music that turned us on and in turning us on it seemed like we turned a lot of other people on too. Over the years, the numbers just got steadily bigger, we sold more and more records, we reached more and more people and now we’re playing bigger places.
“But at heart it’s just four guys having fun and playing music and sharing it with people who get off on it as much as we do. Whether it’s 100 people or 100,000, it’s more or less the same attitude. Once in a while we go back and play really small places. We played a festival in the States a couple of years ago called Bonnaroo and the night before the we played in a record store basement to about 150 people, so we do that type of stuff still.”
How have your fans changed over the years?
LU: “The crowds and the fans seem to just keep getting younger and younger. In some of the countries you look down into the front row and it’s 10-year-old kids and 12-year-old kids who’ve never seen Metallica before. It seems like there’s a whole new generation.
“Maybe it’s our generation that’s bringing their kids, but there’s this theory that a lot of the young kids are very inspired by the eighties whereas a lot of things that happened in the nineties like grunge and rap-rock and so on, maybe hasn’t resonated so well with this younger generation. It seems that a lot of the heavier bands from the eighties and even from the seventies like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin had a different impact with a lot of the young kids. Obviously it’s awesome to be part of that and truly an honour to have that kind of impact on kids that are just getting their feet.”
Your bass player Rob [Trujillo] is always experimenting with new techniques. What new techniques are you working on?
LU: “Is there any number less than zero? No, I think that right now the main thing is to not have a heart attack on stage. That’s the new goal. I’m 46 and the main thing I do is try and stay healthy. I eat well, work out, run and try and stay as fit as possible.
“I don’t wake up and start playing drums. I’m more interested in songs and songwriting and I love making records and the production side of it. I definitely do what I have to do to maintain some ability of playing drums, but mostly it’s about being healthy, taking care of myself and then just waiting for James Hetfield to inspire me.”
How did Metallica’s involvement with Sonisphere come about?
LU: “There are some great festivals in Western Europe: Roskilde in Denmark, Werchter in Belgium, Glastonbury in Britain and Pinkpop in Holland. We just felt there would be room for a heavy metal version of that kind of festival where everybody comes and sees loads of different bands, maybe over multiple days, where people get a chance to camp and to have a bit of an experience that isn’t just limited to music.
So when Stuart Galbraith and his partners came to us a couple of years ago and asked if we would be part of this whole thing we said yes. Any time Metallica has a chance to be part of anything that’s unique and extraordinary and a little bit different it’s always fun to take that ride."
How does Sonisphere compare to other festivals you’ve played?
LU: “Well obviously it has a tendency to feature harder bands or heavier bands. It’s just young. It’s a young festival and just getting its feet and sort of rooting itself. When you play a festival like Roskilde in Denmark, which has been around for God knows, 30 or 40 years or something, it’s a very established kind of thing. A lot of these festivals sell out before any bands are announced.
“Sonisphere is still about the bands and it’s not established yet. But it’s one that’s here for the long haul and hopefully in five or ten years from now it’ll be as established a name as Werchter or Glastonbury or Pinkpop. What’s cool about this is that it’s all heavy bands. What’s cool about some of the other festivals is the mix of bands. So you get Metallica and the Black Eyed Peas playing on the same day, which is also kind of fun.”
Any clues as to where you’ll be playing with Sonisphere next year?
LU: “Right now it’s a little early still, but we did a bunch of great Sonisphere festivals last year in 2009. We’ve done a bunch of different ones in 2010 and I think 2011 will hopefully take us back to a few of the same countries and probably take us to a few new countries. It’s been a lot of fun to do this thing with Megadeth and Slayer and Anthrax and I think we’d like to do it in different parts of the world.”
You’ve appeared in The Simpsons and South Park before, but you’ve just made your first appearance in a non-animated movie, ‘Get Him to the Greek’. How did that come about?
LU: “I got a call from manager saying that the people who made ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ were making a new movie with some of the same people and they asked if I would be interested in playing myself. ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ is actually one of my favourite movies from the last couple of years. I thought it was really well written, really well directed and the gang involved in it are all great people so I thought it would be interesting to be part of that.
“So I flew down to LA and did as I was told for two days. It’s always fun to go into other areas and worlds that are unknown. The world of Metallica and the world of music we know so well and we control all the elements of it. You walk onto a movie set, you have to do as you’re told and do it with a smile and just play along. It’s fun to forfeit control and just be part of a ride like that.”
Finally, the internet has moved on a lot since your dispute with Napster ten years ago. With hindsight would you have handled that differently?
LU: “I would have woken myself up from the nightmare quicker. I think if anything we were just caught off guard by how passionate people were about this whole internet phenomenon at the time and it kind of blind-sided us, but we stood our ground and stuck with our principles and a lot of people now are patting us on the back and saying how right we were. Where were you ten years ago? We were the only ones out there is what I say.
“But it’s okay, you win some, you lose some. I don’t regret any of it. Certainly, it was an awkward time as we’d always been the good guys and suddenly there were people who didn’t think we were the good guys and it was an unusual situation for us to be in.”
Sonisphere 2010 returns to Knebworth Park, expanding to three days, from 30 July to 1 August.Alice Cooper, Iron Maiden and Rammstein will headline with Pendulum, Placebo, Europe, Sick Of It All, Evile, Renegades, Rise To Remain, Motley Crue, Slayer and many more all sharing one of the best rock and metal line-ups around.
Click here for the latest Sonisphere line-up.
Tickets for the festival are onsale now priced at £132.50.