Robert Trujillo had the misfortune to join Metallica when the band was at its lowest ebb following the departure of Jason Newsted. It’s all documented in the film Some Kind of Monster, which was still being shot when I interviewed Trujillo at Metallica headquarters in San Rafael in May 2003.
Metallica was about to release St. Anger. The first (and last) time I heard this travesty was in the studio just before the interview. It was a deafening and painful experience. I also spoke to Lars, and will run that later. Here are edited excerpts from the interview with Trujillo, who was 38 at the time. We spoke in his upstairs den where he was diligently practicing the Metallica songbook. I vaguely recall there was an upright bass in the corner. I’d love to see him pull that out at a show.
DUMB QUESTION. ARE YOU A METALLICA FAN?
If you would have talked to me 10 years ago, I was all about Master Of Puppets, Ride the Lightning, and even was getting into the “Black Album” for a while. Suicidal Tendencies toured with them I think it was in ’93, a U.S. tour. And then ’94 Europe, maybe it was ’93 Europe. Prior to that, I was really actually into their stuff. But to be honest, since then I haven’t really been that into it. But not because I don’t like the music, only because I was more concerned about trying to write songs with Ozzy and other things going on with myself and my career.
SO LOAD AND RE-LOAD PASSED YOU BY?
Yeah, but not because I didn’t like them or appreciate them. I didn’t really know’ em. At that time, I was probably listening to my Sabbath records, because there was a time over the years where I was getting either into, like Sabbath, or going back to my Motown stuff, whatever phase I was going through. There were times where I was listening to crazy shit like Meshuggah or Canderia, real progressive hardcore whatever. So over the years, it was either my stuff or whatever retro thing I was going through, or alternative thing. So not for about at least 10 years.
IN ADDITION TO LEARNING THE MUSIC, YOU HAVE TO FIT IN WITH THE CHEMISTRY OF THE BAND. DO YOU HAVE TO TREAD WARILY…
The good thing about that end of it is that we’ve spent enough time together in the last couple of months here at the headquarters doing whatever we’re doing. And then we’ve spent a lot of time also communicating. So in the last couple of months we’ve really kinda gotten to know each other a lot better. Kirk, I know a little better than the other guys, Lars and James. But then, Lars I’ve gone out with a few times and we’ve kinda had a drink or whatever. And then there’s times where I try to spend a little bit of time with James, get to know him. These guys have families and wives. Their time here is one thing, but they’ve got crucial and important time with their family. That’s very important to them now. So trying to balance all that, and make the best of it… But the guys have made a point — it’s really important for them — to make me comfortable. I can tell. The mistakes they made with Jason over the years, they don’t want to repeat that. They’ve stepped up in that way.
WERE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THAT? THE GUY WAS BASICALLY BULLIED THE WHOLE TIME. DID YOU THINK THAT WOULD HAPPEN TO YOU AS WELL?
I wasn’t as worried about that because for me it was like, a situation where… Of course it’s a dream situation, it was an honor and a privilege to be able to even come up here and jam with the guys. For me, I was working anyway and things were fine. But for me, it was very important to come up here and prove to myself that I could hang with the big boys. But also too, it was like being a kid again playing with your idols in a way, because I’ve always looked up to Metallica, and come up and just play classic songs like “Master (of Puppets).” We played “Whiplash,” I remember. We played “Battery.” It’s an honor just to come up here and just have a jam with the guys. I was stoked about that anyway. I wasn’t looking too far beyond that. I’m thinking, “Hey, I’m just gonna go jam with the guys, hang with Metallica.” And then it just sorta snowballed from there. I always take things a day at a time. I don’t assume too much. That’s kinda how my attitude was with the whole thing. I came in, I think it was in November, around Thanksgiving. And then they had me back in February. Between November and February, I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know if they were interested, or what. They called me in, and a week or two after that, they asked me to join the band.
ARE YOU AN EMPLOYEE OR A PARTNER?
No, they made a point when they asked me into the band, they wanted me to be in the band, they wanted me to be a partner in the band. They were very straightforward about that. They said, “We want you to be a part of this family, y’know?”
SO YOU GET 25 PERCENT OF EVERYTHING?
No, that would be crazy, you know what I mean?! It would be nice, but it doesn’t work that way. No, they worked out a good deal with me. It’s gonna be fine. In a way, for them to even welcome me in the band the way they have is pretty amazing. It shows their commitment towards wanting me and having me be a part of this. I’m really excited. It’s a good time to be a part of Metallica for a lot of reasons. The growth over the last two years that they’ve gone through, as individuals, as a team between the three of them, the album that they’ve made, which I think is awesome. They’re kind of motivated to have a collaborative entity, and I think that that’s really important for me, because I enjoy collaborating, I love writing. That’s something that’s always been important to me. That’s something with Ozzy, I had three songs on the last album with Ozzy. But overall that was something that I wish that we would have done more of as a team with Ozzy — not so many outside writers, but more of a collaborative situation with not so many rules. With Metallica, it’s kinda like they’re in a situation where there are no (rules). Wanna put together a nine-minute song that’s in your face? That’s great. The music’s very honest, right now. So it feels right. Basically, it is a challenge for me, and it’s also a challenge to come into a band like this, and to follow the footsteps of Cliff Burton and Jason Newsted is an honor and a privilege as well. Those guys are key figureheads in the history of this band. This is a new Metallica, but they carry so much weight, and I have full respect for those guys.
HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE YOUR BASS STYLE WITH THAT OF JASON AND CLIFF?
Well it’s kind of a weird thing because Jason and Cliff were very different, I think, in their styles, but both very powerful. Jason’s got a real strong pick hand, and Cliff was a finger player. I do both, but the guys when they saw me playing with my fingers, that excited ‘em. For me, obviously the music’s challenging, it’s fast, there’s a certain amount of groove actually involved, believe it or not. A lot of bands will play fast, relentless music and the groove factor’s kinda one-dimensional. These guys got soul, man! They really do. I just go out there and I have a lot of fun with what I do. You get a few shows in, you find your groove, you find your niche at a certain point. It’s just like sports. At the beginning of a season with a football team or whatever, you find your groove and things just start to flow. Same thing with a band. You’re checking out your different zones on the stage, the sweet spots. Even with songs, like with Ozzy, there were sweet spots in a song where I could do something at a performance level that was really comfortable at that moment. You just find all that within a show. And with Metallica, obviously that’s what’s going on and what’s going to happen. I’m just feeling everything out right now. As a player, I love the bass. It’s what I do. It ain’t no day job. When I wasn’t playing with Ozzy, I was recording an album with Jerry, or touring with Black Label Society with Zakk Wylde, or in the studio recording Mass Mental, which was me and another bass player doing psycho-funk music. So different things. I like challenge.
DO YOU PLAY GUITAR AS WELL?
I fool around with guitar, but mostly bass, a little bit of piano.
HAVE YOU MADE ANY CONTRIBUTIONS TO BAND DECISIONS?
Yeah, well this is interesting. I haven’t been in a decision-making band setting in a long time since Suicidal or Infectious Grooves actually was like my baby, so I was a part of decisions all the time. With Ozzy, obviously, I wasn’t part of any of those decisions. Sharon makes those calls, and then the record label’s got a big hand in it. The answer to that is yes, we’ve sat down and they always ask my input and there’s been a couple of things that I’ve actually suggested and they’ve gone, “That’s a great idea,” regarding the DVD and also regarding the artwork.
THEY WEREN’T JUST BEING POLITE?!
I don’t know. They used it. Trust me, these guys, if they don’t want something they’re not gonna go with it.
NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock anthology Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2003, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING