Sat at a round table in a room on the fourth floor of the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, Central London with a handful of charming media types, drummer Lars Ulrich kindly sat down to talk about Metallica’s second venture to the big screen: Through The Never.
How important was creative control during the movie? Venturing into film is quite a huge financial risk, was it worth taking such a risk and to be in control of what happens with the project?
Lars: Fantastic question, that remains to be seen. Ask me again when I talk about the new record 2 years from now (laughs) I’ve no idea. I do know that we rarely consider other options, so compromise is not Metallica’s major strength and I think that the fans hopefully appreciate that if it’s got the word ‘Metallica’ written somewhere on or near it, that it comes from us.
Creative experience is something that we don’t really share with others other than the people we purposefully let in; so to sit there and take money from a bunch of people to then have them being involved in editing and controlling the movie just seems wrong. That of course was before the project ran amok, but that’s nothing new. We’ll have to see, in Metallica we don’t look at things as cross-collateralizing, where you put everything against everything else, so it’s not like “How is the movie going to do?” as itself, it’s not an isolated entity. Nowadays in media it’s very much “How much did it cost to make?” One number “How much did it make back? Was it a success or was it a failure?” It’s slightly more complicated than that and breaking it down to those absolutes doesn’t really interest me, it’s another chapter in Metallica’s existence and I’m sure that if we don’t make all the money back then we might in t shirt sales seven years down the line, or whatever good comes in the wake of these projects.
We’re not – much to the detriment of people around us – nickel and dime kind of guys and have never been, especially when it comes to creative endeavours; we never sit there and nickel and dime it to death because I think it’s already lost something.
Where did the idea originate to have a narrative accompany the stage show? Did it originate from one particular person?
No, it definitely originated within the band. We felt that if we were going to do a movie of this scale then there should be something other than just us. So as we sat and talked around what that could be, we quickly felt that having a story in there would be really interesting because it just felt unique and weird and challenging. Also I guess to a degree we felt that the reason Some Kind of Monster ended up resonating with so many people was that there was a story in there; it wasn’t just four guys making a record. We realised if you could attach a dramatic element or art to some of the stuff then it could resonate differently with people, people can relate to it or find something in it in a different way.
I think that with a movie of this magnitude, you’re going to need something…pick a movie. Let’s say Iron Man, it’s not 2 hours of him in the suit flying through space, there’s something that’s got to balance out the action sequences otherwise it’s just going to be a blur; in many of these movies they always cut away to something. They cut away to a wall or to animation or like in The Song Remains The Same they cut away to musicians in cars or riding on horses. In other concert movies they cut to people getting in and out of airplanes, so we figured we have to cut away to something but not necessarily James Hetfield eating a sandwich so we wanted to cut away to something more interesting and that was the idea that Nimrod [Antal, director] came up with.
The narrative element is ground-breaking and it’s the first of its kind that I have ever seen where you have a concert show and a narrative running alongside. Do you think maybe there’s more potential there?
You’re getting into very blurred territory there; I mean what’s Purple Rain? What’s Rude Boy? You’re talking about an area of filmmaking that’s still fairly undefined; there are people who are brave enough or stupid enough to just jump in there. We always just jump and try to figure it all out while we’re falling (laughs) we always say to ourselves “Maybe we should have thought this through a little bit?” and that’s something we always come back to later.
It takes the fun out of it if you start thinking about it too much. Look at Michael Jackson’s Thriller, people talking about videos, then videos becoming short films and all this type of stuff so it’s a rich area for mining creative endeavour so we’ll see how it plays out.
Have you ever had a show as disruptive as the one in the film? If so, what happened?
All the stage antics in the film are – to an astute observer – nods to the Metallica concert past. The stage collapsing is a nod to the 1996-97 Load/Reload tour where the stage collapsed to the best of our ability. Now with new technology, everything’s bigger, more ridiculous and sillier than it was 20 years ago, but that’s kind of fun also; this was a time before the internet and the way information travels as quickly as it does now so every night when people would fall out of the lighting rig people would call the radio stations and say “There’s been an accident at the Metallica show” but these people didn’t know that it happened in Phoenix the night before. News didn’t travel as quickly as it does now, it was a pretty big deal back then.
We have certainly had our share of Spinal Tap-esque endeavours and we’ve lived most of the silly ridiculousness at some point or another during our 32 year career.
Do you think that 3D concerts will be more commonplace in the future, what with ticket prices going up?
That’s a good question, these sorts of things always go back and forth. In America there’s been a huge backlash against 3D over the last few years and what we’re doing with our 3D is not so much about 3D like this (extends hand close to my face) it’s more about immersion and Avatar-esque 3D, more about you being in there rather than stuff coming at you. Now everyone in America is talking about the movie Gravity, which I saw a couple of months ago at an IMAX screening; everyone in America is all like “Wow! 3D is back and it’s bigger and cooler than ever” and people like the immersion of this film and so on. It’s like this big pendulum that swings back and forth, now 3D is hip again for the next 2 weeks like Gravity, George Clooney floating around in space, its cool! Six months from now, people will be like “Fuck 3D!”
What was it like seeing yourself in 3D? A bit freaky?
I’m kind of just used to it, after Some Kind of Monster nothing scares me; after that it’s all good, it’s easy! So silly Danish accents and double chins and receding hairlines and all the rest of it…I’m pretty thick skinned. It’s kind of cool. I sat with an audience in LA at the Universal City after I introduced the film a week ago and watched the first two thirds of it on a big IMAX screen and it’s pretty cool, “The filmmaker says about his film.” (laughs) All filmmakers will sit there and sit there and go, “You have to see my movie on a big screen because that was the way it was meant.” But this movie really deserves to be seen on a big screen because of the sound and the whole thing and I’m sure it’s gonna play fine on this thing [picks up a smartphone] six months from now but in terms of the immersion experience of it, that big fuck off screen? It’s really cool.
Are there plans to take the stage show from the film on tour?
We’re kind of getting away from all the theatric stuff and what we’ve been doing the last 15 years has been mostly about the configuration. I don’t know how much of that shtick is so much on our radar these days but I think as you get 30 years into your career…I mean when Rick Rubin sat down with us six years ago he said, “It’s ok to be inspired by your past and it’s ok to acknowledge your past and it’s ok to give a nod to your past.” Because Metallica had spent a lot of time, not necessarily running away from our past but continuing to always want to re-invent ourselves [because of] a fear of repetition, a fear of being stale and stagnant or whatever.
I think increasingly we’re ok with these elements of our past, we don’t want to dwell on them and we certainly don’t want to become a “classic band” in that way. We’d like to continue to move forward to the best of our ability and look forward. But I do think that there’s a chance we may tour this stage so all those shenanigans may be on tour at some point. We’re not booking this tour as we’re speaking; it may be in five years or something, right now we want to get back to making another record and doing that again. But we’ll probably tour this stage I would say. The odds of it go up every day as I hear people ask about it [laughs].
How did you decide which songs to use in the film?
Obviously with an undertaking of this size there are certain songs that lend themselves to big fuck off cinema making more than others. This is not the appropriate venue to start bringing out all those obscure songs that we’ve never played live before you know what I mean? I do think that obviously there are certain songs that just lend itself [to the film]. I tried to do the best I could with…I don’t like using the word ‘hits’ but the more well-known songs, to try and find the best balance. And also not being precious about it because in the post production of this movie in the last year a lot of things were moved around so stuff is sort of out of sequence and some songs are no longer in their entirety. A nip and tuck here and there. So the battle cry was always “What’s best for the movie?” So we tried to find a way to make the best movie not about the Western Canadian concert experience or whatever.
At the end, Orion was perfect. Was that always the plan to have that at the end in that style?
Nothing was ever the plan [laughs].
Do you think that could have had its own section in the narrative?
That was like a last-minute thing. Mark Ryder, one of the fine people of Q-Prime management said how about playing Orion during the end credits, and we said “you know what Mark? That sounds like a fine idea” So we went up and played Orion about four times in an empty arena and there you go, it’s in the movie. And we like it, so it worked.
What was the inspiration for all the horrific aspects of Trip’s mission?
I think if Nimrod Antal [director] was sitting in this chair with you, in this fine roundtable, he would answer it this way, because I’ve heard it when I’ve sat next to him, so he would say that there’s a book called The Alchemist which inspired him, which is about the human journey rather than the destination. The other thing that he would tell you, because this is really his story, he would tell you that when we all sat down and talked about what this could be and so on, and then we said go away young man and come back to us with a story, that was during the occupy movement of two years ago, he was inspired by the energy in that and correlated some of that energy to Metallica, and he has a word for Metallica music which he calls ‘fuck you’ music, so there was an element of some of that energy that was going on politically in the world, and then The Alchemist is sort of where those inspirations were drawn from.
You recently told a freeform radio station in Canada that there’s going to be another frontier, heading in Metallica’s direction in December; have you got any indication as to what that might be? A Metallica Christmas album, Metallica: the Musical, Lulu part 2?
Lulu Part II, just to piss everybody off. That’s a fine idea. I believe that there’s an announcement on October 8th, but don’t hold me to that, I’ve been a little caught up in this thing. But I was told on October 8th that the announcement was going to happen. It’s not anything of that magnitude, but…
No Christmas album?
I wish. There may be a few of you that would be disappointed, it’s not anything quite at that level but I found myself telling one of your colleagues earlier that there’s an Iron Maiden album called The Final Frontier, borrow that from my interview an hour ago. My clue will be the Iron Maiden album The Final Frontier.
Has Noel Gallagher seen Through The Never?
I haven’t asked him.
Do you think he might change his opinion? Because he said famously, that jazz and heavy metal were the two things he just could not get to grips with.
He probably wouldn’t acknowledge that publicly, if he liked it, but I don’t know. He probably hasn’t seen it because he would have shot me a text. But maybe he will one day and then we’ll find out.
I’m curious as to how you came to work with Nimrod. How did you choose him?
He was made enough to want to do it. He knows that I spoke to other people before him, and none of them were mad enough, none of them were up for it enough, and everybody had questions and reservations and a lot of people had raised eyebrows and frowns on their faces, and Nimrod was just fucking up for it and ready to go and sometimes enthusiasm trumps everything. And Metallica also played a pretty significant part in his life in Hungary when he was growing up and it’s always good to have a little bit of Eastern European attitudes and aggression, you can never go wrong with that.
How much has he directed the band? You must have done multiple shows and concerts…
They were more film shoots. We did rehearsals in Mexico City, then we started playing in Edmonton doing sort of full shows, and then by the time we got to Vancouver it was like a song at a time, a gag at a time, a camera here and it was more like a film shoot really, it was really about how we captured what we were doing and how we told them to get his cameras up on stage and be part of what was going on rather than shooting it from the outside. He did at one point ask if a couple of members could occasionally stand within twenty feet of each other, so he could get a two-shot. We were like “Jesus, Nim! What the fuck? Put a wider fucking angle on your camera, a wider lens.”
How much involvement did the band have with the narrative in the film?
Everything you see. We tried to get as much narrative in there as possible, we kept pushing and pushing and what happened was we actually ran out of narrative. There will be no narrative DVD extras because everything’s in the fucking film. Unfortunately, Dane was tied up in Spider-Man, and they wouldn’t let us have him, but we finally wrestled one whole day out of Sony, so we got Dane for one day in April and we had a 16-hour day where we shot an additional five setups and quick sequences for some transitional stuff, we kept trying to get more and more Dane in there. Less Metallica, more Dane DeHaan. He’s way cooler than we are. So we kept pushing for that and every frame of this film that you see I can personally vouch for, as can every other member of the band so we’re either to applaud or to blame.
Metallica: Through The Never is now showing at all UK cinemas
Metallica: Through The Never Soundtrack (2013 Blackened Recordings) is available from all good music retailers such as Amazon and iTunes.