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Robert Trujillo Talks ‘Hardwired… To Self-Destruct,’ Keeping the Groove in Metallica, Joining Band + More

Ian Gavan, Getty Images
Ian Gavan, Getty Images

Metallica‘s Robert Trujillo was the guest on Full Metal Jackie’s weekend radio program. The bassist delved into some specifics regarding the thrash legends’ long-awaited new album, ‘Hardwired… To Self-Destruct,’ the pressure of first joining the band and keeping the groove in Metallica’s music. Check out the chat below.

How are you doing?

I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.

We have been waiting for news on actual music for a long time. Happy that we have new music and that we know when it’s coming out. I feel like it was almost a joke. Who’s going to have a record first? Tool or Metallica?

Oh well you know that’s interesting. Justin [Chancellor] the bass player of Tool actually lives, he’s my neighbor pretty much in the Santa Monica mountains and we joke about that together. You know what I mean — who’s album is going to come out? How are you doing with your record? I don’t know, how are you doing with yours? And I guess we beat them out with this one. It takes a while and I think that the end result speaks for itself. It’s not a negative. Hopefully we delivered this time. I feel great about this record and I’m sure the fans are going to love this one.

What we’ve heard so far has been amazing. There’s been really positive responses. Every album waits with intense fan expectations based on the first three our four albums. How does a band reconcile their own need for artistic growth with the never-ending popularity of the past?

Well, one of the things about this band is that I feel that with the release of Death Magnetic, at least for me and also having Rick Rubin on board as our producer and getting Rick to get sort of Lars [Ulrich] and James [Hetfield] to reunite with thrash and that sort of stylistically and reconnecting and going back and being cool with the energy of that, and then taking that and being creative. And then growing together over these last few years since that music was actually recorded and taking this on.

For us it’s exciting and I think one of the most important things is having that energy to create and the inspiration, at a time usually in a lot of bands careers where they start getting bored with music or their creative ideas stop flowing and there’s no shortage of that with Metallica today. In fact our problem is it’s the process of elimination, we’ve got too many riffs and we’ve got to jam them out to see what survives. And some of the things that doesn’t survive could be the best riff on another band’s album.

So I think that having that youthful energy to create and being excited about it is what keeps us — at least on this new record — has kept things fresh. And hopefully creating a body of music that’s relevant, old fans and new fans can relate to and be inspired by and hopefully that transitions into them wanting to see us live and experience the music on that level.

So I guess it just boils down to us still being motivated to create and still having the desire. And a lot of bands will actually go to outside writers to help them create or write their songs for them. And that’s not what’s happening here. But it does take time. We’ve also had a lot of, we’ve been sidetracked over the years, I know that’s frustrating to our fans. We made a film called Through the Never and we did an album with Lou Reed which was very important to us. We like to try things and sometimes in our fans eyes it’s a success and sometimes it isn’t. But that’s what we do. We take chances.

Rob, you were already a well established musician before joining Metallica. What were you least prepared for when you first joined the band — musically and otherwise?

It was all sort of a blur. I always used the analogy it was like being thrown into the wash cycle of a washing machine and just, or I don’t know if people surf out there but something happens when you wipeout on a wave and you’re caught in the white wash and you don’t know which way is up. It was kind of like that for me.

There was this barrage of responsibility. It was cool, but at the same time you’ve gotta work. It’s like okay, I’ve got a catalog of music that at the time dated back 20 plus years and then there was the new songs from St. Anger which the band hadn’t even really rehearsed live themselves and I had to learn these songs that I wasn’t familiar with. And that takes time, you know what I mean?

I was excited that I was joining the band, but I was also a little bit stressed about the workload that I had to take on. Living down in Southern California coming up with the announcement that I would be playing with the band and then not going back down to my home in Southern California for many months, my life changed completely.

So it was a special time and I realize now or at a certain point, I’ve been with the band for about 13 years now, maybe going on 14 and you’ve got to be ten steps ahead of these guys. Because you never know what’s going to get thrown at you and there’s such a deep catalog and there are so many possibilities of what you might be playing. Even live, the set list isn’t completely completed until about 15 minutes before we go onstage. Lars kind of puts it together and then it’s like, okay, let’s do this. Well wait a minute, we haven’t played that one in a while.

Keeps you on your toes I bet!

It’s a challenge, but now since I’ve been with the band a while now I feel and I actually go out of my way to learn stuff that they don’t know to try and stay ahead of them now and that’s worked out better for me now.

Work on this new record seemed to be an ongoing process that went on for several years. How does an open ended schedule like that benefit the music and how does it impede it?

Well, as you get older and in life you have more responsibilities and a lot of times that has to do with family, which is a good thing. Kids are great. We all have our kids and our wives and there’s a responsibility to your family. So you’ve got to balance. It’s all about balancing out the creative process and your life as a dad or whatever. And we’ve found a way to do that. And also touring we balance that as well too.

We kind of fit it around our kids’ schedules and school’s schedules and stuff like that. So we’re there for our kids and at the same time with music, we just make sure that we are really focused and when we get in the room we’re really channeling our energy into what we are creating.

And a lot of what we do now is sort of jam oriented so there may be a collection, there’s definitely a collection of riffs that have come up over the years. Everybody’s got their ideas and you play them out and see what survives, what works. Try different things. With James there’s always going to be a ton of extra lyrics or melodic ideas that he’s going to try before he settles into what’s going to survive into the track. So it’s really like building a house.

And in a way we try not to worry about the open ended factor. And I know that drives our management crazy. We need deadlines, they just want the music to be written real quick. And that’s not how it works. I’ve been in other situations, I mean I had a band called the Infectious Grooves and basically we would jam for five days. We’d go into a rehearsal room and not more than four hours and at the end of five days with our little cassette players we would say, okay here is one song, here is two. We’d have all the songs on cassette. Maybe we formulated the idea and next time we see each other with the cassettes was in the studio and it was always about capturing the moment and that’s what worked for that situation. And that’s something with Metallica that we can’t do. We have to nurture and try things and build the house so to speak. But at the same time I think that’s what makes the song special. It’s just a different way of doing things.

In what ways has your love for non-metal music, especially jazz fusion, made you feel a musical kinship with Cliff Burton?

Cliff is so amazing and special and in a lot of ways, he was totally alternative. Whether it was Lynyrd Skynyrd or getting into some obscure European rock bands or Thin Lizzy and even the way he dressed. The bell bottoms, denim in a time where people were wearing spandex and Capezios and wearing a lot of makeup.

I feel that his connection to classical music and being familiar with that, being able to get on a piano and being able to play classical music but also his connection to the Misfits and punk rock in general, fusing that, I call that fusion, and fusing that into what he was able to produce as a musician, as a bass player, which was so incredible. Bass back then was sort of the guy in the back holding it down, the groove or a lot of people thought bass was boring. He took it away from all of that. He made sure that the bass was in the forefront. Not just musically but also as a performer.

He had so much energy. I’ve always been inspired by cats like that. Musicians like that. Jazz fusion for me was very alternative as well. I feel that taking hard rock and bringing into a funky style but also the jazz components were there as well. These ingredients coming together, giving you this wild journey and around or these twists and turns.

In a lot of ways, Metallica is like a fusion band. It’s not necessarily jazz or any of that, but the music is grooving. So in that way it’s funky. But at the same time it’s super heavy and the thrash element is there, but it’s not pedestrian. You listen to some of these songs, even on the new record or …And Justice For All, there’s a lot of twists and turns in there. It’s like a roller coaster and I like that. I like to be challenged.

I like that Metallica has found a way to have these non-pedestrian arrangements but then the vocal melody is strong and intense. I’ve always appreciated that as a fan. I remember back in the day before I was even in Metallica. Back when I was in Suicidal Tendencies I would prepare for a tour by going hiking but really running up in the Santa Monica mountains, rock climbing I would have my — back then It would have been a Walkman and I’d be listening to Metallica records or Slayer records.

That was my motivation because some of that stuff was so heavy and wacky. It was fuel to the fire for me and motivating for me. I don’t generally like things that are too pedestrian. But at the same time and if I’m in the right mood, hey I ain’t gonna lie I listen to Joni Mitchell. I listen to Blue, I listen to Miles Davis. I’m turning all of that stuff onto my kids. My son is a bass player too. He loves it all. I listen to Parliament Funkadelic. I’m like… bass, the reason I was attracted to the instrument was funk rock, really. I think Slayer is a funky band. Raining Blood, the middle section, when you start headbanging to that. Dave Lombardo was the drummer and that whole groove, that’s — I call it the pocket. Anybody can dance or headbang to that stuff. That’s what it’s all about.

The interaction between bass players and drummers is musically the most intimate relationship in a band. What makes playing with Lars a satisfying adventure?

Over the years I feel that we’ve grown. We’ve become a better fit. When I first joined the band, it was different. I’m not saying it was bad, but it was different. You’re learning how to play with each other and find that groove, and one of the things that I feel over 13 years now and again with the challenges we’ve taken as a band, as a team, as a musical family. We’ve managed to find a groove with each other and to apply that to the music. Like with the new album, I feel that the new album, though it’s pretty aggressive and has that energy that is thrash and it’s in your face, it’s still growing. It can be fast, whatever, there’s a pocket there and I think that’s really important for any rhythm section. It’s more comfortable now.

We feel with time and aging together we’ve found our niche as a rhythm section and that’s special. It’s like — I’m excited about the next record for that reason. I think Death Magnetic was definitely setting us in the right direction and Hardwired sort of made us better. The continuation of that, whatever is going to happen in the future is really exciting to me because I know there’s a lot left in the tank. These are exciting times for Robert Trujillo and Metallica.

Rob, when you realized the possibility of joining Metallica, what added dimension did you think you could bring to the band?

When I first joined I remember being focused on learning the catalog, the new music and sort of being consumed by the responsibility that I would have to that. But at the same time, I felt that Metallica always had a groove and that the groove is important and that my job was to try to maintain that and coming from kind of a more punk/rock background and rooted in jazz. I actually went to a jazz school. I know it’s funny, because Lars grew up listening to jazz so I think a lot of the arrangements in the Metallica music, it’s a little different than a lot of the other rock and metal bands. There’s a slightly different ingredient in there, and then there’s also the groove factor. The melody plays an important role.

So for me, my goal was to support all of that and I felt that I was rooted in that because of my upbringing in music and what I listened to and at the same time, my experiences. Whether it was with Jerry Cantrell and Ozzy or Suicidal Tendencies. I always learned from those experiences and I feel with Metallica I was there to support and be the best that I could be, but also to learn from some of the best songwriters in rock ‘n’ roll today.

It’s been an honor and a privilege. At the same time, I’m there to help write the songs. I’m there to support the ideas and to physically get onstage and kick ass. So at the same time, I gotta be myself. I think that’s why they wanted me, because they wanted someone that could be themselves and someone they could trust and also hang out until 5AM and not have to worry about the next day for the gig.

Anything you can tell us about when there’s gonna be some U.S. tour announcements?

We’ve got a lot of stuff coming up. We are going to New York and doing a handful of dates there. At this stage, it’s really interesting because half the things we’re doing I don’t know about. I don’t know if that’s part of the game plan, make yourself available and the train is moving fast and it’s not going to stop. I have no idea to be honest when we’re going to playing in the U.S. with the exception of New York.

It’s all a mystery to me so I can’t help you there. But we will be coming through very soon, yeah, the machine is about ready to ignite and take off and we’re just getting started. I’m excited. We’ve gotta get the production in order and there’s a lot of work that we still need to do before we officially get out there and start playing arenas or stadiums. It’s a new baby still.

We did the video for “Hardwired” video on a Tuesday in a basketball gym around the corner from our headquarters and I remember the next day on a Wednesday sitting in the lounge here and saying “Ah man, I’m excited about the video, when is it going to release?” I’m thinking in a month, they said tomorrow. I go, “Oh okay!” The new Metallica. That would have never happened 15 years ago.

Thanks.

Thank you.

Thanks to Robert Trujillo for the interview. ‘Hardwired… To Self-Destruct’ will be out Nov. 18 on the band’s own Blackened Recordings. To pre-order your copy, head to the Metallica webstore and for the latest on the group, follow their Facebook page. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.

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