Robert Trujillo: “We have more riffs than we know what to do with. With every handful of riffs we get out of Kirk, there’s another 500 we didn’t hear”

Rob Trujillo
(Image credit: Tim Saccenti)

While there’s no question Cliff Burton and Jason Newsted’s contributions to Metallica will echo for eternity, Robert Trujillo has now been in the group longer than any of his predecessors. 

The Warwick endorsee – who had played in Suicidal Tendencies, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society and Jerry Cantrell’s solo band prior to joining – was hired in 2003 at the end of the audition process famously captured on their fly-on-the-wall Metallica: Some Kind of Monster rockumentary. 

With Hammett co-writing four of the new songs and Trujillo helping pen three, he describes their latest work as “a very collaborative experience” – especially in light of its 2016 predecessor being solely composed by Hetfield and Ulrich, save for his contributions to ManUNkind. This time it was very much a team effort.

“Every record is like a different journey,” says Trujillo, calling GW just a few days after we spoke to Hammett. “There are some that lean more on Lars and James, which was the path we took for the previous record… and that ended up being a great album. And before that one, [2008’s] Death Magnetic was more collaborative. I’m not saying one is better or worse; it just makes for a different experience, but it’s always great. 

“This record had more involvement from all of us. There was also all that interesting energy around the pandemic – how we had to create these songs and get the process going was a challenge because it was all happening from our home studios. That was a challenge in itself, trying to start writing and creating from that kind of first launchpad.

It must’ve been nice when you all finally got into a room together.

“Yeah, that’s when it gets really fun and interesting, standing there with all that talent and getting to play those blueprint arrangements as a unit, as a team, in person and physically. You have to do that when you’re working out all the transitions and details. 

“They all happened in person, and those nuances can make it that much more special. The whole journey lent itself to an interesting selection of songs. They always take you out to a place, like a canvas, man… each song is like a painting.”

A lot of the songs on this album remind me of driving in a convertible car along the Pacific Coast Highway in California, humming along to those big riffs

Sleepwalk My Life Away begins with a bass intro. That must’ve been fun for you, leading the charge like that.”

“I like that one a lot. There’s that real scratchy pulse at the beginning. It’s really abrasive and in your face. It’s a real pissed-off way to start a song with that angry bass, but it’s also got a nastiness in the groove. It just cultivates itself and takes you on a journey through time and space. Once we get into it, it’s grooving pretty hard, like during the chorus where it’s kinda on the up-beat during the key changes, but there’s also this sense of flow. 

“A lot of the songs on this album, believe it or not, remind me of driving in a convertible car along the Pacific Coast Highway in California, humming along to those big riffs. You can feel the sun hitting your face and the wind blowing into your skull while you’re grooving along. That’s definitely something I get from this song, but there’s also that Sabbathy riff in the middle that came out really nice, which is a real banging moment.”

Kirk described You Must Burn! as his favorite track on the new album. That must be nice to hear considering you were heavily involved.

“That middle riff about four minutes in is very special to me. It might be one of my favorite riffs I’ve been a part of writing in this band, to be honest. It’s so visual. There’s this evilness to it and this dark edge, but it also has space. I was actually pulling from Believer by Ozzy Osbourne on that. And when you hear the vocal part, that’s me singing along with James doing my best Ozzy impression. [Laughs] 

“That whole section pulls from Sabbath and Ozzy’s solo stuff; it has that whole call-and-answer thing going on. So yeah, the breakdown riff means a lot to me. I remember when James and I were working on that in one of the many cities we were in. A lot of these songs come from being on tour and jamming before we go on stage. 

“So this is probably my favorite song on the album and quite possibly my favorite composition I’ve done with the guys. It was a very collaborative song. And I’m glad Kirk likes it! I always say to him, “Do you like soloing over this part? Is it good for you?” And he was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ Even on the demos, soloing over that section of this song was like riding a wave for him.”

The other track you heavily contributed to was Screaming Suicide, which mixes old-school Metallica with things the band haven’t quite done before.

“What I love about that song is the chorus hook. It reminds me of Siouxsie Sioux or Siouxsie and the Banshees. I don’t know if you put them on any sort of pedestal, but I do. James might hear something different, but to my ears that’s what it sounds like. It has that flavor. This whole album is very visual. You close your eyes and the music will take you somewhere. 

“That’s always a beautiful thing. The canvases are vast and epic. Nothing is so pedestrian anymore. It’s a rollercoaster ride. Sometimes you’re in this amusement park of sound and moments… but it’s always the right one. It’s supposed to be an experience.”

One of the beautiful things about being in Metallica is that there’s no shortage of great ideas

When you’re writing riffs, how do you know which James, Lars and Kirk will like best? Is there an art to cherry picking what you come up with?

“One of the beautiful things about being in Metallica is that there’s no shortage of great ideas. Our blessing is also a curse. We have more riffs than we know what to do with. With every handful of riffs we get out of Kirk, there’s another 500 we didn’t hear. I might have 10 spare ideas for every one I put forward, things that don’t even get listened to. So I have this arsenal of bass lines and riffs that I sit on. 

“And it’s not that nobody wanted to listen to them – we just had enough. There comes a point where you don’t need any more. All of these songs have a lot of cool ideas in them. Suicide & Redemption from Death Magnetic, for instance, was a bass line that I had for a long time and I always had Metallica’s name written on that thing.”

So it’s a case of stockpiling ideas over the course of a long period of time? 

“Yeah. I remember jamming that one with some friends. At one point it was Brooks Wackerman, who plays in Avenged Sevenfold; we hang out a bit and occasionally record, and he was like, ‘Oh wait, what is that riff? It sounds really cool!’ And I said, ‘Oh no, this is for Metallica!’ I already knew it had Metallica’s name on it. The same goes for that power groove four minutes into You Must Burn! – I had it already mapped out. 

“It was something I’d been stewing up and working on because I envisioned it being something Metallica embracing. Things like that just happen. You just come across a part or riff and you just know it will sound larger than life when you hear the band playing on it, with Lars’ power grooves and James’ massive guitars. 

“It’s a beautiful thing being in a band like this, beyond my wildest dreams, pulling together all these riffs to be played by such amazing musicians who each have their own signature. That’s a special thing for me. But the scary thing is that there’s always another 10 other riffs that didn’t make it to the drawing board… they’re just sitting there. It’s gotta be the best for Metallica.”

I love those harmonized guitar moments because they feel like melodic sections. It’s something that works so well for this band

The tempos of these riffs feel really well-considered. If Darkness Had a Son, for example, has an infectious mid-tempo bounce.

“I really like those riffs you can sing. For some reason this one reminds me of Cheech & Chong in a car singing the riff going, ‘Temptation! Duh-duh-duh!’ It’s got this swagger to it that I love. Sure, there’s a simplicity to it but also this power groove. This is a song that I think is going to be very impactful live. 

“I can really visualize playing it in front of a crowd, with people just bouncing and grooving and singing the riff… which happens a lot in this band. A lot of these tracks are going to be really fun to play live. We’ve been working on them pretty religiously and can’t wait to present them to the world... warts and all.”

Room of Mirrors presents an interesting mix of melodic and heavy.

“Yeah, I agree. There’s a nice balance on this track between stupid heavy stuff with the melodic layered harmonies, the feel-good stuff that reminds me of Thin Lizzy. Big musical statements with a fair amount of accents and jabs.

“There’s a lot of energy in this track. I love those harmonized guitar moments because they feel like melodic sections. It’s something that works so well for this band. Metallica wouldn’t sound like Metallica without those Thin Lizzy-style layers, right?”

And the grand finale Inamorata closes with finesse and panache.

“You pretty much said it… what an epic way to finish this journey. It’s a closing statement with five exclamation points. It’s another feel-good song with the power grooves, but there’s also a funkiness to it, almost in a Sabbath kind of way. It’s another song that makes me envision driving in the car with the hood down. Then it all strips and breaks down in nothing, the simplest moments. 

“I was pulling from that kind of place that Geezer Butler might go and just started feeling it with my eyes closed, letting each note speak. Then James introduces himself into that moment and the drums build and build. It takes you out! From thereon, you’re driving down the road and end up really far from where it started. It’s a very powerful song and very dynamic.”

We’re guessing your prized Warwick five-string bass guitar and Ampeg SVT-2 Pro bass amp heads came in handy in the studio?

“We usually do what we call a ‘taste test’ with our ears. We don’t play favorites. I’ll try eight different basses on whatever section of a song, and whichever sounds best is the one that wins. It’s all about how it sits in between the guitars and the impact of each note and how it represents the song. 

“In the studio I find those SVT-2 Pros, as well as some vintage amp heads, tend to have the right amount of warmth and punch. The bass needs to have a personality. There are a couple I have that seem to win all the time, and yeah, the scary thing is one of them is a five-string. Traditionally I tend to gravitate to an old-school four-string P-Bass, but that five-string I call my ‘secret weapon’ always has serious magic and resonates [with] the walls. It makes everything rumble!”

You can find a lot of punch in your fingertips depending on how you hit that string

Why do you think that is?

“It could be down to the wood… who knows?! There’s always your attack as a player, your skill set and technique. I always like to have a little bit of nail to get extra grit in my fingers. I’m not against using a pick, but I’ll only use one when the personality of that kind of tone is needed. A lot of the time, if you get the right amount of callus and nail, you can go a long way. 

“You can find a lot of punch in your fingertips depending on how you hit that string. Those one or two basses always seem to work against what Kirk and James do and speak to the songs of Metallica! They’re not even allowed to leave the studio. They live there and they have to live there. We don’t want anything to happen to those things!”

  • 72 Seasons is out now via Rhino/Blackened Recordings.

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Amit Sharma

Amit has been writing for titles like Total GuitarMusicRadar and Guitar World for over a decade and counts Richie Kotzen, Guthrie Govan and Jeff Beck among his primary influences as a guitar player. He's worked for magazines like Kerrang!Metal HammerClassic RockProgRecord CollectorPlanet RockRhythm and Bass Player, as well as newspapers like Metro and The Independent, interviewing everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy to Slash and Jimmy Page, and once even traded solos with a member of Slayer on a track released internationally. As a session guitarist, he's played alongside members of Judas Priest and Uriah Heep in London ensemble Metalworks, as well as handled lead guitars for legends like Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols, The Faces) and Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, G3).