Metallica’s James Hetfield loving life on the stage
Metallica frontman James Hetfield. (Dave Abel, Postmedia Network)
When you can actually see the faces of fans, “it’s always fun,” says Metallica’s lead singer James Hetfield.
The metal veterans – and one of the biggest bands in the world – played their only 2016 Canadian date at Toronto’s Opera House, a club that holds 950 people, this week.
The show came on the heels of the Nov. 18 release of their first album in eight years, Hardwired... To Self Destruct, which debuted at No. 1 in 57 countries including Canada.
“We’ve been at this for 35 years, promoters know us,” said Hetfield, 53, speaking the day following the concert that was a benefit for the Daily Bread Food Bank.
“I think that they understand that Metallica likes to work a little out of the box and do things unique or different so they’re up for it.”
And the married father-of-three who recently relocated to Vail, Colo., with his family, says club dates are as much for him, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bassist Robert Trujillo as they are for the fans.
“Honestly, it’s always for the band,” joked Hetfield. “When the fans show up, it’s bonus for sure. But I think we’ve been doing this to survive for so long we need music, we need to create, we like to connect with people. It makes us feel alive and okay and a part of something.”
And when they play larger venues or outdoors it’s an adjustment he admits.
“Trying to be present and in the moment as much as possible – it changes,” said Hetfield.
“I like to be a little more congruent than not as far as being loose and I guess a little self-deprecating on stage. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s not. I embrace my dorkiness and it’s okay on stage. I think people relate to the looseness. It’s like we’re actually having fun. And I try to bring that into a stadium but a small club feels [great], ‘cause you’re looking at faces. There’s a guy in the front and he’s smiling. ‘Wow, you look happy. You must like the new album, that’s great.’”
Hetfield says they have the next two years of their lives planned out as far as touring – two weeks on, two weeks off – with Canada definitely in the mix but he couldn’t say exactly when they might return.
The only time they got to spend in Toronto was dining at the upscale The Fifth restaurant and Hetfield likes to walk and explore when he can out on the road.
Plus he and his band have their pre-show rituals including getting to the venue about two hours early to eat, do meet-and-greets with fans and see friends.
“Just soaking up the energy or the vibe of the place,” said Hetfield. “We [also] have a physical therapist on the road so he’s stretching us out, making sure that we’re in shape. Everyone’s got their thing like Trujillo with his forearms, just playing, he’s always getting loosened up and his calves will cramp ‘cause he’s like this Tarzan guy. Lars’ shoulder, my back, Kirk’s wrist so we’ve all got our things that need maintenance.”
Just like the early days huh?
“Oh, hell no,” said Hetfield, whose been sober for well over a decade.
“It was more about the vodka. Drinking was more important than any of that. It was like wait a minute, ‘I’m not drunk. We can’t go on yet.’ That was a realization of, ‘Wow, this is really weird.’ That has all certainly changed. It’s different. We’re past 50 – you’ve got a different outlook.”