Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Lars Ulrich, Metallica

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: legendary Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich

Which Metallica song did Miley Cyrus cover at Glastonbury last year?

“‘Nothing Else Matters’.”


“Thank you! (Laughs) Miley’s awesome – she’s so transparent and truthful. I love how she challenges the perceptions people have of her. Underneath all of her many talents, she’s an incredible singer – and maybe even underrated. Six months earlier at the Chris Cornell tribute [in Los Angeles], she brought the house down when she was singing one of his songs [‘Say Hello 2 Heaven’]. Her version of  ‘Nothing Else Matters’ was incredible.”

It seems bizarre to think now that when Metallica topped the bill at Glasto in 2014, there was debate over whether a metal band could headline the event – you even sold ‘Glastallica’ T-shirts emblazoned with jibes about the booking from the likes of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and Jarvis Cocker. How do you look back on it and would you do it again?

“Yes! When we played, it was the beginning of one of the most important relationships in my life – with Glastonbury. Since then, I haven’t missed one, and I was obviously looking forward to going a few months ago for the 50th. To play there in 2014, 30-plus years into our run, to still feel like outsiders and we were being challenged and people were wondering why we were there, was incredible.

“Because we’re loners and we come from being disenfranchised and outcasts, we’ve always had issues of fitting in and over the course of Metallica’s ride, we’ve had this weird discontent about whether we were worthy or being accepted, so to still feel we had something to prove kept us on our toes.”

“Obviously we ended up feeling very welcomed by the fans, so it was a very positive experience, and now I plan my entire year around that fourth week in June.”

Who once challenged you to a street fight during the making of one of your albums?

“(Laughs) Well, I’m not sure there’s only one! But you’re probably referring to Lou Reed?

CORRECT. During the making of ‘Lulu’, Metallica’s 2011 collaboration with him.

“(Laughs) Lou was very passionate and such a big believer in what he was doing. So many guys of that generation were royally fucked over on every level possible by the music industry when they were younger. So they have a protective shield and when they get challenged, their first MO is to want to fight it out. This was an isolated incident. We had an incredible summer together, I love Lou dearly and there’s nothing about any of it – of the process, the subsequent promotion or any of the playing we did together, that I would change a nanosecond of – even when we did challenge me to go for a throw-down in the parking lot!”

“We come from such different ways of doing things because we [Metallica] like to mull things over and overthink and overanalyse them – and every decision he was making at the time was so impulsive and in the moment, which we admired, but at the same time, it was like: ‘Huh? What are you thinking?!’ Then he was like: ‘Let’s go outside and duke it out’ – which of course we never did!”

Despite facing death threats from Metallica fans, Lou Reed called ‘Lulu’ the best album he’d ever done and wanted to make another with you. Did you ever discuss another collaboration?

“Yeah. Listen, I would play with Lou anytime, anywhere and he knew that. He’d had this idea for a long time and when we played together at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame [in 2009], in his mind, he’d found the perfect band to get his vision out and we definitely talked about doing more stuff together. We just felt so connected and we stayed in touch way up ‘til his very early and untimely end. I would do anything for that man.”


When Metallica played San Quentin State Prison, California, for your  ‘St. Anger’ video, a guard gave guitarist Kirk Hammett the present of a magazine belonging to which famous serial killer?

“That would be Richard Ramirez.”

CORRECT.  Aka The Night Stalker. The magazine had Metallica on the cover.

That was crazy! We live in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area and San Quentin’s the big prison you can see everywhere. Our studio’s five minutes from it. We were trying to figure out what to do for the ‘St Anger’ video. Somebody suggested filming inside the prison. (Laughs) Which sounded like a good idea – maybe a little far-fetched! Lo and behold, we were told we could film there in exchange for playing a concert for selected inmates.

“We had two eye-opening days inside the prison. It’s set in a very hilly area, so when you’re inside the prison courtyard, you can see the same landmarks in the hills we all see every day driving back and forth. My kid still goes to school two minutes from the prison and it’s surreal to be inside and aware there’s this whole other world in there of inmates on death row – right in our back yard.”



In 1994, you operated the lights at a New Jersey club gig for which indie band?

“(Laughs; joking) Blur? Supergrass? Pulp? No wait – it was Oasis!


“I first became familiar with Oasis in the late summer of ’94. I was reading all these crazy articles in NME – I loved their arrogance, confidence and how every other word would be ‘cunt’ or ‘fuck’. Then I fell in love with the music, so I flew to see them play in New Jersey. One thing led to another and I found myself tapping along to the sounds on the lighting board – I guess there were a man short and it was great fun and obviously lots of crazy shenanigans and stories (Laughs).”

Did either Gallagher give you any feedback about Metallica’s cover of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ in 2017?

Yes. Kirk and Rob [Trujillo, bassist] did ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and I did get a very appreciative text from Noel the next day – it was quite a moment obviously getting all the fans singing along. It was emotional and felt like the right thing to do for Manchester [in the wake of the Manchester Arena attack]”


Who dressed as David Letterman to perform a Frozen-Metallica mash-up with Kirsten Bell on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2017?

“My brain cells – well, the two that are left! – haven’t heard that one.”

WRONG. It was your mate Dave Grohl – they performed a mash up of  Disney’s ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’.

“That never ended up in my inbox. I will have to YouTube that. That I didn’t even hear about – maybe I was somewhere without cell reception for a year or two?! (Laughs)”

“It always goes next level when you’re with Dave! Maybe he’s got some Danish blood in him because he’s like I am – he loves to bring people together and make them feel welcome. I remember when the Foo Fighters were playing London, and Lemmy, Dave and I were the last three standing at the after-shindig in some small establishment. It was one of those ‘Huh? How did we get here?!’ nights that I treasure because it was one of the last I had with Lemmy.”

In your children’s book The ABCs of Metallica, what does the letter ‘S’ correspond to?

“Phew! You got me again! Shenanigans? (Laughs) Supergrass?”

WRONG. It’s Some Kind of Monster – your acclaimed 2004 documentary, which showed the band in group therapy.

“Ah, happy days! (Laughs) I’m proud of that film and that we saw the project through. When we started filming, we didn’t expect that two years later, that would be the dramatic arc, but we trusted and felt safe with the filmmakers. So I’m proud we stuck with it and put that movie out and it connected with people we never imagined it would – especially in the film world. It’s set against the background of rock ‘n’ roll but it’s a very human story in the sense that anyone can relate to a bunch of people not getting along and trying to figure out why.”

When Metallica appeared on The Simpsons in 2006, Hans Moleman claims he once slept with which of your relatives?

“(Laughs) That would be my father’s father, my granddad on my dad’s side.”

WRONG. It was your grandmother.

“Oh yeah! I thought he mentioned my granddad by name at one point – maybe I misheard! (Laughs) The Simpsons is a cultural phenomenon so one is obviously game to play along and see where the fun and games takes us!”

“I’ve done a few acting roles and like sticking my nose into different creative worlds, but if was going to do something next level in film, I’d like to write, produce or direct something.”


Which British artist recently bizarrely covered ‘Enter Sandman’ on a penny whistle?

“I can’t answer that!”

WRONG. It was Kate Nash.

“I may have to plead the fifth on that one – as they say in America!”

Traditionally, Metallica have paid tribute to an artist local to the city you’re playing in – with covers of everything from The Stone Roses to Prince. Any chance we might see any of them crop up on another ‘Garage Inc’ cover compilation album [the original was released in 1998]?

“Metallica started out as a covers band and we will always love and appreciate other people’s music – it’s what inspires us every day. We always talk about that option – and I have a long-running list in my phone of possible covers. Right now, I can’t say: ‘Yes, we’re going into the studio in 12 days to record a covers album’, because there’s nothing set in stone, but I would always say there’s the opportunity to have that happen.”

In 2015, which Rolling Stone  said: ‘Millions are in love with Metallica and Black Sabbath. I just thought they were great jokes.”?

“Keith? [Richards] Listen, Keith has said many things over the years! (Laughs)”


“To me, the Rolling Stones are the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll band. I’ve recently started watching a documentary about their 1976 European tour. It’s 44 years ago, and they’re getting asked: ‘Now you’re in your early thirties, maybe you’re too old to play rock ‘n’ roll?’ – they’re already getting hit with retirement questions! It’s fun watching Mick Jagger snapping: ‘What a stupid question! We’re doing it because it’s fun and we’re going to keep going’. That they’re still out there is inspiring to bands like us – if we can keep the elbows, the necks, the throats, the backs and the knees in shape, then hopefully Metallica can keep going as long as those guys.”

In 2017, the Danish Prime Minister gave the gift of a Metallica vinyl boxset to which world leader?

“The Indonesian president? Joko? [Widodo]”


“And I signed it specifically! The Indonesian president has long been public about his love of hardcore rock music, so it’s always nice to hear stories about how Metallica can make a difference – even at that level. And the then-Danish Prime Minister’s name was also Lars [Løkke Rasmussen]. Imagine that!”

The verdict: 7/10

“Not bad! And I’d add the Dave Grohl and ‘Enter Sandman’ penny whistle question was not through lack of brain cells, but complete ignorance! (Laughs)”

– S&M2, a live album by Metallica & San Francisco Symphony, is released 28 August. A new Metallica performance is streamed live to drive-in venues across the US on 29 August as part of the Encore Drive-In Nights series

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