You are here

Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett Talk Guitar Solos and Gear in 1991 Guitar World Interview

Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett Talk Guitar Solos and Gear in 1991 Guitar World Interview

Here's an interview with Metallica's James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett from the October 1991 issue of Guitar World. To see the Metallica cover -- and all the GW covers from 1991 -- click here.

"We’ve been in the studio so long -- a war has come and gone, and we're still stuck in here!"

A heavy weariness, quite evident behind James Hetfield's steely gaze, underscores the intense pressure that has been Metallica's constant as they labored over the past few months to record Metallica, their first album in over three years, and fifth overall.

"It's pretty amazing when you think about it," offers James with a strained smile.

Here in the comfortable confines of One on One Studios in North Hollywood, it's down to the eleventh hour for the World's Greatest Metal Band. Working exhaustively around the clock with producer Bob Rock, James and Kirk Hammett take turns spit-polishing a guitar solo here, roughing out a vocal there. While this modern recording facility is outfitted with pool tables, weights, a well-stocked kitchen, dart boards, big screen TV's and videos, exercise machines and just about any creature comfort a healthy (or otherwise) rock group could ever want, it has been a veritable Devil's Island for the group.

"We've been in the studio so long," growls James, "we've seen four other bands come through and do their albums. And some of those guys have already gone on tour!"

Outside, a small group of roving Metallica fans, hoping to catch a glimpse of James or Kirk entering (but never, seemingly, leaving) the white, windowless stucco building, maintain a tireless vigil, shuffling up and down the 5200 block of Lankershim Boulevard. Their nervous, darting eyes and untucked Metallica shirts have some local business proprietors double-checking their wares and wallets.

"This has been going on since last October, once them kids found out this heavy metal band was next door," says a leathery-looking taco vendor a block away. "They don't scare me none, though." As if on cue, a few fans wander in and order some burritos, heavy on the grease.

Bob Rock is screaming. His voice penetrates the bank-vault thickness of the studio doors, almost reaching the street outside. The platinum producer is at the hair-pulling stage, after spending the past five-and-a-half hours trying to correct a single, renegade guitar note that, to his million-dollar ears, is a microscopic tone out of whack. "He's not having a good day," suggests Kirk with a sheepish grin. The guitarist is repeatedly called in to try to punch in a note that will allow the visibly stressed Canadian producer to finally wrap up the tedious session. Kirk excuses himself, runs into the studio's main room, shoulders a black ESP and effortlessly runs through the solo for the twentieth time. "I think I got it," he says.

It's no small wonder that Bob Rock -- the career-rescuing hit-maker for artists like Motley Crue, Aerosmith, the Cult and Bon Jovi -- is concerned over something as seemingly trivial as a single guitar note. Taking on the Metallica project was a critical step in his otherwise Top 40-oriented career. "People will be saying Bob made Metallica sound like Bon Jovi," remarks James. "They don't realize that no one screws with us, except us. Bob fit right into the program and the direction we were going."

Certainly, Rock's commercially successful background has raised more than a few eyebrows. The notion of Metallica opting for the producer's trademark approach -- crisp, clear guitars and radio-friendly hooks -- severely traumatized Metallica fans who drink in sledgehammer chords like they are mother's milk.

"We're not really out to justify what we're doing," says James defensively. "We don't give a shit. This is what we want and this is how it is. Bob just helped us get what we want."

What they wanted for Metallica, and what they got were guitars that ring more sharply than ever, leaving a clean trail of resonating destruction. Where ...And Justice For All was weak and flat-sounding in the bass and drum mix, the new album bursts with a deep snare crack and a bass thick and heavy enough to set cement with. The band's whiplash tempo changes and complicated arrangements have been revamped into a lethal and immensely heavy, groove-laden sound and album that should give thrash a sharp kick in its sluggish ass.

"Kirk!" Rock's screams are getting louder.

"Uh, oh," says Hammett, jumping like a dog about to be punished for knocking over the garbage can. "Got to go."

GUITAR WORLD: Your patented "Metalli-crunch" seems bigger and badder on the new album. What did you do to fatten your sound?

KIRK HAMMETT: First, I went through my CD collection and picked out guitar sounds that impressed me, and gave them to Bob Rock as points of reference. It helps to know what kind of tone you're trying to pursue.

What CD's did you give him?

HAMMETT: I was particularly impressed with Gary Moore's sound on his latest album, Still Got The Blues. I used one of the breaks from "Oh Pretty Woman" as a main reference. I also gave Bob UFO's Obsession -- I've always liked Michael Schenker's sound. The third example was something by Carlos Santana. I was shooting for a real up-front sounding guitar.

But wasn't that the problem with ...And Justice For All? The guitar was so up-front that it obscured Jason's bass.

JAMES HETFIELD: The bass was obscured for two reasons. First, on past albums, Jason tended to double my rhythm guitar parts, so it was hard to tell where my guitar started and his bass left off. Also, my tone on Justice was very scooped -- all lows and highs with very little mid-range. When my rhythm parts were placed in the mix, my guitar sound ate up all the lower frequencies. Jason and I were always battling for the same space in the mix.

On this album, Jason approached his parts differently. He's playing more with Lars's kick drum, so his basslines are very distinct from my guitar lines -- we're not getting in each other's way. Bob really helped us with orchestrating and bringing out the low end -- getting the guitar and bass to work together. In fact, when I played the album for a friend, he asked, "What is that weird low-end sound?" I said, "That's something new for us -- it's called bass!"

Pages



"Billy Jean" Gets the Percussive Fingerstyle Treatment