Newsted Returns With Echobrain On His Chophouse Imprint

Aspiring teenage drummer attends a Super Bowl party thrown by a friend of a friend. Also in attendance is the bass player of Metallica, Jason Newsted. At halftime, the teen jumps on a drum set, gets f

Aspiring teenage drummer attends a Super Bowl party thrown by a friend of a friend. Also in attendance is the bass player of Metallica, Jason Newsted. At halftime, the teen jumps on a drum set, gets funky, and ends up so impressing the metal giant that they leave the party together to jam down the street at Newsted's home studio.

Within months, this teen (Brian Sagrafena) has introduced Newsted to his buddy (Dylan Donkin), a teenage singer/songwriter/guitarist, and all three are now jamming on a semi-regular basis at Newsted's place. Fast forward seven years, and Newsted has quit Metallica and is devoting his full energy to the band he has formed with the two of them.

Sounds more like a teenage metalhead's daydream than reality, doesn't it? Nevertheless, such is the genesis of Newsted's new alt-rock trio, Echobrain, which issued its eponymous debut March 5 via a partnership between the bassist's new Chophouse imprint and Encinitas, Calif.-based Surfdog Records.

"It's unbelievable, I know," Donkin says, noting that the band didn't form as fluidly as it may sound.

Though Metallica and Echobrain co-existed for several years, during much of that time, the latter didn't even have a name and was more a series of jam sessions than a serious side project for Newsted -- though the three did record each session and even cut their entire debut before the bassist exited Metallica early last year.

But, surprisingly, Donkin, now 24, says that when Newsted made that exit, Echobrain's future didn't look any rosier -- well, not instantly, anyway: "When he left Metallica, he was just really down and depressed for a long time, for months actually. For months, we'd hang out but we wouldn't play music, we would just do other stuff.

"So, after that, we figured, 'Well, we did that album. People will hear it some day, and that's cool.' We didn't think that we'd be getting back together. For all we knew, he was gonna move to Montana, and that was going to be it. But, over the next few months, he slowly got the bug."

Since then, Newsted, 38, has been rejuvenated. After 15 years in Metallica, he says Echobrain has him feeling like a teenager again. "Oh, man. It's rebirth, absolutely."

In Donkin, Newsted says he found "an 18-year-old John Lennon. It was like discovering -- if you were a scout for whatever your team happens to be, the Knicks or whoever -- a kid in eighth grade that's nine feet tall who can dunk flat-footed."

Newsted explains, "In our thing, you got me, the metal guy; Dylan, the rock/classic rock/somewhat folk/California '60s and funk thing going on; and Brian's full-on jazz/funk thing. It's not three rock guys making a rock record. That's why it sounds so colorful -- the push and pull."

With the Bay Area-based Echobrain, Newsted has returned by choice to the grass-roots level of the music business. All the band's music was recorded in his home studio, the Chophouse. He's personally copyrighted all of the material the band has ever recorded. He even sent out the first 2,000 advances of "Echobrain" (distributed by Universal) himself, making the entire process reminiscent of his early days in thrash metal act Flotsam & Jetsam. "I insisted that I touch every one of those CDs myself," he says, "and that this not get out of my control too early."

Echobrain is embarking on its first U.S. tour in late March. To beef up its sound, the band (which has shot a video for "Keep Me Alive" and already has 15 songs ready for its next album) is bringing two extra players.

"Hopefully, people will like it," says Donkin. "There's a lot of people that I'm sure will not like it, because it's not the heavy, heavy thrash kind of metal that Jason's known for. So it's gonna be interesting."

Excerpted from the March 9, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full text of the article is available in the members section.

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