In the year 2000, bassist Jason Newsted shook the foundations of the heavy metal world when he quit the rock band behemoth known as Metallica and disappeared into private life. Almost thirteen years later, Jason has reemerged with a new band and a new drive, but boasting the same distinct kick-ass, purist metal attitude that anchored Metallica’s albums and live shows throughout the 90’s.
Newsted’s first offering, an EP simply called Metal, contains four tracks of sheer heaviness, foreshadowing a second career that threatens to outdo his years with James, Lars and Kirk.
I spoke with Jason by phone as he prepares to hit New York with two shows in the next four months, first at the Highline Ballroom, then as an opener on Megadeth’s summer Gigantour. Read below for his thoughts on his new music, transition to frontman, and the obligatory Metallica fanboy questions that Jason was kind enough to indulge me on.
Examiner: Hey Jason, thanks for talking to me today. How have you been?
Jason: I’ve been good man, how’ve you been?
Examiner: Pretty damn fine. Obviously it’s an honor to be talking with you today, there aren’t many metal fans or bands these days who wouldn’t count Metallica as one of their biggest influences. But are you trying to get away from the “Jason Newsted of Metallica” label?
Jason: Never, man. Never, never. I’m very proud of what I’ve done in my life and I’ll be in Metallica forever. I’m part of Metallica for my whole life.
Examiner: Did you think about coming up with a band name, or did you plan on touring under your own name from the start?
Jason: This really kind of happened by happenstance. It wasn’t a grand plan where I sat down and planned on doing any of this. I never planned on coming back out, especially on something with my name on it. I’ve been doing projects and my own things for a long time, Voivod and Echobrain and Papa Wheelie, and different fun things to just get my own pace and my own rules. This started out as the same type of thing. I composed some songs, my wife had got me a new iPad and I got the Garage Band app and sat down with my guitar and just wrote a bunch of songs. One of the songs happened to be for her, we just got married about 6 months ago, and so I wrote her a song for our wedding. I asked my boys Jesus Mendez and Jessie Farnsworth, we’ve been playing together for about 5 years, just making our improv music. So I showed them the songs, asked them to play it with me, and we went in to record her song, which is this giant ballad thing, kind of like a Fade To Black kind of song, starts off all mellow and nice and ends up crazy at the end. So we played it, recorded it, I had a couple of other songs in my back pocket, we said let’s knock ‘em out. We had a week in the studio so we just played everything, and those extra songs, a couple of them ended up being Soldierhead and Godsnake, King of the Underdogs and Skyscraper. We did it for fun.
A couple of folks from the old Metallica camp, that had worked with Metallica in the past, they got a hold of Soldierhead and played it for a couple of people and like 3 weeks after we had done it, people were calling me up saying what are we going to do with this? What’s going to be the deal? We want to be your agent, we want to be your manager. And I’m like, that’s not what I’m doing here. More and more it just came, I started drawing logos on napkins, and we got someone to master it for us, and it became this thing. Came out on iTunes and went to number one and here we are four months later with a world tour at our feet and an LP completed and everything’s just snowballing pretty magnificently.
Examiner: It really is. Have you heard any feedback from Kirk or James or Lars about the EP?
Jason: No, I don’t even know if they know I have music going. We were at the Golden Gods together the other night, and one of the wives said to my wife that the reason they didn’t say anything at the acceptance speech or they didn’t want pictures together, it’s because they didn’t want to interfere with my project. So I guess they had some knowledge of it. But their own world is their own world. I mean it really is a microcosm, it really is a bubble. So I’m not really sure to tell you the truth.
Examiner: I’ve listened to the EP maybe 30 or 40 times now, I’m loving it of course. The songs are classic metal through and through, but your vocals really strike me. Not many vocalists can do such a low, bassy roar without dropping into full-blown Slayer or Slipknot-style screaming. Did you make a conscious effort for your vocal sound?
Jason: I’ve been working on my vocals since I left Metallica, maybe even before that, to try to get away from the one dimensional Cookie Monster vibe. And so through the improvisational playing and the different projects I’ve done for the past 10 years, I’ve tried to develop my real singing voice. And so that’s kind of what’s coming out now.
Examiner: You mentioned the ballad you wrote for your wife, is there a ballad waiting to surprise everyone on the full length album?
Jason: No. All metal, all the time. It’s not all fast but it’s all heavy.
Examiner: I just watched an interview with Dave Mustaine yesterday, and he said that your music sounds like just what he would’ve expected. Is that the kind of response you were hoping for from your peers?
Jason: That’s awesome! That’s a great quote. Yes, that’s what I want to hear from people and that they understand how honest it is. That’s really my main quest, retaining the purity of this music. There’s too much bullsh*t, faking, pretending you can play through ProTools falseness that I don’t want to be caught up or involved in. It’s important to me to fly the flag of metal in its purest form. This is all about punk rock effort, let the music do the talking.
Examiner: So you’re coming to New York in a few short weeks, playing the Highline Ballroom. You’re also on Gigantour this summer, which has a New York date but the venue hasn’t been announced yet. Are you more excited for the small Highline club, or the larger amphitheaters that Gigantour plays?
Jason: They have equal power of appeal. I’ve played just about every type of scenario you can imagine, throughout my career. From 20-30 people with Flotsam & Jetsam in a tiny club, to half a million people in the middle of Moscow. And every possible scenario in between. On these initial shows, I like this intimacy first. I like being able to see everyone’s eyes. The big shows are great of course because of the unity of the people, singing the songs louder than the PA system, that’s a wonderful feeling of strength. But when I can talk to the people without even the microphone sometimes, getting that response, seeing every little drip of sweat, that’s pretty cool. So I can’t really say one more than another.
Examiner: Who has more to prove, you or David Draiman’s new band Device?
Jason: More to prove? He probably has more to prove because he doesn’t have as long of a track record. I have more years under my belt than he does. I don’t think I need to prove anything, just reaffirm with everybody. I really do feel everybody wants me to succeed, the King of the Underdog kinda vibe. There might be a few haters, but I don’t really give a sh*t about them.
Examiner: Well I think the peak of Metallica-hating coincided with your exit from the band. You kind of rode that crest out at just the right time.
Jason: I’m not sure about that. It was the time for me, in my spot and my health. If I wanted to live, literally dude, if I wanted to be talking to you right now and my heart still beating, I had to do what I did. I would be dead, I promise you, I would be dead if I stayed in Metallica.
Examiner: I don’t think anyone ever faulted you for leaving, especially once we saw Some Kind Of Monster and other details came out.
Jason: I had to be the one that stepped up and made the sacrifice for everybody. I had to be the one to grow some nuts, and say this is what’s going to happen, and because I did what I did they’re more successful than they’ve ever been, they still set the standard, James is healthier than he’s ever been in his entire life. I’m clear-eyed again, I’m off drugs, I’m 19 years old again. I got more years under my belt and I’m still the same fighting weight I was on any of my tours. It’s just a matter of how you go about it. The calendar goes by, but that doesn’t mean you gotta get old.
Examiner: At Metallica’s Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction, you and Rob both played together, 2 guitars and 2 basses. I couldn’t believe how insanely heavy those songs sounded with 2 basses in the mix, especially that first riff of Puppets. Why don’t more bands play with two bassists and how can we hear something like that again?
Jason: That’s a really good question. There was that band, Boys Against Girls I think it was called, back in the day. They had two bass players and that was a cool thing. As far as the heavy music, yeah I was kind of surprised when they said we’re gonna do that but then when we finally did it it was bitchin’, no question about it. So if you were going to do that, you’d need to compose it where there was first chair and second chair bass and stuff, you can’t have the dudes playing the same unison simultaneously, it’s going to just sound one-dimensional. Maybe a little more forceful, but a mess. You gotta make it like an orchestra, but that’s a really great idea.
Examiner: Well you guys had multiple cellos and other bass instruments on S&M, right?
Jason: Yeah, we had five or six proper upright double basses too.
Examiner: Are you enjoying being a frontman, after all these years?
Jason: Very much, yeah. It’s a whole new thing, it’s what’s keeping it new for me. If I was going to just be a bass player again and a couple of “die! die!” in the microphone for backing vocals, I kind of already did that. So doing this keeps me very interested in it, it keeps me on my toes every second to remember all the words. And it’s all my songs too, I composed all this stuff. So being able to make it come across the way I envisioned, and I get to say the words between the songs too, not just sing the songs, and say what I want to say about positive vibrations and that kind of thing. I want to be different from other frontmen in that way. None of that, “hey man let’s f*cking party tonight,” that’s all great and everything for Motley Crue, but not for my band. It’s going to be about positive vibrations and being together. That’s what I try to preach.
Examiner: On the EP, there’s a distinctive anti-war vibe.
Jason: That’s right, that’s about living. The Soldierhead thing comes basically from the Pat Tillman thing, and Godsnake comes from a bible story about not judging people, and King of the Underdogs is self-explanatory, rising up from the flames and ashes to be the king. And Skyscraper is about a plane putting a hole in the side of a skyscraper, and no war is good, no war is holy enough to do something like that. It’s still a positive thing, against people hurting each other.
Examiner: As we speak, I’m looking out my office window at the new World Trade Center buildings, maybe 1,000 yards from here. So I feel you on that.
Jason: That’s where it came from, certainly.
Examiner: I know we’re short on time, but do you have 2 more minutes to indulge me in a couple of Metallica fanboy questions?
Examiner: I always dug how you sang Creeping Death and Whiplash on the live videos and bootlegs. Was that something you pushed for or was singing select lead vocals the plan from when you joined the band?
Jason: It started out as a thing where James could rest his voice. Metallica went 2 hours and 15 minutes minimum per show, and that’s singing 25 or 27 songs. That’s a lot of singing. And so the older stuff, as I got more comfortable with the vocals, he said take the lead, take the lead. As the years went by, I sang one verse, two verses, three verses, entire song. So it was to help James rest. And then it became a thing, where like you said, people began to love it. People liked that there was a different voice and I did the <growls>, they liked that sh*t. And so that became a thing, and that’s something I carry over to the Newsted show now. There’s only a handful of songs that I feel righteous about playing from the Metallica catalog, but I do share them with people at the Newsted show. So those things you just mentioned that make you happy, you will be witnessing again.
Examiner: I know I won’t be the only one happy to hear them.
Jason: Yeah, so far the response to the set has been, let’s just call it happy. That’s when the ugliest pit gets going, when Whiplash comes up, people just go f*cking bonkers. If there’s 50 or 70 people in the crowd, there’s 50 or 70 people in the pit.
Examiner: The last song you recorded in Metallica was I Disappear. In hindsight, one could say that those lyrics pretty much tells the story of Jason Newsted’s career in Metallica.
Jason: That’s crazy. Hindsight, I disappear. I like that.
Examiner: Just as soon as I belong, then it’s time I disappear. That’s kind of what you did.
Jason: Yeah, and I thought about that quite a bit when I first left the band, listening back to that. Like, wow, that really was prophetic. And kinda cool in that way, because it makes a lot of sense. You get too comfortable in things, it can get sh*tty.
Examiner: Are you happy with that song as your final contribution to the Metallica catalog?
Jason: Yeah, now that you mention it like that, I think it’s a very cool, symbolic kind of thing. I think it’s fantastic. I like the song. It’s not the best song they ever composed or something like that, but I think it’s a great song.
Examiner: It never really got the credit it deserved.
Jason: It’s a good vibe of a song, good bassline. I’m proud of the recording, I’m proud of the sound of the bass on it. So that was appropriate. And I’ll give you one on top of that, with frosting. So the last song I performed live with them, what was that?
Examiner: Fade to Black. At the VH1, whatever-it-was awards.
Jason: Yep. So how’s that for appropriate?
Examiner: I couldn’t agree more. That was the first thing I thought of when I read you left the band. Believe it or not I still have a recording of that somewhere on a VHS.
Jason: I was feeling tough that night, very troubled time for me. Highly emotional, but it was an appropriate song to play. It could not have been more appropriate, both those things you mentioned.
Examiner: That VH1 show, I think it was live voting from the fans on what song to play. You guys didn’t know what song you were doing until right before you went on, right?
Jason: I do not recall, it was Kirk’s birthday, November 18th. In 2000 I think.
Examiner: When all was said and done, you played some pretty iconic basslines. King Nothing is definitely a personal favorite of mine, do you have a favorite from your time in that band?
Jason: Blackened is my favorite because I composed it. King Nothing, that’s all James’ stuff. I’m more proud of the stuff I composed and played. I definitely put some flavor on a few of them, where I felt I probably should have gotten songwriting credit for the bassline, but I didn’t make a stink about it, that wasn’t my cup of tea back then. But Blackened is forceful, and my name’s on there, and it’s the first song I got to show people once I joined the band so I think that will always be my prideful point.
Examiner: Ok, so what’s your favorite bass line or guitar riff on your new album Metal?
Jason: Probably Soldierhead, in between the bass line and breakdown, that’s got some pretty serious heaviness to it. The beauty of that is that it pretty much just came to me, just channeled and I recorded it and there it was. The beauty of purity in it is so appealing. With the iPad, I was able to record it as soon as it came out of the sky and into my hands.
Examiner: Thank you so much for talking to me, it’s been a real pleasure and a real honor, and I’m pumped for these concerts.
Jason: You got it. See you at that Highline Ballroom show!
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Newsted will first be playing the Highline Ballroom on Tuesday, May 21 (tickets available here).
Gigantour, featuring Newsted, Black Label Society, Hellyeah, Device and of course Megadeth, will be Wednesday August 7th, at a still-to-be-determined venue. This Examiner believes that Jones Beach, which is currently scrambling to get fully repaired from Hurricane Sandy damage, is the mostly likely venue for that show.
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