Former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted walked away from one of the world's biggest bands to explore his own music. In the process, he worked with progressive metal veterans Voivod and played with Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and many others.
Now Newsted is back with a new band — Newsted, featuring Jesus Mendez Jr., Jessie Farnsworth and Staind's Mike Mushok — and a debut EP, Metal, which was released in January. The EP finds Newsted doing double duty on bass and vocals.
I recently spoke to Newsted about his EP and his past and current success.
GUITAR WORLD: You're on the road with your new band. What led to the Metal EP and the forming of Newsted?
In 2011, during the fall, I had put together my punk band, Papa Wheelie, to do some shows. We’d been playing improvisational slabs of metal since 1996 in the Chophouse [Newsted’s studio]. I played guitar and hollered a bit. I only played the top four strings and hacked around at it. We opened for Anvil and had some pretty cool shows locally in the Bay.
During those same weeks, Metallica was putting together the roster for their 30th-anniversary shows. Lars asked me to come and play some songs. I was really excited about that, mostly to see the family again. Most of the people that were with Metallica when I was there still work for them. They are a major reason they are what they are. I spent one third of my life with that camp, so they are my brothers and sisters.
It’s always fun to jam with the boys, so I wanted to do that. It was a fan-club-based show where there were representatives from many counties. I didn’t know what to expect, but they were all so happy to see me. I knew it was going to be fun, but I had no idea of the sheer joy and excitement. I got bit real solid. At that point, I thought I had to get back to this thing. This is what I’m meant to do. I just started thinking about getting serious.
Jesus Mendez Jr. and Jessie Farnsworth had already been with me for about five years at the Chophouse jamming. I asked them if they wanted to do something serious with me and if they’d want to commit. They said they’d support me. My wife at that time got me my very first computer. She got me an iPad for my art. It had Garage Band on it. I used to have to carry four or five cases of mixers and stuff in order to make music. Now I can carry a guitar, a bass and the iPad, and I can make whole songs.
Once I got bit by that, I was really taken in. The immediacy of getting my ideas on there is fantastic. So I put together 11 compositions by August 2012. I gave them to Jessie and Jesus, and they learned everything. I had played all the instruments and constructed the entire songs for all the instruments. I used to write the bass lines for Flotsam [and Jetsam] on bass, and then the guys would add their stuff.
One of songs was an acoustic song I played 12-string on, and we got a cello player and it was for my wife for a wedding present. Jesus and Jesse agreed to go and record it with me. We recorded at a buddy’s studio. We went in and played her songs I had “Soldierhead," “Skyscraper” and “Godsnake” in my back pocket, so we recorded those as well. The initial intention was to have a cool recording to blast in our cars and for my girl to have her song. It ended up that one person heard it and then another long-time guy from the Metallica camp let someone else hear it. About two weeks later, had label's calling my old management. I had to piece together a team of new management to handle this. I wasn’t going to let the opportunity get by if someone was interested.
It wasn’t really planned, but it is what transpired. Once we got that attention, I decided to do something myself and sell all the CDs myself through my website and iTunes. We have gotten really exciting reception by everybody. Everyone has been so supportive and positive. On January 8, we released it to everybody. Three months later, we have a world tour going. We have an LP with Mike Mushok [Staind] done. I wrote about 21 songs since August of last year. We put another batch together. I’m very excited about it.
What's it like working with Mike Mushok?
I didn’t really know about Staind. I wasn’t really a fan. I knew their radio stuff a little. I had no idea about their early stages when they were crazy heavy and down-tuned. He surprises me every day when he plays. He had such a shredder vibe from the Tony MacApline school. He's a great song writer as far as what goes under Aaron’s [Lewis] voice. But when he comes in and starts shredding, he brought a dimension I couldn’t have dreamed of for my songs. He does the 7-string, the baritone, adding color, making the heavy things heavier. Mike made such a difference. I’m very happy to have him as an addition to our band.
Obviously your name is recognized throughout metal from your prior work. Did the fan reaction to the EP take you by surprise?
I didn’t know what to expect because of what you mentioned with the bands I’ve played with before, and the styles I’ve played. Voivod, for example, was an underground thing. We knew how many records we would sell. There was a certain way to market it. I didn’t know who would be interested in my stuff anymore and who would give a crap. For the first time since starting Flotsam and Jetsam I’ve started my own band with my own songs, top to bottom.
This is a whole new role playing bass and singing vocals. Playing guitar and singing in Papa Wheelie is considerably different. There aren’t many bass-playing singers. It’s hard to lay down a line and keep a vocal melody going. I’ve been developing that for years and years. It’s very challenging, and I like that. I wanted to make sure on this that people knew what they were getting.
Newsted and “metal” ... those two words leave no room for confusion. When people see that, they know what they are going to get. It’s amazing to see people’s reaction all over the world on social media. I used to have to be in the town to ask the fans to know. Now I can find out by the push of a bottom. Quite a different world, but it really is overwhelming.
Can catch Newsted on tour in the US through May and in Europe in June. Newsted will participate in Gigantour 2013 with Megadeth, Device, Hellyeah and Death Division. For more information, visit newstedheavymetal.com.
John Katic is a writer and podcaster who founded the Iron City Rocks Podcast in 2009. It features interviews with countless rock, hard rock, metal and blues artists. In 2013, he started Heavy Metal Bookclub, a podcast and website devoted to hard rock and metal books.