From the Archive: Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett Discuss Their 1996 Album, 'Load'
Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett discuss the making of 1996's Load.
You've also almost abandoned your wah pedal, which you used on most of the solos on the last album.
HAMMETT: I didn't notice that until just the other day. I was laying down a wah track and I said to Bob, "Guess what? We don't have the problem we had on the last album. You don't have to hide the wah pedal anymore."
The slide solo on "Bitch" is a first for you.
HAMMETT: We wanted to find something different for that song, not just another guitar solo. The slide was really effective because it's such a new sound for us. It's only recently that I've felt comfortable enough with my slide work to actually commit to playing it on the record. I've been working on it for years now -- it's not an easy thing to do. I'm actually really proud of that guitar solo.
Do you use any open tunings when you play slide?
HAMMETT: Man, that shit just confuses me. When I found out that Duane Allman used standard tuning, it really inspired me to work on my slide chops. Before that, I thought that slide players all worked in open G and could use all the tricky tunings.
The solo on "Bleeding Me" also sounds particularly inspired.
HAMMETT: That's the one lead that I played totally off the cuff. I did seven or eight passes, and it felt so goddamn good. Every time I finished a take, Bob would look at me and say, "Wow!" It's one of the more typical "rock" solos on the album. I had the wah pedal going, and I was going for a combination of fast playing and long, sustained notes. It has everything in there: melody, hooks, rock and roll phrasing, a bluesy vibe, lots of dynamics, and the Hendrixisms that I always try to sneak in there.
James, you also play quite a bit of lead guitar on Load.
HETFIELD: Honest to goodness, I don't know anymore. So much different shit has gone on this record as far as laying guitar tracks that I kind of forget what actually made it into the final mix.
HAMMETT: I don't feel as possessive about the guitar parts as I have in the past, precisely because there's so much there. I mean, ultimately it doesn't really matter who played what; the parts are just there to make the songs happen. I mean at this point, I think that people know we can play.
All of Load is tuned down a half step -- another first for you.
HETFIELD: Tuning down a half step helped a lot of things, like getting the bends going in the riffs. The most fun thing in the world is sitting down with your guitar tuned down a whole step and riffing out. Unfortunately, that sounds too muddy, so we settled for tuning down a half step. Tuning down also helps me a lot by extending the apparent range of my voice.
Vocally, you've taken a lot of chances with this album.
HETFIELD: I feel that it's more raw. It was a lot more fun doing the vocals this time, not as stiff a process. We were trying to be a little less anal.
In the past, though, Metallica has always been a band that holds itself to an extreme level of studio perfection.
HETFIELD: There's still that. There 's still a desire for perfection, but this time we let little things go. If the verdict was, "Well, that thing you sang was a bit pitchy, but it has some major attitude," then fuck it, let it ride. On the "Black Album," the vocals were so in the pocket all the time. I was trapped by the fact that I forced myself to repeat certain phrases exactly every time they occurred within a song.
Did you go so far as to use vocal sampling on the last album, to ensure that recurring parts would be exactly the same?
HETFIELD: Well, there were a couple of times where we flew in the background vocals on a chorus or something -- just to save the time doing the donkey work. But I didn't feel right about doing even that this time. I sang everything.
On "Believe" and "Poor Twisted Me," your vocals are distorted. Is there an industrial music influence creeping in there?
HETFIELD: We wanted to get some different sounds. That's just a good old Shure bullet mic, usually used for harmonica. It's got a distinct sound that you can't do too much to, but it's pretty cool for what it is.
But I wouldn't call that an industrial sound or anything. It's just a mic being used for an application it wasn't designed for. The song called out for it. I had always told myself, "I'm never ever going to use that distorted vocal sound that everyone uses." But it fit lyrically.
I've been really focusing on lyricists -- as opposed to people who just sit down and crank out some words for a song -- who write fucking poems and then put music to them. I wanted to understand other people's ideas about how to write lyrics. Nick Cave's Murder Ballads are the coolest, and I dig all the Tom Waits stuff. I 've even listened to some Leonard Cohen. I mean, I hate the fucking music, but his lyrics are very cool.
You do a lot more "acting" with your singing.
HETFIELD: The way we recorded the vocals this time made it a bit easier, not exactly to get into character, but to feel the vocals a bit more than before. All the other times I did vocals, I sat in front of some expensive microphone -- stranded out in the cold-fucking tracking room. There always was a big X on the floor, and I wasn't allowed to move from that spot.
This time I thought, "You know, I have a great time with the vocals in my studio at home. I fuck around with them and they come out fine. Why can't we try that here?'' So we'd take the SM-57 or whatever mic we were using and I would walk around the control room and just yell -- and it was fine. It was very liberating not having to worry about where I had to stand and all this other bullshit. I could just worry about what I was singing.
Apparently, Henry Rollins does much the same thing when he 's cutting vocals. He actually has to tape the headphones to his head because he gets so animated.
HETFIELD: Fuck headphones, man! We had the big fatties [large studio monitors] cranked. There's a little bleed, but fuck it. You've got to go for vibe.
Earlier you referred to "a lot of changes happening in Metallica." What, besides the changes in your rhythm guitar approach -- and your haircuts -- were you referring to?
HETFIELD: In general, there's a looser attitude. Some new things happened with Jason [Newsted, bassist]. In the past, Lars [Ulrich, drummer] and I had the fucking shackles on everybody. This time, if we came into the studio and heard Jason laying down some slap bass part on a song, we'd be like, "What the fuck? …Okay, let's count to 10 and hear it in the context of the song. We're open-minded here." It was difficult at times.
I had noticed over the years how frustrated Jason was musically and how a lot of the stuff he's written isn't getting onto the records. It also used to really bug me that he was jamming with all of these other bands. He'd make a demo with some friends, and somehow it would end up on the radio and I'd be like, "What the fuck are you doing, Jason? This is Metallica! You can't do that shit!" Then I realized that he was doing it because he needs to get his shit out. He wants people to hear his stuff.
HAMMETT: It's a good creative outlet and completely healthy for him. And ultimately, what's healthy for him is healthy for us.
HETFIELD: We kept his frustration in mind while we hashed out the parts he put down on the record.
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