Metallica doesn’t mix politics and music, but when guitarist Kirk Hammett sat down for an interview in Toronto, it didn’t take much for him to spill his views on Donald Trump and that the band — frontman James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, bassist Rob Trujillo — “wants the world to be a better place.” Their recent club show in Toronto benefited the Daily Bread Food Bank.
An avid surfer and environmentalist, Hammett is certain he could get into a Twitter war with the president-elect with some well-chosen words and does not find that to be an impressive quality in a leader. Even initial light talk about the release of the band’s new album, Hardwired…to Self Destruct, hints at how he sees the world dividing.
The six-string savant truly sounded flabbergasted that Trump will soon head the United States of America, but will he use Metallica’s sizeable platform as they head out to play stadiums and arenas next year to get his point across? Read on.
You’ve been playing some small shows for charity, like the Opera House in Toronto (capacity 950). How much fun is that for you?
Whenever we play a smaller venue like that, it’s always super fun for us. It’s really easier to get the vibe going between us four and then once it happens, it’s exponential, and it’s great to be able to see everyone in the building.
It was packed.
I know. It was crazy. It was cool because every time I stepped onto my lead guitar sound and went into a guitar solo, I could tell the whole sound was filling the entire room.
No trap doors. No giant…
Skeletons coming out.
Just you guys.
Just us. And that’s how we started. Whenever we play a place like that, it just brings me back to when we played stuff like that pretty much four, five nights a week. That was a really cool time in our lives, and it’s good to just go back there occasionally.
It’s been eight years between studio albums. There’s not a lot of hard rock or metal on the charts or on awards shows. What is the feeling when you’re about to release an album?
It’s a different time and place now than it was when Death Magnetic came out, and when Death Magnetic came out it was a different time and place than when St. Anger came out, and so we’ve got used to the fact that when we put out an album, we really can’t be sure what the state of the industry will be like, because things change so much. The world is so connected, but at the same time so divided. It’s really hard to get any sort of vibe on what people are really thinking these days, because it really could be anything. It’s really hard to find a balance.
So taking all those considerations in, I just tell myself what I always tell myself when we release an album — and I’ve been telling myself this since Ride the Lightning : I know with this particular piece of work, that every one of us put in so much time, so much effort, 110 percent, all four of us to make this the best possible album that we could make at this point in time. I truly believe that. And so when an album comes out, I tend to just sit and wait and whatever feedback comes in comes in, I stick with my safety net, which is I know in my heart of hearts that we made the best album we could, and I like the album. I’m into the album. It’s great. It’s everyone else’s own trip whether they like it or not.
Were you doing a countdown in your head: “Oh, at midnight, it will be released”?
When it came out, we were in London doing an in-store at HMV at like 11:30 [p.m.], and so when it became midnight, we were already in the midst of it. We were surrounded by people; we were signing albums; people were buying the album, CD, and we were fully integrated in the process.
And it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
And it’s great. It was No. 1 in like 57 countries and that is fantastic. That’s great, because when you go into it with the attitude that I just described and the initial feedback is good, it makes it all the much sweeter when you’re not expecting that kind of thing.
Were you aware that it was your sixth consecutive No. 1 on the Billboard 200?
I’m aware of stuff like that. But after you read that, unless you’re highly into bragging and reminding people of your own self-worth all the time, it’s a statistic. It comes and it goes. You do what you want with it, but at the end of the day what really matters is making good music, playing good shows, bringing the music to the people, staying healthy, staying alive. That’s what really matters. No.1? Coooooool. But then what happens next week when you’re not No. 1? [Laughs.]
It’s been 35 years. I don’t think it’s suddenly going to get worse now.
And because it has been so long, we’ve had the experience of having had No. 1s. Again, it’s a great statistic, but that’s about it. It’s great to be able to brag about it, but what does that get you? At the end of the day, not much.
How do you all decide on the charities for these small shows or special events?
I’ve been a member of the Sierra Club forever and ever now, and Rob and I are members of Surfrider because we’re surfers and we care about the oceans. The oceans are our playground, so we have a very high regard for it. The food bank, it’s great that we’re in a position where we can offer a little bit of direction, a little bit of guidance to people to maybe help some other human beings that are less fortunate.
I really think that going into these next few years and the global situation, that it’s important for everyone to just start talking to each other and communicating… And so Metallica really wants the world to be a better place. We really do. I know that sounds so funny and almost contrary, but this is our part in just doing what we can.
Which leads me to Trump.
I’m just waiting to get into a personal Twitter war with him. I’m just waiting.
Here’s a guy who once said that climate change is a hoax devised by China…
Okay. Let’s sit with that statement right there. What does that tell you about the man? What does that tell you? Any normal, educated person who has a pretty good grip on reality — evenly balanced, could even be a centrist sort of person, not left or not right, any person who I just described — upon hearing something like that would just think, “What the fuckin’ fairy tale did that come out of?”
For me, a good leader is someone with integrity, honesty and altruism, and a general sense of what is right and what’s wrong. We don’t have that in our leadership right now, and that puts me in a state of awareness and attentiveness, and it puts me in a state of wait and see what will happen. But if anything happens that I’m not okay with, I’m going to be super vocal about it for the first time in my life.
And you know you can reach him on Twitter because he’s on there at 3 in the morning.
I could pick up my phone right now and say exactly what I said and provoke a fight with the President [Elect] of the United States, and chances are he’ll fall for the bait. That’s a sad thing, right there.
Well, you have a captive audience when you are onstage.
The thing is, Metallica appeals to such a wide range of people. We have people on the left, people on the right, in droves. Part of the reason why we don’t consider ourselves a politically oriented band is because when you start talking about politics you draw a line in the sand, and all of a sudden [there’s] division, and that’s not what we want. We want everyone to be in this together, experiencing the music together. We see politics as a completely different thing. It’s like music and NASCAR racing, that’s how different politics are to Metallica.
But music has the power, doesn’t it, to reach people and change people’s minds, especially young people that hang on your every word?
Yes. Yes it does. And that’s why I’ve chosen my words carefully, that I — not Metallica, but I — will take it upon myself to get involved, if there is something I see that is seriously wrong, and I really feel that it’s my job to say something, and to call out people who need to be called out. I believe in fairness. I believe in equal ground for everyone. I believe in equal opportunity and I believe that everyone is equal. That guy doesn’t even believe in that! He does not believe that everyone is equal.