There is an old adage that you should never meet your heroes because they will only let you down: they won’t be as cool, as compelling or as heroic as you hope. In the case of Jason Newsted, erstwhile bass player in the biggest heavy metal band of all time, Metallica, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Granted an audience with the great man on the eve of the release of his brand new EP, the does-exactly-what-it-says-on-the-tin, “Metal” was too good an opportunity for ThisIsNotAScene to pass up. So we didn’t. When we spoke to Jason he was, by turns, witty, effusive, charmingly garrulous, reflective, enthused and, above all else, a cracking interviewee. Enjoy:
This is a big week for you….
Jason Newsted (JN): Yeah, in more ways than one. It’s a big week for me, for the band, for the “Metal”. It’s been a long time coming; I didn’t really plan on doing this but now it’s here …yeah, it’s a pretty big deal.
The new stuff sounds full of energy: it’s a real statement of intent. Is that a fair summary?
JN: Oh, yeah, an intent to have a good time; an intent to play loud; an intent to share with the fans again because that’s always been my thing. This is truly, truly, 1000% what’s brought me back in. I got bitten by the bug at the Metallica Filmore anniversary shows and by all the fans’ response, the recognition- jeez, the screaming at me to get back out there. The response from the fans has been overwhelming; it’s been fantastic.
What plans have Newsted got for a full record?
JN: We’ve recorded eleven songs with the three of us; they were all recorded between August and October of last year and it’s very much a labour of love in the sense that we’ve all jammed together for a while here (at Jason’s home Chop House studio) and, finally, I got really serious about making something again. For this record I wrote all the parts, all the rhythm guitars on the tracks, all the lyrics- the lot. Our plan is to release the songs as EPs during the course of 2013 but much depends on the response from the fans too.
You know, this is not something that I have to do, or need to do, but I want do it. So we are going to do another EP in a couple of months and then another one after that and then a full LP at the end of the year. We are doing CD releases after the digital releases on iTunes for each of the EPs and then we are thinking of pulling all the EPs together later on to make a compilation CD or maybe a vinyl release issue with maybe some of my artwork in there too. So, hopefully, we will cover all the bases!
Can you tell us a little but more about Soldierhead, the lead track on the EP?
JN: Yes, definitely. I have been writing songs and lyrics for decades now. These songs really mean a lot to me and every word means something; the songs that I have come up with here have the most developed lyrics that I have ever written. For Soldierhead: absolutely, it’s my take of what I think is going on in soldier’s mind but it’s just my take on things. You know, we have met so many service personnel over the years from playing in metal bands and they do an amazing job; I have already talked to our management team about doing shows that include service personnel. I’m really hoping we get a good response to this song from them- I really hope they dig what we are doing.
Tell us about King of the Underdogs– is that about you?
JN:(laughs) Well, it can be interpreted that way, for sure, and I’m sure some people will want to see it like that but it can also be seen in a much more general, generic way as well. Hell, I’m sure people will want it to be about me but, in reality, it has several meanings.
How have you found making the transition from bass player to front man?
JN: Oh man, it’s been hard. I’m learning every day. However, with this latest project, I have been part of everything. Like I said earlier-from writing the lyrics, to building the rhythm guitar parts, I have been central to all of it. But I am enjoying all the learning as well, including the singing. I have moved on a lot from just doing the “Urrrrggghhhhssss!” at the back of the stage. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to be doing the “Urrrrrggggghhhhsss!” but I’ve learned much more about melody and how to sing properly on this record- in fact, I have been trying to sing properly every day- when I say properly, I mean as good as I can do anyway. So, yes it’s been a challenge but it’s a good one, you know.
Can we ask you about something not related to music but something that has been important to you- your painting. Can you share with you how you got into that?
JN: Sure. It goes back to the time when I was out of the scene and taking loads of painkillers for the neck and shoulder and stuff and I was up at my cabin in Montana. So I was up at the cabin, moping about. I mean this place is in the middle of nowhere- literally, the middle of nowhere. There are seriously millions of acres of public forest around the cabin. It’s so quiet you can hear the blood in your veins so I’m there and the wife is painting and I caught the end of the Julian Schnabel films about Basquiat. I mean I was aware of this guy and his painting but I hadn’t really got it. You know, really got it but I caught the last 25 mins of that film and I thought: You know, I can do that, I can do that. So I saw that film and I thought “I wanna do that” and so I saw that my wife had had all her paints set up in the front room. Let’s be clear: I like to paint but she paints for real: she knows how to mix oils and do proper painting: I’m the guy who goes to the local store and buys blue no 6 or blue no 12. Anyway, I just started flinging the oil paint around everywhere and I didn’t realise the kind of damage that oil paint can do to furniture……
I bet you were really popular that day….
JN: Oh I was not very popular for a long time! Mind you, she still dines out on that story! I think there probably is still some of that paint encrusted somewhere that’s going to be found someday….
Anyway, after that episode I went into the barn that we had there; found whatever stuff that was lying around and it became like a dogma kind of making art; there’s like some John Deere pieces of farm machinery, old paint, wood and I just went for it and and I just started putting stuff together and that’s how it got going. Next thing I know, lots of people want to give me lots of money for my paintings.
Are you going to be doing another exhibition?
JN: I have so many pictures to share with people; I mainly do private shows at present but I will do at least one other exhibition and I have had several offers to do another show but it’s got to be so right for me because, you know, there is so much about that world that I don’t know about and although there is a lot of commonality between the world of music and the world of art there is still a lot that I just DO NOT FATHOM; it’s good to get back to doing what I know. I will not stop painting though: at least one painting or one drawing in my sketch book every day where I have something to show for each day. But it’s back to the world I know best for now.
What are the next few months looking like for Newsted?
JN: At the moment, it’s about getting the EP out, getting the video out there for the fans. The record comes out on my dad’s birthday and Elvis’s birthday so it’s important for me to get things out there and see whether anyone gives a shit! In some ways, this is new territory for me so the focus is on that for now. Next week we fly down to Los Angeles for a series of meetings with promoters around tours and gigs and festivals; both domestic and international. We are getting a lot of offers but this needs to be right: I want to be doing a certain type and quality of venue and I need safe and clean hotels for my boys, you know? But I’m hopeful that we can sort some things out.
We will be going out on the road as a four piece….
So you, Jesse and Jesus and one other: So who’s the one other?
JN: I can’t say just yet man but, I promise, you’ll be the first to know once we do announce it! We’ll be a four piece for the live stuff because, although I did the rhythm guitar bits, we will need another member. Obviously I know who it is but I can’t say just yet (chuckles)…
So the plan at this stage goes a little something like this: EP now, second EP around March/April time and then announcement about live stuff around May. We might announce before but at the moment, I expect that it’s May.
So who’s been influencing you lately? What bands and artists are you listening to at the moment?
Oh, where to start?! There are so many! Well, Muse can do no wrong in my eyes, they are so freakin’ talented. Black Mountain I really like at the moment and I really dig what Red Fang are doing. I love their videos and the fact that they are not afraid to laugh at themselves. I love Mastodon for their tonality and their tough sound. The Sword I like a lot and (sarcastically) Papa Wheelie are cool too!
I’ve also been listening to a lot of bands who seem to just, well, go URRRGH!!!! Don’t get me wrong, I have total respect for what they are doing and if that’s what gets you going then cool but at my age I’m looking for something with a little more groove and a little more musicality. I love Jack White: I love how brave and ambitious he is. I would love to have a number of his qualities; he’s such a talent and does exactly what he wants to do. Doing things by your own rules: that’s exactly how I want to approach things…
It’s why I got involved with Voivod. It was a total labour of love for me, a bit of a personal quest. I really wanted to help them, I really put my money where my mouth was. That’s what this is all about, you know…
This is a project that seems to matter to you enormously…
JN: I’ve been out of the grind for a while now but you do miss the camaraderie you get from being in a band; like the real closeness I had when I was in the Metallica family. But I’m doing this because of the people. I could quite contentedly paint every day; I don’t need to go back out on the road or do this stuff but here I am. (does not unreasonable Al Pacino impression) “Just when I thought I was getting out, they pull me back in!” (Laughs).
Seriously, I don’t think there is anything left to prove to anyone . Look, I’m one of the only metal guys in the Hall of Fame. That’s a pretty small club and I’m always appreciative of that. No, this is not about proving something. I’m having fun, I’ve got my head together. This is for the people; for those people who appreciate old school metal music- I hope they like it.”