Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Metallica’s Kirk Hammett

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an 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: the guitar hero takes the test

1
When Metallica headlined Glastonbury in 2014, you sold ‘Glastallica’ T-shirts featuring criticisms of the band from other artists. Can you name any of the naysayers you quote?

“I cannot man! It’s a case of fried brain cells right now! I remember there was a controversy around the arctic bears or something, which is why we dressed as bears in our Glastonbury opening video*”

WRONG. Among others, you quoted Arctic Monkey Alex Turner (“I’m not sure it adds up – can you have Metallica in the hippy nucleus?”), Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite (“Shite!”), and Jarvis Cocker (“A bit aggressive”).

“Since the beginning of Metallica, there’s always been people who derided us and said ‘Oh these guys are fucking horrible’, so we’re more likely to celebrate something like that rather than be offended by it. It’s always weird for us when we’re breaking new ground for us – like playing Glastonbury. It felt similar to back in 1995 when everyone said: ‘Metallica can’t play Lollapalooza’ and we did, and everyone loved it and it was a lot of hoo-ha over nothing.”

*There was a petition to have Metallica removed from Glastonbury because frontman James Hetfield had narrated a documentary about bear hunting – the band responded by opening their set with a Julien Temple-directed video of themselves dressed as bears stalking British fox hunters.

2
Which late icon hailed your 2011 collaboration album ‘Lulu’ as “Lou Reed’s greatest work”?

David Bowie.”

CORRECT.

“That was one of the highest compliments I ever got as a musician and artist, and it was an incredible honour working with Lou Reed and I loved the ‘Lulu’ album. I remember Lou sharing with me that letter David Bowie sent to Lou: it was written on paper and it was such a glowing, gruelling appraisal of the ‘Lulu’ album. When Lou showed it to me, it brought me to tears bro! ‘Cause I might be some heavy metal guy but Lou Reed and David Bowie made tonnes of great music that has been a huge inspiration to me over the course of my life. It’s hard for me to listen back to ‘Lulu’ because it brings me back to that time – thinking about working with Lou and soaking up his vibe. It became a very emotional album for myself, and I’m afraid to listen to it!”

3
You play a guitar solo on the 1997 Pansy Division song ‘Headbanger’. What pseudonym are you credited as?

“Aw shoot! Clerk Hambone?

WRONG. The name you use is Al Shatonia.

“[Raucous laughter] Right! Al Shatonia used to be an old name I’d use to check into hotels! That was a cool song. I was friends with Pansy Division’s drummer Dustin [Donaldson] and I thought they were a great, fun band and enjoyed being on that track.”

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4
In 1992, Metallica embarked on a co-headline tour with Guns N’ Roses. But which band were asked to be an opening act and turned you down?

Nirvana!”

CORRECT.

“I had to make the phone call to Kurt [Cobain] to talk to him about the possibility of joining our tour and he just went on and on about how he just didn’t like what Guns N’ Roses stood for and I said to him: ‘Just go out there and represent Nirvana – just play the show and then that’s it’. I pleaded with him, but he just wasn’t having it. So there you have it. It would have been great if Nirvana was part of that tour – but you know [the actual opening act] Faith No More were great as well.”

“When we played Seattle on the ‘The Black Album’ tour, I remember calling Kurt to invite him to the show and he said to me: ‘Are you guys going to play ‘Whiplash? That’s my favourite Metallica song!’. When he came to the show, he was in the snakepit [an area onstage] with Courtney Love and every time I walked by, he tried to get my attention but my head was somewhere else. He was great. I became friends with him right when the first Nirvana album [1989’s ‘Bleach’] came out before people were even calling it grunge, and it’s so sad when I think back to all the guy wanted to do was play guitar and write songs and sing and somehow that all got destroyed for him.”

5
Metallica’s last tour became famous for your ‘Kirk and Rob doodles’ where you and bassist Robert Trujillo covered a snippet of a song related to the city you were playing in. Can you identify which songs you performed in each of these places? A half-point for each:

Manchester, 2019

“I know in Manchester in 2017 we did Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ and we did The Stone Roses’ ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ when he came back in 2019. I gotta tell you, I loved playing that! Fuck, I was so into it! We were both big fans of the Manchester scene back in the day.”

CORRECT.

 Helsinki, 2018

“OK: It was with Michael Monroe and it was ‘Dead Jail or Rock N Roll” Oh man this is tough! [Laughs]”

CORRECT.

 Madison, Wisconsin, 2018

“Oh shit! I don’t even have the slightest fucking idea what we played in Wisconsin!”

WRONG. You covered Garbage’s ‘Stupid Girl’ – paying tribute to the band’s formation in the city in 1993. Might Metallica ever release an album of those covers similar to ‘Garage Inc.’?

“Well you know Rob and I are actually very serious about doing something like that, but our schedule’s crazy. But it’s definitely something we’ve discussed and we’re not going to let that idea just die down.”

ONE FULL POINT OVERALL. 

6
In 2022, a Danish museum exhibited an artwork of Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich as which functioning household object?

“Uh…I would say a tennis ball?”

WRONG. It was, bizarrely, a toilet.

“Taking inspiration from Marcel Duchamp there! Oh yeah now I remember! That toilet sculpture of Lars was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen! It looked a bit broken though!”

You were on the toilet when you received the call to try out for Metallica in 1983…

“And it was on April 1st so I thought I was being pranked by my friends, like: ‘What do you mean? Metallica already have a guitar player?!’ So they sent me the demo in the mail of the songs they wanted me to learn and five days later, Lars said: ‘Can you come down?’. It was my first time leaving California, and I sold a bunch of equipment and borrowed money from my mom just to buy the plane ticket to New York and if it didn’t work, I was coming back to nothing. So it’s good that everything worked out!”

7
You recently released a solo song ‘High Plains Drifter’, taken from your first ever solo EP ‘Portals’. The track cribs its title from a 1972 Western film. Which character does Clint Eastwood play in the movie?

“Oh man! That hurrrts! [Laughs] You got me, you got me, you got me! I don’t have the slightest memory and I watched that movie back about a year ago because I had not seen it for such a long time and the character’s name is right at the tip of my tongue, but I don’t have the brain cells in my head to recall it!”

WRONG. He plays ‘The Stranger’. What was your experience of ‘Portals’ been like?

“It’s been weird. It just kind of happened. I started working on music and then a certain time later, I had four tracks. I keep telling people it was never my plan to put out a solo album ‘cause I’m not that clever and don’t take myself that seriously. But one day I turned around, and I had four tracks of music on the table and I thought they were halfway-decent and decided fuck it, I’ll release it to the world and people can stream it ‘til they’re fucking sick of it and I’ll just go about my day doing what I usually do.”

Has ‘Portals’ opened the door to the possibility of more solo releases?

“Yeah, I’ve considered it. I’m always sitting on a tonne of music of all different types, so it’s highly likely I’ll do something in the near future. But it’s not going to be in the immediate future because Metallica is my priority and home. It’s my bed – the solo stuff is like a lost weekend for me! [Laughs]”

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8
How many different artists appear on 2021’s all-star tribute album ‘The Metallica Blacklist’?

“Holy shit! I would say something like 15,000? [Laughs]”

WRONG. It’s 53.

“I knew there was a five in there!”

Metallica fans from Sam Fender to Elton John contribute to it…

“Having Elton appear on ‘Nothing Else Matters’ [with Miley Cyrus] felt like a culmination, because he was a huge inspiration to everyone in the band so for him to play on one of our songs is a huge honour.”

Who’s been the most unexpected person who’s turned out to be a Metallica fan?

“Richard Ramirez [aka ‘80s serial killer the Night Stalker]. When we played San Quentin Prison [in 2003], he was on death row and could hear us. The guards who were responsible for watching him said Richard Ramirez was pissed off and pacing his cell because he wasn’t allowed to see us. He gave the guards his subscription copy of a magazine with us on the cover and on the mail-tag it said: ‘Richard Ramirez, San Quentin Prison.’ So that’s my little token from Richard Ramirez. Not to glorify the guy – he did some horrible crimes. He hung out in Richmond California, and I wonder sometimes if me and the guys from [his pre-Metallica band] Exodus were at the same parties as him back in the day.”

9
Who hosted the episode of Saturday Night Live that Metallica appeared on in 1997?

“Oh the guy that acts and sings who looks like Lou Costello! Shoot, I can’t I remember his name!”

WRONG. It was Nathan Lane. You performed ‘Fuel’ and ‘The Memory Remains’ with Marianne Faithfull on it…

“Marianne Faithfull is the nicest sweetest, person and so great to hang out with, and that’s one of my favourite things we’ve done…”

She’s not the only fellow legend Metallica have worked with: the roll-call has included Kink Ray Davies and Lemmy

“I’m a huge Kinks fans so I had to hold back on all the questions I had for him and it was driving me crazy the whole time! Lemmy wrote – and broke – the rulebook on how to conduct yourself in the world of punk and heavy music. He was a man of huge integrity and is still a huge inspiration to us. He stood up for what he believed in, even when it was crazy like all the drugs and shit. He owned it. He was forever excited and played it down, and his inspiration lives on in Metallica: stand up for the music you believe in no matter what.”

10
In 2021, which husband-and-wife musician team covered ‘Enter Sandman’ for their Sunday Lunch series while peddling on exercise bikes?

“One of my huge guitar inspirations. I hold him in the highest regard. He’s the bad scientist of progressive music. He’s the one and only Robert Fripp – the King! – and his wonderful wife Toyah who I remember from back in the ‘80s with ‘It’s a Mystery’. When I saw that, I couldn’t believe it! I was blown away. ‘Cause as far as I was concerned, I was thinking Robert Fripp wouldn’t even be interested in my little band, but apparently at least we’re in his head now!”

How’s progress on the next Metallica album going?

“I’m not supposed to talk about the new album. Everyone warns me ‘Don’t talk about the new album!’, so you can ask me 20 questions and it’ll just be me politely finding different ways of me saying ‘I can’t talk about the new album!’”

The verdict: 4/10

“Damn! According to the American school system, that equates to about a D-minus – failing! [Laughs] You know, I am a Kentucky Fried Brain Cell Fool but I’m doing my best to regenerate them as gently as possible. It’s a good job I’ve been sober for the last 7 and a half years or else I would have got all 10 wrong!”

Kirk Hammett’s solo EP ‘Portals’ is available now. Metallica are currently touring the world. Find out how Kirk’s score compared to his bandmate Lars Ulrich when he took the ‘Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?’ brain-teaser back in 2020 here 

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