James Hetfield: Iron Man
GW Did you like Jason?
HETFIELD Yeah, I did like Jason. There was a real “up” vibe with him. Real childlike, not childish. The things we liked, the things we enjoyed, writing together…it was fun. Then we started to have bigger fame, resentments were created, and things changed with all of us.
GW Lars claimed that a possible title for 1988’s …And Justice for All was Wild Chicks, Fast Cars and Lots of Drugs. Was that an accurate picture of the band at that time?
HETFIELD Well, we all had our battles back then. We all had our vices that were growing hugely. Yeah, we were fighting demons. At one point it turned from fun into destruction. It started to take us over. We had just done Master of Puppets, toured with Ozzy and started to headline our own shows. Suddenly things were available to us—parties, you name it. We got sucked into that. That’s how it was supposed to be. I don’t recall which of us was married, but I certainly wasn’t, so it was okay for me to indulge. It was fun. You have to do all that and learn that, Well, that’s not what music’s about. It was like the bonus track that starts to take over the whole record, you know? [laughs]
GW Taking drugs didn’t interest you, though?
HETFIELD Thank God it didn’t interest me. I was afraid of drugs. Maybe the Christian Science upbringing was responsible for that, but it was also because, while I was in high school playing in my very first band—the aptly titled Obsession—I smoked pot for the first time. I remember thinking, Wow, this is great. Then I smoked five joints one evening, went in to jam and, man, it hit me so hard. I freaked out. I thought we were playing the same song for half an hour. I did not like it.
GW What was Lars like when he was doing cocaine?
HETFIELD Oh, man. Talkative? Even more so, if that’s possible. The typical shit. I did not like being around him when he was on that stuff.
GW Were you fun to be around when you were drunk?
HETFIELD Definitely not. I would get pretty violent. There’d be the happy stage and then it would get ugly, where the world is fucked and “Fuck you.” I’d start out as clown and after that I’d be the punk anarchist who wanted to smash everything and hurt people. I’d get into fights, sometimes with Lars. That’s how resentments would get released—by pushing and shoving and throwing things. We have two very different personalities. He wants to be the center of attention all the time, and that bothers me, because I’m the same way. He’s out there charming people, and I’ll be intimidating so people will respect me that way.
GW Does that hold true now?
HETFIELD No. I think I’ve learned to turn that off. That part of things—Lars’ attitude—would bug me so much, because we were this band that was so anti-L.A., anti-Hollywood, and Lars was out there posing. Guns N’ Roses to me were part of the enemy, and Lars was out there with them, posing up a storm. Lars is that way. He will be infatuated with certain people in his life and need to get into them. He likes learning things from people who have that something, and Axl [Rose] had that.
GW Was it difficult to record “Nothing Else Matters” [from 1991’s Black Album]?
HETFIELD At first it was. I didn’t even want to play it for the guys. It was so heartfelt, so personal to me. I thought that Metallica could only have these songs about destroying things, head-banging, bleeding for the crowd—whatever it is, as long as it isn’t about chicks and fast cars, even though that’s what we liked. The song was about a girlfriend I had at the time, and it let me get some other feelings out. I certainly did not think it was a Metallica song. When the guys heard it they were amazed at how much they, I guess, related to it. It turned out to be a pretty big song on that record.
GW Did it feel like a big turning point?
HETFIELD I would say so. That opened the door even further and gave us carte blanche to play many different styles of songs. It touched a lot of people.
GW What do you remember about the 1992 tour with Guns N’ Roses?
HETFIELD Man, it was the excess tour. “Hey, you going to the after party?” Axl spent tens of thousands of dollars on those parties. There were hot tubs backstage. It was very extravagant, which was so un-me. I’d go back and drink their beer and shoot pool; that’s what I’d do. By the time they’d come offstage I’d be gone so I didn’t have to hang out with them.