Kirk Hammett Reveals the Hardest Thing About Being in Metallica With James Hetfield (And Why It’s a Good Thing)
In an extensive interview with multi-instrumentalist, producer and teacher Rick Beato, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett revealed what the hardest thing about being in a band with James Hetfield is... and why it's actually a good thing!
The conversation is incredibly wide ranging and a must-watch for all diehard Hammett fans as the guitarist talks about his childhood, learning to play guitar, how he approaches his bandmates with new riff ideas and so much more.
In an earlier portion of the interview, Hammett speaks about his guitar tone as well as how he and Hetfield are perfect complements to one another when it comes to their differences in what they do best on guitar.
All transcriptions below by Loudwire.
Kirk Hammett on His Rhythm Guitar Tone
"My rhythm sound is a lot cleaner than you think. [Producer] Greg Fidelman is always pushing me to add more distortion, but I only like a distorted rhythm sound to an extent because I need that punch," Hammett says of finding the ideal balance in his rhythm tone.
"I need to feel like the strings are hitting. I need to hear every single string when I hit a chord. I need to hit one note and you can feel it," he continues, cautioning, "If you have too much distortion, it feels like a sponge or spongey. I need [punches his open hand] bark, I need [a] hit, I need it so when you go [mimics punchy guitar chord] you physically feel it and James is the same way and it's always been that way."
Kirk Hammett on How He and James Hetfield Approach Guitar
As much as Hammett and Papa Het are alike regarding musical influences, they each do one thing quite differently from one another, and they're the essential ingredients to the Metallica sound.
"he fortunate thing when James and I first started playing together is we basically come from the same musical places — [Black] Sabbath, UFO, Aerosmith, KISS, Van Halen and then Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Motorhead... We like the same stuff. We like the same guitar sounds. Even though he grew up in southern California and I come from northern California, we're very, very similar players," he enthuses.
Digging into what sets them apart, Hammett goes on, "The only difference is I play more leads. It's the only difference. His right hand is so precise... A lot of my precision is in my left hand, a lot of his precision is in his right hand and we've learned so much from each other."
Kirk Hammett on the Hardest Thing About Being in a Band With James Hetfield
In continued admiration for his bandmate, Hammett is still blown away by what Hetfield brings to the table when it comes to the writing process. Earlier in the interview, he mentions how he'll bring some riffs to the fold, but with some nervous apprehension knowing that some of them may not be up to snuff.
Many Metallica fans likely feel that Hammett is a tremendous riff writer in his own right — he did author the main riff to the band's biggest hit, "Enter Sandman," albeit with some arrangement suggestions by drummer Lars Ulrich. Even so, knowing one of metal's all-timers is in the room with him is enough to make him second guess himself in some instances.
"James, I love him. I love him as a musician, I love him as a brother," Hammett gushes, "but it's hard being in a band with him because sometimes he shows up and he'll play something and I'm like, 'Where did that come from? I've never heard anyone play something like that.'"
This isn't just the James Hetfield of old, either.
"And it's still coming," Hammett exclaims, citing, "'Moth Into Flame,' there's a rhythm thing where I never heard this on an album — it's like a gallop with a pull-off. [plays riff] No one's ever done that before!"
Perhaps being just a tad hyperbolic, the guitarist quips, "He doesn't really even have to work at it. He can fall out of bed, pick up a guitar and, man, there's 16th notes coming out effortlessly and I love that."
Watch this part of the interview directly below.