Dear Guitar Hero: Jason Newsted Talks Flotsam and Jetsam, Voivod, Getting Hazed by Metallica and More
He’s the former bassist of Metallica, has a new project with Mike Mushok, and he almost got killed by the members of Danzig. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is…
Dude! Doomsday for the Deceiver is amazing! What was the experience like recording that with Flotsam and Jetsam, compared to Metallica on …And Justice for All? — Jeff Handy
The entire Doomsday LP was recorded, mixed and mastered in five days for $5,000. That’s the main difference right there. [laughs] Everybody just went in and they played their parts, in tune or out of tune, as you can hear. It was about the feeling. And the charisma carried us. In Metallica, it became very much “meticula” after a while. By the time we got around to the Black Album, we started learning from Bob Rock’s microscope thing and making everything as perfect as possible. That’s the polar opposite of a Flotsam album.
You have a writing credit on the Black Album [“My Friend of Misery”], which is one of the best-selling records of all time. Do the residuals from that alone pay your mortgage? — Curtis McMahon
Well, that’s kind of a personal question. I don’t really know what to say. [laughs] I think you’re being jokey, so I’ll give it right back. My answer is: I’ve been able to do what I want to do when I want to do it for 20 years. [laughs]
I really dug the albums you did with Voivod. I’ve always thought Piggy [Denis D’Amour, who passed away in 2005] was a super-underrated guitarist that never got enough recognition. What was it like to work with him? — Josh Blackstone
Piggy was one of the most underrated guitar players in hard-rock music. Voivod have been playing longer than Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth or whoever else you want to pull up in our generation of thrash-metal music. Voivod came first. Piggy put all that sideways dissonance in those songs first. Everybody needs to remember that. Piggy mathematically outsmarted the guitar and tuned it differently than anybody. He was a nice, gentle, absolute genius type of person. But when it came to the music, there was absolutely zero tolerance for fucking around. You do not make a mistake.
The first time you play a song, you don’t make a mistake. He’d give me my parts and I’d go and practice. Then I’d come back and play it. About three minutes in, he’d go, “No! Wrong!” I’m like, “Fuck, dude. It was my first time playing it with you!” He was that far in it and that good. I mean, playing with [Metallica’s James] Hetfield was always a challenge. And you have to be on your toes playing with guys like Warren Haynes or Zakk [Wylde]. But Piggy was a different thing: a very prolific, intelligent, well-read cat.
What’s your favorite, and worst, onstage memory? — Cindy
Worst is James getting burnt [on August 8, 1992, from an onstage pyrotechnics accident]. No two ways about that. Getting pelted with shit onstage is difficult. But nothing compares to James blistering. And the best time onstage? There’s been quite a few times. Playing the Grammys was pretty cool. When we were doing the dress rehearsals, I looked out and saw these poster boards in the seats with an 8x10 [photo] of the person who would be sitting there for the show: James Brown, Tom Petty, Buck Owens and Prince.
And when we went out to actually play, they were all sitting there…and their skin is blowing back. It was such a proud moment. Afterward we saw James Brown backstage and he was just nodding his head and telling us we really knew how to take care of some business. Those are the best moments: when your heroes tip their hat to you, or even call you by your first name.
There’s a lot of rumors surrounding when you joined Metallica after [original Metallica bassist] Cliff Burton’s death. Did the guys really give you a hard time and haze you? — Thomas Hawke
The first few months were definitely testing, just as they should be. If you think about the exclusivity of the club I was joining, I’m surprised that they didn’t go further. Plus, they were in the throes of losing their teacher and brother, Cliff. Lars is Metallica’s logistic leader, but Cliff was the musical and spiritual leader.
Everybody looked up to him. They’d just spread their friend’s ashes, and I joined their band. I come in, standing in his place, playing his bass out of his amp with his blown speakers and wah. We knew that his shoes couldn’t be filled. It’s not even fucking possible! So they already don’t like me because I’m standing there and Cliff’s not.
So, yeah, the hazing lasted for four to six months. One well-known instance is the time we went out in Japan to eat sushi. It was my first time, and they said, “That big ball of green right there? That’s mint ice cream, Jason. Take a spoonful.” So I did. But of course it was wasabi. [laughs]
Then there was the one time where there was an actual chance of me being hurt. We were staying on 48th Street in New York City at the same hotel as Danzig, or they might have been Samhain at the time. They were all way into the freaking “product” at the time: just fucking huge dudes with the greased black hair and devilocks. They’re out drinking—and ’roids and booze are a great combo, by the way—and they get back at six o’clock in the morning. They come knocking on my door. I’ve got my earplugs in, but I heard ’em. I’m like, “No fucking way.” They start pounding on the door, and I hear, “Son of a bitch! I know he’s in there.” Ka-crack! And the fucking door busts off its hinges.
And these big, bulky fuckers come in. They go, “Hey, welcome to the band, fucker!” And they started smashing and throwing shit everywhere, including out the windows. Then they pick up the edge of this big-ass old walnut bed and turn it over, with me on it. So then they start throwing all the smashed furniture on top of the bed. Some hotel dude comes up because of the disturbance. But he sees the door off the hinges and these big fuckers, and doesn’t say a thing! [laughs] He didn’t even call the police. That incident was definitely the height of the hazing.
I read that while you were recovering from your shoulder injury you took up painting. What kind of stuff do you paint? — Vaughan Moorhouse
My shoulder was first torn in 2004, like almost all the way separated, bicep and everything. And that took quite a while to get fixed. In the meantime, I was doing everything with my other arm, and then I tore the other shoulder. During that four-year span, I was on Vicodin the whole time. There wasn’t enough of a time span for me to withdraw from it without getting back on it again. So that was the ugliest part.
But the painting thing is the blessing that came from that. Big pictures. Mostly acrylic things. And they’re giant abstract creatures. Sometimes you see the creatures. Sometimes it takes you a long time before you can see the creatures. Sometimes it’s just layer and layer of expression. And I had to become ambidextrous by necessity. So I’m doing all of the paintings with both hands. I do all the text in the pictures with my left hand and all the painting with my right. And now I can play my instruments a little better, too, because I can use both.
You co-wrote “Blackened” off of …And Justice for All, which I think is one of the greatest album openers of all time. What do you remember about how that song came together? — Billy Burton
Yeah, the main riff is mine. I wrote it on bass, though. I’ve never told this story before, and it warms me a bit. I’d only been in the band for a very short time. I was still in a little one-bedroom rented apartment. And James would come over to the house, like [we were] buddies. He’d come over for dinner. We’d hang out and play guitars on the couch. It’s was pretty fucking dreamy for me. Metallica was my favorite band.
It was pretty surreal. I had a little four-track Tascam set up in the bedroom. So we went in there, and he’s got a guitar and I’ve got a bass. I’m fucking around with this riff. And then he started playing along, and the song started forming right at that time. I’m sitting up in my chair, like, Holy shit, dude. This is something! That was the first thing we ever constructed together. And him going, “Dude, that riff’s good enough to open our fucking album,” really gave me a feeling of victory, because I looked up to him greatly, and still do to this day.
I loved the Metal EP from your new band, Newsted. Will you be releasing a full-length anytime soon? Will Mike Mushok play on that? — Keith Sando
Yes. The full LP is completed. It’s called Heavy Metal Music and will be out in August. It’s a four-piece band performing the LP, and Mushok plays on it. So it’s about an hour’s worth of metal, and we have a couple bonus tracks for Japan and Australia as well.
Photo: Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images