METALLICA KIRK HAMMETT INTERVIEW BY DAN LEVY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY EDGAR BARRADAS
Surfer, horror enthusiast and zen thinker Kirk is one of the most recognizable guitar heroes of our time. This talk taps into creating the new 72 Seasons record and what it takes to have longevity in music with James, Lars, and Robert as they continue to build on the one of a kind sound that is Metallica. – INTRODUCTION BY DAN LEVY
I’m so excited to talk to you, Kirk. I just talked to Rob and he filled me in on some stories. If it’s cool, let’s jump right into it.
Yeah. Let’s do it.
Okay, 72 Seasons is amazing. The first song bounces back and forth with the idea of time and the past and the future, almost metaphysically? Was that the intention?
Yeah. It’s a retrospective look back at a person’s 72 seasons, but it’s also, once you have 72 seasons, how do you proceed forward? I think it’s to have awareness of how you’ve been conditioned. If they wrap their heads around the concept, it can help people get perspective of where they are in their lives and where they’re going. That sentiment has the potential to help tons of people have awareness.
After I listened to the record at Q Prime, I was like, “72 Seasons is like metal therapy.”
We’re like everyone else. We’re put on this world with no information. We have to figure it out too, so if there are any bits of wisdom or knowledge that we can share to help people on this amazing journey called life, we are gonna do it. For me, the whole reason we are here on planet earth is to help each other make beauty and uplift each other and help each other grow. If the reasons for us to be here were to be negative and destructive, the human race would have been extinct a long time ago. At this point in my life, it’s easy to figure out how I want to conduct my life. It’s a positive, transparent lifting up of everyone through music and art and beauty.
Leading into the song “Shadows Follow”, it sounds like a guitar fight with you and James battling it out with your demons. What are your thoughts on developing guitar sounds for each of those demons?
It’s crazy because the riff sets the mood for the song. Usually, we pick riffs that have a lot of forward momentum. When a riff shows up and it’s really great, it writes itself. It’s a riff and guitar tones and full-on metal attitude in the execution of it. James and I love when the guitars intertwine and there is a counterpoint thing going on and they complement. That is such a huge part of what we do. It goes back to bands like Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest doing that dual guitar thing, which is something we are majorly into. The guitar interaction is super important for us. It needs to unfold like a conversation.
Rob said he has cinematic visions when he is working on music with you guys. Does that happen to you too?
Absolutely. As much as I rely on my ear, I also rely on visual input. I love art and the visual aspect of art. It triggers stuff in my head when I see art or photographs and the same thing happens when I hear music. I’m like, “It sounds like you’re walking through the woods and, all of a sudden, you come across a tribe of Bigfoot.” Whatever pops into your mind, it helps. Sometimes I get weird visual images.
When you’re surfing, you can only focus on what is in front of you. Do you feel like surfing helps you musically with in-the-moment vacations from your thoughts?
Yes. Surfing is an incredible exercise for me to bring my presence to the moment with absolute precision. Being out on the water, especially when the waves are big, you have to count the waves, and stay out of the impact zone and try to dodge other surfers who are coming down the face right at you, and you can’t just sit there and think about what you’re going to eat later on. You can’t think about that guy that cut me off this morning and how you’re still pissed. Surfing demands that you are in the moment. The trade-off is that, when you’re in the moment, you get waves. You get amazing rides and you are present the entire time. The effect of being in the moment is eternal. Surfing and skating are excellent because it brings you in the moment. Forget about the garbage in the past and fears of the future. In the moment, all possibilities exist. Surfing and skating and most really intense sports demand that. It brings you out of the everyday bullshit into dealing with what really matters in the moment. Then, when I get out of the water, I still have that feeling of being stoked, which I think is being in that moment for so long that it’s energizing. When you’re in the moment for an hour or two, you get that feeling of being stoked for so long. It’s hard to do that out of the water because there are so many distractions. Strapping on a guitar brings me back to present too. I’m totally in the moment and feeling and hearing what is coming out of the amp and listening to what all the other guys are playing in the moment in real time. When I’m playing music, I’m not thinking about what I’m gonna have for dinner tonight or how I couldn’t find my other sock the other day. I’m in the moment and the moment is when everything exists.
“Music helps me in a very therapeutic way on multiple levels and I’m hoping that our music helps other people in the same way. At this point, it isn’t about finances or status or how many albums we put out or sell. It’s about making great art that is understood and hopefully making great art that can help people and elevate people and promote wellness of being.”
Environment plays a big role too.
Absolutely. When you’re surfing, you’re connecting with the power of the ocean and the Earth and that electromagnetic energy and negative ions, which are really good for a human being. It’s incredible. When you’re a surfer, you become conscious of stuff like the wind. Is the wind blowing south? Is the wind blowing north? Is it Kona winds blowing southeast? I can look at a windsock and go, “Okay, south to southeast.” Before I was a surfer, when I’d look at a windsock, all I saw was a windsock. I know how to recognize the wind that brings the rain. I can look at my watch and go, “The rain is going to be here in three to seven minutes judging on cloud conditions.” Before I was a surfer, I never knew any of that. Now I know the conditions of the water and the wind on the water and what creates the waves, and the wind directions, onshore or offshore. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned from surfing.
Rob mentioned that sometimes, when he’s waiting for a wave, he will start tapping on his board or the water and there will be rhythms. Does that happen to you at all?
For me, that happens after I come out of the water. One of my favorite things to do is play music after I surf. I get that stoked feeling, so playing music after I surf extends the stoke to a different kind of stoke.
I love that music connects to your surfing. You spent time in Venice a few years ago. How much does the environment affect your writing?
Let me tell you about Venice, bro. I was hanging out in Venice three or four years ago. I was staying there for a few weeks at a time and I was hanging out with Rob and we’d write music and work on Wedding Band stuff and surf, and I couldn’t believe how great Venice was. Venice reminds me of how San Francisco was in the ‘70s and ‘80s when I was growing up as a teenager. That’s when San Francisco was a gnarly not safe place experiencing urban decay. There was a lot of crime and it was super cheap to live in San Francisco and it was filled with tons of artists and musicians and freaks and people who expressed unabashed creativity. There was a sense of total freedom in San Francisco that all went to hell around 2002 when gentrification started. San Francisco then became an extension of Silicon Valley, which is a shame. Venice reminds me of what San Francisco was. It has grittiness and raw reality. You see people of all classes of society intermingling and it has the street energy that I love. I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for homeless people and sometimes they create amazing art. On the Venice boardwalk, there is an overflow of creativity coming from the streets. I’d ride my bike on the boardwalk to our rehearsal space every day and take in all of this amazing playing by these street musicians. One time I heard the most amazing funk guitar playing. This guy was in the pocket and he knew all the right chords. He was incredible and it was a real head turner. Venice reminds me of the Mission District in San Francisco where I grew up.
It’s a vibe, right? You were here at Juice for the Ottto show and saw the mix of people. You had homeless people mixing with bankers and celebrities. It’s a vibe.
Yes. I love the diversification of it. There are always white guys, dark guys, and everything in between. To me, that’s important because I am a person of color. To see diversification like that and everyone getting along and everyone like minded, I love that.
It’s cool because it has a hint of danger, which is weirdly comforting.
Yeah. That street energy has always been a part of my life. There is a sense of expressive freedom to be who you are. If you want to live on the streets, then live on the streets. In a lot of situations, if you take people off the streets and put them into better situations, they are unhappy. In Venice, it seems like they are a lot more tolerant of homeless people than in other places. I’ve seen places where they mop up the homeless people and put them in shelters for a week or so and then they all come flooding out again. It’s disrupting for the homeless people when the city comes and throws all their shit away and then they don’t have anything. I know it’s garbage to us, but it’s all they have.
I’ve seen some cats out there that make amazing art out of stuff that we discard.
Yeah. I remember one time I was riding down the boardwalk, and you know I love horror stuff. All of a sudden, I rode my bike next to a couch that was painted with all of these scenes from The Exorcist. I was like, “Whoa! That is the most amazing thing I ever saw.” There was a homeless guy sitting right next to it and I didn’t know what to say. I was like, “That could be at home in my collection.”
When Metallica releases something, the whole world sees it. When you see street art, and Metallica art is being embraced by the people, what does that do for you?
We love it when fans paint Metallica art and paint portraits of us. The more abstract and interpretive the drawings are, the better. You can draw me with three eyes and I would think it’s the greatest thing in the world. It’s a person’s attempt to capture the beauty of life. You can be in any situation, sitting on a beach, or in the Ukraine with missiles flying over your head and that urge to express what you have experienced in some way so that other people can experience it too or you can experience it again at a later date, that creative drive and inspiration to do that is so fucking powerful. I’m thankful for the fact that we are a band who are somewhat influential to other musicians and we influence people to make music because the power of creativity and the power of inspiration is amazing. Get out of the way of someone barreling down that creative track and riding that creative train because it can end up being the most important thing in that moment. Sometimes the person creating the art has no idea how much it matters until it enters the collective consciousness of the world. All of a sudden, it’s like, “Whoa!” We have experienced it. With music, it’s just a bunch of riffs and then it becomes a cultural force. You’re like, “Wow!”
“Surfing is an incredible exercise for me to bring my presence to the moment with absolute precision. Being out on the water, especially when the waves are big, you have to count the waves, and stay out of the impact zone and try to dodge other surfers who are coming down the face right at you, and you can’t just sit there and think about what you’re going to eat later on. You can’t think about that guy that cut me off this morning and how you’re still pissed. Surfing demands that you are in the moment. The trade-off is that, when you’re in the moment, you get waves.”
This new record is amazing. Now I feel like I have a deeper understanding of why Metallica is such a present force. You can be in the moment when you’re listening to Metallica, and this record is going to give people permission to express themselves in ways that society has taught them not to. Talking about the pandemic, you guys started recording this record in each of your separate homes, right?
Yeah. We all started doing stuff on Zoom. Once we were able to be in each other’s company, I came back to Venice and hung out with Rob. I would say, “Okay, Rob, I just sat with Lars last week and we’ve got a couple new tunes.” I would show Rob that stuff and he would go, “I remember this stuff. This is stuff you showed me six months before at the other flat in Venice.” I’m like, “That’s right, bro.” The energy in 72 Seasons is the same as me riding down the boardwalk in Venice and experiencing all there is to experience on the boardwalk. It’s like, “This is a cool place with a lot of cool energy. It feels like a city, but it also feels like something else.” I felt a creative freedom to be myself. That feeling was so prevalent. I don’t go around places and think, “Oh, I can be myself here.” I came to that conclusion after a lot of observation and seeing everyone else hanging out and flying their freak flag high. That’s what I love.
Just being yourself without being judged, that’s one of the best things about Venice.
Yes! It has everything. It has surf culture. It has skate culture. It has music culture. It has art.
Yes. Do you remember the first day after the pandemic that the four of you guys got together and had your first jam session?
Oh yeah. It was amazing. All we could do was hug each other and talk about how good it was being in each other’s presence again. Not really talking, but just being together, is sometimes just as fulfilling as going through everything and filling each other in. Just enjoying each other’s company, that in itself is amazingly comforting. It invigorates the spirit that we have and share between the four of us.
What do you think you have learned the most from James, Lars and Robert in the time that you have spent with them?
Oh, I’ve learned so much. When you’re in a band with people, you learn about their perception and attitudes and awareness and what makes them tick to a certain extent. I’ve learned so much from them merely because I am not them and they are not me. We are a family and we are constantly learning stuff from each other. I could never fill the same space as Lars. I could never fill the same space as Rob. I could never fill the same space as James. They are busy filling their own spaces and I can only fill my own space. It’s a constant learning experience on how they experience life and reality because they experience it in a different way than me. Everyone’s experience is different. In that regard, everyone has something to offer someone else in terms of life experiences and perceptions and awareness. That’s what people talk about all the time. They are like, “Hey, did you see that TV show?” They talk about their perception and ask about the other person’s perception like, “Hey, what did you do yesterday?” You talk about your awareness of what happened and what you experienced. When you’re intimately involved with someone in a relationship, not romantically, but like being in a band or on a sports team, you are constantly learning stuff, and it’s a great thing because we are all here to teach each other.