Les Claypool reflects on Metallica audition: "I didn't fit and they saw that"

Primus' Les Claypool
(Image credit: Jim Bennett/Getty Images)

Primus frontman Les Claypool has reflected on his audition to become Metallica's new bass player following the tragic passing of Cliff Burton in 1986.

During a conversation with Goldmine to discuss Primus's current Rush tribute tour and upcoming new EP Conspiranoid, Claypool is questioned on whether he thinks being rejected by Metallica for the role was ultimately a blessing in disguise, considering that he then went on to play on projects more suited to his playing style and taste.

"At the time I didn't think that," Claypool admits. "I thought that I would be able to quit my carpentry job and head to Japan [for Metallica's first Japanese tour]."

"But there's a reason why they didn't pick me. I didn't fit and they saw that. I had my own thing going and it was a wise move on their part. And even when it came up again [following Jason Newsted's departure], they knew that I wasn't the right guy for it and they got the perfect person.

"Robert [Trujillo] is one of the nicest humans that I have ever met in the music industry, and he's a monster bass player."

Last year, Claypool was asked by Kerrang! whether the rumours were true that when he auditioned, Metallica frontman James Hetfield rejected him on the basis of the bassist being too talented for the role, stating "Man, you're much too talented. Go do something wonderfully weird on your own."

In response, the bassist said, "He definitely did not say that. He said that later on in an interview, which was very kind of him. I think they thought I was a freak. They were very nice — Lars [Ulrich, drums] was particularly kind — and, of course, I knew Kirk [Hammett, guitar] from high school.

"But I think that James thought I was some sort of thug. Put it this way, I definitely didn't look the part."

Claypool reportedly "wasn't really into metal at the time", but wanted to become Metallica's new bassist because "I just knew that it was my buddy Kirk [Hammett's] band and that they were doing really well.

"It wasn't until the audition that I got a sense of what was really going on. It was a bit of a heavy thing, the audition, and I didn't realise until I got there that it was kind of a big deal," he continued.

"Afterwards I fantasised about quitting my carpentry job and touring Japan with them, but I didn't get the gig."

As for what Metallica would have sounded like with the funk-infused style of Claypool's, he imagines "Well, however it would have sounded, I would have only lasted for a month or two before they kicked me out. They've got enough chefs in the kitchen in that band — they don't need a guy like me."

In the end, Metallica offered the position to Jason Newsted, who stayed in the lineup until 2001, to be followed by current bassist Robert Trujillo, who joined in 2003.

Primus' new EP Conspiranoid is coming in August.

Liz Scarlett

Liz works on keeping the Louder sites up to date with the latest news from the world of rock and metal. Prior to joining Louder as a full time staff writer, she completed a Diploma with the National Council for the Training of Journalists and received a First Class Honours Degree in Popular Music Journalism. She enjoys writing about anything from neo-glam rock to stoner, doom and progressive metal, and loves celebrating women in music.