Metallica on Glastonbury: 'The downside is we have to stay sober'

By Matt Everitt
BBC 6 Music News

image captionMetallica's self-titled fifth album is the biggest-selling metal record of all time

On Saturday night, Metallica will become the first heavy metal band to headline Glastonbury Festival. Drummer Lars Ulrich speaks to the BBC about their preparations.

They are rarely on the radio, but Metallica are one of the biggest rock bands on the planet.

Over 33 years, the quartet have won nine Grammy awards, picked up 54 platinum discs in the UK and US and even had a day named after them in their hometown, San Francisco.

Songs like Enter Sandman, Master of Puppets and Hit The Lights are metal standards, with Kirk Hammet's blazing guitar riffs and Lars Ulrich's thunderous, complex drum patterns setting the template for hard rock in the 1980s and '90s.

But their Glastonbury booking was not without controversy. Jarvis Cocker said they might be "a bit abrasive" for the festival's peace-loving, good-natured audience, while some fans launched a petition to have them removed from the bill due to frontman James Hetfield's support of hunting.

Talking to BBC 6 Music before leaving for the UK last week, Ulrich discussed the controversy and admitted the band had yet to decide on their set list.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionDanish-born Ulrich formed Metallica in 1981 after placing a classified ad in a Los Angeles newspaper

Have you been checking out the reaction people had after they found out you'd be headlining Glastonbury?

[Laughing] You mean there's anything other than a 100% straight up positive reaction?

Obviously, I am aware of the fact that when Metallica shows up to headline an institution like Glastonbury, they'll always get a reaction out of people. Some of it reaches my inbox but you try not to get too caught up in all of it.

The thing about Metallica is everyone's got an opinion. This goes back, you know, about 75 years, when our second record came out. We dared to put as track four a song called Fade To Black. It started off with an acoustic guitar and that got a lot of people in the hard rock community very riled up. So it's been something we've been used to.

You've played some amazing stages over the years, but have you ever played on a farm before?

I don't know that we've played a working farm. A band that's been around as long as we have, we've played some pretty peculiar places along the way.

The first one that comes to mind - there was a gig in Ohio back in the '80s and '90s that was literally, and I'm not exaggerating, a slab of concrete in the middle of a giant wilderness. A sweeping, almost borderline romantic, giant piece of land…

The crew would show up there at seven in the morning and they'd have to start from scratch, rigging, and putting in scaffolding and stuff to hang the lights from.

How many times has Glastonbury tried to get you?

To my understanding - and most of this stuff reaches my inbox - this is the first time.

As you get further into your career you start coming up with bucket lists in your head. We've always been up for an adventure, and up for a dare.

Last year, we played all seven continents - we played Antarctica, we played China for the first time. So there's a bucket list of places you still want to go - but Glastonbury has been at the very top of that.

What's left on the list? You've pretty much done everything.

At least on planet Earth! I think it would be a hoot to play at the Super Bowl. That's a very big deal, but whether they'd welcome a band like us, I don't know.

When U2 played the Academy Awards a couple of months ago, I sat and said, "That could be fun to do one day."

So those are two things that we haven't done. I don't know what else.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe band won best heavy metal act at the 1993 American Music Awards. Bassist Jason Newstead (left) quit in 2001

Previous Glastonbury headliners have included Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, The Who and U2. It's a great honour to be asked, isn't it?

It's the greatest honour. Thirty-three years into this ride, to be able to go to places you've never been before, and to go places where it's new and exciting? To be able to do that and follow in the footsteps of those great names is a huge honour.

The main difference now is that you're probably more appreciative of it than when you're 25 and full of spunk and can't see further than the nearest vodka bottle on the table. Nowadays I'm sort of like, "This is all really cool". It's actually cool to get an invitation from Michael and the family.

Can you tell us one thing you're definitely going to do? Maybe one song you'll play.

You know what? We, um… To be totally honest, I don't want to sound blase about it but we haven't sat down and started honing in on it.

Listen, we have about 70 songs that we rotate, more or less, and can play fairly. We haven't played the same set list in 10 years - because we have a lot of fans that travel with us and see all 19 shows on a tour.

But obviously there are certain cornerstones of a Metallica set list - Nothing Else Matters, Enter Sandman, Master Of Puppets, One, Sad But True. It would probably be fairly surprising if most of those didn't show up at Glastonbury.

What happens in the tour bus after a gig? What do you listen to when you're trying to chill out?

Unfortunately I don't listen to music. I usually sit on the plane and scroll through my iPad and get very deep into the New York Times or some crazy indie movie that seven people have seen.

If I'm really unwinding, chilling out... I'd probably put on a lot of jazz music - [John] Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, that kind of stuff.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe group have a self-imposed rule of only touring for two weeks at a time

There's no Glastonbury without mud. Will you wear wellies on stage? Do you have a wellie roadie?

We haven't got quite that far, but maybe we'll dream up some cool Metallica wellies with some cool logos.

This is going to sound a little weird but the downside about closing these festivals is that you have to remain sober and on your game - and then when you get off stage, basically all the other bands have already left.

You're standing there in a muddy field in the middle of Belgium so there's really not much to do other than leave.

But because I've seen the line-up both on Friday and Sunday, I'm actually thinking that my girl Jessica and I are going to come down and hang out for the weekend. So wellies might actually be in order.

Is part of the reason for doing this to reach a new crowd? Are you trying to bring metal to a new audience?

The word "trying"? That's not stuff that shows up in our vocabulary these days very much. Most of the stuff we do these days is because we want to and we're appreciative and we're psyched and we're "well up for it", as you say in England.

I'm not quite as driven or competitive anymore. People say it must be hard work going on tour but I'll tell you what a lot of work is - getting up at 06:45 in the morning and taking three kids to three different schools. That's a lot of work. Sitting on a private plane and flying around to rock and roll gigs is like vacation.

I can't wait. Bring it on.

Metallica begin their headline set at 21:45 BST on Saturday. It will be broadcast on BBC Two.

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