Metallica frontman/guitarist James Hetfield has been open and honest about his substance abuse issues over the years, most famously in the band’s 2004 film, Some Kind of Monster. Despite having those issues under control for an extended period of time over the last decade-plus, they reared their ugly head once again last September, forcing Hetfield to go to rehab and cancel several Metallica live dates. Hetfield began to come out from under in early 2020, then the coronavirus promptly shut down the world.
Now, in a new chat with Metallica’s fan zine, So What?, drummer Lars Ulrich has opened up about what it was like for him to watch James struggle again, and how the band as a whole reacted to the news and handled it in the following weeks and months. He also shed some light on the current relationship between the band members, which he says isn’t the same “gang mentality” as in the early years, but which has evolved into its own familial-cum-professional dynamic.
“[Back in September 2019], two [or] three days out from [having done] ‘S&M²’, I was told that James had some issues, and that he had to go and deal with that, and nobody at that time really knows what that means. You know, what does it mean for him, what does it mean for us, what does it mean for scheduling, all that shit. You just kind of sit there, and obviously your first thoughts are, is he okay? What’s going on? Then the Australian dates got moved. Then there was the ‘Helping Hands’ concert that got moved, so on and so forth. And you start understanding more.
“We spoke a couple of times. We were texting. Started getting some more clarity, I mean, we’re coming up on 40 years here. You surrender to the elements. It’s part of the ride, and, obviously, none of us are officially married to each other, but you know, in marriage vows you say ‘in the good times and the bad times, in health and in sickness, in ups and then downs,’ and if there’s anything that’s clear almost 40 years later, it is that we’re in this for the long haul. We love each other, we believe in each other. We have each other’s backs. We will fight for each other. And we sort of roll with it.
“I’m not gonna bullshit you, if I look back to a year ago, there were days where I was more positive, there were days where I was less positive, and there were days where you sit and wonder, ‘How is this going to play out?’ And Kirk [Hammett], Rob [Trujillo] and I were probably talking and communicating closer and more intimately than ever before. This shit is never easy, but it’s also part of the ride, and so you just learn.
“We’re different people from each other. We’re independent people from each other. We live our own lives, and Metallica’s the thing that connects us. And so like in any next level, strong, binding relationship, there are parallel paths, which are the state of the collective — the group — and the state of the individuals. So it’s like, ‘How is James, how is Lars, how is Kirk, how is Rob?’ That’s one conversation. And then, ‘How is Metallica?’ which is a different conversation, and what gets tricky is that both of those conversations exist on parallel trajectories, but also overlap more often than not.
“When you were 19 years old, maybe there was a greater emphasis on the collective or on the gang mentality, and when you’re 156 years old, like I am now, maybe the percentages shift. There’s a significant emphasis on your family, yourself, and the trajectory you’ve created for yourself outside of Metallica, so it’s an interesting place where all that kind of comes to a head and you have to prepare yourself for the ups and downs.
“I don’t know what Kirk told you [in his own ‘So What?’ interview], I don’t know what Rob told you, I didn’t read James’s interview. It’s hard for me to imagine that everybody was not feeling sort of the same thing, which was first and foremost, ‘How is James? Is he okay? Will he be okay? Will he find the tools, and will he find what he needs on the path of his recovery?’ And then at the same time, ‘How am I feeling about this? How is the band feeling about this?’ and all that kind of stuff.
“But a year later, here we are, all engaged. James is in a very healthy place, the band is in a very healthy place, and obviously COVID has played a major role in all of it. It’s been a mindfuck of a year; I’m sitting here on October 16th, I feel confident and excited about the state of the Metallica nation, and I feel very optimistic about what’s ahead.
“In order for this band to function, the band members have to function, families have to function, and personal lives have to be in order. Metallica lives have to be in order. So there’s all these sorts of relationships, people, and dynamics to work with. As we move forward and the earth rotates through the universe, I think we continuously get a little more clarity on the path forward in terms of the balances needed to keep everything rolling, to keep the band functioning, to keep the band members happy, to keep the lights on — all those different things. I think we’re better at it now than we were ten years ago, ten years ago we were better at it than we were ten years before. So it’s all just part of the path forward.
“Obviously, you understand that if you are in a group, if you are in a collective setting, there are pros and cons to that. There’s four members, and if one of those four guys goes down for whatever reason, and I don’t want to sound clinical about this, then we deal with it to the best of our ability, and with the resources and the knowledge that we have. I feel that every time somebody goes down, we learn from that and so the next time we deal with it better.”
Metallica have managed to stay busy during the lockdown in a number of ways. In May, they released a semi-acoustic, reimagined version of “Blackened.” Then, in August, they hosted a pre-recorded drive-in concert at hundreds of outdoor movie theaters and just released a recording of last year’s S&M2 concert. And a re-worked version of “Nothing Else Matters” is scheduled to appear in Disney’s upcoming Jungle Cruise movie starring The Rock and Emily Blunt.
The band will play an acoustic livestream concert for charity this coming Saturday, November 14. Get details here.
[via Metal Injection]