Jason Newsted Talks ‘Metal’ EP, ‘Soldierhead’ Single, James Hetfield’s Influence + More
Former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted is back in a big way with his new band, simply called Newsted. The outfit has just released a new EP called 'Metal' and it features the blistering new single 'Soldierhead.'
We spoke with Newsted for nearly an hour, and he covered everything from his new music to beating Justin Bieber on the iTunes chart to his current relationship with the guys in Metallica.
In Part 1 of our interview, Newsted discusses his 'Metal EP' (available on iTunes), the new single 'Soldierhead' and the influence that Metallica frontman James Hetfield has had on him. Check out Part 1 of our interview with Jason Newsted below:
The material on this new EP has a lot of interesting shades to it from the full on attack of “Soldierhead” to the almost Thin Lizzy-like tones that thread through the beginning of ‘Kings of the Underdogs.’ How does it all fit together for you?
It’s all metal, you know? It’s all heavy music. Some of it’s fast and some of it’s slow and it has some of those different nuances that you’re speaking of. I think a lot of my obvious great teachers and heroes really rear their heads. Motorhead, [Laughs] Motorhead is one of the heads that rears for sure! [Also] Black Sabbath’s stuff and some of the original Ted Nugent band [material with] Rob Grange playing bass -- some of that real musicality with old school bass players -- that kind of thing comes through in some of the bass lines.
I wrote all of the songs on GarageBand and iPad last August/September and played all of the instruments. I played all of the rhythm guitars on all of the recordings, played bass on half of the tracks [and] Jessie [Farnsworth] played bass on some of the other tracks and then lead guitars, I did some [guitar] leads, but all lead vocals. And then Jessie, he did background vocals, too. So it was my baby from the beginning and that’s kind of why it’s got my name on it, too. Because it’s the first time in my career that I’ve written the whole album from top to bottom myself, so it’s worthy of the name this time.
When it came to branding it with your name as opposed to a band name, did you have any sort of hesitation about doing that?
No, not really. It kind of all made sense, just because of what I explained. I never have an issue coming up with band names like a lot of my friends do. I just don’t have problems. I’ve always...I think anyway, [come up with interesting band names like] Echobrain and Papa Wheelie and a million of the other ones on projects -- the different cool stuff we’ve come up with for years and years. So it was appropriate that the name’s on there. And also, now that this time has passed and I have spent 30 years working on this -- half of it in Metallica and half of it with other bands -- it’s a global thing.
You know, Metallica is bigger across the ocean than it is in the United States. It always has been from the beginning. In that whole thing, we traveled around 50 countries we played in to take the music around. So I have to approach it as that and no matter what language you speak, if you are at all familiar with metal circles from the last few decades, “Newsted,” you know what that means and “metal,” you know what that means, no matter what language you speak.
And I want to make it real clear that because of all of the diverse acts that I’ve played with and the music that I’ve recorded - Echobrain, Gov’t Mule, Sepultura, Unkle - you know, pick a few of those. I want to make sure that everybody is very clear on what they’re getting when they go after this one.
Hearing ‘Soldierhead’ as the opening shot from this EP, it communicates and suggests that you’ve got a pretty good idea of what kind of music people want to hear from Jason Newsted at this point. How much did that play into what you’ve been writing? Is that something you think about?
No, that’s kind of strange, actually. I’m old school metal. I can’t be anything but that. You know, I stretch out and round myself out playing with these other styles, Gov’t Mule and whatever [else] like that to make myself a better player, but I’m still old school thrash metal, man. And that’s what comes out, when I bare down on it and I play what I play best, this is what you get. This is what I spent the most years/months/weeks/eons playing [Laughs]. So that’s my forte, you know?
So it’s what I know best and that’s why it’s what you’re hearing. I’m really not.....the fans did call me back into this and I am doing this because of the fans [and] because I want to. There is nothing about worrying about making money or selling a million records or any of that, [that] is not in the mix.
The mix is about anybody sharing it with me that wants to. I have enough friends and fans around the world [and I] hope they’ll dig it for what it is and that’s all I really want. I want to be able to share it with anybody who wants to hear it. You know, when I went and played with Metallica at the end of 2011 at the Fillmore - when I got that response from the fans that I did that week....dude, for real, I’ve been telling everybody this, but it’s the absolute truth - they pulled me back in. They asked for it - they screamed for it [and] they looked right through me, right to the back of my skull and said “dude, we are so happy to see you - can you please do more?” and that’s really what it came down to.
And now, as I reach myself out in the last couple of months on my social media and stuff, I am realizing how important that Metallica has been in so many people’s lives. And that I was always the people person in that band. I spent so much time with fans in my career that it’s really coming back to me in a very strong positive manner.
How did you channel that when you approached making this music? Because I think some people might expect that you would take an experience like that and make an EP that sounds a lot like what you did with Metallica. There’s elements of that in this, but it’s certainly not all about that.
I think really, as we started out talking, the influences show themselves very clearly and then [also] the people that I have been privileged enough to spend time with for myself, to learn from greater players. [James] Hetfield the most years, obviously, and he is the very best at what he does. No one can touch that same growl, playing those kind of guitar parts, singing the way he sings. He is it.
So I got to be around that for a long time, in dressing rooms, it’s Lars [Ulrich] and Kirk [Hammett] in that one and Jason and James in that one. That’s how it was for the whole time.
So as far as taking that on, you take on each other’s things. When you saw our Metallica onstage, after a while when we got in sync, it looked like we belonged together, really, a lot. It really fired off in that way and James and I took on each others movements, actions, styles and things like that.
Anything that I got exposed to for a few years - even the guys from Echobrain, the way that they went about it in their musicality of things and their understanding of the way music goes together and songwriting and stuff - I learned a lot from that. And most of all, I think the four or five years that I spent with Voivod, were the biggest learning things for me, because the challenge was greater.
You know, they speak in French and A-B-C-D-E on the guitar to them is do re mi fa so la ti and so that already to begin with was a challenge and then you go to Piggy’s [late Voivod guitarist Denis D’Amour] guitar playing and he doesn’t tune his guitar like anybody else tunes it - he tunes it his way. But it’s not a tuning that you can say “hey, he’s playing an A chord, because he’s not.” So all of that learning experience and especially with Snake [Voivod vocalist Denis Belanger], the vocal approach, weaving the words in - English is his second language, so he has no in between connector words. He just goes the direction that every word means something. So that kind of approach and just the way that he does weave it - I think he’s the very best at that, as far as me being a fan. I learned so much from him. Taking in all of these experiences, this is what we get now, from me paying attention.
Vocally, how easy was it finding your vocal space when you came down to recording this material. Because I do hear the influence of your time with Voivod, but I also hear other things, so I’m just curious where you really were drawing from?
I’ve been working on my real voice for like 10 years. Always, when we do the improv jams at Chophouse [Newsted’s recording studio] or any of the other things, I have my books of poetry and songs and stuff and they’re just put up on a music stand and we rock through improv stuff and I sing and sing it and sing it. [There’s] been years and years of that, developing a real voice instead of just “Diiiiiiie” [imitates guttural metal vocal] and all of that stuff, right?
I can still do all of that of course - that’s what I’m kind of known for. The Papa Wheelie voice and things like that and in the beginning the IR8 voice and all of that Sepultura stuff. As time has gone by now, and especially with Echobrain, I tried to start learning to sing a little bit more. It’s actually a new voice [with this material] - I have a new voice, even though I’ve got some years under my belt, this is a new thing.
I work it out like I do my regular workout of situps and pushups and all of that - I work my voice out as well with training, so I can be as good of a singer as I can when I present this to people, because I feel that the performances on the recordings are quite good and I really worked with them a long time and I practiced them a lot to get to that place. So it’s something that I’ve been really consciously working on for about a decade to try to come away from the Cookie Monster [vocals] all of the time.
Some of the transitions and pacing of this material are really interesting. The moment when ‘King of the Underdogs’ kicks in right around the one minute mark is just brutal. Can you talk a bit about the building process for that song?
Oh thank you - I love that part too! [Laughs] That song’s a little bit older and it just showed up that way. You know, once I built the songs, I’d burn a disc and I’d give it to Jessie and Jesse [Jesus “Jesse” Mendez, former Metallica drum tech and current Newsted drummer] and they’d go study for a week or two and come back and we’d hit it and then we’d create what the songs are. So that just came from, building from the demo and then just going over and over and over it until we got what we liked and then we were able to really capture it in the studio.
It’s just a natural thing -- it just showed up. A lot of this stuff dude, it’s the same as the paintings - I just make myself available - I reach up and I touch into that zone and it just comes and I just channel it and I make sure that the recorder is on. I think - and I didn’t realize it until now, because I went so full on, with the recording of all of the parts and understanding the compositions of stuff like that - that the way I had to go about it was a long road, but when I finally got there, I was ready.
All of the things that I had done, I was ready for it, so when I started channeling the music, it was recorded right away as it hit me, because I had a guitar in my hands. It makes for the immediacy of the song - like that part that you’re particularly speaking of -- there’s such an anticipation....that tension and that thing that comes, that was a channeled thing -- it just happens because I made it available and my capacity from studying all of the years, I could do it when it came to me. But it really is like that.
‘Soldierhead,’ I think it probably came to me in like 10 minutes and I got the main riff down and then the lyrics just came to me and I said “this is going to be the one” and I had it done by that night and it just showed up, because I keep chasing it, man.
Watch Newsted's 'Soldierhead' Video