METALLICA's JAMES HETFIELD Is 'Still Searching For The Ultimate Riff'

"MK Ondergrond" (meaning "Underground" in Afrikaans) conducted an interview with METALLICA frontman James Hetfield last month when the band returned to South Africa for three shows — one in Johannesburg and two in Cape Town. You can watch the chat below (Note: The intro is in Afrikaans, but the interview was conducted in English).

"MK Ondergrond" (Facebook page) is South Africa's first dedicated underground music variety show, hosted by a macabre crew of animated characters, featuring band interviews, video reviews, gig guides and the best in local and international underground music videos.

MK Ondergrond: So, here's an odd question to break the ice: without glam, or at least the hatred of glam, would thrash metal exist?

James Hetfield: Probably not. There was a giant hatred for that that fuled a lot of thrash. Maybe some know the story — METALLICA growing up in Los Angeles right in the heart of glam, right at the peak of glam and your MÖTLEY CRÜEs, your RATTs, your POISONs, your all that stuff was based in L.A. and we were the hated figure, but they were hated even more. We were thrown out of clubs because they thought we were punk rock.

MK Ondergrond: A lot of metal genres since glam have come and gone. Why do you think thrash itself has persevered so long and still packing out stadiums around the world?

James Hetfield: Well, whether it's packing our stadiums or being blasted in people's living rooms, it delivers a feeling, it delivers a connection to people who need it. It's that underground feeling. It's the black sheep of music. It's the thing that the misfits are attracted to. We're blessed enough to be playing it for 30-some-odd years, 32 years, and still connecting with people that don't fit in.

MK Ondergrond: You guys recently celebrated 30 years as being METALLICA. You even invited [former METALLICA members] Ron [McGovney] and Jason [Newsted] and Dave [Mustaine] on stage to jam with you guys. Is that the peak of the band's career or what else, what other milestones are left for METALLICA to achieve?

James Hetfield: 40 years. And hopefully there's no other band members we have to invite back up in that time. Those four nights at home were magic. I'd say, you know, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame thing was pretty important, but this was way cooler. This was our history, our fans, there were flags from all, you know, 42 different countries there playing with past members. Playing with people who inspired us. It was a great evening.

MK Ondergrond: So speaking of Jason, we read on the Internet the other day that he mentioned one of his biggest regrets not being in METALLICA anymore is playing in places like South Africa. And Rob [Trujillo, current METALLICA bassist] also recently stated on the Internet that one of the big perks of being in METALLICA is coming to places like this. How important to you is playing shows off the beaten path?

James Hetfield: We're blessed to be able to go places that, I mean, half the world doesn't get to go to, or even more. Bands out there that are still stuck in a local scene, you know, we've got to see the world, you know, and this is a big part of the world. They're still places for us to go. We don't know where yet but I think China and, you know, a few other — Iran would be nice. Some places that don't want us or hate us we'd love to go there and play.

MK Ondergrond: This is the much serious question of this interview. Would you grow the '80s, '90s Hetfield mullet back for charity?

James Hetfield: Absolutely… If it would grow.

MK Ondergrond: How about [METALLICA drummer] Lars [Ulrich]?

James Hetfield: Would Lars grow the Hetfield mullet? Sure. Why not. He would love to.

MK Ondergrond: One of the big argument that have been raging recently is what if the "Big Four" shows that you guys put on [with MEGADETH, SLAYER and ANTHRAX], what if it was the "Big Five?" Was there ever a discussion like maybe we should make it five? Who do you think number five would have been?

James Hetfield: The "Big Four" name was not coined by us. It's been in the press for a long, long time and way back. So there's no limit to the number of big thrash bands that were respected in those days. I would say, personally, I would say EXODUS would be number five.

MK Ondergrond: So, in my honest scumbag journalistic opinion, listening back to the recent albums, "St. Anger" sounded like a band self-destructing, whereas "Death Magnetic" was more an album which resurrected the band METALLICA. Where's the fuel for album number ten going to come from?

James Hetfield: You mean we have to break up again to make a new record? The fuel will come from where it normally comes from: the will to do better, to do better than you've done before. Still searching for the ultimate riff, the ultimate guitar sound, the ultimate lyric, all of that stuff. It's a never-ending quest, you know, never satisfied. So that, as well as just enjoying and taking care of the life we have. We're pretty blessed.

MK Ondergrond: So let's be honest: if Rob was a smaller guy, would he have been hazed a bit more when he joined METALLICA?

James Hetfield: That's a good question. He is pretty beefy looking. He reminds me a lot of Tarzan, so I don't think we would've been messing with him.

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