Kirk Hammett Talks ‘Hardwired’ Guitar Solos: “Lars Coached, I Improvised”

Kirk Hammett sat down with Metallica’s So What! blog to talk about his approach to soloing on the group’s latest release, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct. In the discussion, Hammett reveals how he took a spontaneous approach to soloing, laying down 25 to 30 solos, after which drummer Lars Ulrich would come in and provide what Hammett refers to as “coaching” to help fine tune his efforts.

Hammett says that, at the outset, the idea was to make an album that was similar in approach to the group’s 1983 studio debut, Kill ’Em All.

“On Kill ’Em All, I pretty much showed up and started off with how the solos were traditionally started; the first four/eight bars I would play, and then just improvise the rest. There’s some instances where I went a little bit more in one direction and towards what was already there. There’s instances where I just went far into another direction and played something completely different, so it’s a mix-up on Kill ’Em All.

For Hardwired, Hammett says, “I thought it would be great if I didn’t work on the guitar solos beforehand. It’s a pretty bold thing and you know, it’s a really challenging thing because I like to be well prepared when it comes to anything that has to do with music and my guitar playing. I want to show up to the scene knowing my parts, being able to execute them perfectly, and being able to come up with the spontaneous pieces of music when I need to. That’s my thing; showing up well prepared and that’s, that was my MO for all the albums after Kill ’Em All. I mean even Ride the Lightning… I still have my solo notes sheet with all my solo notes on it.

“This time around, I just said to myself, you know, in the past, a lot of the times the stuff that ended up on those albums was what I first played. The very first thing. It’s just like my subconscious has a feel for what is the most appropriate thing, and then when I start actually thinking about it, that is, that process is more similar to like trying to force square bricks into round holes. You know, coming up with a concept and making it work rather than just letting the music flow, the creativity flow, the feelings flow, and have my subconscious dictate what needs to be done for the music. I put 100 percent of that concept into the approach of doing these solos.”

You can watch the entire discussion in the clip below.

Elsewhere in the interview, Hammett talks about Lars Ulrich’s participation in directing the solos once Hammett had the basic structures worked out.

“I would show up, [producer] Greg [Fidelman] would say, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this song.’ … When I was ready, they’d hit the button, and then would just wait to see what’d come out. I would play about 25 or 30 solos, all different, in two or three hours, and then Lars would come in and say, ‘How are things going?’ Greg and I would give him a progress report. And then, I’d start playing some other stuff… that’s when Lars would come up with suggestions, coaching me on, maybe going into this direction or to that direction, or [talking about] when he and James were getting the song together [how] they might’ve heard the solo sounding.”

Hammett says Ulrich’s advice would typically have to do with the length of a phrase of the dynamics of the solo.

“Usually he would say something like, ‘Play through the bar, don’t stop after four, play through the bar.’ Or at the end of the solo, where I would maybe wind it down and end on a low note, he would say, ‘Try ending it dripping up high.’ I mean, it’s fairly elementary stuff. He doesn’t say stuff to me like, ‘Now go to C-sharp diminished,’ he doesn’t get technical. It’s just merely suggestions, you know? Coaching is probably the best term that I can come up with.

You can read the full interview over at So What!

Hardwired…to Self-Destruct was released November 18 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. It is the sixth time Metallica have topped the chart.

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