Metallica’s James Hetfield Is Okay With Bandmates’ Side Projects… Sort Of

When Metallica’s second bassist, Jason Newsted, left the band in 2001, the official reason that was announced was, “private and personal reasons and the physical damage I have done to myself over the years while playing the music that I love.” However, Metallica fans now know that that was a bunch of bologna. The real reason was a lot more complicated, and it had everything to do with Metallica’s front man, James Hetfield.

Shortly prior to 2001, Jason Newsted had started a side project away from Metallica. Newsted had started to play bass for a band called Echobrain, and things were starting to pick up, so much so, in fact, that Jason started talking to Metallica’s management about possibly taking on the band.

Initially, Metallica’s management was very positive. Jason recalled that the managers said that they’d been listening to Echobrain around the office and that they all thought it was really great. However, Hetfield had other feelings about it. Reportedly, when James heard that Metallica’s management was thinking of backing a recording run with Echobrain, James called together a sitdown. When that short meeting was over, management informed Jason that they wouldn’t be backing Echobrain on anything.

James Hetfield Newsted and Hetfield perform together one last time when Metallica is inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame
[Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images]
And that was what broke the bassist’s back. Jason was infuriated that James would take such a stance on his side project, a side project that in Jason’s eyes could no more have affected the mega-machine that was Metallica than a gnat could affect an elephant. Jason quit the band.

Now, it should be said that James Hetfield has since come to grips with his past behaviors in a lot of ways. Ever since Metallica’s frontman did a stint in rehab in the midst of recording the St. Anger album, Hetfield has backtracked on a lot of those possessive feelings. In fact, James even wrote the song, All Within My Hands about his own tendency to not want to let some things go to the extent that he chokes them to death.

After St. Anger and the corresponding therapy-laden documentary, Some Kind of Monster, Metallica seems like a much more free and open place to work. Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett has really thrown himself into his annual Fear FestEvil in California’s Bay Area, and bassist Robert Trujillo has spent years putting together a documentary film of his own on bass legend Jaco Pastorius.

Given how much time some of the other Metallica members are spending away from the core band, James Hetfield was recently asked via Metallica’s fan ‘zine, So What!?, how he was tolerating the side projects.

“I guess if they do it, it’s okay, but if I do it, it’s not, because I’m the frontman, or Lars is the drummer. We’re the founders. We can’t do that kind of stuff.”

When asked for clarification, Hetfield was happy to give it.

“At the end of the day, I know Lars and I are the guides of this. We steer Metallica most of the time, and the other two guys are very happy that that is the way it is. And we’re all equal. We’re all contributing in our way. But I think Lars and I are very comfortable being the spearheads of it. And we are in a great spot right now, because everyone knows the band is prioritized above everything, but everyone also feels free to to explore other things.”

James Hetfield Ulrich and Hetfield steer Metallica [Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Variety]It’s interesting, considering the all-inclusiveness vibe that was sent out to the rest of Metallica and to Metallica fans at large when St. Anger was picked back up. At that time, Hammett and [producer] Bob Rock were encouraged to write lyrics and song parts. That was a big change for Metallica, as before that, the writing of the songs had been almost exclusively Hetfield and Ulrich. By Hetfield’s quote, we can safely assume that Hetfield and Ulrich are firmly in control of where Metallica is headed.

[Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images]