Lars Ulrich Exclusive Interview: “After Some Kind Of Monster, Nothing Scares Me”

They say never meet your idols, and I can appreciate the underlying wisdom in that, though it has always struck…

Mike Willoughby


Lars Ulrich

They say never meet your idols, and I can appreciate the underlying wisdom in that, though it has always struck me as being a bit of a joyless and dour belief. Definitely a very British one, as well.

Statements like this tend to make my hackles rise. I know within my heart of hearts that even if my hero spat on my shoe, stole my girlfriend and then drop-kicked me into moving traffic, I would still rather take the chance than fear that they would not live up to my expectations. I don’t mind my bubble being burst every now and again, and – more to the point – what if “they” are wrong? What if by some stratospheric twist of fate the person you have revered for countless years actually proves to be every bit the legend you believed he or she was all along?

Following the Metallica: Through The Never screening at 20th Century Fox the week before, my life became that of a teenage boy once again as I eagerly awaited confirmation that I would get the chance to interview Metallica’s most infamous member, Lars Ulrich. The days oozed past and with 24 hours to go before the meeting was set to take place, my mood was darkening and all hope that I would get to interview Lars had pretty much evaporated. Then it came through, just one glorious word which set my world on fire: “Confirmed.”

Lars was in town to promote Through The Never – Metallica’s new concert movie with a fantastical narrative twist, starring the band themselves (obviously) and young Dane DeHann (Chronicle, The Place Beyond The Pines) – and we joined a few other journalists at a roundtable to quiz the Danish drummer about the movie . To say we enjoyed it would be a bit of an understatement and you can find out just how much by reading our full review.

Here’s how it went…

How important was creative control during the movie? Venturing into film is quite a huge financial risk – was it worth it?

Lars Ulrich: That remains to be seen. Ask me again when I talk about the new record 2 years from now [laughs]. I’ve no idea. I do know that we rarely consider other options, so compromise is not Metallica’s major strength and I think that the fans hopefully appreciate that if it’s got the word “Metallica” written somewhere on or near it, that it comes from us.

Creative experience is something that we don’t really share with others, other than the people we purposefully let in. So to sit there and take money from a bunch of people to then have them being involved in editing and controlling the movie just seems wrong. That, of course, was before the project ran amok, but that’s nothing new. It’s another chapter in Metallica’s existence and I’m sure that if we don’t make all the money back then we might in T-shirt sales seven years down the line, or whatever good comes in the wake of these projects.

We’re not – much to the detriment of people around us – nickel and dime kind of guys and have never been, especially when it comes to creative endeavours. We never sit there and nickel and dime it to death because I think it’s already lost something.

Where did the idea originate to have a narrative accompany the stage show? Did it originate from one particular person?

LU: It definitely originated within the band. We felt that if we were going to do a movie of this scale then there should be something other than just us. So as we sat and talked around what that could be, we quickly felt that having a story in there would be really interesting because it just felt unique and weird and challenging.

Also, I guess to a degree we felt that the reason Some Kind of Monster ended up resonating with so many people was that there was a story in there. It wasn’t just four guys making a record. We realised if you could attach a dramatic element or art to some of the stuff then it could resonate differently with people – people can relate to it or find something in it in a different way.

I think that with a movie of this magnitude, you’re going to need something… pick a movie. Let’s say Iron Man. It’s not 2 hours of him in the suit flying through space, there’s something that’s got to balance out the action sequences, otherwise it’s just going to be a blur.

In many of these movies they always cut away to something. They cut away to a wall or to animation, or like in The Song Remains The Same, they cut away to musicians in cars or riding on horses.In other concert movies they cut to people getting in and out of airplanes, so we figured we have to cut away to something but not necessarily James Hetfield eating a sandwich. So we wanted to cut away to something more interesting and that was the idea that Nimrod [Antal, the director] came up with.

Do you think there’s more potential in the narrative/concert film crossover? What I have in mind is a sort of heavy metal Fantasia, where the narrative is all driven by songs.

LU: You’re getting in to very blurred territory. What’s Purple Rain? What’s Rude Boy? Where does The Wall fit in to this conversation? You’re talking about an area of filmmaking that’s still fairly undefined, and so, there are people who are, I dunno, brave enough or stupid enough – depending on how you look at it – to jump in there.

We always jump and try to figure it out as we’re falling. We always sit there and go: “Maybe we should have thought this through a little bit?” People talk about Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and how videos become short films, and then there’s all this type of stuff, so obviously it’s a pretty rich area for mining of potential creative endeavours. So we’ll see how it plays out.

Metallica Through The Nevedehaan

Have you ever had a show get as disrupted as the one in the film, and if so what happened?

LU: Well, all the stage antics in the film are obviously, for astute observers, a sort of a nod to the Metallica concert past. So the stage collapsing and all that stuff is obviously a nod to the 96-97 Reload Tour where it sort of collapsed at the best of our ability. Now with new technology and all this type of stuff everything’s bigger and more ridiculous and sillier than it was twenty years ago, but that’s kind of fun also.

When we did that go-around, that was fifteen years ago – that was before internet and before information traveling the way it does now, so every night when people fell out of the lighting rig and stuff like that, people would call the radio station and go “there’s been an accident at the Metallica show!” But people didn’t know that it had happened in Phoenix the night before, because news didn’t travel the way it does now. It was a pretty big deal back then.

We’ve certainly obviously had our fair share of Spinal Tap-esque endeavours – way too much for a roundtable – but we’ve lived most of the silly ridiculous things at some point or another, as you have in a 32-year old career.

What was it like seeing yourself in on the big screen and in 3D?

LU: After Some Kind Of Monster, nothing scares me. After Some Kind Of Monster it’s all good, it’s easy. So silly Danish accents, and double chins and receding hairlines and all the rest of it – I’m pretty thick-skinned. I sat with an audience in LA at the Universal City where I had to introduce the film a week ago and watched the first two thirds of it, on a big IMAX screen. All filmmakers will sit there and say: “You have to see my movie on a big screen because that’s the way it was meant to be.” But this movie really deserves to be seen on a big screen, because of the sound and the whole thing. I’m sure it’s going to play fine on this thing [grabs my smart phone] six months from now, but that big f*ck-off screen – it’s cool.

Going back to the stage theatrics in the film, you had a Ride The Lightning electric chair and the Lady Justice statue. Will you ever be putting those back on to the tours that you do regularly?

LU: Well, we’ve been kind of getting away from all the theatrical stuff, and what we’ve been doing for the last fifteen years has been mostly about reconfiguration. I don’t know how much of that shtick is so much on our radar these days, but I think as you get thirty years in to your career [you do look back]. When Rick Rubin sat down with us five or six years ago, he said: “It’s okay to be inspired by your past, and it’s okay to acknowledge your past, and it’s okay to give a nod to your past.”

Metallica had spent a lot of time… not necessarily running away from our past, but reinventing ourselves and this concealed a fear of repetition, a fear of being stale and stagnant or whatever. And so, increasingly, we’re okay with these elements of our past, but we don’t want to dwell on them, and we certainly don’t want to become a sort of “classic band” in that way.

We’d like to continue to move forward to the best of our ability and look forward. I do think that there’s a chance we may tour at this stage, so all those shenanigans may be on tour at some point. We’re not booking this tour as we’re speaking, it may be five years or something – right now we want to get back to making another record, and doing that again – but we probably will tour this at this stage we say. The odds of it go up everyday as I hear people ask about it.

How did you go about choosing what songs you’re going to put in to the film? You’ve obviously got a huge catalogue of music.

LU: On an undertaking of this size, there are certain songs that lend themselves to big f*ck-off cinema-making more than others. This is not the appropriate occasion to start bringing out all those obscure songs we have never played live before. I do think that obviously there are certain songs that lend themselves [to this], so I tried to do the best I could with our… I don’t like to use the word “hits”… but our more well-known songs.

To try and find the best balance, and also not being previous about it, because… well, in the post-production for this movie over the last year a lot of things were moved around. So stuff is out of sequence, and some songs are no longer in their entirety. There have been some snippets; some things have been snipped. The battle cry was always: “What’s best for the movie?” and to find a way to make the best movie possible and not [a faithful film] about the “Western Canadian concert experience” or whatever.


“Orion” at the end was perfect. Was that always the plan, to have that at the end in that style?

LU: Nothing was ever “the plan.” That was like a last minute thing. Mark Reiter – one of the fine people at [Metallica’s management] Q Prime – said: “How about playing ‘Orion’ during the end credits?” So I replied: “You know what Mark – that sounds like a fine idea.” So we went up [on stage and played] through “Orion” about four times in an empty arena, and there you go, it’s in the movie. And you like it, so it worked.

What was the inspiration for the more horrific aspects that Trip had to encounter during the film?

LU: If Nimrod Antal was sitting in this chair with you during this fine roundtable, he would answer it this way – because I have heard him say this when I’ve sat next to him. He would say that there’s a book called The Alchemist, which inspired him, which is about the human journey rather than the destination.

The other thing that he would tell you, because this is really his story, is that when we all sat down and talked about what this could be and so on, that we said: “Go away young man and come back to us with a story” during the occupy movement of a couple of years ago. So he was quite inspired by the energy in that and correlating some of that energy to Metallica and… he has a word for Metallica music called “f*ck you music,” so there was an element of some of that energy that was going on politically in the world. And then The Alchemist – that was where those inspirations were drawn from.

You recently told a radio station in California that there’s going to be “another frontier” heading in Metallica’s direction this December. Have we got any indication what that might be? A Metallica Christmas album? Metallica the Musical? Lulu Part 2?

LU: Lulu Part 2 – just to p*ss everybody off! [laughs]. I believe that there’s an announcement on October 8. But don’t hold me to that, I’ve been a little caught up in [the film]. It’s not anything of that magnitude.

No Christmas album?

LU: I wish! There may be a few of you that would be disappointed, it’s not anything quite at that level. I found myself telling one of your colleagues earlier, there’s an Iron Maiden album called The Final Frontier. So I’ll borrow that from my interview an hour ago, and say: “My clue will be the Iron Maiden album, The Final Frontier.” There you go.

How did you come to work with Nimrod?

LU: He was mad enough to want to do it. He knows that I spoke to other people before him, and none of them were mad enough, and none of them were up for it enough, and everybody had questions and reservations. A lot of people had raised eyebrows and frowns on their faces, and Nimrod was just f*cking up for it. Enthusiasm trumps everything.

Metallica: Through The Never is now showing in UK cinemas in IMAX and 3D.