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Robert Trujillo: I’m Bringing ‘Peace, Harmony and Groove’ to Metallica [Interview]

KEVIN RC WILSON
KEVIN RC WILSON

Metallica‘s Robert Trujillo was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie’s weekend radio program. The bassist spoke about the different connections made with the crowd while playing clubs shows compared to stadiums, how he’s found his role within the band after joining 15 years ago, his son playing with Korn in South America, how there’s still a creative fire burning between all the members and what lies ahead as the thrash kings continue to tour behind Hardwired… To Self-Destruct.

How are you doing, Rob?

I’m doing great. Shows have been great. We’ve been having a good time and staying hydrated too.

It’s been a hot summer. Metallica are obviously on tour playing stadiums. Rob, what do you have to be conscious of when you’re performing on such a big stage in front of so many people?

Well, you know number one you have to be conditioned because it’s crazy in the summertime and it’s one thing to be sort of in the desert heat, whether it’s in Arizona or inland California, but also when you get into the south you get a place that’s like Atlanta or Orlando, Florida, Miami — places like that it gets really intense. So you kind of prepare for that in a way it’s like athletics, like being on a sports team or something.

You gotta take your electrolytes and you gotta stretch out and you gotta be conditioned for all that because it’s a two-hour show. It’s a massive stage. It’s definitely the biggest production that Metallica has ever done for a tour. It’s amazing and it’s fun. So when I’m actually up there I don’t feel like I’m getting beat down so much. It’s like I’m still caught in the moment. But afterward, I’m like “Oh man, I just took a beating.”

Rob, recently your son, who is 12, went on tour playing bass for Korn in South America. How conflicted were you as a parent when you probably would have begged to do the same thing when you were 12-years-old?

Well, for starters it was an incredible moment for me personally. I know that he works hard and that he is very committed to the instrument and to music as a whole. He plays guitar too. He started out on drums and then kind of stopped playing drums at age five. Right when I got him his first real drum set, he stops playing drums. I noticed he started picking up basses around the house because we have basses literally in every room of the house. The only thing I really taught him was a C Major scale which is the most basic and first step that you can take.

By the next day he had it down and I taught him a blues scale and then from then, it turned into Jaco Pastorius bass solos and Black Sabbath songs and all this. He’s special in that, but the thing about him is he is so humble and grounded. For me, I was very nervous. That was my month off when they were in South America, so I was able to accompany him but I didn’t know what was gonna happen. It was uncharted territory and he just killed it. It was amazing to see the confidence. He is just fearless. He has grown up on the Metallica stage backstage jamming with James Hetfield. So for him, it is perfectly natural and normal. I don’t get that because I get nervous playing in front of five people.

So far you’ve done TV, smaller shows like Webster Hall in N.Y. and now stadiums, of course. What’s different about the way you approach playing different kinds of places?

Well, the cool thing about the smaller gigs — it’s the intimacy. You really feel connected to the crowd. Playing Webster Hall was incredible. There’s a magic in that. There’s history. I remember playing it when it was The Ritz Theater 20 years ago with Suicidal Tendencies. It’s funny because I remember taking a subway because we played around midnight, going to see Primus at Columbia University because they were going on at like 7:30 or something. There’s a lot of memories with Webster Hall. But also playing the Opera House in Toronto or playing House of Vans in London. Those gigs have a really raw sort of punk energy to them. Metallica has that. We have that. We enjoy that.

Also, being able to actually perform and be in each other’s faces. It’s kind of cool. It kind of re-educates us on the art of performing. When we are on a big stage we need to try and connect to that as well and create some of that intimacy with the audience and as a band.

For me it’s all great. I definitely feel something in smaller shows, but larger shows, at least these shows, I really feel connected. You can feel that there’s a lot of new fans, you can see it. Something is happening in the world of Metallica that is really special right now. You just never know how or why that happens.

You can make an album and people won’t get it. Or won’t connect with it. Or won’t — whatever is going on in the universe at that time, it doesn’t really register. But for some reason, this album has really registered with not just the old fans, but new fans of all ages. We see kids out there on their parent’s shoulders rocking out. And that’s really special. We’re very fortunate to have this in our world right now.

You’ve been a member of Metallica for almost 15 years. What are you most proud of with the mark you’ve made on the band?

It’s interesting because I was thinking about this last night. With Metallica, my role is to sort of mediate in some ways. I feel like I’ve always been a great mediator. Whether it was being that person in Ozzy’s band or even when I was working with Jerry Cantrell in the studio. Just finding solutions and trying to keep the energy and the atmosphere positive. And making other players, making their universe more positive to when we’re trying to create. Or when we’re learning something new, or something old. Oftentimes, I’ll re-explore some of the catalog and I’ll try to relearn it before the band actually does. I think I was jamming on “Call of Ktulu” about three years before we actually played it. And “Frayed Ends of Sanity,” that goes back about 10 years or longer, before we actually started playing that song, which was only about three years ago, we played it a few times on tour in Europe.

At a certain point after my first two years, which were kind of rough for me with Metallica just because I had to learn to St. Anger music, but I also had to learn over 20 years of catalog. So, it was a lot for me going on at that time. And I kind of caught up in terms of technique and my skill set and how it would work with the band. I didn’t try to impose anything stylistically that maybe like, with Infectious Grooves, it’s a different style of bass playing. And I wasn’t trying to impose that on Metallica; I was just trying to hold it down. The most important thing for us right now, I believe, is the groove. This album grooves, the sounds are heavy, the tones. So, there’s a groove thing going on with us that I think is great. Hopefully that’s what I’m bringing. So, peace, harmony and groove.

Hardwired… To Self-Destruct came out towards the end of last year and you’re now touring to support it and has really kicked into gear. After this current run of stadium shows, what are the plans for more US dates?

We’re taking it a step at a time. We haven’t played the stadiums in… I think it’s been over a decade. It’s been a long time and you never know how it’s going to go. It’s like you get out there, you jump in the water and you swim. You don’t know what the outcome is going to be. For us, fortunately, it’s been great. I know that we’re going to Europe in September and we’re starting an arena run there and that’s exciting too. Playing in stadiums is great in the U.S., again, it hasn’t been done in a while. But then getting to Europe and getting in those arenas over there, playing in the round.

That’ll be exciting, that’ll be fresh. Again, different productions. And then, obviously, take the holidays off and get into next year. I believe we’re continuing our European run at the beginning of next year. I’m not exactly sure, but I know for a fact that we will hit the arenas in the States, I just don’t know when. Maybe later next year? I don’t want to say because… everything is so spread out now. It’ll change and everybody will get mad at me.

But I’ll tell you everything feels like uncharted territory. We’re doing the big stadiums and okay now we’re taking it to the arena. What’s the vibe going to be? What’s the new production going to be like? How’s it going to hold up? We’ve kind of tested waters here and there, we did play at Nassau Coliseum and we’ve done a few dates in Europe already in the round, so it just keeps growing, the production you know? One of the things with Metallica is with live shows like this stadium tour we actually did three dates in Mexico City and I don’t know if anyone has ever been to a Metallica show in Mexico City; it’s insane.

So you’re testing your production and everything in front of 80,000 insane fans just losing their minds. But that’s how we do it, we get out there — we just, even if we don’t know how to swim we learn when we’re out there, it’s incredible. That’s the world of Metallica. My first gig was at San Quentin State Penitentiary. Hey, welcome!

Metallica are arguably the biggest metal band in the world. What would surprise us most about the inner workings between you, Kirk, Lars and James?

We’re all very different individuals and that’s — obviously we’re brothers, we’re a team, we’re a family and we respect each other. But we come from different walks of life. Its incredible when you see how different we all are, especially Lars, James and Kirk. The food that we eat – everything. Politics, religion, it’s just all different. But at the same time there’s respect and one thing I can say on a creative side, which is really interesting and sometimes rare, is for as long as this band has been together, there’s no shortage of creative energy. Even in our, what we call the jam room / the tuning room, which is where we go before we walk onstage, there’s a drum set in there, we have amps and we play and a lot of our ideas sort of come out of that room.

There’s just a certain magic, even recently. You start playing a bass line and James comes in or Lars and someone comes up with a riff. So we’re still firing on a lot of cylinders here with the creative flow and energy and ideas. That doesn’t usually carry so well as you get older. A lot of bands lose that. We still have that fire. I always laugh because whenever the instruments, whenever you put the instruments on, there’s just fun energy that usually happens and people just start smiling. There’s jokes, you start jamming on an Iron Maiden riff or something. You’re reconnecting with your teenage youth back in the day when you were in the garage. That’s some of the magic that this band still has. I think that’s one of the main reasons why we’re still around. We enjoy what we do, it’s genuine. We have fun and there’s also very strong work ethic that goes with all of this.

Thanks to Robert Trujillo for the interview. Grab your copy of Metallica’s ‘Hardwired… To Self-Destruct’ at the band’s website which is also where you can view all upcoming tour dates on the band’s ‘WorldWired’ trek. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.

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