Lars Ulrich: "Hard rock hasn't done itself any favours"

Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich tells Classic Rock that the band has no fear about playing at Glastonbury despite ongoing protests over their appearance at the festival.

Ever since Metallica were announced as the headliners for the Saturday night at Glastonbury, June 28, there has been a backlash from fans and disparaging comments from bands such as Mogwai, Arctic Monkeys and Bombay Bicycle Club.

But Ulrich says that the negative reaction has no impact on his band. Following Friday’s widely-viewed video interview, the drummer has talked to us in more depth about the reaction.

“To be totally honest,” he says, “I don’t know how serious I can take all of it. I don’t sit glued to the iPad following whoever is the next person who has an opinion about Metallica. I know that almost on a daily basis there is some musician somewhere who gets asked what he thinks about Glastonbury and Metallica, and I find the good in that – that after more than thirty years, we can still get talked about. I guess it’s fun that you can still make some waves, without doing anything other than saying yes to an invitation to a festival. So, happy days!”

Ulrich says that for Metallica, playing at Glastonbury will be a proud moment in the band’s history.

“First of all, it’s the one festival that’s eluded us over the years, so it’s nice that they have decided to finally invite us. And, you know, it’s not exactly like it’s our first dance on this particular floor. There are, I think, sixteen European festivals that are similarly to Glastonbury – festivals that sell out the day the tickets go on sale, six months before any bands are even attached to play. That’s a festival environment that we’ve been playing in for years, all over Europe. So, you know, this is not a new concept (laughs). This is just the first time that this is happening in England for us.”

Ulrich appreciates that there is a difference between the various festivals in the UK – the metal-centric events such as Download and Sonisphere, and the more wide-ranging events including Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds.

“I think you can argue that Leeds and Reading has moved itself in the kind of direction Glastonbury has,” he says. “There’s a wider spread of bands, more for indie cool indie kids than harder rock guys, more eclectic and so on. I understand the history and I understand that Glastonbury has its own special flavour – and I more than most people understand that it’s not Donington! But I feel great about playing Glastonbury. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

He laughs off the suggestion that Metallica would be nervous about playing to a potentially hostile audience, where genuine Metallica fans will be in the minority.

“I think we thrive in those situations where get a chance to go out and show ourselves to people who may not be super-familiar with us,” he says. “When that happens, people have a tendency to walk away with a smile on their faces – including the band members. So I’m not nervous, no. I’m looking forward to it and I think it’s going to be good.”

Asked whether the animosity towards Metallica – ostensibly a protest over frontman James Hetfield’s passion for bear hunting – is evidence of cultural snobbery against heavy metal, Ulrich is amused.

“Oh, there’s no snobbery in England!” he says. “What are you talking about? There is, in England, a higher level of pigeonholing – a need for putting bands into categories. The British press has obviously done a fine job for many years of putting people into neat little brackets and all that stuff. You guys have also been leading the charge for fine, challenging writing, and we all love you for that. But in the wake of that comes the kind of music culture that constantly has to feed itself – things get built up, then there’s a backlash. One moment these people are in and the next, they’re out. I think we generally have had a pretty good ride, but obviously when you have been going 30-plus years, you’re going to have ups and downs.

“Obviously, hard rock hasn’t exactly done itself any favours over the last couple of decades, in terms of the clichés that have sometimes been embraced and promoted – sexism and sword-and-sorcery and other kinds of nonsense. But it’s not like Metallica are going to come riding into Glastonbury on dragons with swords brandished – leaving behind a trail of churches that have been burned down. We just sort of do what we do, and it thrives in festival settings.”

In fact, Ulrich plans to stay at Glastonbury for the full three days with his fiancée, model Jessica Miller. He knows what other bands he wants to see, and knows that he should be prepared for the infamous Glastonbury mud.

“Me and my girl Jess are going to stay there the whole weekend,” he says. “We’re going to partake in the festivities. We’ve ordered wellies and all the rest of it. And we’ll be there checking out everybody from Dolly Parton to The Horrors to Kasabian to The Black Keys.”

All that remains to be decided is how Metallica should open their set. Classic Rock suggests that they should stick two fingers up to the haters. They could do a song by Ted Nugent – the most famous animal hunter in rock’n’roll. Or perhaps they should begin with a song they have played live many times – the Anti-Nowhere League’s defiantly non-PC punk rock anthem So What!

“Well,” Ulrich laughs, “the Anti-Nowhere League are playing with us at Sonisphere the following Sunday, so maybe we could invite them up to Glastonbury and have them come out from behind a curtain instead of us. There are so many different ways it could go. In 1996, when we were playing an MTV Awards show in London, we got a wild hair up our ass and came out and played So What! and (The Misfits’) Last Caress instead of some single from the Load album that we were supposed to play. So who knows what’s going to happen? But you know, So What! certainly has a very poetic ring to it, and it may very well work in this kind of setting!”

VIDEO: Lars lashes back at Glasto haters.

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!”