INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT TRUJILLO
INTERVIEW BY JEFF HO
INTRODUCTION BY JEFF HO
PHOTOS BY ANTON CORBIN and JEFF YEAGER
Growing up on the West Side (LA), where people kill each other for being from the wrong zip code, Robert has managed to stay focused on family and music. He is one of the world’s leading bass guitarists. Hard playing kick ass is his style. Metallica is his main focus and number one priority. Surfing is one of his passions. He says music goes hand in hand with surfing. THIS IS ROBERT TRUJILLO.“WE’RE WALKING THROUGH THE ARCHES DOWN THIS HUMONGOUS FLIGHT OF STAIRS, AND I’M LOOKING AT 70,000 PEOPLE GOING CRAZY. WHEN I SAW ALL OF THOSE PEOPLE, I FELT THE RUSH. IT’S SO RIDICULOUSLY AMAZING. WHEN I’M UP THERE, PLAYING AND FEELING THE ENERGY FROM THE CROWD, IT’S A RUSH. IT’S PROBABLY THE SAME FEELING AS GETTING DOUBLE OVERHEAD TEAHUPOO OR SOMETHING.”
What neighborhood did you grow up in?
My mother and I always lived in Mar Vista. I was born at Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. My mom and dad split up when I was five, and my pops moved to Venice. My mom and I stayed in Mar Vista. That was a weird thing, too, because, at one point, I went to Venice High, and then I went to Culver High my senior year and my eleventh grade year. I graduated from Culver High. In junior high, I went to Palms Junior High for a minute, and Culver Junior High for a minute. It was a strange transitional period for me, between the parents. At that age, when you get in an argument with your mom, or you get busted for doing something stupid, you end up living with your father. That’s when I was going to Venice. Growing up in Mar Vista was interesting, because, I had more friends in Venice and Santa Monica. I played baseball in the Venice Marina baseball league. All of the guys that were on my team are either in jail now or dead. They were all cholos. On the other end of it, I had a lot of friends in Culver City, too. I knew a lot of the surfers and musicians from Culver City. I grew up on both sides of the fence, being with my dad in Venice and with my mom in Mar Vista. It was interesting.
You do know that Culver City and Venice don’t mix.
They used to kill each other. They don’t mix. On my mom’s side of the family, you had cousins from Culver City and cousins from Venice. My girlfriend back then was a Venice girl. My senior year in high school, my girlfriend was going to Santa Monica High. I went to the prom with her. Then around 1982 or 1983, Robert Downey Jr. was hitting on her. I had to compete with Robert Downey, Jr., Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe and Lenny Kravitz, because they all went to Santa Monica High School. In 1983, I was in a band that was composed of musicians from all over the West Side, from Venice, Culver City and Santa Monica. The lead guitar player, Tod Moyer, went to Culver High. The drummer went to Venice High. Our singer Dale Henderson was from a band called Beowulf, which was from Venice. The band was called Oblivion. We used to play at all the parties in all of those areas. We’d do a party in Venice, gigs in Santa Monica, and parties in Culver City.
Did shit ever happen at those parties?
When we played in Venice, the Venice people would be there, and it was all good. When we played in Culver City, it was Culver City people. Basically, it was always a hoodrat community. We were playing for the surfers and the stoners. No matter where we were playing, we were playing for the same types of people. We were like Switzerland, neutral, as far as bands go at that time. I thought that was pretty cool. Whenever I went to the beach, I hung out at the Breakwater. I used to hang out and surf with people like Jesse Martinez. He’s the first guy that I ever saw, back in 1978, surfing on a boogie board in his boxers in the middle of winter because the waves were so good. He was just smacking the lip, surfing on a boogie board. I was like, ‘This guy is crazy.’ He was amazing. So I had people like that in my life. At the other end of the spectrum, there were the punkers from Culver City and Venice, and some of those musicians were totally amazing. There was a guy named Danny Tunick, who was one of the best drummers around town back then. I used to jam with him a lot. I was stuck in the middle of everybody. I was in between Venice, Santa Monica, Mar Vista and Culver City. It was insane.
How did you meet up with Mike Muir?
I used to work at a jazz cafe called the Comeback Inn. It was on West Washington, which is now called Abbott Kinney. Back in the day, the Comeback Inn would have these concerts outdoors. This was when new age was starting to come in to the picture. They had a lot of great jazz-fusion bands there. I wanted to work there, so that I could hang out with the hot, ripping jazz players. There was a surf shop next door to the Comeback Inn, and Mike Muir and Jim Muir lived behind the shop in the old pagoda or the ‘pumpkin’. Mike Muir and his friends would point the PA speakers over at the Comeback Inn in the patio area where the stage was set up, and these new age bands were playing. They would blast punk rock music through the PA. My boss would get so pissed. He would start screaming at them to turn it off. They would yell back on the PA, ‘Will’s a fag!’ That was my first encounter with Muir. The other encounter I had with Muir was in the early ’80s at a party in Venice. I remember him and his homies coming into the party, and they were just destroying shit. They owned that party. They just dismantled the party and scared everybody. Those were my early encounters with Muir and the hoodrats back in the early ’80s.
When you were a kid in school, did you study music or take music classes?
Yeah. When I was at Venice High, I was in the jazz band. They had a pretty good jazz program there. They had a lot more musicians than the one in Culver City. So I did that for a bit. Then when I got transferred to Culver High, I played in their jazz band. I remember playing the theme to ‘Rocky’ and cheesy stuff like that. When I graduated from high school, I did construction work, bus boy work, bagged groceries, etc., and I started jazz school out in North Hollywood. There was a school called Dick Grove’s School of Music. It was a very technical school. They taught you all the music theory and boring stuff that I wasn’t interested in back then. I just wanted to jam. The great thing about that school was there were musicians there from all over the world. Some of those musicians, I’m still in touch with. There were some really brilliant players. I was able to jam with cats from London and France and guys from all over the U.S. That was really inspirational to me. Back then it was a funky, rock, jamming kind of thing. It had a Jimi Hendrix type of vibe. I was into playing soul bass lines and the R and B type shit. I had played in some bands just to get my feet wet. They were bands that were more in the hard rock vein. When I say hard rock, I mean like Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I was in a band with Jamie Segal. She was an amazing singer from around here. I played in a band called Eclipse with Jamie singing. At the same time, I was playing in some new wave bands, too. I was playing in four or five different projects, just trying to absorb it all. After a few years of that, I finally realized that I’d gotten my feet wet playing the circuit and doing the live thing, but I wasn’t really learning. I hit a limit. I wanted to go beyond that. That’s the problem with a lot of the players coming out of Venice and the West Side. A lot of those cats stay in the safe zone. They don’t really push themselves much further than that. They’re satisfied with playing locally.
You wanted to move on?
Yeah, I wanted to play in Europe and shit. At that time, playing in a band outside of the West Side was almost like going to Europe. To motivate and make a move away from your comfort zone, was a challenge in itself, but I did that. I started playing with bands that were coming out of Long Beach, North Hollywood and different scenes like that.
Did you just hook up with these people? How did that work?
Well, the Music Connection was around back then. You could go on auditions and hook up with other musicians that way. From doing that, I was able to play The Roxy and The Whisky, but the stuff that I was playing wasn’t necessarily music that I enjoyed playing.
You just wanted to get out there.
Yeah, I wanted to explore other territories. I was willing to take a beating on the creative end to do that. Then I got tired of that. Around the time I graduated from music school, I decided I was going to get more serious and start playing with cats that were a lot better than me. I was looking for anyone that I admired or I thought was an amazing player. I wanted to try and learn from those cats. In a way, it was like free lessons. I would write songs with musicians that were way better than me. Then there was Wyman Brown from Detroit, who played keyboards for funk and R and B singer Teena Marie. Teena Marie had all of these top ten hits in the early ’80s. She was a Venice girl. Wyman was super badass. I don’t know why this guy wasted his time with my sorry bass-playing ass, but he was cool. People like Wyman taught me a lot about about R and B and blues. It wasn’t one dimensional, like just metal or rock or punk rock. I was exploring the R and B stuff. I was getting that angle in there, too. Wyman was a way better player than I was, so I was able to learn from him.
Were there any other local musicians that influenced you?
There was another cat named Chris Gaitors from Santa Monica. He had done a lot of work with Tony Lemans. Chris did a lot of different studio gigs. He was another amazing musician. He was so good, but he didn’t want to tour. He didn’t want to take it beyond. It’s equivalent to if you had an amazing surfer that is as good as Kelly Slater, and they’re just content with surfing their little neighborhood break. Chris Gaitors taught me a shit load about my instrument and music in general.
When did you start playing with Suicidal Tendencies?
I hooked up with Suicidal Tendencies in ’89. I was really good friends with Rocky George, their guitar player. Rocky and I went to high school together. He was from Culver City. Rocky George, played on ‘Join the Army’ and ‘How Will I Laugh…’ He was their guitar player from ’84 to ’96. Rocky was the one that got me into Suicidal. I auditioned for the band. I thought it would be this massive audition with all of these different players, but they were like, ‘If you want the gig, you got the gig.’ That was the best break for me, because, in ’89, Suicidal was going on one of their first real true arena tours. The next thing you know, I’m in Europe with Suicidal, opening for Anthrax. After that, we were opening for Slayer on the Clash of the Titans tour. It just started to blossom from there with Suicidal.
Was Suicidal the first group that you actually broke out with and did a tour with?
Yeah. That was the first, true, serious band that I was in. I was breaking away from the local scene, and from the semi-Hollywood type thing that I didn’t enjoy at all. Suicidal was the band that took me all around the U.S. and took me to Europe, Japan, etc. It was great because with Suicidal, everything was a challenge. We went from playing funky little theaters and clubs, to headlining Irvine Meadows, to opening for Metallica in 1993 in front of huge crowds.
So you were stoked.
Did that allow you to feel more creative?
Absolutely. Suicidal was such an important time for me. It also reacquainted me with surfing. Mike Clark, who’s a really amazing surfer, got me back into surfing. I surfed a lot from ’82 to’86, and then I kind of, started slacking. When I joined Suicidal Tendencies, whenever we’d end up in Australia, or anywhere there was a wave, Mike would surf it. He’d drag me along with him. We’d be in New Zealand, and he’d say, ‘Dude, let’s go surfing.’ He was really good, and I was kind of, okay. He’d get me out there and I finally realized through him that I had an amazing opportunity as a touring musician to explore some of the most amazing waves all over the world.
Being able to surf in Tahiti, and places like Brazil was unreal. We’d always end up in Hawaii at some point. We’d do a killer concert in Hawaii and then we’d be able to go surfing for a few days. Because of those experiences with Mike Clark, and now with Metallica, I’ve been to Portugal, for instance, surfing southern Portugal, about six times now. I love it down there.
Which of the guys in Metallica surfs?
Kirk Hammett, our guitar player, surfs.
How long has Kirk been surfing?
He’s only been surfing for about four years, but he lives in Hawaii. His wife is from Hawaii. She grew up there. He has a beautiful, beachfront place in Hawaii, and he’s just surfing all the time. He surfs Ocean Beach, because he lives in San Francisco. It’s great, because for me, going from Suicidal with Mike Clark, now I’m with Metallica and I have a surf partner again. With my experience with Metallica, I’ve already surfed Portugal, Morocco and all over Australia with Kirk. The great thing is that professional surfers love the music, so when I was with Suicidal in Australia, we’re surfing with Luke Egan, Shane Powell, Matt Hoy and people like that. Now with Metallica, I was surfing in Australia with Mick Fanning, Dean Morrison and Jay Phillips. These guys are putting on a show for us in the water. We’re front row center, at a break like Kirra, for instance. We’re getting waves, because we’re with these guys and we’re with Metallica. Kirk and I just did a show in south Africa three months ago and we got to surf some amazing waves over there with some of the locals. It’s great to be in a band that respects you enough to let you have some waves. It works out good.
[Laughs.] That’s so cool.
It’s great. I love being able to travel the world and if there’s a wave, being able to surf it. I also end up in a lot of amazing places for snowboarding, too. In a way, you’re like a kid in the candy store. That’s how, in the late ’80s, I got back in touch with the ocean, and utilizing music to get there. That, to me, has been a blessing. It’s been an amazing experience. I like challenges in the water. I’m not the best surfer around, but I like going to Tahiti and doing the best I can on those outer reefs. I like Hawaii. I go to the North Shore as often as possible.
Who are some of the people you hang out with in the surf scene?
As far as the cats I know in the surf community, they’re mostly Australians from the Suicidal days, because they loved the band so much. I know Sean Slater and Kelly Slater pretty good. I know Takuji Masuda, Tim Curren and Pascal Stansfield up in Malibu, and all of these different cats. They’ve gotten to be pretty good friends of mine. As far as surfing goes, I’ve been pretty stoked. I’d always see Jay Adams every time I’d go to Hawaii. I’m great friends with Christian Fletcher. I’ve surfed and snowboarded with Christian plenty of times. The highlight in my life was being able to be out there surfing with Herbie and Christian together in Hawaii. It was amazing to see that, father and son, ripping it up. I’ve been blessed to have those kinds of encounters in the ocean, and to also experience what I experience on stage.
Do you skate at all?
Not now. I used to, when I was a teenager.
I see you at the Santa Monica Park sometimes when you’re in town.
Yeah. I go there sometimes when I’m in town, but I surf now, more than anything. I have one of your Zephyr surfboards. It’s a work of art. I can’t even put that thing in the water. It’s so beautiful.
I’ll have to make you a less expensive board to surf. That board you got was a special one. That was one of the last boards that I did at my place in Hawaii. I brought that board here from Hawaii, along with others that I did for an exhibit in Venice. That was part of my little collection.
I know. I wanted them all. I was mesmerized by the boards at that exhibit. I was like, ‘I have to have at least one of these, if not all of them.’ I had to pick one.
I still have that yellow one that you were looking at.
I was torn between that one and the one I ended up buying. I couldn’t decide. Then I chose the one I have now. If you don’t sell it in the next year or two, when I have the cash, I’ll buy it.
[Laughs.] So you still surf, but you don’t skate as much now?
I carve now. I stopped skating parks in my late teens, and got more into surfing. It got to the point where I was touring a lot, and I didn’t want to get hurt skating. I’m injury prone. So is James Hetfield. He broke his arm twice skating. He used to skate a lot, too. At a certain point, you start to think you’re jinxed.
I had better luck with snowboarding and surfing. Do you know Mike and Dave Hatchett? They rip on the snow and in the water. They’re up in Tahoe and San Diego. They own a snowboard film company called Standard Films. They do the heli-boarding and big mountain snowboarding in Alaska with Terje Haakonsen and all those riders. Mike’s a really good friend of mine. We used ride Squaw Valley all the time. Now, with the family, I’ve toned down a little.
Talk to me a little bit about the years with Suicidal. You were over in Europe, having a really good time over there. You were snowboarding, too?
Yeah, that was another great thing. I used to push it back then and snowboard on the same day as a show. I would go snowboarding in Austria and take a train to get to Italy to do a show. I’d call Mike at the hotel. Back then it was all European pay phones. There were no international cell phones. I’d call Mike because they were all waiting for me and say, ‘I’m in a train depot about an hour outside of Torino, Italy.’ I never really knew if I was going to make it. What if I missed the train? Finally, I had to chill out on that. I had to stop pushing the limit on that stuff. I was so addicted to snowboarding back then that it was starting to tamper with the music. It could potentially create a disaster for the band. I did a lot of snowboarding in Europe, probably more than I should have.
So you were snowboarding and surfing. Do you think that allowed you to be more creative with your music?
Yes, I’m a firm believer that through surfing, snowboarding, skating and being outside, that added to everything. There’s a certain rhythm in surfing, snowboarding and skating. When you’re snowboarding and carving down a big ass hill, there’s a rhythm. That’s why you see cats wearing headphones, and listening to Pantera, Metallica, Black Flag or whatever makes them aggressive to charge. I saw Laird Hamilton at Point Dume and he’s got his iPod on out there paddling around, and listening to his music.
Music goes hand in hand with skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing. I really feel it. To be honest, some of the best shows that I’ve ever done have been after a great surf session. I’ve played Hawaii four or five times, and I had some of my best performances. There’s something about being in the sun and saltwater and firming up your calluses and having a good surf session. It motivates you to play a kick ass show.
What led up to the break up of Suicidal?
Well, there have been different phases of Suicidal over the years. I think, during the era that I was in Suicidal Tendencies, which was ’89-’96, we were working so hard. We were touring all the time. When we weren’t touring, we were making an album. I was writing and recording, with Mike Muir. We were doing a band called Infectious Grooves. That was another musical project that we were involved with. That was great. We made three albums with Infectious Grooves. People tell me, to this day, that they are fans of Infectious Grooves. These were the creative challenges that we had taken on, plus the hard work we did with our shows. I think it became very taxing on everyone in the band and it created tension. Sometimes, the tension can stir up resentment with your band mates. Sometimes you need to take time off. Take a break for a year. That’s what we did with Metallica. My first two years with Metallica, we were non-stop. Then we took a year off. I talked to the guys in the band, twice in the year off from the band. It’s not because we have a problem with each other. It’s just that when you’re with each other so much on the road for a couple of years, when you do have time off, you really take time off. It’s a great thing. It’s not a problem. That’s just how we are. Now we started doing shows again and we’re writing material for the next album and we’re moving forward. Sometimes that’s necessary. With Suicidal, I don’t know if we just couldn’t afford to do that, but it was just something we never really got to do.
Everyone just diffused.
Yeah. I remember when Suicidal was on tour with Metallica, I was getting in fistfights with Rocky George, who was one of my best friends.
There was just a lot of tension?
Yeah, I remember he and I were literally throwing each other around and socking each other on stage while Metallica was playing. Rocky and I were right there beside James Hetfield’s guitars, and we’re brawling. I’m thinking to myself, ‘This fuckin’ sucks. What is this?’ That happened a couple of times. It was kind of funny. We’re brawling and Metallica is jamming. We were having a fight right on stage, probably during the song ‘Fight Fire with Fire’.
Did you have a disagreement?
No, it was just tension, and maybe there was a little alcohol involved.
It was tension and alcohol.
It was a lot of things. That was the end of that era. On a good note, Mike Muir and I hung out a few weeks ago and spent about four hours together, shooting the shit and hanging out. Everybody’s cool. Rocky is still a great friend.
Are you working with Mike at all?
Mike actually has some material that may potentially be released in the future. It’s recordings from 14 years ago that we’d done together with this amazing drummer, Josh Freese and members of Infectious Grooves. It’s not Suicidal Tendencies. It’s very different, but it’s amazing. For me, right now, my main focus and number one priority is Metallica. We’re working hard writing and, hopefully, in about a year, we’ll have an album ready to go. We’ll get back on the road and kick ass again.
So after Suicidal Tendencies, you started playing with Ozzy Osbourne?
Yeah, I started working with Ozzy Osbourne and touring with him. It was always a goal of mine, since I was a teenager, to be able to play with Ozzy. I used to play Black Sabbath and Ozzy songs with my band Oblivion. We played ‘Crazy Train’ and ‘War Pigs.’ It might not have been the best move for me as a bass player, because I had gained so much prominence with Suicidal Tendencies and Infectious Grooves. Once I joined Ozzy’s band, that bass player prominence kind of diminished. It wasn’t about Robert Trujillo, the rad bass player. It was more like, Robert Trujillo, the sideman for Ozzy Osbourne. The challenge, for me, with Ozzy, was that I wanted to be able to write some songs for the guy. It was a goal of mine to have some music on an Ozzy album. After about six years, it happened. It was a lot of hard fuckin’ work, but I had three songs on the last Ozzy album. I accomplished what I wanted with Ozzy. I toured my ass off with him. I managed to get three solid, heavy, cool songs on his album. For me to record them, and to hear his voice on a song that I created, was a dream of mine. It happened, and then it was time to move on. It was a definite honor to have taken the stage with drummer and best friend Mike Bordin, as well as Zakk Wylde, and guitarist Joe Holmes.
So while you were playing with Ozzy, the guys from Metallica contacted you and asked you to audition?
Yeah, it’s funny because it was through surfing. Kirk and I had a mutual friend who used to surf. He wanted to bring Kirk down to LA to check out some of the LA breaks. So Kirk and a few of his friends came down in a mobile home, an RV. They went over to Dockweiler and camped out in the parking lot. We’d go surf El Porto, and then we went up to County Line and Malibu. They did their one-week excursion. I knew Kirk, because we had toured together in the past when Suicidal was opening up for Metallica in 1993-1994, but I hadn’t see Kirk since that time. Here we are in 2001, and I’m reuniting with Kirk through surfing, so it was great. Our conversations weren’t really about the band. It wasn’t about Ozzy or Metallica. It was more about being stoked on the ocean. After that experience, he went back up north. Then eight months went by, and I got a call from them. I was in Tahiti, and I was checking my voice mail. It was like, ‘Metallica calling. Come and jam with us, man! We want to check you out.’ Basically, I flew in from Tahiti on a Wednesday, and then on Friday, I was heading up to San Francisco for a birthday party. They were like, ‘Dude, come in on Monday.’ I hadn’t really worked on the songs or anything. I had to try to put together at least five songs of theirs to be able to audition for these guys. That’s how it went down. I was in LA for a day. Then I was in San Francisco for a party, and the next day I was auditioning for Metallica. It all happened within five days.
The first audition was really interesting. It was a two-day audition. The first day we were just hanging out. We were there from eleven in the morning, and they didn’t stop until eleven at night. So I was hanging there all day watching them work and record for the ‘St. Anger’ album. I was just reacquainting myself with them. At the end of the night, I was in the parking lot, and Lars was like, ‘Let’s go get beer. Let’s get a drink.’ I’m thinking, he’s kind of like the boss in a way, so I said, ‘Okay, I’ll go.’ We ended up going out and drinking until 5 in the morning. It’s not the thing you want to do before you’re going to play. So I go in for my second day of auditions, when I’m actually going to play, and they always have a roundtable meeting first. For me, any form of communication at this point was impossible. I was the loser of the century. I couldn’t even talk. I was so hung over. It was horrendous. In my head, I was thinking, ‘I can’t talk to anybody. Please don’t let me have a conversation with anybody.’ At one point, I was even going to go find a corner in the studio and try to take a nap. I was going to say, ‘Hey, guys. I don’t feel good. I’m sick. I’m hung over. I’m sorry. If you don’t want me in your band, whatever, I suck.’
[Laughs.] You just wanted to be left alone.
Yeah, and this was a really difficult scenario because, as most people know, James is clean and sober. At this point in time, he was very serious about his sobriety and all the people around him being clean.
He didn’t want anyone dragging him down that road. He didn’t want to know about it.
Exactly. And here I am, the whiskey warlord, at the table. I pulled myself from the round table and went and hung out with the bass tech. I didn’t bring a bass up, so they had some instruments there and I was testing the instruments out. I focused on getting my sound, so I couldn’t talk to anybody. Then finally they jammed with me. The playing audition went really, really well. I think the reason I wasn’t so nervous, was because I was kind of buzzed.
I saw footage of the other guys that auditioned and they looked like they were all shitting in their pants. I was just like, ‘Yeah. Let’s play.
Let her rip.
I was like, ‘Give me the fastest song you got. I’ll take it.’ And we jammed ‘Battery.’
So that was my audition. That went well. After we played, James was trying to talk to me. He’d ask me something like, ‘What are you doing?’ I’d say, ‘I don’t know. I think I’m just going to drive home and kick it.’ And he was like, ‘No, no. What are you doing musically? What projects are you doing?’ I was telling him that I was going to go home and sleep. I was so out of it. A few months after that, they called me for a final audition. That’s the one that iced it. That’s the one where I got the gig officially.
They made that little documentary ‘Some Kind of Monster’ of that, and they show you auditioning. Was that footage of you from your first audition or the second?
That was the first drunk audition. That was Trujillo in fine form in the whisky warrior persona. Nothing more. Nothing less. That’s why, when I look at some of that footage, in a way, I’m laughing, but in a way, I’m cringing. I don’t like to bring unnecessary pressure into my existence, but I always seem to find a way to do it. You have to work twice as hard to do what you got to do. That’s what happened that day. I was able to pull it off, but it was scary. I was shitting in my pants at the end of it all, looking back.
[Laughs.] At least you can talk about it. At least you can be honest about it.
I can talk about that one now, and share it with the world. That’s actually what happened. In the same light as Suicidal Tendencies and my challenges with Ozzy Osbourne, with Metallica, the same day I was asked to join the band, I realized I would be living in San Francisco now. I was only in LA twice in the first three weeks of being in Metallica. My life changed. I was working out the new material for the new Metallica album, and I was also working on the catalog. Metallica has albums from 1983 until now. It’s extensive. The homework and workload I had in front of me was tremendous. And Metallica is generally not a band that likes to rehearse. The less time they can spend rehearsing, the better. The pressure was pretty next level. My first gig with Metallica was at San Quentin State Penitentiary.
Nice. How was that?
That was with maybe a 20-minute rehearsal. Next thing you know, I’m playing in front of a bunch of lifers. The band was like, ‘Hey, Robert, yeah, you’re joining the band. Yo, we’re going to play San Quentin. Let’s go.’ It’s like, ‘Okay. Cool.’ That’s where we filmed the video for one of our songs on the ‘St. Anger’ album. We didn’t have to pay San Quentin. We had to play for the inmates. The day after that, my second gig was ‘MTV Icons’, which was honoring Metallica. We were doing a medley of Metallica songs. The cameras were rolling, and it was basically live. Once again, the band doesn’t really like to rehearse. We had rehearsed the medley for about 45 minutes five days before. We hadn’t rehearsed it again until the actual filming. Lucky for me, I did my homework. I recorded the medley, and I worked on it the night before. My point is, with a band like Metallica, the workload is completely next level, like you would never imagine with another band. When I say workload, I mean press interviews, photo sessions, recording, playing, filming and trying to learn obscure material that they might pull out in a show. You don’t know if they are or not, but you better learn it, because if they play the song, it’s going to be recorded. You don’t want to be the idiot that flails and creates the train wreck. You always have to be on your toes with these guys. That’s how it is. They’re used to that shit. That’s their world. It’s really been a challenge for me to keep up with them. Now that I’ve been in the band a couple of years, what keeps me going is trying to stay ahead of them. I try to stay a few steps ahead.
When was it that you did that audition?
The first one was November 2002. That was the drunk one. The second one was just after the New Year in January 2003.
So that’s when it became official?
At the beginning of February, they called me and said they wanted to talk to me. I went up there and they said, ‘You’re in the band.’
What did you do when they asked you to join Metallica?
I remember it was on a Sunday. I was at dinner with Chloe, and I got a phone call at 6pm. Lars called me and said, ‘Since you’re in the band now, we’ve got a photo session, and you should be a part of it.’ So I was thinking, ‘Cool, they want me to be a part of it.’ I figured they’d want me to show up in a few days. Then Lars said, ‘Can you fly up tonight?’ That’s the world of Metallica. I was like, ‘Tonight? Okay. Yes, can.’ From that moment on, leaving the dinner table, packing a quick bag, and going to LAX and flying to San Francisco, my life changed. I was living, breathing and existing in the world of Metallica, and doing what I needed to do.