James Hetfield: Metal and Muscle Cars

Jun 4, 2013

We partnered with our friends at The Usual to create an Orion-specific magazine covering all angels of the Fest: the music, the lifestyle elements, the history and last but not least – the Detroit scene. Check out this excerpt from their interview with James Hetfield below, then either download a digital copy or track down your own copy this week at coffee shops, tattoo parlors and bars around Detroit!

By Arye Dworken

James Hetfield is a man’s man. Maybe it’s his towering presence, or the inadvertent bravado that comes with fronting the most popular and formidable metal band of all time. Or perhaps it’s his hobbies: guitar collecting, vintage cars, and hunting with one of the guns from his personal armory. Or it could be Hetfield’s distinctive growl— an amalgamation of anger, maniacal joy and impassioned realness. This is why every year millions of fans line up to see him take center stage and command an ocean-like crowd with ease. We talked to James—or “Papa Het” to some—about Metallica’s legacy, nurturing lesser-known acts, and of course, cars and guns.

James playing his white Flying V guitar | Photo by: Kevin Hodapp

Sometimes Metallica plays smaller venues to promote an album, other times you’re at the largest venues known to man, like those at a festival.

They all have their own charm. We try to connect with the audience regardless of how many people are out there. I mean, stadiums are a reality for us, but we want intimacy. Ideally, we love eye contact, and sweating on people, and it’s easier to do that in a smaller club, but we try to do it everywhere.

The Orion Festival must be a tremendous undertaking. Why would you want to get involved in that side of the business?

We’ve been playing other people’s festivals for so long now. We did two, maybe three Woodstocks, and plenty of festivals in Europe. They’re a rite of passage and they’re historical. We wanted to create something like that in the States where we’re not focused on one particular fanbase. We wanted to curate some bands that are doing great stuff, so that someone could step out of their listening comfort zone and hear something new.

How involved were you in the band curation?

There’s a natural pecking order in our band, no matter what we’re talking about. Some voices are louder than others. But it’s our festival, so we all had an opinion.

There are some newer bands on the roster like, Death Grips. What advice would you give to young artists with one or two albums out looking to make a career out of this?

You have to play from the heart, and it’s got to feel right to you. If you’re signed to a label and the label isn’t into it, then walk on. The times have changed though—we were lucky to hook up with labels back in the day when they respected the art. They didn’t get involved in artwork, in songs, in everything we did. They trusted us. But even today, and even then, you need to build up trust.

Why not put out music independently now that you have the fanbase?

We want to concentrate on touring. We don’t want to waste time on the business side. We want to play everywhere in the world and we’re only [now] getting into some countries that never otherwise allowed us in.

Who stands out from the festival line-up for you?

I’ve always been a Rocket From the Crypt fan and the fact that they’re back together is a very exciting thing for me, personally. Scream Dracula Scream is still one of the most solid rock records in my collection. The Deftones up on stage battling on after losing a key member. I like the Dropkick Murphys a lot.

There’s a Metallica Museum at the festival. What can you tell us about that?

We’re going to have gear from all the different eras, posters, artwork…stuff people never had access to look at before and see.

There’s also a custom car show at the festival. Where did your passion for cars come from? I read that you have three hundred cars at this point…?

Oh, no. Not that many. I do have 300 guitars though. I only have 30 cars…

I was going to say that three hundred cars doesn’t make much sense.

Having thirty cars is still too much. I can’t even imagine the anxiety of having to choose which car to drive out of three hundred of them.

Want to keep reading…?

Check out the full digital issue to find out James’s thoughts on Detroit, gun control, his advice for aspiring young metal heads and much more!