From the Archive: Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett Discuss Their 1996 Album, 'Load'
The listening public's tastes have shifted radically since you made your last album.
HETFIELD: They've completely shifted since we started writing the songs for this record!
KIRK HAMMETT: In the time between albums, we watched all this shit fly by and wondered, "How does Metallica fit into this?" And then we realized that we didn't fit into it at all, never have, and never really will.
Were you influenced by any of the grunge or alternative music that followed Nirvana's Nevermind down the pipeline?
HAMMETT: The only real influence that the music I've been hearing has had is that it's sparked my interest in all the old, shitty-sounding Electro-Harmonix and MXR effects pedals I used to use when I was younger. But I listened to a lot of that Seattle stuff before it became mega-popular. When it got that big, I stopped.
HETFIELD: [to Hammett] Why? Did they suddenly become shitty when they got popular?
HAMMETT: No. I just felt that I couldn't get away from it.
HETFIELD: That happened to me. When the "Black Album" got popular, I stopped listening to it. [laughs]
That album has sold eight million albums to date and is still on the charts. What -- if any -- are the drawbacks of having such a huge hit on your hands?
HETFIELD: Everything gets so inflated. Everything is "More! More! More!" More touring, more interviews -- more of everything. Everyone wants something -- always. They can't just take you for who you are.
Luckily for us, success wasn't a night and day thing. We had taken a few steps on our way up, so we were able to handle it mentally. No one in Metallica ended up shooting himself or shooting up, or whatever it is people sometimes feel the need to do in these situations. You see it every fuckin' day in this weird-ass business.
I mean, everyone has their little things that they need to do to release pressure. When you're touring for that long, there's shit that just happens to your head. Sometimes you stray, and hopefully you've got a band that will help you through. We're really lucky to have stuck around this long without having any major crises. I mean, we've had people die in the band and things like that [original bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a tour bus accident in 1986], but as far as people pulling and tugging and fucking with shit, there haven't been too many problems.
It amazes me how certain bands fall apart. It's like, "Fuck, man! Can't you see that shit coming?" But sometimes they don't. It's hard to keep a band uniform and still maintain a comfortable degree of individuality; you have to respect each other all the time.
When you do get some time off, what do you do? Do you get as far away from music as possible?
HETFIELD: I go in cycles. I won't bother listening to music for quite a while, and then I'll feel down or shitty or something and realize that it's because I haven't picked up my guitar or played music. I've conditioned myself to need this stuff for so long that I can't be away from it for too long. It's like, "Whoa, I've got to fuckin ' pick the guitar up and start playing." And it's scary when you haven't played for quite a while and can't remember the riff to "Seek and Destroy!"
I've noticed that it's hard to figure out what you want to do when you come off a two-year tour. While you're out on the road, you make up this list of things that you want to do when the tour's over, and then when you get home you end up vegging. It's a strange feeling to be out on your own again, not to have the Metallica family around you. There's no tour manager to wake me up and tell me to do this or that. It's like, "Whoa! I have to start doing shit for myself here and deciding what I want to do." And then when I finally get it together and start doing all the shit I planned to, it's time to get back to Metallica again.
Sometimes you get torn between the two worlds. Especially when you get to our age, you start to develop a family life and get things kinda going. No one in the band is married or has kids or anything, but you have a girlfriend and your little sanctuary at home, and you've got to keep that together.
But Metallica is the fucking world to me -- it always has been, and that's not going to change. Whoever becomes my partner through life has got to deal with that. I'm married to Metallica.
The last two Metallica albums had specific musical agendas. And Justice for All [Elektra, 1988] was an exercise in taking the complex, challenging arrangements of Ride the Lightning [Elektra, 1984] and Master of Puppets [Elektra, 1986] to their most elaborate extreme, while Metallica was an exercise in economy…
HETFIELD: Economy, my ass! [laughs] That was the most expensive record we've ever made.
. . . in which you reigned in your song structures and focused on crafting more concise rock songs. What were your goals for this album?
HETFIELD: We wanted to attain a certain degree of looseness with this record. The drums are pretty much as anal as ever, but the vocals, and particularly the guitars, breathe a lot more. Instead of me playing all of the rhythm guitars and trying to double them as closely as possible, like I'd done on our previous albums, both Kirk and I play contrasting rhythm parts on almost all of the record. There isn't really much of that one-dimensional wall of heavy guitar -- with a clean guitar coming in once in a while -- that we've had on previous albums. I wanted a "medium" sound, if there's such a thing. I was like, "How do I get that? I fucking don't know."