They stomp Milton Keynes this weekend - Stephen Dalton talks metal, mayhem and mulletts with James Hetfield...
So you made yourself at home at Homelands and got blasted at Glasto? Good attitude. Now comes the real test: could you honestly endure 12 hours of punishing heavy rock and undiluted cross-dressing in the savage No Man’s Land of Milton Keynes? Because this is what Big Day Out, headlined by thrash titans Metallica and controversial shock-rockers Marilyn Manson, is offering to the brave and the foolhardy.
So how should curious indie kids and novice metalheads approach this Satanic Teddy Bear’s Picnic? Will we need a greasy mullet and leather trousers just to get in? Precisely how many bottles of piss should we lob at each band? And is it polite to mosh on a first date? Here, Metallica frontman and agony uncle James Hetfield lays down the rock rulebook for virgin headbangers. Metal guru, what shall we do…?
What is Big Day Out all about, James?
“It’s one big day of therapy. It’s definitely one of your more aggressive shows, hurr hurr! Whatever festival we’re doing, we do add a little bit of angst to it. There’s a little more release from us and the crowd.”
Did you say ‘release’ or ‘relief’?
“Hurr hurr! First there’s release, then there’s relief when it’s over. So whether it’s throwing bottles of piss or just headbanging or smashing your neighbour up – whatever it takes you get out all your worries that you’ve saved up for a Metallica show.”
What about us mellow, sensitive Belle & Sebastian fans? Should we wind ourselves up into a state of seething aggression in order to fully enjoy Metallica?
“You could go either way – you’re gonna get wound up no matter what, whether you’re getting wound up to enjoy it or wound up at the people around you because you’re not enjoying it. Either way there’s gonna be some kind of emotion coming from you. It just depends whether you want to join in or stand back and wonder what the hell is going on.”
For the Metallica novice, will Big Day Out be scary or friendly?
“Well, definitely have an open mind. There’ll be a little friendliness and scariness, depending on what you’re used to. If you get there early enough to see Marilyn Manson then you’re gonna be scared, hurr hurr!”
You’re sharing a stage with rock’s Public Enemy Number One. What do you make of the witch-hunt against Manson following the Columbine High School massacre?
“The events that have gotten fingers pointing at him are just ridiculous – blaming music again for tragedies. But he set himself up to be that evil thing and I think he enjoys it, it’s just a way of getting under people’s skin. Five years from now, people will be saying, ‘What the fuck were we thinking, blaming him for this?’ They’re trying to ban him from playing gigs, and that’s just insane. If there’s pent-up aggression in kids, the best place to let it out is at a show.”
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What should wary first-timers expect from a Manson show?
“Pure entertainment. It’s always entertaining to see his shaved ass, you know? Hurr hurr! I kind of like it that you never know what’s gonna happen, if he’s all of a sudden going to take the mic stand and smash his monitor guy’s head in. That’s kind of cool, hurr hurr! Music-wise they’re not my cup of tea, but there are a few songs that I do enjoy.”
Who else on the bill would you recommend?
“Sepultura are pure, in-your-face power. They’re a wall of noise and you’ve got to admire their sheer power. I’d also like to see Ben Harper – I’ve never seen him play but I do enjoy some of his stuff. There’s emotion in all types of music, but Ben Harper has really got some pretty interesting guitar stuff and some cool sounds. Then Queens Of The Stone Age is a couple of guys from Kyuss. It’s a little hippy trippy, longer, drawn-out songs, tuned down but they’ve got a good groove to them. And Mercyful Fate, of course. You don’t really have to worship Satan to like them… but it helps! Hurr hurr!”
And there’s Placebo too. He’s a boy dressed as a girl, you know?
“That’s original, hurr hurr! You know what? When they’re on the stage it’s theirs, man. They can do whatever the fuck they want. I don’t have to watch it. But when we get up there, there’s not many people in dresses.”
Maybe that could be Metallica‘s next image change?
“Highly unlikely. It’s not something I think about too often. But there are a few other guys in the band you might convince to do that. Hurr hurr!”
What should indie infiltrators wear to blend in at Big Day Out?
“For Placebo you should bring your sequin dress, for Manson your chaps with no ass in them, for Mercyful Fate your Kiss make-up kit. And for Metallica, wear what you feel most comfortable in and can move around in. As long as it’s black, of course. None more black.”
What hairstyle should we aim for? Old-skool Metallica mullet or post-makeover crop?
“I think half and half is good, because we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing with our hair. Maybe short on top and long at the back – or the other way around.”
Didn’t Metallica actually invent the mullet?
“I have to say there are a few country music stars that were to blame for that before me. That ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ guy (Billy Ray Cyrus) was probably the most famous. I think that’s a redneck thing that’s been around for ever, you still want long hair but you gotta have a job. That’s where it comes from, man.”
How’s your hair right now? Short or long?
“It’s both! It’s a mullet! No, it’s long and greasy at this point. It’s just a pain in the ass. But I think we’re gonna sell Metallica mullets at the show. That would be great.”
How will you prepare for the show?
“There’s no huge ritual. I’ve got a vocal warm-up tape so my throat’s in full screaming mode. Then I’ve gotta rub a little local dirt on my boots for good luck and that’s it. That started a few years ago at festivals – we’d walk to the stage and I’d get my boots all dirty. Then we started doing indoor shows, so I’d make our wardrobe girl go out and dig some dirt into a cat box. Hurr hurr! Gives her something to do.”
Do you listen to soothing New Age music before a gig, like Ozzy?
“Absolutely not. We’re playing five nights a week at the moment – my ears need a rest whenever they can.”
When Metallica come onstage, should we dive into the moshpit immediately?
“You might survey the situation before jumping in headfirst, but it depends how much beer you’ve drunk. Metallica‘s been sued plenty of times for ridiculous acts of people in the crowd, but at the end of the day you’ve gotta blame yourself for getting into the situation. It’s usually some idiot who gets up on his buddy’s shoulders after drinking a fifth of Jack Daniel‘s, then falls off and breaks his neck. Then of course it’s our fault, not the buddy who dropped him. So if you’re feeling unsafe you might want to step back. But, you know, you’ve gotta experience it once.”
What sort of set can we expect?
“Pretty straight. We’re kind of promoting the ‘Garage Inc’ record but we’re doing a couple of songs from every album. Everyone’s gonna hear at least one song they like. I mean, shit, there’s a lot of songs to pick from now. It’s not a big, spectacular Metallica show, we’re just kinda fitting in with the festival vibe. It’s a Best Of festival set, and there are a few explosions here and there. You gotta have a few firecrackers to keep everyone awake.”
Finally, will any satanic rituals take place onsite?
“This is up to the fans. If they bring their satanic stuff to the gig, if they can sneak in with a live chicken hidden in their pants. Or they might just find some fan that they don’t like too much and sacrifice them. But absolutely, there’s gotta be a little Satanism somewhere. Probably near the Mercyful Fate dressing room.”
Metallica play the Big Day Out this Saturday, along with Marilyn Manson, Placebo, Ben Harper, Ministry, Sepultura, Creed, Terrorvision, Monster Magnet, Pitchshifter, Symposium, Queens Of The Stone Age and Mercyful Fate.
Tickets will be available from nme.com‘s 24-hour ticketline on 0870 121 0125 or click here to go to our online gig guide and ticket service.