From the Archive: Kirk Hammett Discusses the Past, Present and Future of Metallica in 2002 Interview
Here's an interview with Kirk Hammett of Metallica from the March 2002 issue of Guitar World. To see the complete cover, and all the GW covers from 2002, head to our 2002 covers gallery.
As anyone who's followed Metallica's career can tell you, the group's members are rarely at a loss for words. But when Kirk Hammett recently learned that he'd become the first inductee into the Guitar World Hall of Fame, he was rendered speechless for a solid minute or two. "It totally took me by surprise," he says. "Especially since our profile has been so weird lately. It's been very non-musical, you know?"
Indeed, with no new Metallica material on the shelves since 1999's live orchestral collaboration, S&M, most of the group's media attention in the past 12 months has revolved around the resignation of longtime bassist Jason Newsted, vocalist/guitarist James Hetfield's rehab stint and the band's continuing involvement in the seemingly endless Napster saga. But the Guitar World Hall of Fame was created to honor long-term contributions to the world of guitar playing, and, judging by the reaction of our readers, a year out of the spotlight hasn't diminished any of Hammett's significant achievements.
"I'm actually quite flattered and impressed, and a little bit shocked and dumbfounded," he says of the final ballot count, which placed him ahead of his own heroes Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Michael Schenker. "There's a little bit of 'Why me?' in there for good measure, too." He pauses for a second, then laughs. "Do I get, like, a gold plaque?"
Since 1982, when he first joined Hetfield, bassist Cliff Burton and drummer Lars Ulrich in Metallica, Kirk Hammett has virtually defined thrash metal lead guitar, combining the fret-melting speed and melodicism of players like Joe Satriani and Yngwie Maimsteen with the street-fighting tenacity of vintage Motorhead and UFO. But Kirk's unwavering commitment to his instrument has also led him down some unexpected sonic paths, as exemplified by his more texture-oriented contributions to Metallica's recent Load and ReLoad albums.
As for the band's latest work in progress -- sorry, fans, there's no release date yet -- Kirk not surprisingly characterizes it as "very dissimilar to anything we've ever done. We have a lot of new material, and I like to think it's the best stuff we've done in a long time. It's heavy, it's very dynamic, and this time, James, Lars and I wrote together, which is a very, very new thing. Rather than do it as, 'Okay, the A part is his, the B part is mine, and we've forced them together,' the new songs have unfolded in a very natural, organic way. We sound like a band, even though we still need a bass player."
That vacancy was temporarily filled by Bob Rock, the group's longtime producer, during the initial recording sessions for the new album. And though Rock has more experience as a guitarist, Hammett says his four-string contributions were quite helpful and inspiring. "Bob's bringing in all these very modern ideas with his bass playing, and it's a real breath of fresh air."
Metallica will ultimately have to find someone to fill the spot full time, but at this point, says Hammett, the band's not really worrying about it. "We have more important things to think about. We're taking our time with this thing; we don't want to get into a situation where we have a 'revolving-door' position. We're either gonna get someone and shackle him to us, or we're not gonna get anyone at all and just hire someone, like the Stones do."
Recently, though, Metallica have simply been in hiatus mode. Hetfield, for his part, has now completed his rehab program and is "doing great," according to Hammett. "I saw him at my birthday party. He was very healthy, and he had his sense of humor."
As for Hammett, he's been exploring new ways to approach his guitar, shaped in part by the philosophy espoused by Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. As the guitarist explains, "The concept of clearing one's mind before performing a task so that it is consumed by nothing but that task, yet is open at the same time to anything that might happen -- that concept can be applied to playing guitar, and it's enormously helpful for improvising. When it comes time for me to improvise, I try to find that feeling, that awareness without any expectation or attachment to anything prior or future. In other words, try to be in the 'now' while you're playing! That's the most profound piece of knowledge that's come my way in the last six months."