Wedding songs

How Kirk Hammett Broke Metallica’s No Side Projects Rule

Kirk Hammett’s solo recording “Portals” is out April 23. The rest of Metallica agrees with that, says Hammett. Photo: Leah Millis/The Chronicle

Side projects have long been taboo in the Metallica world.

Bass player Jason Newsted was ousted from the Bay Area hard rock band after becoming involved with power-pop trio Echobrain, less than a decade after appearing on Metallica’s 1991 self-titled fifth album, known as “The Black Album”, which has sold 30 million copies worldwide.

Throughout its four decades, members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band have avoided performing individually with other musicians or allowing extracurricular activities to disrupt their united front except at extremely difficult times. rare occasions. It’s no wonder then that longtime guitarist Kirk Hammett was hesitant to tell his Metallica bandmates that he was working on his first solo recording, “Portals,” which will be released on April 23.

“God, I was really nervous about it,” he admitted to The Chronicle. “They’re my brothers. When I came up with the idea, I didn’t know how to let the band know, given the history of this stuff with the band. Amazingly, everyone supported it. .

James Hetfield (left), Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich and Robert Trujillo have changed their minds and now don’t care about side projects. Photo: herring and herring

Not only did they support the idea, but the other band members — singer James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, as well as bassist Robert Trujillo — even suggested that Hammett release the four-song instrumental EP on Metallica’s Blackened Recordings.

“They were like, ‘Let’s turn it off as soon as we can,'” recalls Hammett, a San Francisco native. “I didn’t expect it to be so easy.”

Checked in in several locations, including Los Angeles; Paris; and Oahu, Hawaii, the collection is described by the 59-year-old musician as “movie soundtracks in your mind.” It was self-produced by Hammett, who recently won acclaim as “the central driving force of Bay Area thrash music” by Adam Dubin, director of the influential scene documentary, “Murder in the Front Row.”

The EP also includes contributions from drummers Jon Theodore and Abraham Laboriel, bassist Greg Fidelman, arranger Blake Neely and Metallica producer Bob Rock. Other collaborations with Edwin Outwater, who conducted the San Francisco Symphony during his collaboration with Metallica or the “S&M2” concerts, is also there.

Not only is Hammett set to appear with Metallica when the band headlines BottleRock Napa Festival over Memorial Day weekend this year, but he also plans to play an after-hours set with another side project featuring Trujillo called Wedding Band.

He spoke to The Chronicle about it and more from his home in Hawaii.

Kirk Hammett at Metallica’s 40th anniversary performance at the Chase Center on December 17. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle 2021

Q: How have you coped with the pandemic after spending the last 40 years working pretty much non-stop?

A: Well, I say this with honesty and sincerity, but I’ve been social distancing for the past 20 years. I am totally introverted and shy. So when COVID arrived, I was happy to wear the mask. The remarkable thing was that it was the first time in ages that I was stuck in the same place for more than two or three weeks. I took the opportunity.

Q: How did you spend your time?

A: Working on music, reassessing life and everything.

Those two years were really something. I’m more than happy to feel like we’re finally on the other side, but I used my time pretty well. I was able to write and record music. It also allowed me to spend time with guitars from my collection that I wouldn’t normally play on. At one point, my living room looked like Guitar Center – there were guitars and amps everywhere. It was ridiculous.

Q: You started working on “Portals” before the lockdown. The song “The Girl and the Monster” was written to accompany your 2017 “It’s Alive” horror movie memorabilia exhibit, right?

A: I wanted to find some background music and I was knee deep in the arrangement and I was looking at all these possibilities and I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve gone so deep into this arrangement. I passed the course. It’s more than just background music.

When it was over, I put it aside and said I would try again. I failed exactly the same way.

Metallica’s James Hetfield (left) and Kirk Hammett. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle 2017

Q: How did Edwin Outwater get involved?

A: In 2019, when we did “S&M2”, I met Edwin Outwater and we immediately hit it off. He loved the idea of ​​doing something together, and I had this piece of music that I had rewritten seven times. I was driving myself crazy. I just thought, I’ll play it for Edwin and see what he thinks about it. It became “The Encantation”.

Once we were done with that, I had this other flamenco guitar based piece of music. He loved her. It became “High Plains Drifter”. Then Bob Rock flew to Honolulu to mix it. Because left to my own devices, I’d still be working on it now.

Q: Did you always know it would be a solo project?

A: I didn’t sit down and say, “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to release a solo EP. I’m not that smart. All of this happened.

Q: Were you surprised that the other members of Metallica agreed to you releasing it, given the band’s history?

A: We have all grown since then. Our priorities are different now. It was a good thing for me, knowing that the other guys would be fine. I didn’t want to release what they might consider a quality product. It is important to me that there is a certain level of quality that is comparable to Metallica.

For me, it has as much to do with Metallica as it does with me. Everything comes from the same source. The influence of Rob, James and Lars is everywhere in this album. You can really say, “To what extent is this album really a solo album? How many aren’t there when you really get down to it? »

I’m getting too philosophical about it. (laughs) When I really think about it, it really involves those guys as much as it doesn’t. Their essence and their energy are found throughout this album, even if I know how to take the music far, far away from the Metallica sound. It’s a bit intentional.

Q: For BottleRock, you also play in the alliance with Rob. What can you tell me about this project?

A: I grew up on 20th and South Van Ness in the Mission. The radio was constantly on KFRC, playing music from the late 60s and early 70s. All that soul, all that R&B – I loved it all.

Later, when I moved to East Bay, I got into hard rock. But it wasn’t until I was 14 or 15. Growing up, I had folk albums and psychedelic records. The Wedding Band is a tribute to all this music.

Funny enough, Rob was exposed to the same music under the same circumstances. All that R&B, soul and funk. This is our tribute to that era. We love performing these classic songs and we pretty much get our way.

For the rock stuff, we play the s— out of it. We are never faithful to the originals. We play a bunch of funk stuff. We are able to play everything. It’s just a way for Rob and I to have a lot of fun.

Q: Can you smile on stage?

A: It’s super inspiring. I see the Wedding Band as another way of expression different from Metallica. We can do whatever we want! We can bring in a brass section. We can bring in a keyboard player. That’s great. It’s a fun way to pay homage to the music we grew up with.

Who knows what can come out of the alliance? As life progresses, Metallica tours less and less. It’s like that. And it creates stuff like that. Sometimes they complement each other, like playing the show after dark at BottleRock. It’s gonna be super fun.

Every Wedding Band show is different. We played everything from “Monster Mash” to “Addicted to Love”. I like the rule of having no rules.

Q: I feel like all of these other things have helped make Metallica fun after a time when it seemed like it wasn’t.

A: I really feel like we can say we have paid our dues in this regard. We keep paying our dues in certain ways here and there, and that’s what it’s ended up being: being able to have a more forgiving schedule these days. I think we deserve it as a group. It opens up a lot more time to do other cool creative things.

“Portals” will be available digitally and on CD, with “ocean blue”-hued vinyl available exclusively for Record Store Day on April 23.

Metallica at Bottle Rock Napa Valley: 7:45 p.m. on May 27. The festival takes place 11:30-10 p.m. until May 29. $179 – $4,995. Napa Valley Expo, 575 Third St., Napa.

  • Aidin Vaziri

    Aidin Vaziri is the pop music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: @MusicSF