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Robert Trujillo On Metallica’s New Album, Orion Fest 2013 + the Spirit of Detroit [INTERVIEW]

Robert Trujillo - Metallica Interview
Theo Wargo, Getty Images

Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo gives us the scoop on the upcoming installment of the Orion Music + More Fest, the spirit of Detroit, the status of the band’s forthcoming new album and also looks back on joining the band during the rocky ‘St. Anger’ period 10 years ago.

This interview was recorded on June 4, 2013. All of the transcription and all five audio segments of the interview can be found below.

Orion Fest is coming up this weekend and it’s actually right down the road from us here in Flint this year, what made you guys decide on Detroit this time around?

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Our [partners] went out and checked out the site and saw that it was fitting in terms of logistics, but, more than anything, it seems like the spirit and energy is so great and powerful and it could really be a great place to host this event … There’s such a rich history. So many live concerts have been recorded and filmed there and I have a lot of history there too, you know, from my past and performing… all of us do. It seems like the perfect place.

Is Orion always going to be a traveling festival or are you guys just looking for the right venue?

We would like to find the right venue to host it [permanently], for sure. Usually, festivals like this, they take time. It’s not like you go in one year and all of a sudden it’s a huge massive incredible thing … It started to dawn on us that Detroit would be great because there is actually, sort of, a movement going on. A lot of young people are getting over there and bringing back the music and bringing back the art and food and all of this great stuff. It just seems like the spirit is there and it’s ready and waiting and we’re all about it.

We all have a lot of history there. I’ve had some of my best shows there… and some of my scariest too. I have stories… I just remember playing places like Harpo’s and maybe on the outskirts like Pine Knob and the bonfires and all the incredible energy that you experience is great. So it’s like, why not? Let’s try this.

The other thing that’s really cool about this event, too, is we actually hang with the fans. There a lot more a connection. It’s not like we rolling into a festival and were rolling out, you know? Boom. Boom. We actually spend time for those couple of days, introducing bands and James [Hetfield] has a car show, because that’s one of his passions. That’s what he does. He’s a custom car builder and he’s got a lot of his friends out there. Local car clubs, too. [They] get involved. Kirk [Hammet] has “Kirk’s Crypt” with the monster memorabilia… he’s got an incredible collection of movie posters and even, like, wardrobe from certain films and movies … I have Van’s skate ramp zone. I’ve been wearing Vans since I was a little kid, I wear them on stage and I grew up skateboarding and surfing. So we’ve got a vert ramp there with some of my heroes like Christian Hosoi, Steve Caballero and Tony Trujillo and a lot of of young talent there too. Last but not least, Lars [Ulrich] has his movie tent. He’s a film buff [who's] really, really passionate about it. He has Q&As that revolve around specific films that he’ll be showing and presenting through the weekend.

You have the new movie, ‘Through the Never,’ coming out in the fall but we’ll get to see some of that at Orion as well, correct?

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Yeah. I would imagine. We’ve certainly prepared a trailer or two. We’re excited about it. I mean, that’s a huge step and a huge challenge for us. I always say that being a member of Metallica is like an edge of your seat existence. Everything that you do is really [risky]. You don’t know what the outcome is gonna be but you take it on. I think that’s what’s great about the band.

I’m gonna give you an example — our 30 year reunion at the Fillmore in San Francisco. We’re flying in people from all over the world to come up and sing a couple of songs for us. Obviously, we’re not making any money. It’s all about the spirit of the event and doing that for our fans and connecting and engaging that way. At the same time, most bands wouldn’t do it. [They'd say] “You’re crazy! That’s impossible. How are you going to bring in Diamond Head and Merciful Fate and King Diamond and [Glenn] Danzig and Ozzy [Osbourne] and Geezer [Butler] … and Lou Reed as well.” That’s the thing about us is we take these crazy chances. ‘Through the Never’ is taking a chance. Here we are Orion Fest in Detroit taking a chance, but kind of what we live for and, I think, what makes Metallica special.

You mentioned Lou Reed and he just had that surgery, have you had a chance to talk to him and see how he’s doing?

I haven’t spoken to Lou in quite some time. I just actually had heard about that a couple of days ago. So, I’m a bit concerned. Lou is a really special guy, he’s great. He helped us. ['Lulu'] was a fun, collaborative, surrealistic journey for me personally so I hope he’s gonna be all right and I look forward to talking to him. He probably needs his rest right now.

Now, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask about the new album and there have been conflicting stories about how far into the process you guys are… So what’s the real story? How’s the next album shaping up?

The real scoop would be that, in the last few months, we’ve been jamming new ideas. Now, I guess, you could say it’s a blessing and a curse. There is an arsenal, years of riffs that we have recorded. That ranges from, like, iPhone recording to Zoom Recorder recordings to our jam room Pro Tools setup recordings, because, on tour, we have a jam room and we jam stuff. James Hetfield, I mean, the minute he plugs in his guitar and adjusts the tone knob, he comes up with the world’s greatest riff. It’s a process of elimination to see what is gonna be good enough for what we’re trying to do and it takes a long time.

We’ve been going through all of that. Then, all of a sudden, you end up going to South Africa for a tour — which is great, don’t get me wrong — and Australia and something else comes up and something else… Orion Festival. So these great opportunities enter the progress of what we’re trying to do with the album. So I would say after Orion we’ll get back to the writing process.

I can also say that the ideas are awesome. I’m super psyched. I feel that this next album, for me personally, is really truly going to be an extension of ‘Death Magnetic.’ ‘Death Magnetic’ to me is a launchpad for what we are gonna do and what we can do. That was a long process and that was a heavy experience. We had five children born during the ‘Death Magnetic’ cycle. So here we go on this new adventure and we’re not gonna have five children born on [this] cycle… I hope not [laughs]. We’re all doing great and well with our families, so now it would be great to concentrate on the new record and the ideas, again, they’re crushing … I believe that we’re gonna do something really special. We’re having a great time jamming the stuff and putting things together, but we still got a ways to go. So, everybody’s just gotta be patient.

You mentioned a wealth of unreleased material, some of which you released with ‘Beyond Magnetic.’ Is there any chance we’ll hear some more unearthed treasures from the Metallica vaults?

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I’m not sure. Basically, the ‘Beyond Magnetic’ stuff was really something that came about kind of really spontaneously. It was kind of a last minute thing. We realized that we had those songs sitting there and [that] they were great songs … Those songs were very important and we needed to get them out, but anything else of that caliber? I don’t know. I mean yes, of course, we have stuff but those four songs were special. They needed to come out.

Tomorrow marks the 10 year anniversary of ‘St. Anger,’ which was right around the time you joined Metallica. Anyone who’s watched ‘Some Kind of Monster’ knows it was a strange period for the band. Was that a tough situation to step into?

Yeah, it was kind of a crazy wild ride for me because the minute I joined the band I was off and running. It was like getting thrown in the wash cycle… and very overwhelming. I was not only learning the catalog of music… which I didn’t know actually, setlist-wise, what I had to learn because each guy would tell me something different. I think they were in this transitional period pertaining to what they actually thought they would want to play [and] I couldn’t get a straight answer. So I’m learning as much as I could without really knowing and then I had to learn the ‘St. Anger’ material, which was pretty complex, and the band hadn’t actually jammed that material. So everyone’s kind of coming into it cold. [It was] almost like learning that music for the first time.

Obviously we’re on a schedule and there were deadlines at that time. So I had to learn a multitude of music and then my first gig was at San Quentin State Penitentiary. That was my first gig with Metallica, so that was pretty crazy. I didn’t really know the lay of the land on stage. So I’m sitting there on one mic, trying to do [backup vocals] and all of a sudden Hetfield is over there nudging me away and I’m Like, “What’s he doing?” [laughs] Because I didn’t realize they rotate mics, you know what I mean? It was a learning experience on a very surrealistic stage at San Quentin … it was a great challenge … I don’t even remember [it] because it was so surreal and I’m sure I’d have a hard time watching [video of the performance] because I was so nervous.

Were there any other funny moments in those early days where you really botched something live that stick out?

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Oh, yeah. There was a lot of that. I look back to the first shows we had done at the Fillmore and I was learning stuff in the dressing room. Like “Hey, let’s play ‘Phantom Lord.’ We haven’t played that in years!” and I’m like, “You haven’t played that in years? Try I’ve never played that!” and I’ve got to learn that in a half hour. That’s what was going on for me.

I was pretty excited about the challenge but then it got to a point where it was like, “Whoa, wait a minute. This is getting kind of crazy.” But I survived and, yeah, there was a lot of botching on my end, I felt. What I learned from all that was… at a certain point, I was able to catch up. Then I realized, for me, it’s better to say ahead of the game. So I started learning songs that they didn’t know. Eventually we would actually play some of the songs that they didn’t know. That was great because it was like, “Guess what? I know that song and you guys don’t, so back at ya!” [laughs]

Things are great now because we’ve done so much and had so many challenges — onstage and offstage — and we’ve made an album together. So, creatively, we know how to work with each other. There’s a great collaborative spirit and now, really, it’s about having fun. We did the “Black Album” in its entirety last year and there’s like three songs that had never been played from that album and that was really, really exciting to play songs like ‘The Struggle Within’ or ‘Don’t Tread On Me,’ ‘[My Friend of] Misery.’ [We] did the same a few years back with ‘Master of Puppets.’ Playing ‘Orion’ for the first time in it’s entirety, that was cool. Now it’s almost a mainstay in the set. We’ve been through a lot of cool, creative and just challenges within our own set.

You mentioned doing the full album thing — you guys did that last year at Orion — is there going to be any of that in the set this year or will it be more varied since you’re only playing one night?

Yeah, you know, I’m not really allowed to say what’s gonna happen. I think the only one who knows that right now — I’m gonna put that on Lars, because Lars makes the setlist and [laughs] he’ll kill me for saying that. [Imitates Lars yelling] “Why did you say that!?” It’s always a fun adventure at Orion. I think part of it is the surprise and the elements of surprise, but it will be great. I’m excited about seeing some of these bands and just the whole experience of being in Detroit and vibing with the fans.

The lineup is handpicked by you guys. What were some of the bands that you picked for this year?

Dillinger Escape Plan is a band that I really enjoy. I think they’re progressive, they’ve got a lot of energy and angst, but at the same time they can break it down and actually play a clever, cool, soulful song. Again, I’m a huge fan of Mike Patton and Tomahawk … Of course Infectious Grooves! I can’t wait to perform that music! It’s been 22 years since we’ve played together. Rehearsals have gone incredibly well. We have Jim Martin on one of the guitars — he was the original guitar player of Faith No More — and he’s sounding great and it’s a great joy and honor to work with him and reunite with my old bandmates. It’s a different style too — totally funky bass, a lot of heavy riffage — that’s exciting for me! There’s a lot of bands I can’t wait to see. Hopefully, I can see some of them because I’ll be very busy for those two days.

Were there any bands you really wanted but couldn’t get because of scheduling issues?

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We’re always trying to get Iggy Pop in there … A lot of bands book their tours — these days, at least — a year in advance… or they’re working on an album. So you can’t always nail down some of the bands that you’d like, but we’ve got a pretty good batch. I feel good about it. I’m good friends with Deftones and It’ll be nice to see those guys. Especially with what they’ve been through with losing their bass player [Chi Cheng] this past year. That was a sad kind of tragedy over the last few years, but it will be great to connect with them and check them out and get some of that energy from them.

The whole event is pretty positive. Of course, the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers and Flea and Anthony, they’re good friends of mine. I surf with them back in Southern Cal. It’s almost surreal to be on stage with them. The funny thing is, I remember 22 years ago, actually, Infectious Grooves and Red Hot Chili Peppers were supposed to do a show together and they always kind of pinned us against each other in Los Angeles. It was like Infectious Grooves was like the Harlem Globetrotters — the street ballers… or maybe that means the ugly stepchild — and the Chili Peppers were like the LA Lakers and here we are playing the same night together. Back then it didn’t work out because Infectious Grooves had, sort of, parted ways with that lineup just before the show and it never happened, so that’s exciting too. A lot of things to look forward to, I’m pretty psyched!

Orion Music + More takes place June 8-9 on Detroit’s Belle Isle. We will be doing live press coverage at the event, so be sure to check back for updates throughout the weekend.

CHECK OUT OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SEAN KINNEY OF ALICE IN CHAINS

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