Interview: Kirk Hammett Talks Orion Festival, His New Book and the New Metallica Album

When the book is closed on Metallica and the final history written, you won't find the word "unambitious" anywhere.

In fact, with a busy European festival season nearly behind them, their own Orion Music festival looming, a 3D movie in the works and a new album on the horizon, Metallica are looking to accomplish more this summer than most bands do in a career.

"Whenever any of us take on something, we always give it our best," says Kirk Hammett. "It's just the way we go about doing things. Whether it's collectively or individually, I think all of us are pretty careful putting the right presentation across."

And given the number of firsts on the table for the band this year, that attitude is exactly why Metallica remain one of the most vital and exciting bands in all of music after three decades.

We recently caught up with Hammett via phone during Metallica's hectic tour schedule to chat about the Orion festival, his new book and the new Metallica album.

GUITAR WORLD: So you're in Denmark right now, then you've got Download and Nova Rock, and then back to the States?

KIRK HAMMETT: Yeah, and then we play our Orion festival in Atlantic City, and then we do eight nights in Mexico City and then we go up to Canada and do a bunch of shows.

When you get back, you'll have just under two weeks before Orion kicks off. What's the schedule going to be like for you leading up to that?

Well, let's see. A week and a half of it is going to be vacation time. [laughs] The gigs are on Saturday and Sunday, so we'll probably go out a couple of days before and do a short soundcheck when we get there, and then an extended soundcheck the day before the first show. And then after that, we'll just rock.

A lot of times when we have a show within two weeks of coming off a tour, we don't really need to rehearse — we'll just do a soundcheck and brush off the rust. And then we're good to go.

You've been playing the Black Album all summer on tour in Europe, and you'll be playing it the second night of Orion. The first night is Ride the Lightning. You already play a lot of those songs live, but were there any cuts you had to brush up on?

As you said, a lot of the songs in our set are on Ride the Lightning to begin with, so when it came time to actually think about doing Ride the Lightning, the only songs we needed to rehearse were "Escape" and "The Call of Ktulu."

Everything else is something that we play in pretty regular rotation — "Fade to Black," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Fight Fire With Fire." The only one we really felt the need to rehearse was "Escape," which we've never played live before, and "The Call of Kutlu," which we have played live a lot, but not since December, I think.The most striking thing about the festival is the incredibly diverse lineup. How did that come together? Did you all come to the table with a list of bands you wanted to see on the bill? What happened was we got a long list of bands who were available, and we just kind of picked and chose. And made sure that whoever we picked was someone we actually like. [laughs]I'm really looking forward to it. And we also have these lifestyle tents that are kind of based on our own individual interests. James is having a car show, Lars is having a movie festival type thing, Rob is having a skate and surf thing and I have Kirk's Crypt, which is kind of like a haunted house type thing.Those are the things that we're kind of going above and beyond to make sure our own lifestyles and personalities come across. That's kind of a new thing for us. Usually when we get to the show, we just play the show and leave. But this time it's our show, and it's more of an event than anything else. That's where all the other types of bands and the lifestyle tents come in.
A lot of bands — particularly in metal — like to keep a strong veil between their music and their personalities. Is it important for you to be able to express different facets of your personality through this band?It's something we feel the need to do. It's something that ... It is important for us to come across in a certain way. It's pretty important for us to come across in a way that's honest and not put-on. It's important that people kind of see this as more than just a regular concert.For me, just to get everything ready for Kirk's Crypt, I've been working on this pretty much every day for the last three months. I've got three assistants working on it just to make sure it's exactly the way I want it to be. [laughs]I'm also going to be presenting my book for the first time. I'm putting out a book in October, but the Orion festival is going to be the first showing of the book. So I just want everything to be exactly the way it needs to be.Can you tell me a bit more about the book you're going to be premiering?Yeah, it's a book about vintage tour and movie posters, vintage monster toys and artwork. It's basically all the stuff I've managed to amass over the last 30 years or so. I have such a huge collection and I just thought now was the right time to share it with everyone. And that's exactly what I'm doing. I finished it in April and it'll be out in October, but the Orion festival will be the first time I'm letting people know that it's done and it's coming out.For me it was a lot of fun to make, and it's very cool for me to look at. Hopefully it's just as fun and cool for other people too.It sounds like there's a lot that you personally have to look forward to at Orion. Are there any bands in particular that you're really excited to see, or just have on the bill?I'm really excited to see Ghost. I think they're a great band. We've been playing some shows with them over here in Europe and so I'm really excited about them.I'm excited about Arctic Monkeys, I'm excited about Avenged Sevenfold, The Gaslight Anthem, Cage the Elephant, Best Coast, Gary Clark Jr. — who I think is just a tremendous guitar player — The Sword, Suicidal Tendencies, Kyng, Red Fang and Soul Rebels Brass Band, who we played with in December. It's going to be pretty cool. Basically what we're doing is setting it up like a European festival. A lot of times when we go over to Europe to play festivals, there are a lot of different bands from a lot of different genres of music. After playing these festivals for 20 years or so it's shown us that heavy metal bands and regular rock bands and alternative bands and whatever else can co-exist together. And that's pretty much what we're trying to do with our festival — a European type of bill, but in America.We don't want it to be just uniquely heavy metal; we want it to be a lot of different flavors.Was there every any concern about bringing such a foreign concept to America, that you might have a bunch of Metallica fans show up and end up scratching their heads at Arctic Monkeys or Modest Mouse?You know, we're aware of that. That's very likely to happen. [laughs] But you've got to start somewhere. Maybe by the third or fourth festival it will attract a larger cross-section of fans. That's the ultimate idea.There will inevitably be some sort of confusion over a heavy metal fan trying to figure out what exactly Modest Mouse is doing. And likewise, there might be a Modest Mouse fan who's heard maybe a few Metallica songs and says, "Well, I'm here for Modest Mouse, but I might as well stay for Metallica." We're hoping that we'll pick up fans that way.Playing the Black Album live so much this summer — and again at Orion — do you think that album has gotten in your head at all regarding the direction of the next Metallica album?Well, we've talked about maybe going a little bit simpler. Now that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to happen. [laughs] We've said many times, "Oh, let's try and do this," and then things end up so far left field of what we tried to do that we had no choice but to just go with it.It's really, really difficult for me to say how all this will impact everything, but at the very least I had to relearn a lot of these guitar solos, and I remember how easy it was for me to come up with guitar solos for the Black Album. And I think the reason for that is that they were just simple songs. The options that I had were just amazingly simple. We'll just see how it goes.In your recent interview with Rolling Stone, James said he had more than 800 riffs laying around, and Rob hinted that you had more than 300. Is that pretty accurate?I'm probably closer to 400 now. [laughs] But you know, out of those 400 there might only be 20 great riffs. It'd be something if all 400 were triple-A, diamond-rated ideas, but that's just not the case. Never was and never will be. James might have 800 riffs, but there's maybe 12 songs in there. Who knows? It all depends on what we do with it.In the fall, we plan on concentrating a little more on writing songs and doing nothing else but just thinking about the new album. That should be interesting.Is there a time frame fro hitting the studio yet, or is it too soon to tell?No, it's just whenever. Whenever it happens, it happens, really.Photo: Anton CorbijnLast year was also full of milestones for Metallica as the band were joined by Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax for the first-ever American Big Four shows. Guitar World was on hand when the bands hit Milan, Italy, and one of the most epic photo shoots in heavy metal history took place. You can relive the best moments from our exclusive Big Four photo shoot by picking up the Big Four Poster book now in our online store.

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Josh Hart

Josh Hart is a former web producer and staff writer for Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado magazines (2010–2012). He has since pursued writing fiction under various pseudonyms while exploring the technical underpinnings of journalism, now serving as a senior software engineer for The Seattle Times.