James Hetfield: The Guitar World Interview
As for his fabled rhythm playing, it’s never been harder, faster or more precise. Warming up to the topic, James, who is often said to have the best right hand in metal, says, “I’d much rather talk about guitar playing. I hate it when people ask me about my lyrics. I always feel like telling them to just go and read them,” he says with a laugh. So with that, we begin our conversation that encompasses life, death and James’ “eternal quest” to get the world’s greatest guitar sound.
GUITAR WORLD How would you describe this record?
JAMES HETFIELD I guess I would say that it’s a look backward—taking the essence of our earlier style and playing it with our current skills. It’s impossible to completely regain your innocence or virginity. When we recorded our first albums, we had no regard for authority or for the way things were supposed to be. We’d walk into a studio and we’d play what we knew and that was that. Some of the engineers would complain and say things like, “You can’t hear the vocal,” or “You can’t hear the guitar…what’s that sound?” And we’d say, “That’s us! Record it, please.” [laughs] We tried to capture that attitude again. It’s one of the reasons we chose Rick Rubin to produce the album. He’s good at capturing the essence of the artists he works with.
GW Rick is great at taking classic artists like Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond and helping them recapture what made them great in the first place.
HETFIELD Yeah, presenting them again and giving them another chance to speak. Especially Johnny Cash. Johnny was totally screwed by his record company and kind of disappeared. It’s like, “Come on, Johnny Cash is America. This has to rise to the top again, somehow. Gotta fly the flag!”
GW The new album references the past, but it has its own character.
HETFIELD I’d like to think every one of the albums has its own unique and distinct sound. Some might be harder to listen to. Listening to St. Anger is somewhat of a chore for me. [laughs] It’s cool because it’s raw and in your face, but it has just one dimension. You know, “This is anger, and here it is.”
To read the rest of this interview, pick up the December issue of Guitar World, on sale now!
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