BAMF Interview Archives – Kirk Hammett

This installment of BAMF Interview Archives features my 2004 conversation with Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett. This was right before the release of the documentary film Some Kind of Monster, which chronicled the trials and tribulations of Metallica while they were recording their 2003 album, St. Anger.

DAVID WALKER: I came away from the movie with this really interesting insight. Most people think of Metallica as four guys in a group playing music, which is clearly what it is, but then it also exists on other levels, like as a family, and as a business, and as a creative entity. So I guess first and foremost, how do you see yourself being above and beyond being the lead guitar player of Metallica but in the bigger picture of this entity? How do you see yourself fitting in?
KIRK HAMMETT: You know, it’s really hard for me to be objective that way. I just try to coexist with my band members and try to create the best music I possibly can and be the best musician I can and be the best friend that I can. It’s really difficult for me to sit here and try to pinpoint that. I’m just there for the Metallica cause, and whatever that might be at whatever given day, I’ll try to rise to the occasion, try to fulfill the demands that are demanded of me as one of the guys in Metallica. Having said that, the dynamic is ever-changing also. I mean, what’s expected of us in one period of time can be completely different from what’s going to be expected of us five months from now, you know what I mean?

DW: At one point in the film you were talking about how you tried to do away with ego and be ego-less. I found that very interesting, especially compared to the way James and Lars come across in the film—it’s almost like Clash of the Titans. Do you ever feel like you’re obscured or squashed or more like you’re in the middle of these two trains that are getting ready to collide?
KH: You know, it does sometimes feel like I’m in the middle of two trains, but what I meant by that statement of trying to be ego-less, really I’m talking about sometimes having to make certain sacrifices, where I see that no one else will clearly make the sacrifice, just to move forward, to move the entity forward and achieve whatever we’re trying to achieve at that particular moment.

DW: During the course of the filming, at some point you guys become aware of the fact that this isn’t just a movie about the making of the new album. You know, they’re capturing your therapy sessions on film. At what point did that really become clear to you with the possible ramifications that might have?
KH: To be honest, I’m still trying to come to terms with what those ramifications might be. The movie is just coming out and I don’t know, I don’t have a clear picture of what those ramifications, what form they might take. I know that a popular question that’s been asked of us is “what do you think the fans are going to think once they see their metal gods talking about their feelings?” And certainly that might be perceived as a sign of weakness in the heavy metal macho world, but to be truthful about the matter, we’re just being honest, man, we’re just being honest and open at a time when we really need to be honest and open, and we’re trying to communicate to the best of our abilities at a time when we really need to communicate to the best of our abilities. There really is no option to do anything else. The other option is disbanding and falling apart as a band.

DW: How did you feel when you first saw the film? Were you like “Oh my God, what the hell is this?”
KH: Yeah, I was shocked. You know, I have issues with certain aspects of the film. But if you were to take out those certain aspects the film would not be as interesting as it is. It’s the very things that make me uncomfortable that make the film interesting. It’s the very depth of intimacy that makes the film such an intriguing film. I mean, that depth of intimacy is what I have a problem with. I’m still struggling with that up to right now, to this very moment. But I also recognize the fact that the message of the film is very powerful and the message of the film has the potential to help people. So I could make peace with that fact knowing that it might help people in the long run.

DW: You’re talking about the message of the film, and, you know, you come away from it going “okay, this is more than just a film about Metallica” and it’s about people reconciling a lot of the issues of their past. I guess I’d like to hear you talk about that in your own words, what the movie is really about in the bigger picture.
KH: The movie is about relationships and communication and honesty. And the movie really is about trying to maintain those relationships in the context of being in a band of this stature. It also shows us dealing with trying to keep it together as a band. If anything, this movie humanizes us, shows us in a very humanizing sort of light. Just because you’re in a really successful heavy metal band doesn’t mean you’re instantly removed from all the normal problems that everyone else would have. Just because we’re in a band like Metallica doesn’t mean that we don’t struggle with the same relationship issues that other people might struggle with. I think that is a large part of what this movie is about. And, you know, it’s also about our inability to be able to connect with people who are so close to us. I was in a band with these guys for twenty years and only now do I feel like I’m close to these guys and only now do I really feel connected with these guys.

DW: That’s really interesting, because Lars said at one point in the film, after James gets out of rehab, he’s mentioning how he realizes that he never really knew him. It’s interesting because you can be in a relationship, you can be married to someone for like ten, fifteen years and wake up and go “I don’t really know this person.” Were you going through some of those same emotions? You definitely come across as being the quiet one out of the three. Were you going through some of that too, realizing, “I don’t know these guys”?
KH: Well, you have to understand that my relationship with Lars is pretty good. My relationship with James wasn’t so good. But afterwards, after he got out of rehab, I realized the potential for my relationship with James, it could have been a lot better in the past. From that point, after he got out of rehab, we were just playing catch-up, and nowadays I really feel like I understand why James was the way he was in the past, and I understood why he conducted himself in the ways he did in the past. It was almost like I played catch-up with him on mental level. But you know, we spent a large part of those two and a half years readjusting our relationship and reconnecting on a completely different level that we’d never really explored before, and now I do feel like I know these guys a lot better than I ever have in the past. I feel a lot closer to these guys because of it.

DW: Do you ever feel like you get lost in that entity of Metallica, where you lose track of who you are? It seems like at the time while you guys were filming this you guys were going through a lot of personal things and looking at the possibility of the band breaking up. What was that like to go through knowing that so much of your identity is tied up with that thing?
KH: Oh yeah, totally. Well, you know, I never really felt any sort of loss of identity. I always had a pretty strong sense of identity. Maybe that’s why I never felt that I had to assert my identity, because I felt comfortable with who I am and the role I play in this band. You know, I know that identity problems were a big issue with James. James could not differentiate the James Hetfield of Metallica with the James Hetfield that he was before he became a rock star. James always felt that he had to be James Hetfield of Metallica 24 hours a day, and he could never shut it off, he didn’t know how to shut it off, whereas for me, I take a completely different approach. I’ve always been the person that I know that I’ve been. The Kirk Hammett of Metallica is only one facet of my identity and my personality, and I’ve always been aware of that, and so it’s never really been an issue for me. It’s never been a big deal to be recognized as a major personality in Metallica. It’s never that important to me. That’s what I’ve kind of been getting at when I talk about being ego-less in this band. It was never important for me to assert my identity in this band. The most important thing for me was to make the best music I can and be the best musician I could and to be the best friend I could, which I think is something that I’m getting better at, especially as far as trying to be the best friend that I can to these guys.

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