In 1980 Lars Ulrich had two things: a makeshift drum-kit and a dream. A NWOBHM loving Dane living in Los Angeles, the young Ulrich was already formulating a plan for his future in music when he started putting out ads for like-minded musicians to join him and jam.
“Lars was already a pretty interesting guy when I first met him," says guitarist Lloyd Grant, who took Lars up on the offer to jam. "He knew exactly what he was looking to do, even though he was still living with his parents at that point. I was just trying to get into a good band, particularly one that would play around town.”
We caught up with Lloyd to talk the early 80s when Metallica were little more than a glint in a determined Dane's eye and just how he ended up playing guitar on the original version of Hit The Lights which closed 1982’s Metal Massacre compilation album – the very first song Metallica recorded.
What was Lars like when you first met?
“When I first met Lars, he didn’t have a full drum-set. He’d got this made-up kit while he waited for a full set to come from Denmark or whatever, so it was pretty funny playing with him at first, even if he still sounded pretty good. I’d go over and we’d usually sit around listening to records before we played, with him making copies of anything I really liked. We’d go over it a bit, then next time we’d try to play the songs we’d heard.
Before Metallica became a band, Lars was still investing all of his time into eventually making music. He’d go to the record store a few times a week to see what new things were coming in from Europe, listening to them but also studying them. Even when he went on vacation to Europe, he ended up going to see bands – I couldn’t believe it, he was seeing the bands we both listened to."
How did playing together work at that point – was it just a jam, or were you in the process of putting a band together?
“There wasn’t a band at that point – Lars was just desperate to find people he could play with. We were just two guys both looking for like-minded people, not just someone who could play but someone you’d get along with enough to move in together.”
And what kind of music were you making at that point?
“Well, I was into playing heavy metal, you know? I was into the stuff coming out of England – Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, those types of bands. Lars introduced me to bands like Scorpions, Michael Schenker and UFO though, broadening the kinds of things we were referencing.”
At what point did the concept of Metallica as a band start to form?
“I’m not actually sure – Metallica kind of formed on the side while Lars and I were playing together, so I didn’t really interact too much with the other guys. We would be jamming in Lars’ apartment, but he was still looking for people to play with and so when I wasn’t there he was finding other people to play with too.
He met tonnes of people and would play with them in either the rehearsal studio or his place, but it got to a point with me where we’d not just be jamming but actively trying to write songs. It didn’t happen often – maybe once a week – but I do remember he brought a guy into the practice once and it was James Hetfield. They’d got a tape and it was an early instrumental version of Hit The Lights, but at that point there still wasn’t a name for the band.”
And what did you think of the song, compared to the stuff that was around at the time?
“I liked it – I wish we’d written it! It was probably a bit faster than I was trying to write at the time, but it was right up my alley. I didn’t know just how big it was gonna be so at the time it was just a cool song, but looking back it was so exciting.”
Was there a particular point you stopped playing together?
“I think we stopped playing around the time he started getting together regularly with James and Ron McGovney. By the time he’d got the full band together we weren’t playing any more, but I do remember he still approached me when it was just Lars, James and Ron to go and play with them.
I went over and we went through it a couple times, which was really awesome. After that I got another call, this time to come and record Hit The Lights, put down a guitar solo because they were trying to get the song onto the compilation Metal Massacre. They literally turned a recorder on and just got me doing a solo; if I’d known just how much interest it was going to create I’d have spent way more time on it!”
Did anybody get in touch with you after that to join their bands?
“Once Metallica really started to get popular and make a name for themselves I think it became known I was on that demo so I’d get offers, but before that no. Nobody was interested in the speed/thrash metal thing at the time it was first released, so it took a while to really connect. I mean, there were all kinds of bands on that compilation – including Ratt.”
Did you ever get an offer to join Metallica?
“No; they didn’t need to, because by then they already had Dave Mustaine. Even when he left, they’d got Kirk Hammet in the wings, so they’ve always had someone great waiting.”
What came next for you?
“I wanted to be a musician, become a full-time player, but I couldn’t do that. I lived alone and needed a job to pay the bills, so it just never happened for me. At that point it felt like you could be in a band on a morning, they’d break up before noon and you’d got another one that evening.
Three, four people in a band wanting to do different things and then falling out over it… I just couldn’t put all of myself in that when I was working, trying to keep a roof over my head and keep my car on the road.”
Did you keep in touch with Lars?
“I did, right up to the Black Album. After that I’d just get offers for shows whenever they were in town, or to come out to things like the anniversary event. We’re not in regular contact, but its always great to get invites to those things when they happen.”
How does it feel to be a part of the story of metal’s biggest band?
“It feels super important, my name appearing in the same breath as the story of Metallica. It’s pretty interesting, but obviously at the time we couldn’t predict the future so nobody knew what was going to happen!”