Beginning their musical lives as underground thrashers (No Life 'Til Leather, Kill 'Em All), Metallica has evolved into the premiere American heavy metal band. Bar none. Since their inception in 1981, Metallica has gone from an underground heavy-metal band to one of the most successful acts in the world, with an intensely loyal fan base. Sales of Metallica's albums total more than 80 million worldwide (with more than 50 million in North America alone) and have earned gold and platinum certifications in more than 40 countries.
GC: You're a Tama endorser. What kit are you using right now and why is that the best choice for you?
Lars: What makes Tama the best drums for me is the people I deal with. Their people have been accommodating and forthcoming in the last seventeen years, and they're accommodating and forthcoming now to me. I'm really into a kind of old-school respect and an old-school kind of being faithful to people. I do believe that obviously the drums, the snare drums we've developed are awesome and they're pretty much what I want. The bell brass snare drum, which is what they're sort of modeled after, to me has been the workhorse for me for the last ten years and is, for what I'm after, the snare drum of life. As long as they keep taking my phone calls, I'll keep doing whatever I can for them.
GC: Could you talk about those signature snares you've developed?
Lars: I've always been asked by various companies to endorse stuff or to put my name behind it. I felt that I wasn't just going to put my name on anything. It had to be close to a faithful representation of stuff I was actually playing. So we used sort of the prototype of the Tama bell brass snare as the starting point. It's a pretty expensive drum, thousands and thousands of dollars. So, we felt that we would do two of them. One that was basically 100% faithful to what I do live and one that was just a little bit more economical for some people. So, if people, for some unbelievable reason, would want to buy anything with my name on it and couldn't afford what I actually play on stage, they could get sort of pretty close to it.
GC: What cymbals do you use and why do you use them?
Lars: Zildjian. Are there any other kinds?! (laughs) It's always been about Zildjians for me. Once again, great people and they're the definitive cymbal. Who's going to argue with that? Between all the stuff that they had done over the years - the chrome cymbals and the brilliant cymbals, they're awesome. Between the sounds and the things that they were doing, the K stuff, C series and all that stuff, I mean it's pretty much all there. It's a one-stop shopping.
GC: If I had a basic drum set up and I wanted to expand in some kind of cool, interesting way, what would you suggest?
Lars: Depends on what you're after.
GC: Generally speaking, if you're going to record, is it better to get the best few things that you possibly can as opposed to what you're looking for in a live situation?
Lars: I'm not so sure about the whole thing about the best stuff anymore. When I was younger, I subscribed a lot more to that way of thinking. You know, the most expensive drum was the best drum. But I'm not so onboard that anymore because I feel that it depends what you're playing. Maybe if you're doing a lot of roadwork it's much more important to have the best Tama hardware because it's the most durable. If you're doing a lot of studio work, then you probably want to go with better drums because the differences become most apparent the more detail-oriented you get in the studio. If you're doing a lot of live work, you want your ability.
GC: There's a Lars action figure now. Could you describe how something like that comes about? How much input do you have into that process of the creation?
Lars: He (Todd MacFarlane, artist and creator) basically came to us. He flew down actually to one of the last shows we played in August of last year and hung out for a couple of days. We basically decided that we wanted to go for something that was right in the middle of the mess of a career we'd left behind. Right around And Justice for All, kind of late '80s.
GC: I noticed the difference between some of the earlier pictures that I had seen where the drumsticks were black and the one that we have here now has wooden sticks.
Lars: Right. You try to make it as faithful as you can. We've always tried to do that in Metallica. At the same time, maybe we're not quite as anal about it as we used to be. You find the right balance between your own visions for what makes it cool for kids to buy and the terms of manufacturing costs and all that, to keep it somewhat reasonable. It's pretty awesome to have yourself immortalized. Hopefully we can continue to do it and present more of the different sides of Metallica through the years.
GC: Now, do you warm up before a performance at all?
Lars: Most of what I do is physical so I do some stretching, loosening up more than anything. I jam for an average of 10 minutes in the tune-up room where I have a drum kit set up. To me it's more about loosening up muscles, loosening up the arms. The only other thing is when we're on the road, I try to run every day.
GC: Metallica has endured when a lot of the bands have fallen sort of by the wayside. Why do you think that is?
Lars: I don't know. When it comes to us defining the last twenty years of hard rock, I usually kind of shy out of that. It's difficult for me to answer that type of stuff. I guess we were blessed when we started playing, to have something that was kind of unique and different. A big part of it is the fact that we always had a bunch of people that we never had personality issues with.
GC: Is the secret to your success picking people you can get along with?
Lars: Yeah, or hope that you pick people you get along with. It's really difficult because I think increasingly as I get older, I'm becoming more and more aware of what the word luck plays into it. I would say that the most important thing in the long run is being with people you can communicate with and that even if you don't share the same vision, you can communicate about the different things. If it's a group thing you have to show other people the same respect that you want them to show you.
GC: Have you or do you shop at Guitar Center at all?
Lars: I have people who do it for me... (laughs)
GC: How about back in the old days?
Lars: We obviously have a great relationship with the folks at Guitar Center and have had one for a long time, both up here in San Francisco and obviously at the one down in Los Angeles.
GC: Looking forward, do you have any thoughts about how music might be distributed in the future and how artists, in particular, might get paid?
Lars: There's no question that the Internet and digital technology is obviously going to be a huge part of it. There are four links. There's the musician, then there's the record company, then there's the outlet and there's the fan. Obviously at some point you're going to start bypassing some of those other outlets. The whole Internet is in this chaotic state right now. But I don't think there's anybody who doesn't think that's the future, as it rightfully should be. It's just a matter of how is it going to work and who's going to control it.
GC: Is that the main issue for you? Control?
Lars: That was one of the weirdest things about the whole thing last year was that people sat there and said "It's very strange that Metallica are opposed to this." I'm just sitting there and thinking, "What part of our last 20 years have you missed? How can it surprise you that we're against other people controlling our music?" We would sit there and laugh at all the things people were saying just as much as anybody else.
GC: Do you feel like a lot of people misunderstood you?
Lars: In retrospect, the healthiest thing about it was the fact that it got a great national debate going. People still on a daily basis come up and say, "Great one for fighting the Napster thing. I'm sure one day they'll find a way to get you paid." But it really wasn't about getting paid. That really was never our issue. It was about controlling what happened to your music. About when you wrote some music and recorded some music, whether you had the right to control what happened to it, where it went. Let's deal with the fact that someone took my music away from me without my permission. That was the whole point. A lot of people sort of missed that.