As a music journalist you get the chance to interview all kinds of interesting musicians. It's without question, one of the perks of the jobs. That said I wasn't prepared for what my friend at Warner Bros Records proposed a few weeks back. He asked me if I would be interested in interviewing Kirk Hammett
. I thought about it for a millisecond; if that. Being a 34 year old guy who grew up on a steady diet of Metallica
records, it was a chance to talk shop with one of my guitar heroes.
Many wrote Metallica
off in the early 2000's when they released the universally maligned St. Anger
but 2008's Death Magnetic
was a complete return to form. The lead-off single, "The Day That Never Comes
" had all of the familiar traits that made the band legends in the first place. The epic arrangement, James Hetfield
's unmistakable snarl, the shifting tempos, and Hammet
's speed-metal injected solos silenced the naysayers in one swift move. Death Magnetic
is the sound of a band coming full circle. The collection ranks up there with the rest of the group's most coveted releases.
I spoke with Hammett
last weekend before he hit the stage at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, PA. Since this was done for Ultimate-Guitar, I chose to focus the conversation on his career playing. We talked about his early influences, his musical position in the band, and which newer bands he's been listening to lately. So with much honor, I present the Ultimate-Guitar interview with Metallica
's Kirk Hammett
UG: First off, congrats on being voted into the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame! Metallica and Black Sabbath have to be the heaviest bands to ever get in there.
(laughter) Thanks man! Yeah, we just got the official word from them so we're still wrapping our heads around the idea. Who would have ever thought a band like us would be accepted like that? It's an honor either way.
Due to the nature of the site that this interview will be going to, I wanted to ask you more about guitar than anything else.
That sounds good to me. I love talking guitar.
Thinking back, which guitarists had the most impact on you when you first started playing? I know you have mentioned your love for UFO.
Yeah man, I really loved those UFO records! Michael Schenker had a big impression on me when I first started playing guitar. I was also struck by Jimi Hendrix at a young age. If I remember it correctly, I caught a documentary about Jimi when I was a kid and I was hooked. Something about his style just moved me. He's a guy I still listen to all the time. Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top was huge. Oh man, I still remember when Van Halen's debut album hit stores. That was life changing!
We all know Eddie Van Halen as this guitar god or whatever but I guess for some of our younger readers they might not really be aware how radical his playing was for the time.
|"I was also struck by Jimi Hendrix at a young age."|
When you first heard Eddie's performances you knew things had changed. There was nothing like it dude. All of a sudden you knew you had to step your game up. A few other guitarists that I worshipped back then were Robin Trower and Pat Travers. Your readers should check them out if they haven't already. These guys are the ones that helped shape the way I play.
Were you one of those players who would sit in their room and run through scales for hours on end or did learn more from playing along to records?
Without question, I would say the latter. I would throw an album on and learn the solo little by little till I nailed it.
This was obviously before the internet and tablatures being so readily available so it must have been a great way to train your ears.
I think it was. I would figure out what key the song was in and then just solo over the whole damn thing (laughter)! It made me comfortable enough to play along with the tempos and everything else. But I definitely would break the solo parts down and learn them. That was the way I really got started.
You played in Exodus before you joined Metallica. Was there a big stylistic/technique shift for you when you first entered the picture? Metallica were still playing more in the Motrhead school of things and not as technical as you guys went on to be but I wondered if there was some level of adjustment on your part.
Oh yeah, for sure. I realized I had to step up my rhythm playing right away. Even then Metallica was trying to get tighter and play more accurately. James was already a monster rhythm player at that point. I had to work hard to keep up with him in that sense. It was the summer of 1983 that I recall James just getting so fucking good at the rhythm stuff. I got better around 1984 and started going in a modal direction. But yeah, James always had a real knack for the rhythmic kind of stuff.
Anyone who has seen A Year And A Half In The Life of Metallica and Classic Albums: The Black Album knows how hard producer Bob Rock worked you when you were tracking your solos. I've always wondered what it was like working with Flemming Rasmussen.
It was night and day man. Flemming was more concerned with tuning and pitch. He was a perfectionist about that. Precision was also something he would focus on more than any other producer I've had a chance to record with yet. We would play parts over and over until it got to a point he was happy with in terms of the precision.
How about your solos?
What I would do on those albums was double track my solos note for fucking note! It was really difficult at times. All I wanted to get back then was a fuller sound so that is the way we went about reaching that. It's not till I started doing the self-titled album with Bob that I stopped doing that. Bob was more into a greasier, looser guitar tone and playing style. It was perfect for me because at the time I was listening to a lot of blues. I learned a lot from those sessions.
Since the band broke in the mid 80's, how much time do you find yourself playing on your own time when you're not on tour or in the studio?
I'm not sure if a lot of people know but I took guitar lessons from Joe Satriani in the early 80's. That was really helpful. But most of the stuff I've picked up over the years has been by learning from listening to other players. In the 90's I did take lessons again. That time it was with a great jazz player from the Bay Area named Scott Foster. This guy is insanely good! He would sit there and transcribe John Coltrane which is crazy.
I'm sure between your family and all of the band commitments it has to be hard to find time to set aside for lessons.
That's so true. If I could just find some time down the line I would love to take classical lessons but that won't be for awhile the way things are going. With little kids running around the house it seems like I won't be getting the chance any time soon.
Do your kids take lessons?
|"I'm not sure if a lot of people know but I took guitar lessons from Joe Satriani in the early 80's."|
No, way too young for now but I will try and get them into it down the line. My newest was just born over the summer. My other son is still too young but we'll see what happens.
I know our time here is short so I wanted to get this one of the way. Are they're any younger players and/or bands that have caught your attention? A lot of people must assume since you guys are so big that you probably don't check out newer groups.
Right. But yeah, I do actually look for stuff to listen to all the time. Let me think here
It doesn't have to necessarily have to be metal or anything.
In terms of newer, younger bands I love Trivium. They have great playing going on. Lamb of God are really good too. We're on tour with them and they kick ass. Robb Flynn from Machine Head is great. I love the way he plays guitar and writes too. We've toured with them too so that was fun. A friend of mine recently played me a band from the Bay Area I hadn't heard of before that I love at the moment. Damn, I can't think of their name!
Let's see here
Perish or something like that?
Oh! You mean All Shall Perish?
All Shall Perishyes! They blew me away dude! They have so much technique going on and it's so well done. These groups have so much ability these days. It's exciting to hear.
Finally, since this is for Ultimate-Guitar and many of our readers come here to check out guitar tablatures I wanted to see if you have ever looked at one of Metallica's and spotted glaring mistakes.
I've checked a few out in the past but not too many so I don't really remember how accurate they really were. You never know with those things. It depends on who the person transcribing them is. But no, I really haven't looked at too many Metallica ones.
I guess you don't really need to. (laughter)
(Laughter) Yes, exactly. I think it's great that a site like Ultimate-Guitar exists though. But yeah, I know the songs at this point (laughter). I just wish I had the tabs for other bands so available when I was a kid. That would have definitely been helpful at times.
Thanks for talking with us today! I know you don't really do too much online press so it means a lot to our community.
Hey man, it was my pleasure! Thanks for taking time out to chat guitars with me.
Interview by Carlos Ramirez