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James Hetfield of Metallica
Photograph: Courtesy BB Gun PressJames Hetfield of Metallica

The Hot Seat: James Hetfield

Metallica’s singer-guitarist discusses Orion Music and More, the band’s Atlantic City megafest.


In this week's Hot Seat interview, we chat with James Hetfield about the Orion Music and More festival.

RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews

TONY: The lineup for Orion Music and More features everyone from Best Coast and Arctic Monkeys to Suicidal Tendencies. Which of the bands are you most excited about?
James Hetfield: Ghost. They fit into the metal area because they’re supposedly singing about Satan or something, but they’re a little bit more mysterious and otherworldly. That’s what drew me to them, and then I went online to take a look and it was a little shocking, like, Oh no—They’re wearing makeup! Why?!? But the more I got into it, the more I understood that it’s theatrics. And Landmine Marathon: They’ve got this girl-next-door singer who looks like she works at IHOP, and then she picks up a mike and goes insane.

TONY: There will also be a car show at Orion, with samples from your own collection on display. Any apprehension about showcasing your prized possessions?
James Hetfield: No, I’m proud of them, and I’d love for people to see them. “Prized possessions”! I mean, nothing’s really a prized possession except my family, you know? [The cars] are just metal and grease. But it’s art! People who drive to the show are also bringing their prized possessions. We’ve got some full-on dragsters that are spitting nitro every hour, lighting up the sky and burning people’s eyes with nitrous oxide. It’s going to be fun.

TONY: As a father, did you try to make Orion family-friendly?
James Hetfield: I don’t know.… My kids’ll be there! Who knows how much they’ll enjoy it? Adele and Skrillex aren’t there, so…

TONY: Do you share any of your kids’ musical passions?
James Hetfield: I listen to what they listen to, just because I love seeing their faces and eyes and hearts light up with music. The funniest thing is when they’re singing along to a song at the dinner table a cappella, and all of a sudden it will be [about] some booty call. It’s like, Do you even know what you’re saying?

TONY: Do you ever have to censor anything?
James Hetfield: No, they censor me. Something will slip out, and they’ll put an end to it.

TONY: In many ways, Metallica has transitioned out of the metal realm over the last 20 years. Do you still feel at home in that world?
James Hetfield: I don’t feel at home anywhere, I’m telling you! [Laughs] I’m always feeling like I don’t belong no matter where I am. So I’m just searching for a family nonstop, and sometimes I find it in the mosh pit, sometimes I find it when I’m doing some French TV show with the president’s wife. Metallica is a wonderful key to have on my key ring. I can go anywhere—it’s great. Otherwise, I’d be sitting at home getting in trouble.

TONY: You’re playing the Black Album in full on Sunday. Is there a part of you that ever gets tired of having to play “Enter Sandman” for the millionth time?
James Hetfield: We’re pretty proud of that song. At the end of the day, if “Enter Sandman” is our “Paranoid,” [by Black Sabbath], that’s great. I got turned on to certain bands because of that. I kept hearing about this “Purple Haze”—“ ‘Purple Haze,’ what is that?” My brother put it on for me, and it was like, “Whoa, Jimi Hendrix is amazing!” So certain songs could be a gateway drug to people’s involvement in your passion.

TONY: Where do you stand with Lulu, the collaboration Metallica did last year with Lou Reed?
James Hetfield: I haven’t heard it in a while. There are a couple songs, obviously, that are my favorites on there and some that aren’t. It was a really great adventure for us. We learned a lot from it, and those are the times when you don’t know how much [these experiences] are going to influence your life or your outlook on the next record. We learned a little bit about how to record quickly and still get a good sound, and just getting close to Lou and seeing how he works was very interesting. So you take a piece of that and you ingest it, and it comes out Metallica. Who knows how or when or where? Like, St. Anger had to happen so Death Magnetic could happen. It’s all tied together.

TONY: In the midst of the Lulu project, you also did the Big 4 shows with Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax—which was a totally different experience, I’m sure.
James Hetfield: Our 30th-anniversary shows last year got us very nostalgic and [made us feel] very grateful. All four of those bands are still alive, and we’re all still making records—that’s unbelievable! You can’t really say that about many other genres of music—bands that haven’t turned into Holiday Inn nostalgia acts, but are out playing gigs and writing some of the best stuff they’ve ever written.

Metallica’s Orion Music and More fest takes place on June 23 and 24, 2012 at Atlantic City’s Bader Field.

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