INTERVIEW BY STEVE CABALLERO
PHOTO BY ROSS HALFIN
It takes a certain type of thinking to do what is considered impossible by many, unbelievable by most, and unexplainable by all who witness it. James Hetfield and Steve Caballero both share this type of thinking. Let’s put this in perspective. Metallica has been a groundbreaking, genre-defining band consistently putting out new music for over 30 years puzzling accomplished musicians all over the world with their unintentional mastery of creating a congruent sound throughout a song with phonetic timing and key changes that would make Mozart jealous. There few people who can say they have been literally living their dreams for more than three decades and even fewer who do it making music or riding a skateboard for a living. Hetfield has been the front man of Metallica for 30+ years and has laid down the soundtrack to more skateboarding moments than can be measured. Caballero has been inventing tricks since he was 14 years old and, 30+ years later, he still rides a skateboard professionally. Here are two pioneers, artists, fathers, legends, rebels and friends. Juice Magazine is proud to present Metallica by Steve Caballero. Throw your horns in the air and ride the lightning! – INTRODUCTION BY DAN LEVY
Hey there, Cabbie.
How are you doing?
I got my shoes.
Are they the Vans Metallica shoes you’re doing or the Metallica/Half Cab?
It’s the all black Kill Em All shoe we did together.
Those are the ones with the album cover on the bottom. Those came out sick.
How have you been doing, man?
I’m doing cool. We just got back from Hawaii. We were there for the holidays and that was pretty awesome. We go to Maui, and I’ve never seen Jaws go off, but two weekends ago, it was huge. It was awesome to see.
Did you go with your family?
Yeah. We have a place over there, so we get over there as much as we can. It just so happened that they were having a North swell come in, and usually that happens around the holidays, so we finally got to see it.
Nice. Do you do any surfing yourself?
I just do some West Side stuff; [Laughs] 2 3/4” and a longboard and stand up paddle. I like to get in the water and just chill, you know.
I tried surfing up here, but it’s a little too cold for me. I don’t like the cold.
That’s why we have a place in Hawaii. We used to have a place in Tahoe and everyone liked to ski, but I don’t dig it so much. The water here is just way too cold. My assistant, Ray, goes out all the time, and you have to suit up and all that and it’s just no fun. It’s a lot more fun when you’re in the warm waters of Hawaii.
If I lived in Hawaii, I’d probably start surfing too, but it’s a little too cold here, so I stick to the cement. I’ve been running into you a lot lately. I know last year was a pretty big year for both of us. We did a lot of stuff together. You did the Orion festival, and the Obey Your Masters art show at Tony Alva’s, and I got to see you play your 30th anniversary shows at the Fillmore, and we did a bunch of collaborations with Vans. I saw you at some car shows, too. There’s been a lot going on.
Yeah. There’s a lot of fun lifestyle stuff going on besides the music thing. It’s good to have your own little things you can get into with your groups of friends and whatnot.
The last time I saw you was at the Billetproof Car Show. You were there with your club the Beatniks. Tell me about the club and your involvement with hot rods?
Well, I hooked up with the Beatniks via some artists. I was really into hot rod art and kustom kulture art. There was an artist that I really liked named Dennis McPhail. I just contacted him through email and we just started chatting back and forth and he came to some shows. He got me a little away from the normal hot rod/street rod theme into the more chopped/custom scene. Eventually, he sold me that crazy ‘27 T Bucket that’s in Some Kind of Monster movie. That thing was completely dangerous, so I got a taste for the danger and the speed, you know. It just ties in with the music I’ve been doing forever. Dennis and I got to be better and better friends and then he started sponsoring me for the club. We have a lot in common with artwork, tattoos and music. There’s a good mixture of young and older cats in the Beatniks club as well. They’re kind of Bohemians in their own right and they are very into their own art and they are very dedicated to their art, as I am. They’ve lived life and been through a lot of spots already, so we get together and hang out and talk cars and art and whatnot. There are quite a few guys spread across the country. I don’t know what number it’s up to now, probably 45 or 50. There are a bunch of guys in Australia as well. I’m proud to be a Beatnik and fly the Beatnik colors, and hang out with the coolest car club out there.
“In the early days of Metallica, punk rock was aggression. It was stuff that we liked. Whether you like it or not, you had people with spiked hair showing up at Motorhead shows.”
Those guys are really cool. I met a few of them when I was in a car club, the Road Zombies, with Alex Gambino. I’ve known Alex for a while and I know Scott from Blue Collar, and he’s a real cool dude. It’s really great to see you at the car shows. The cars that you bring are pretty amazing. Rick Dore does some pretty cool stuff for you.
Yeah. After getting into the club, and getting to know the guys a lot better, everyone in the club has their own style. The common thread is that everyone loves ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s customs. Everyone has their own decade that they stick in. We all respect each other’s likes and dislikes. There are so many unbelievable artists in the club. Their skill with the tattoo gun is unparalleled. They’re the best out there. They’re on the quest to learn and get better, and they’re hanging out with other tattoo artists that they respect. When I got to know Rick Dore, I knew he was a lot more into the show car scene. Some of the stuff he had done before was very elegant and looked remarkable. He has an eye for lines. He really missed his calling of being a car designer for a major company. His eye is great, and I’m able to hook up with him and use his eye and create some amazing masterpieces. I have a pretty amazing garage at this point. [Laughs]
When you think of it, 15 years ago, I had a ‘55 Chevy in there. Now I have eight of the most amazing customs and they’ve all come out of Rick’s and my ideas of dream cars. We’re basically creating our own prototype for what we think is the coolest that certain cars can look. From Skylarks to Auburns to Zephyrs, they’re all unbelievable cars when they started out, but we’ve taken them to another level.
I’ve seen a lot of those cars at car shows and they’re very impressive. My favorite is your Zephyr, by far. I got to see it again at the Orion festival. I know you guys put that together in Atlantic City. Do you want to talk about how Orion came together?
It was just rad to be able to go there with Christian Hosoi and have Vans be a part of that with the skate ramp. Do you want to talk about how the Orion festival came together? Well, Orion has been a dream of ours for quite a while, and management made it happen, basically. What do you do when you’ve been around 30 years and played just about every festival there is? You want to contribute to the music scene as much as possible, so you just create your own festival. We learned a lot about other people’s festivals. We’ve played a lot of them throughout our careers. We wanted to get something going in the States that reminded us of some of the Euro festivals. We also wanted to incorporate some of the cool lifestyle stuff that we love. One of the main factors was trying to create an atmosphere where it was all family like where we, as curators of the place, could just walk around and meet people and be a part of the crowd. It’s been so long since Metallica has been able to just mingle out into the crowd or hang out in the pit or wherever. I think the last time was maybe the Monsters of Rock when we opened up for Van Halen and Scorpions. After our set, we grabbed our beverage of choice and would just go out and hang out in the crowd. It’s been a long time since that. With Orion, it was one of those things where we were able to do that. We’d love to keep it like that. Obviously, the success of Orion depends on the amount of people and being able to keep it afloat by at least breaking even by getting a bunch of cool bands out there that need to get paid. We go through the promoter world, which is certainly not a fun place to be sometimes. You catch a lot of shit from it. You have to balance the books. Trying to make that all float, make it work and make it fun, most of all. If it’s not fun, it stops happening. It’s getting more music out there from bands that are good in their own genres, whether it’s grindcore or semi-pop rock. We had all kinds of music, including country. We had a bunch of different cats up there. And then we incorporated the lifestyle stuff. For me, that’s cars, styled cars, old school dragsters, bikes and most things custom. If you’ve put your hands on it or modified it, I’m very into that. Then for Kirk and Rob, you had the surf scene and the skateboard scene. Getting you and a lot of other old school cats out there showing the new dudes how it’s done and inspiring people. We’re pretty similar I’d say. You know, I’m a little older than you, but as far as coming from the same town and the same generation and mindset, you and I have been able to get to the Orion show and inspire some youth out there. That’s always a great feeling.
Yeah. It really feels good to be this age and still be able to inspire the kids out there. For me, I’m still trying to keep up and do my thing. You guys are celebrating 30 years of rocking. That is amazing. Those shows at the Fillmore were incredible. I would have never imagined seeing you guys in a setting like that. I had the opportunity to see the last two shows and you did four. One of the greatest moments was watching Dave Mustaine, on stage, with you guys playing “Kill Em All.” It almost brought a tear to my eye. I couldn’t believe that he was there on that stage playing right in front of me. Do you want to talk about how that happened and how that came together? You guys played a different set every single night for four nights. That had to have been one of the hardest gigs you ever played.
It was the most fun. It was the most emotionally draining and physically draining. My memory card was so full. We played 80 different songs, plus it was our hometown, at our favorite place to see gigs. We had people from 40 different countries flying in for the gig to celebrate 30 years with us. We had friends, business people and fans that have been with us since day one, and even before. I had a friend of mine, Hugh Tanner, get up there with us. He was a guitar player that helped me get through high school. We hated everything about school, and we never wanted to go to school. Our mindset was on playing guitar. We’d go home after school and just play and play and play. We wanted to get really good. It’s probably not unlike you and a friend of yours that wanted to skate and you just pushed each other further. Oh, you can do that? Well, I can do this.” You try to top each other. That’s what we were doing on guitar. When I saw he was getting better than me, I knew I had to practice more. [Laughs] It was that kind of cool friendship. He and I were the first ones that auditioned Lars. We found him in the paper and got together with him and found out his abilities weren’t as good as his knowledge of metal. [Laughs] Eventually, Lars and I hooked up after that and created something really amazing. Having Hugh Tanner there was great. Jason got up every night for a few songs. It was all just a celebration of anything and everything Metallica, including the fans. Jim Breuer, a comedian, got up and emceed every night and did the most amazing job. He had game shows going on and he was filling time. Everyone had a blast. It was a party. It wasn’t really a gig. It was a party and everyone was hanging out and being able to see all the historic gear. Cliff’s bass was there. The Kill Em All V of mine was there. We had early drum kits, early t-shirts and demo tapes. We were pulling stuff out of the archives. We turned that into the Metallica week at the Fillmore. It certainly wouldn’t have happened without all of the guests and the fans obviously. Thirty years is a big deal and, hopefully, we make it to 40 and we’ll make that an even bigger deal. Just to be around after 30 years, is a blessing. We can actually claim that we’ve been a band for 40 years. There are a lot of bands that claim they have been around as long as us, but they’ve broken up and then gotten back together or something. We’ve pushed through. We battled through the ego shit, the rough times, and the great times. We battled through all of the stuff that marriages go through and survived. That was a lot of what we were celebrating as well.
That’s an amazing accomplishment, for sure. I saw your documentary Some Kind of Monster, and I was there in S.F. when you guys premiered it, and I get it. I’ve been in bands myself, and it kind of made me laugh to see all the different things that you guys had gone through with all the money you’ve made and the fame and everything you’ve done in music, and to see everything you went through internally, you guys struggled with the same things that a small band that hasn’t done anything goes through. People don’t really know that. When you see documentaries like that, you get the feeling that you are real people and you go through the same struggles. It was a very enlightening documentary for me. I’m so stoked you guys put that out.
I am too. It’s a really dirty and ugly mirror to look into, but it shed a lot of light into each one of us and how we really are and how we perceive each other, and how we react to certain situations. We learned a lot about each other and our character defects. We were able to let people own what they need to own and be able to work on what we could work on ourselves. A lot of bands don’t get to see that. They get to a point where it’s just hell. They’re just fighting. Or your manager is talking to my manager and crap like that. That’s not creative. That’s not moving forward whatsoever. There are so many people out there that love to comment and blog and text and throw in their comments about things that happen in the news around us, and there are a lot of haters out there. There are a lot of people that forget that we’re human and have struggles and emotions and things like that. They think we’re just some robots that are all about making money or something.” It’s funny how money gets brought up. “Oh, they must be rolling in it…” It’s so far from the truth as to how Metallica runs as a band. The money that we’re pulling in, we’re throwing it straight back into the band. We try to reinvest and make things cool, like the Orion or the 30th Anniversary, or doing this 3-D movie. There is tons of investment besides time and love into Metallica that people don’t realize it. It’s not about what you can get out of it. It’s about what we can recycle and put back into it and make it even cooler and better. I know there are quite a few fans out there that realize that. They’re the ones that showed up at Orion and help to support a lot of these other bands as well.
“It was all about the attitude and energy that created the thrash of it all.”
I think the people and your fans that know you, obviously know what you’re about. Obviously, there are haters in every scene. It’s just because they’re not clued into what goes into making things happen. They only see the outcome of everything. They don’t really get to see the inside and what people go through to make things happen. It’s a lot easier to comment or criticize when you’re not doing anything yourself. You’re an outsider looking in. The people that know your band and know what you did and how long you’ve lasted, they know where your heart is, and what you’re doing. It’s a pretty amazing feat to be a band for 30 years straight and still be rocking. When I saw you guys play at Orion, I was fortunate to have one of the best seats, right on stage. I was so impressed. You guys were so tight. After all these years, how can you get any tighter? It was amazing.
[Laughs] Thank you. Well, 30 years will do it, man. If we’re not getting tighter then something is wrong.
[Laughs] Do you think it has a lot to do with being sober now? I know there was some mention of a struggle with alcohol in the past. What was the breaking point and what got you to make a change in your life from being a party animal?
Well, it was really not my choice. Things happen for a reason. My lifestyle caught up with me. I was bringing the road life home to my wife and family. That’s what happened. She saw that and put a stop to it. I had hit a bottom. I got thrown out of the house. I had a reality check around the fact that I was going to lose this family too. My family was huge to me. Growing up in a family that had fallen apart as a teenager, having my own family fall apart was enough to kick my ass. There was a big godsmack at that point to wake up and see, “You’re losing another family that you’ve created.” That fear was a big motivator for me to get my shit together. At one point, I was kicked out of my house, I was living on my own, I was in rehab, my band was falling apart and pretty much everything was crumbling around me. I had some friends that were helping me through stuff that were already in recovery and I had no clue that they were there for that reason. They were there to help me through all this stuff. Rehab taught me a lot of stuff that I had refused to see or had no clue was there. Once I got detoxed and was able to take a look at myself basically stripped down to the bone, and then rebuild. It was a huge life college for my head and heart. I learned a lot about people, myself, life in general, and I came out of there a new person. It took a long time to get back into the good graces of my family, but I was able to get back in there. I had to shine my new light on how I was. I was like, “Are we going to survive this? Are you going to be able to understand the new me? Am I going to be able to survive in the road life and all that stuff?” It took a lot of talking. At the end of the day, I think everyone benefited from the sobriety. Without forcing anything upon anyone else, it was like, “I have to live my life this way. Please respect it. It’s as simple as that. Now let’s go out and kick some ass.” That’s what the philosophy is now. We have a lot more respect for each other, and we’re all a lot more help than we used to be. Every one of us goes through tough stuff all the time. We’re as family as it gets with Metallica. We’re always going to have some problems. Obviously, my family of origin molded me into what I knew about family. Now I’m taking the good and the bad and passing it on to my family as best I can.
“At one point, I was kicked out of my house, I was living on my own, I was in rehab, my band was falling apart and pretty much everything was crumbling around me.”
That’s great to hear. I used to drink. I never had a problem with drinking, but when my first daughter was born, I realized that I needed to stop drinking and smoking pot, and doing anything that would be influencing my own family. That’s what got me to stop. It was like, “You’re starting a family. This person is going to be influenced by you. Stop and focus on what’s important.” I know that you have three kids and a wife. I’m sure that’s a life changing moment when that part of your life gives you a reality check.
Absolutely. You and I are both blessed with the gift of children, and they’ve taught me, and continue, every day, to teach me more about myself than anyone ever has. I see reflections of myself in them, and I would do anything for them, including watching them fuck up, because they have to. I’ve been there. They have their own path and they’ve got their own thing. I’m here to help and guide them, but they have their own path they have to go on. I’m extremely blessed to have them. There’s a point, in my business and in yours, when we’re not encouraged to mature. We’re not encouraged to grow up. Youth is like the drug. You don’t want to look old. You don’t want to seem old. It’s so strange. Your body is telling you one thing and your mind is telling you another, and you’re tearing yourself apart. So I am getting older, but I have a youthful outlook on life. There are certain things that go along with that, like the drinking and fucking around. You’re risking your life at times when you think, “Maybe I shouldn’t do that. I have three kids that I want to watch grow up and they don’t want to grow up without a dad.” There is always this being torn between the two worlds of maturity and wanting to just be a crazy fucker.
[Laughs] I hear you. I have my little one on my lap right now, going, “Daddy.”
[Laughs] Daddy, he just said the “F” word.”
[Laughs] No. She has her headphones on. She can’t hear you. [Cab’s daughter laughs]
[Laughs] That’s the greatest sound in the world right there, man.
Isn’t it? Oh, yeah. I love it. So you’re on the road a lot. How does that affect your family life and what do you do to balance that out?
Well, after I came out of rehab, I put the hammer down and said, “You know what? My family comes first. Metallica family comes second.” That was a big shock to everybody. As time went on, everyone in the band, started focusing more on their own family, and realizing that it’s true. It takes nothing away from Metallica. It only adds to it. The love of our own families enhances the Metallica family. The things that we learn with our families, we bring and share in the Metallica family world. Claiming family first has really helped Metallica survive as long as it has. Touring two weeks at a time, instead of three months at a time works. There used to be this, “You’re a fuckin’ pussy” attitude if you said something like, “I can’t play that gig because my kid has Spring Break and we’re going to do something together.” That attitude has changed now. Now it’s like, “Okay, we’ll all take our break then, and do something else another time. So management, the band, and everyone are on the same page. It’s so comforting to know that I don’t have to go to war every time there is a tour being booked or we have certain things that Metallica is dedicated to. I don’t have to go to war with the rest of the band and fight for time with my family. It’s so great. During the summer, our families are with us. Touring during the summer makes sense, because we can take our families with us and stay out longer. Otherwise, if the kids are in school, we’re not gone for more than two weeks. That’s just the law.
That’s great that you put the hammer down and made that decision. I bet a lot of other guys that run your production were relieved as well because they probably have their own families. That’s great. You’ve been the driving force of that band for a long time, and I think that’s one of the best decisions you could have made. That should keep you touring and doing what you love for another 30 years.
[Laughs] We’ll do our best. Musicians don’t retire. They just probably tour a little less. Writing music, playing, jamming with each other, that’s something that won’t ever stop. That is an integral part of my being and my mission in life. I love jamming. Without that, I’m sure I could survive, but I wouldn’t want to.
I have the same attitude with skateboarding. I want to go as long as I can, as long as my body can hold up. I do my best to stay in shape. I eat better and try to get a lot of rest and cross-train. On the music side, it must be great to do that as well. It’s rad that you have all these younger fans that know the band. I know you guys had a bunch of different changes in your music and direction throughout time. When you came out with Death Magnetic that was the album I had been waiting for. I’ve been a fan since ‘83 when I got a demo tape of yours in Florida from a skateboarder named Tom Groholski. It’s funny because his sister is married to Squindo that does artwork for you guys. It’s a neat connection. It’s just weird how it all came together at the art show at Tony Alva’s. That was great for you guys to be at that art show. How did that all come down at Alva’s gallery? I was honored to be part of that.
I was honored that Tony and his gallery were into something like this. I’m not sure where the initial idea came from, but Trujillo, who is the L.A. dude, Venice, loves that whole scene. His wife Chloe is a great artist and they’re very tapped into the art world, as I am. I love art. I’ve gotten some of the artists into designing our shirts and things and hooking them up. I love everything about graphic design. To have a lot of artists come together, and a lot of artists that aren’t on our radar, was great. Obviously, we have Pushead and Squindo and the people that are in our lives, but to see some people that aren’t usually within our eyesight out there showing how Metallica influenced their gift was extremely cool. To go and hang in the chill atmosphere there was very refreshing. It was awesome to meet some of these artists and hear their stories, and how they were influenced by our music, and how they create, and what kind of mindset they get into. An artist is an artist and we all relate to each other as far as how we create. It was great to share some stories with some folks.