The Soundtrack Of My Life: Lars Ulrich

Lars Ulrich
(Image credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

"Everybody has heard me talk to death about the Motörheads and the Diamond Heads and the Iron Maidens of this world,” says the voluble drummer with Metallica, “but I do have a fairly large appreciation for many music genres.” 

Born on December 26, 1963 in Gentofte, Denmark, and resident in California since the age of 13, Lars Ulrich co-founded Metallica in 1981, with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal as the template. 

While his music tastes extend to jazz, Oasis, Rage Against The Machine and Simon & Garfunkel, his first love, Deep Purple, remains close to his heart.


The first music I remember hearing

When I was growing up, my dad would play a lot of jazz music – Coltrane, Miles, Dexter Gordon, Ornette Coleman – and some rock: Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, The Doors. The music you would hear on Danish radio was basically what was coming out of England at the time, so in the early seventies a lot of glam stuff.

The first song I performed live

It was a song called Hit The Lights, with a band called Metallica, in 1982 at Radio City in Anaheim, California. This is the only band I’ve ever been in, and the first song that James Hetfield and I ever wrote together was Hit The Lights.

The best record I've made

Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is the one I have the fewest issues with, and the one that still sounds the most representative of my current head space.

The worst record I've made

Lars Ulrich shocker – we haven’t made a bad record! But seriously, without pussying out, I don’t look at any of them as mistakes. Kill ’Em All [1983]sounds like a very long time ago, a lot of youthful energy on that one. But I’m very at ease with the past.

The best band I've ever seen

Motörhead, AC/DC, Rage Against The Machine, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy. I don’t know if one is better than the other, but I was fortunate enough to see all of them very early.

The singer

Bon Scott was the coolest singer ever – the vocal delivery, the tongue-in-cheek double entendres and the magnetic personality. Those early AC/DC records – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Let There Be Rock, Powerage, Highway To Hell – are just fucking timeless.

The guitar hero

Ritchie Blackmore. The first concert I ever went to was Deep Purple. I was nine years old, and I still can close my eyes and see him taking the black-and-white Stratocaster and playing it with his foot or grinding it against the PA speakers. That left an impression on me. I think he was the best guitar player of that generation, and for me the epitome of the guitar hero.

The songwriter

Noel Gallagher. The hardest thing in the world – trust me, we know this first-hand – is to write a simple song. And the shorter and simpler, the harder it is. Those great Oasis songs – Wonderwall, Live Forever, Supersonic – if you hear Noel do them by himself, just guitar and voice, it’s pretty incredible what those songs break down to when you’re that naked and that vulnerable.

The greatest album of all time

I’ll give you five in random order: Made In Japan [Deep Purple], Lightning To The Nations [Diamond Head], No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith [Motörhead], Definitely Maybe [Oasis] and the first Rage Against The Machine album [self-titled]. Those are the timeless ones for me. I gravitate between them depending on what mood I’m in. I would say in the last year or so Rage Against The Machine speak more to me than any other band.

The anthem

Smoke On The Water. I don’t know if I can say anything about that song that hasn’t been said already. But I can tell you it was a pretty cool experience for me around fifteen years ago when Ian Gillan did a show in San Francisco and I ended up playing Smoke On The Water with him. That was pretty fucking surreal for a guy who grew up in a room plastered with posters of Deep Purple.

The song that makes me cry

In the right mood, some of those timeless Simon & Garfunkel songs can definitely hit an emotional nerve: The Sound Of Silence, Scarborough Fair. Speaking of Paul Simon, his wife Edie Brickell, the first record she made, Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars, has one song, Air Of December, which definitely can get me a little on the misty-eyed side.

My Saturday night party song

Stereo MCs, Connected. That album is fucking genius. Every song just makes you want to bounce around and get your groove on.

My 'In the mood for love' song

I’ll give you this, but let’s leave it at what I give you. Let’s say that my wife and I have a special relationship with the first Montrose album [self-titled], okay? Make of that what you want. Fill in the blanks!

The song I want played at my funeral

Killing In The Name, Rage Against The Machine. ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!’ But I don’t know if that’s a song I feel defines my life. I could go with Oasis, Supersonic, or Diamond Head, Am I Evil?. Or I guess Return Of The Vampire by Mercyful Fate. That’s an old classic that I played on when they re-recorded it around 1993, and maybe in some weird way Return Of The Vampire could be me in my afterlife coming back.

Metallica & The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra: S&M2 is out now via Blackened Recordings.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”