“James said: ‘You guys are ballsy as hell!’” Alien Ant Farm frontman Dryden Mitchell reveals the surreal moment Metallica’s James Hetfield took him and his parents to dinner

A screenshot of Alien Ant Farm's Smooth Criminal cover, and James Hetfield onstage with Metallica in 2023
(Image credit: Alien Ant Farm via Youtube | Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Alien Ant Farm frontman Dryden Mitchell has revealed that Metallica singer/guitarist James Hetfield once took the vocalist and his parents out to dinner.

Mitchell told the story in a new interview with NME, remembering when Alien Ant Farm supported the heavy metal icons on tour and were expected to perform their famous 2001 cover of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal.

“We opened for [Metallica] in Germany and, instead of Smooth Criminal, we played Sade’s Smooth Operator in front of a metal crowd – and we got away with it!” said the vocalist.

“James said: ‘You guys are ballsy as hell! I can’t believe you did that and the crowd liked it!’

“Anyway, I left him a CD of ours and I put my number inside.

“Months later, he texted me asking: ‘Would you like to come to dinner tonight?’ My parents were visiting so I had to turn him down!

“Moments later, he hit me back saying: ‘That’s pretty cool that you turned me down for your parents’, and invited them along too.”

In the same interview, Mitchell also revealed the reaction that Michael Jackson had upon seeing the music video for Alien Ant Farm’s Smooth Criminal cover.

“[Jackson] said he loved it but he didn’t like the boy wearing the mask, probably because Michael wore the mask after botched surgeries.

“We were all freaking out because we didn’t want to offend him. There was a little bit of poking fun in the video, but we truly are fans.

“The director had to reshoot the boy dancing without the mask, but after that, Michael decided: ‘You know what? I like it better with the mask.’ I couldn’t believe we were actually in correspondence with the guy!”

Alien Ant Farm’s Smooth Criminal version, from their Anthology album, remains the band’s biggest hit, having reached the top of the US alternative charts and number three on the UK charts.

The single has been certified two times Platinum by the ARIA.

Alien Ant Farm released Mantras, their first studio album in nine years, on April 26.

Metal Hammer journalist Dannii Leivers gave the album a 7/10 review upon release.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.