Bassist Jason Newsted cut his teeth with Arizona-based band Flotsam and Jetsam before heavy metal heroes Metallica came knocking at his door. With the band, he helped define a genre as Metallica reinvented metal with their widely popular Metallica album (known by most as “The Black Album”). After leaving the group, Jason set out with his own project Echobrain and eventually filled in the bassist slot with Ozzy Osbourne’s touring band, and even had a brief stint with Quebec metallers Voivod. Now Jason’s back, this time with his project Newsted. The group recently released a brilliant EP titled simply, Metal, which around the time of this interview, had just sold out. Newsted sat down with PureGrainAudio writer and Dropping The Needle Podcast host, Mitch Lafon, to discuss his storied career and what the future holds.
You were in Metallica. You’ve been with Ozzy (Osbourne). You’ve played with Voivod. Why not call up a known band that needs a “name” bass player, hop on stage with them and tour arenas? Why the need to make new music and start back at the beginning?
Jason: I’ve done my part of labors of love with Echobrain and Voivod. Metallica already existed and that was an opportunity of a lifetime. I feel that I was destined to be the person that carried on with them and made it to the places that we went to… The highest heights that you could do with that kind of music. That had to be. The other things were really out of friendship and respect. The fun stuff like the experience I got to have with Ozzy was more like a dream. To have one of your heroes and teachers say, “come jam with me” – not much thinking there. Echobrain, Voivod, Sepultura, Gov’t Mule and all kinds of other stuff through time have been about building experiences and trying to stay a well rounded player, keep my chops up, enjoy the music and live life a little bit. A lot of opportunities came my way, so I seized a lot of them and I turned some down.
But the music industry, right now, is unforgiving. It’s hard to get a new project off the ground. Why make the effort? I can understand that the new guy coming off the street has no choice, but you could call up Aerosmith or KISS (for example) or whoever needs a bass player and say, “here I am”.
Jason: Yeah, but that’s not what it’s about. I already did all that stuff. I already took it to the mountain. I’ve spent thirty years plus helping to build a following. I have that following and I’ve always been that people person. I’ve spent many many hours meeting (literally) hundreds of thousands of people. That’s just my deal and so this reconnection that now is happening… All the work, legwork, time and sacrifice that I’ve went through in my career – I can go out with a fresh start, but I don’t have to start over because of all that work. The long time fans are right there with me. Their sons and daughters are right there with me. The next generation of Metallica and metal fans are there for me. They are showing amazing response.
You’re right in saying that I “don’t have to do this” and I could keep painting for the rest of my life or do whatever I want when I want, but I want to do this. The important thing that you are missing is that I have to do this. I wasn’t sure that I was ever going to take out anything serious again in this way. I was doing my projects, pop a wheelie, have my fun and make my independent records when I felt like it, but then I went to play with Metallica at the 30th Anniversary show at The Fillmore… The fans gave me so much juice that I was levitating and I hadn’t tasted it for so long. They moved me so severely that I had to come back. They screamed me back to this place where I am now and talking to you. I cannot deny that or ignore that kind of energy or that kind of plea for me to come back. That’s why I’m doing this now and I’m giving it one awesome shot. It’s destined (in my eyes).
I sat down to make some songs for this thing (once I decided that I was going to go back out again) and I weighed out my options. I put the original Flotsam back together and we went and played
Let’s focus on Newsted. You’re out front. It’s your name on the marquee. With Ozzy, Metallica, Voivod… If you failed one night, Ozzy was there. If you failed one night, James was there. What happens here? Do you feel a greater sense of pressure? Or on the contrary is it energizing?
Jason: It’s all that. It’s exciting and it’s hugely challenging…
Jason: Scary, but in a happy kind of way. Something I need you to understand is that in the twelve years since I left “the big band”, I have had to present challenges to myself in order to stay stimulated and feeling a purpose. I have challenges for painting. I have challenges for joining different bands and keeping up (learning thirty Black Sabbath songs in a week). Voivod music – are you kidding me? That kind of thing keeps challenges going. That’s what this is (Newsted). This is a giant challenge that I’m putting before myself. It’s a bunch of new ground that I’ve never tread before. Frontman of the band playing bass. Frontman of the band playing lead guitar and singing vocals…
And putting together all the songs.
Jason: Writing all the songs from top to bottom… All the lyrics and all that with my name on it. I never thought I’d put my name on anything. I did this time, appropriately because it is all my stuff on this particular offering. The eleven songs we have in the can are all my compositions. So, what you are listening to (the Metal EP), I did 95% of the rhythm guitars, most of the bass and you know… It’s my baby. So, the pressure is on for me to kick ass. I’ve been storing it up for a long time. I’m ready to take it out there. I’m going to continue to have reasonable expectations from this thing… Like you were talking about earlier about “it’s hard to get it off the ground”. I have no misconceptions about “you’re going to sell a zillion records and shit”. I know better than that.
And I wasn’t trying to put you down by the way…
Jason: No no no. Peace dude. Not at all. I didn’t take it that way at all. I like this discussion very much. This is good. The cool thing about this is that I’m my own boss. I decide what I do with my time. I decided where we play and when we play. I have that luxury like you were talking about. The offers that are coming in right now some are fair like a supporting act here or a festival there. A bill in a good place here or a bill in a bad place there, so I can say “no” on that bad bill there or “no” on that support thing for little money. There has to be respect. There has to be money and the gig has to be reputable. My boys have to be safe. Once all that stuff is in place, then I’ll go and rock it. I can make that decision. If there’s a 130 seat place in your backyard which is flipping awesome with sound system that is killer, tight room, the ceiling can sweat when we get rocking and all that kind of thing; I’ll go there in a heartbeat.
I can play comfortably in a 130 seat place… 30,000… 50,000… It doesn’t matter. That’s not new to me. I stood in front of “the band” and did things when James wasn’t even in the damn building up front. Yes, Kirk was there. Yes, Lars was there. I’ve got guys playing with me that have a lot of years under their belts and we have a lot of improv skills that we’ve worked on for a long long time that Metallica never had. There’s no comparison; I’m not doing that, but I’m just saying that there are different players with different abilities… Different people that aren’t distracted. We take time to play the music the whole time, concentrate on the music the whole time, make ourselves better and not worry about all the other crap that goes on with bands.
Check out the song “Soldierhead”
I was going to ask you about that. Now, that you are on your own, you’ve freed yourself from the politics of a band.
When you’re writing the new songs… Is it whatever comes out comes out or is it for what you think the fans want to hear?
Jason: It’s channeling. I don’t know if you play or not, but when you get a long enough time on an instrument, you don’t really practice the instrument anymore. You might do a couple of scales to get your actual muscles warm, but when you touch the instrument you’re playing it. There’s no practicing anymore. It’s got to that place and it’s the same as the painting when I’m there, I’m ready and I’ve got myself opened up to it. When I have my guitar in my hand and the iPad in front of me, I go “Garage Band” set up and when the idea comes to me I put it down and “boom” there it is. There’s no…
There’s no marketing plan on this one. There’s no “I need to write a song that sounds like Slipknot”…
Jason: No! And I wouldn’t know how to do that. It’s all the experiences I’ve had and all these people that I’ve been exposed to teaching me… Hetfield, Zakk Wylde, Warren Haynes, Andreas Kisser, Snake, Piggy – all through time I’m learning from these people… These great great players. This is a culmination of all those experiences, man. Whether it’s the “bleeding” obvious thing to say or whatever – that’s what it is. I finally sat down and all the shit I’ve taken in, I finally regurgitated out and that’s these eleven songs and the three that I’m getting ready to go do. You’ll hear all of my experiences in this stuff. There will be those interludes that go to the Echobrain-y place and come back to that slamming Sabbath-y place. There’s just no way for it to be any other way.
Is this what you want to do for the future (which we lead to a second, third and fourth album) or is this just a one off thing?
Jason: Some piece of all of that I guess. I have no absolute answer on that. I just don’t know the answer.
What would be your preference?
Jason: My preference would be to take it as long as I can feel strong about it. I’m not going to fool myself about how far the calendar has come along or what kind of damage I’ve done to my neck. So, I’m going to stay with it as long as I can. My main answer is: as long as the people keep screaming for it, keep wanting to have it and it’s appropriate to place in those places (got to keep that integrity that I’ve worked so hard to retain for this whole time)… As long as I can keep that in place, I’m all good.
So, what I’m hearing is that you would like to make a second, third and fourth album…
Jason: Oh, yeah and I want to answer for sure, so that you understand. I have a three year plan for this thing right here (that I have in my mind). I’ve been in meetings with agents, managers and all these people; picking their brain and seeing what the best thing is in 2013, for me, to do with this unique situation I find myself in. I’ve worked all this time to build that following, so I have to make sure that I plan it out carefully. I’ve told them how many weeks I would go on the road at a time. How many shows in a row I would do. How much money I would accept and all these things. They know parameters now. Once they were able to go through all that, they came back to me and said, “if you want to play all the places you could possibly play and you’ve told us the places you want to make sure you hit with this music – it will take three years.” So, that’s where my head is and that’s the answer I can give you. If I come up with another twelve songs for 2014, so be it. If I’m still out on the road kicking ass… I have enough songs to choose from to make it an interesting show, right?
I can see that our time is almost up, so let me ask you one Metallica question. August 8th 1992 – Guns N’ Roses and Metallica play the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. We all know what happened. What most fans don’t know is the “rest” of the story. Metallica returned to Montreal in February 1993 and played two free shows (or it cost 5$ or something like that) to make up for the Olympic Stadium show. Why was it important for you and the band to come back? Why not just take the money and run?
Jason: Integrity and a man’s word.
Because that’s the part of the story that got lost. We’ve all seen on MTV the cars being turned over, the fires being lit and the clashes with the police, but nobody knows that you came back and did two shows for free…
Jason: They cost us money.
I can imagine.
Jason: As long as you brought in your stub from the other show, you got in for free. Whoever didn’t, had to give a donation to a food bank or something. We didn’t take the money. It’s an integrity thing and it’s not the first time that we’d made up shows. When “force majeure” kept us from playing in Sweden because all the fluids had froze up on the buses… We’d always go back and make those shows up. There’s only three (that I know of) that we canceled in the fifteen years that I was in Metallica.
Is that why Metallica has had their success? Because they’ve never screwed the fans.
Jason: It’s one of the factors. There are quite a few factors, but that is definitely one of them. Loyalty to the fans and the fans’ loyalty back. They’ve always made people feel a part of the rise, a part of the power, a part of the army, a part of the band, a part of the success… They’ve always made people feel a part of it. I’m just now realizing how much that band has meant to so many people in their lives. They’ve meant so much to me of course, but I mean really… I knew it moved people and I know we’ve brought more joy than sadness no matter how heavy the music gets… So, that’s success right there. No matter how many records they sell or not, Metallica have been ambassadors of metal in a really good way…
You must take a certain pride in doing that…
Jason: Always and setting an example. Just like what you were talking about with Montreal… That was setting an example. That’s what you’re SUPPOSED to do kids. That’s what it comes down to. They’ve had the same people working for them for thirty years (from managers to guitar techs to stage builders) – that’s another factor. They’ve stayed true to their people and their people have stayed true to them. There are a few things we know about them: They work real hard. They don’t say no to stuff and they take new chances… There are a lot of factors that make Metallica what they are.
How do you take a lesson like that and apply it to Newsted? Also, when people come to a Newsted show will it be the best of Metallica, Ozzy, and Voivod or what can people expect?
Jason: I have a lot of options to keep it interesting and I’m not going to be crazy blatant about ripping things off, but I am going to remind people where it came from. I was to keep it very entertaining and it’s going to be heavy as shit. That’s my deal. There’s a little bit of danger in what people expect (because of my pedigree). I want them to expect something – that drives me more. You’re not going to make everybody happy and you know that dude. You’ve been doing this long enough. I’ve been doing this long enough. You just go and do your thing and people that dig it – dig it. The people that don’t, be on your way and go listen to Five Finger, Emperor, Deicide, or whatever… Peace to everybody. There’s room for everybody; let’s just rock. Jason do you have to prove yourself again?
No, you don’t, but you do have to put out a quality product.
Jason: But I will because that’s my caliber. I’m not going to come out with something crap. I want to make sure that it’s going to be good. I’m not taking it out unless it’s good. Unless this band is firing on all cylinders plus – nobody is going to see it. It has to be that way before I’m going to take it anywhere. Managers know that stuff too. It has to be a certain caliber before I take it out there. It just has to…
Absolutely especially coming from your lineage…
Jason: That’s what I’m saying.
I see that our time is up and I want to be respectful of that, so I just wanted to thank you because that was great…
Jason: I appreciate that man and it was nice talking to you. I’m glad you pushed me around a little bit. It helps me. You took me out of some of the ruts today and I thank you for that.