Robert Trujillo Talks Jaco Pastorius Film, Metallica Memories + More
Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo is a busy man these days. He's working on completing a documentary film about bass legend Jaco Pastorius, who was a major influence on his playing, and beginning work on a new Metallica album. Trujillo recently spoke with 'Loudwire Nights' host Full Metal Jackie about the film, some of his best Metallica memories and more. Check out the chat below.
You've got this awesome project, 'JACO: A Documentary Film.' There's a PledgeMusic campaign happening right now. In what ways do you think your personal style as a bassist would have developed differently without the influence of Jaco Pastorius?
I'll tell you how the influence of Jaco Pastorius has kind of taken me to where I am on a few different levels and ways. For starters, back in 1979 when I saw him play I realized that the instrument could be presented onstage in a totally different light. It seemed like back in the old days the bass player was always the guy in the back. He wasn't really allowed to step out and be in the forefront. Usually he was just holding it down, which is cool but that doesn't mean it always needed to be that way. And Jaco, when I saw him play, back in those days you didn't have YouTube, you didn't have computers to go and check people out. He was a mystery.
Here were these four letters -- J A C O -- and it was like, who is this guy? Then one of your buddies would have a vinyl record, you hear him play and you're like, 'Oh my god!' Then you see him, and it was was mind blowing because here's this long haired cool -- he reminded me of my friends down in Venice Beach skateboarders and surfers and he's ripping, taking command of the stage. So, we can get into a lot of the different levels in terms of composition and what he did for the instrument, but just the edge and attitude of the performance made me very excited about playing the bass. That was one of the starting points. There was mystery and excitement to the instrument and this guy was taking it there.
What aspects of Jaco Pastorius' life did you feel absolutely needed to be conveyed through the film in order to give the most accurate picture of what he was all about as both a musician and a man?
The commitment that he had for music and also, the fact that -- much in the same way that I feel that I connect with music. I love all styles. Yes, I play in the wonderful mighty Metallica and I'm so grateful and I love that because my bandmates also love many different styles of music. I think that's what makes Metallica special, though it comes out hard and heavy and powerful but there's always a groove. There's a lot of the value that I call, that sort of invisible ingredient, which is "the groove."
Jaco was the master of that in the same ways that James Hetfield is the master of the groove or [the late] Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King of Slayer are the masters of the groove. That's what makes you headbang, you know? It's a spicy ingredient that makes all music, to me at least, special. Whether it's heavy metal or country, rock or jazz. Funk, whatever. That's important and it's something that Jaco mastered. I would say that just the concept of no rules, when you're writing a song it's OK depending on the situation, of course. But Infectious Grooves, a band that I was creatively very much a part of with Mike Muir from Suicidal Tendencies many years ago, that was completely inspired by Jaco Pastorius but it was also inspired by Slayer [laughs].
I think the concept of making music without rules, and that's what I felt in a way Jaco conveyed to the universe. You had his solo albums, you'd hear him covering a Beatles song a cappella, but then you'd hear him playing a classical piece. Or he's playing something that Jimi Hendrix would shred on guitar, but he's doing it on the bass. Then he played the most funkiest, hippest rhythm and blues funk jam in the vein of a James Brown or that type of style and take command of it. He could do one style for a whole album if he wanted to but he was showing everybody a lot of different colors of what could be and conveying it in his way. So I learned a lot from him centered around that kind of energy as well.
Jaco Pastorius was a huge influence on a lot of rock musicians and heavy metal players even. I know Geddy Lee, who happens to be in the film, is a huge fan of Jaco. He even plays one of Jaco's re-issued Fender basses onstage. Flea from the Chilli Peppers is influenced by him. Glenn Hughes, who's in Deep Purple. Juan Aldrete from Mars Volta. There's just so many players, BIlly Sheehan. It's really incredible how Jaco Pastorius influenced all of these different players. Not just jazz musicians or bass players. We're talking all different styles of players in a lot of these rock cats, that's their guy. I've even heard John Paul Jones talk about him in interviews. My whole thing is to bring awareness to who he was and more than anything, bring awareness to his story. Also, bring awareness to bipolar disorder because that also is an important aspect in all of this. There's a lot in there and it's all important and viable. I'm just here to spread the word and help bring awareness so hopefully people can embrace the story and recognize it.
Musically, what is your proudest moment in terms of the mark you've made on Metallica?
There's been a lot of proud moments. I can even say recently playing in Washington D.C. for Veterans Day. That's so important to me. I feel, especially in recent years, connected to people that dedicate their life. At that point it doesn't become about politics. It becomes about people that are getting their all for their country in doing what they believe in for the right reasons. A lot of times people don't make it back. It was really an incredible four days for me because I was able to understand even deeper what these people give for their country and for the people of the country and how important that is. For us to get up on that stage and play even just three songs, it was really impactful. It meant a lot to me. So, that to me was a highlight.
But then you can go the other direction and say, well we played in Antarctica. I could say, that was a highlight. That was an experience. When you're playing in a band like Metallica. A band that takes a lot of chances, whether it's having the 30 year anniversary at the Fillmore and you're inviting everyone from Black Sabbath, King Diamond, Mercyful Fate to Glenn Danzig. How does that happen? You're having a party with your heroes and you're jamming with them for four nights. Those things happen because Metallica takes chances, so I can't really pinpoint any one moment as a band that I can say is the most prominent special moment. There are just too many. As a player, I'm living my dream. Every time I step onstage and I have Hetfield in front of me, I feel like I'm in the right place.
You've been a member of Metallica for over ten years now. From your perspective on the inside, what's the biggest misconception people have about this band?
Unfortunately in the world of music, there's a lot of stereotypes. People want to stereotype a metal band for sure. There's always that stereotype of metal musicians. "They're one dimensional!" or "They're not great players!" One of the things I've learned about Metallica is that we're all individuals and all actually very different. Whether it's our taste in art, food. James loves custom car building. He's really in touch with that creative side of building things and seeing his ideas in terms of designing a car from the '40s or '30s and bringing it to life with a new style. He's into that stuff and he's very successful creatively with that. But then Lars, he doesn't want to have anything to do with that. He doesn't care about it, or even want to understand it. He's going to go for something a lot sleeker and more [laughs] modern.
There's different characters. Kirk does Yoga every morning. He's basically, not vegan or anything, but he doesn't eat red meat. James loves red meat. What are you going to do? All these different points of view, different styles to a certain degree. But at the end of the day Metallica is a band I think knows how better than ever especially to deal with internal problems and how to handle it. A lot of times bands that have been around this long can't. They break up because they don't know how to deal with certain issues. That was captured when I first joined the band. People thought that's goofy to talk about thing and communicate but Metallica is a band that does communicate. But at the end of the day, long story short, it's real people who genuinely love to make music. And in a lot of ways big kids. You put the guitars on and you start playing chords and jamming and riffing its like you're back in the garage when you're 16. That's the value of Metallica across the board. There's no shortages of riffs -- 30-plus years in you think that people burn out and Metallica can't write riffs anymore. We're having a blast right now being creative. It's really a lot of fun making music with Metallica right now, we're all feeling it.
Rob, a residency on the Late Late Show. Metallica with the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, performing at the Blizzcon Gaming Convention. No other band thinks outside the box more often than Metallica. What do you enjoy most about being able to break the rules of what's expected from a metal band?
I think, again, taking chances is probably Metallica's middle name. We like to do things that most bands haven't done. The word 'can't' or 'no' is not a good word in the vocabulary of Metallica and really not a good word in the world of Lars Ulrich. He doesn't like to hear that stuff. This is a man who is driven by what the possibilities are and let's try this! Sometimes where I even go, man you're crazy. But at the end of the day, let's go back to when I first joined the band. Some of the things that were happening I didn't even think we're possible for human beings to pull off.
I had to learn like, I don't know how many songs were on 'St. Anger' but it was a chunk of material and it was songs that were kind of all over the map. The band themselves had not even rehearsed those songs. So I had to learn those songs and then a whole bunch of back catalog from at the time it would have been well over 22 years and then all of a sudden I'm playing a gig at San Quentin state penitentiary and then the next day I think we flew down to LA to do the 'MTV Icon.' So for me it was wild whirlwind and a tornado of work. The workload. The minute I joined Metallica from LA, ended up in San Francisco and I never went home for a year. Luckily at the time I didn't have kids and wasn't married, now I do. I have two kids, my son is 10 my daughter is 8 and iIm happily married. But at the time I wasn't so I could actually dive in headfirst and take on the tornado that it is. I realize that these guys work really hard. A lot of people say, 'Ah you can just kick back.' It's like, the band does well anyway. Nah, it's all hard work at the end of the day. That's what makes this band special, hard work.
Thanks to Metallica's Robert Trujillo for the interview. Keep up with Metallica's tour dates here. And to learn more about Trujillo's Jaco Pastorius film, check here. Tune in to 'Loudwire Nights With Full Metal Jackie and Tony LaBrie’ Monday through Friday 7PM through midnight online or on the radio. To see which stations and websites air ‘Loudwire Nights,’ click here.
You Think You Know Metallica?