Lars Ulrich Keeps a Polite Beat

Lars Ulrich in "Metallica Through the Never," courtesy of Picturehouse
Lars Ulrich in "Metallica Through the Never," courtesy of Picturehouse

In 1980, a young Lars Ulrich moved from Denmark to California to further his tennis instruction. Music was already a bigger passion than sport, however, and by 1981 he placed an ad in a Los Angeles newspaper seeking other musicians to form a band with him. Metallica was born and would go on to define American metal for a generation.

The band’s trashing style – and the intense adulation heaped on the band by their fans – is on full display in their new movie, “Metallica: Through the Never” which combines documenting a particularly theatrical live concert (with all the pyrotechnics and coffin-shaped lighting rigs you can imagine) with a fictional sub-plot about a roadie on a mission for the band in the face of violent, supernatural odds.

Lars Ulrich has always been distinctive – from his intense drumming style to his outspoken public comments on the state of the music industry – and we thought he might be able to answer some of your more… rocking etiquette questions.


Rico Gagliano: Back in 1981, he put an ad in an local newspaper seeking musicians to play some heavy metal with, and they went on to form Metallica. They are considered one of the progenitors of thrash metal. Their self-titled 1991 album went platinum times 16-

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s amazing.

Rico Gagliano: And remains the best-selling record of the modern rock chart era. They are still one of the biggest draws on the international concert circuit, and speaking of which, their new concert/narrative film “Through the Never” is on 3-D IMAX screens now. Why are you laughing?

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s an embarrassment Lars?

Lars Ulrich: That’s a big word, that’s not one we hear often in rock ‘n’ roll.

Rico Gagliano: Which one?

Lars Ulrich: Pro- whatever that was.

Rico Gagliano: Progenitors.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re on public radio now man.

Lars Ulrich: I know I am, I’m sitting here trying to Google that as we’re speaking.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s a good thing.

Rico Gagliano: You’re gonna do fine.  We had a great time at this movie. It’s huge, and it’s loud and it’s strange, and it kind of made me feel like a teenage metal fan again.

Lars Ulrich: Well, thank you.

Rico Gagliano: Which leads us to ask the first question. What concert movies sort of stoked you as a young rock fan? What got you excited?

Lars Ulrich: Obviously at some point “The Song Remains the Same” shows up on your radar.

Rico Gagliano: Led Zeppelin.

Lars Ulrich: Led Zeppelin.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Of course.

Lars Ulrich: Growing up in Denmark, there wasn’t really a lot of concert films in my youth. When I came to America when I was 17, I became aware of the phenomena of “The Song Remains the Same,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” you know, some of those types of things that were doing the midnight showings in all the suburban movie theaters at the time.

“Gimme Shelter,” the Rolling Stones is probably the one that I’ve seen the most, but even “Purple Rain,” The Clash’s “Rude Boy,” I mean there’s a lot of things over the years that have tried to take the format to different places that have moved me, absolutely.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I was gonna say, the concert portions of this film are shot from your point of view.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, the cameras kind of roam around on stage with you.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And it like gives this sense of just how intensely physical the type of metal you play is. You’re just like dripping with sweat, and it actually made me hurt a little bit watching it.

Lars Ulrich: Try playing it, yeah.

Rico Gagliano: Exactly.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well I was gonna say, how do you maintain that energy?

Lars Ulrich: At 50.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, how do you maintain that energy over the course of a tour and at your age?

Lars Ulrich: Well, the secret is that at some point you wake up and start treating the physicality of it with a little more respect than you do obviously when you’re in your 20′s or your 30′s. You have no choice. And we just have two guys that travel with us that are sort of full-time stretchers and massagers and sort of stitch us back together after each show.

Rico Gagliano: Really, like a sports doctor kind of?

Lars Ulrich: I was just gonna say unfortunately there’s a little bit of sports buried underneath all this. You have to eat right, sleep right, the late nights are probably not as late as they used to be.

Rico Gagliano: You’re destroying our fantasy, man.

Lars Ulrich: Listen.

Brendan Francis Newnam: This sounds more public radio than metal.

Lars Ulrich: There you go, all those big words from before, they fit right in now. I work out religiously every day and eat a pretty – I’d say – boring diet, and backstage there’s lots of strange protein drinks and odd-colored vegetables.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, like chia seeds on your rider now and stuff.

Lars Ulrich: Yeah, it’s really pathetic.

Rico Gagliano: No more animal blood, no more-

Lars Ulrich: Yeah, all those stories, I’m sorry.

Rico Gagliano: I think this leads well to this question. You’re kind of known as standard bearers of that kind of intense metal.

Lars Ulrich: God help us all.

Rico Gagliano: We want to know-

Brendan Francis Newnam: Is that the name of your next album?

Lars Ulrich: It is now.

Rico Gagliano: We should note that you’re eating right now, part of your diet. You’re eating some scrambled eggs right now.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s right.

Lars Ulrich: And please note, those are egg whites.

Rico Gagliano: Oh my gosh. Pure protein.

Brendan Francis Newnam: He wasn’t kidding folks.

Rico Gagliano: So here’s the question. What is hiding in your iPod that would surprise people? Like, we’re looking for Yanni-level surprise here.

Brendan Francis Newnam: What do you listen to when you go to bed after a concert at 9:15, post-cocoa?

Lars Ulrich: I really don’t listen to music other than in the car. Usually my iPod mercilessly gets unplugged by one of the kids, and they put their iPhones in, and then I’m listening to whatever they want to listen to. Thankfully, since I reared them on fairly steady doses of AC/DC to Deep Purple to Guns and Roses when they were kids, they’re now listening to stuff like the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age and the Arctic Monkeys and so on, which is pretty cool.

Rico Gagliano: It’s not One Direction.

Lars Ulrich: It’s not One Direction, no. In the deeper, darker corners of my iPod, I’ve got a lot of jazz. I grew up in a jazz household. Even the occasional Sade, if you must know.

Rico Gagliano: Wow.

Brendan Francis Newnam: There we go.

Rico Gagliano: There’s the mother lode.

Lars Ulrich: There you go. And if you really must know, we don’t have many disco parties in the car, but if we have a disco party in the car, then the first thing that comes on is Bronski Beat.

Rico Gagliano: Oh wow.  The dance band from the 80′s, they were great.

Lars Ulrich: So there you go.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well you obviously know- it sounds like you’ve learned over the years how to behave, being a rock ‘n’ roller.

Rico Gagliano: Perhaps too well.

Lars Ulrich: Yeah, perhaps too well.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, so we have some questions-

Lars Ulrich: Eats egg whites.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Out of a red Solo cup.

Lars Ulrich: Yeah, it’s not even black, it’s red.

New t-shirt or old t-shirt, fans are just fans

Brendan Francis Newnam: But hey, we have some questions from our audience. Obviously you’re talking with your mouth full, so you know etiquette, and so we have questions from our audience. This one comes from Adrianne in Los Angeles, California. Adrianne writes, “Is it poor form to wear another band’s t-shirt to a concert? Related- Is it dorky to wear the t-shirt of the band you are watching?” So two good questions.

Lars Ulrich: That’s getting to the way next level here.

Rico Gagliano: Let’s break it down. The first, is it poor form to wear another band’s t-shirt to your concert?

Lars Ulrich: It is not.

Rico Gagliano: Okay.

Lars Ulrich: No, I- listen. You know, show up with clothing, with no clothing. I would say the fact that you show up is enough. We’re happy that you’re there to share with us. How was that for riding the fence?

Brendan Francis Newnam: No that was good. I think you answered both of her questions.

Rico Gagliano: Well, but let’s talk about the second part of the question for a second, because I think there is a general consensus that it is dorky to wear to a concert a t-shirt of the band that you are about to see.

Lars Ulrich: That has never- I’ve never associated- if I see somebody at a Metallica show with a Metallica shirt on, I’ve never associated the word dork with that.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I mean, those t-shirts keep him in egg whites.

Rico Gagliano: That is true.

Lars Ulrich: Maybe next year we can get real cups.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I will say being at a- I’ve been to Metallica concerts, and what happens with t-shirts is if you see an older one, that person is cooler. There’s some sort of hierarchy there.

Rico Gagliano: It commands respect.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You know, like older fans versus newer fans.

Rico Gagliano: Do you agree?

Lars Ulrich: I may not be the best person to ask.

Rico Gagliano: You can’t slander your fans.

Lars Ulrich: Exactly.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right. You don’t even wear shirts to your concerts sometimes, so what do you know?

Volume advice from a Rock God

Rico Gagliano: All right, here’s something from J.R. in Santa Monica, California. J.R. writes, “How do I tell my roommate to turn down the volume and still retain my manhood? We are all fans of rock and metal, but sometimes it’s just relentless.”

Lars Ulrich: Wow. I guess does the word headphones mean anything? I mean-

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, tell your roommate to wear headphones.

Lars Ulrich: Headphones.

Rico Gagliano: By the way, I should mention Lars, your movie is the loudest movie I have seen. This is the first press screening I have attended where they handed our earplugs at the door.

Lars Ulrich: Yeah, well we figured that if we’re gonna make a movie of this size and this scale, that you know, the one thing that always seems to fall slightly short in movies like this is the sound and feeling it, you know?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah.

Lars Ulrich: One of my first motion picture experiences, there was a movie that came out in like ’76 or ’77 called “Earthquake” in Sensurround. And so you were sitting there, the whole theater was shaking like it was a real earthquake, and of course what it was-

Rico Gagliano: It was a disaster movie.

Lars Ulrich: Exactly. And what it really was, was just, you know, they put in like four more subwoofers in this theater, but people went to feel the theater shake. I would say that you know, I may have thick skin over the- over 30 years of dealing, being at the receiving end of what we do, but I’m not one to embarrass easy, so I would knock on the door and I would say listen, why don’t you turn the music down slightly and put some headphones on.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You know what Lars? I think you solved their problem, because once J.R. tells his roommate that Lars Ulrich of Metallica said to turn down the music, I think that dude’s gonna turn down the music.

Rico Gagliano: That’s loud.

Brendan Francis Newnam: There you go J.R. Take that to the bank.

Lars Ulrich: Okay J.R.

Hey, down in front!

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, so I’ll tell you who this question comes from when we get to it, but the question is, or the statement is, “I’m vertically challenged. I often find myself at concerts where people are stoked about the music, and so they stand up, which means I can’t see. Advice?” On Tiptoes, in San Jose.

Lars Ulrich: That’s a good one. Body tackle? I don’t know.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s what I’m thinking. Body tackle or buy them drinks so they fall down. I don’t know.

Lars Ulrich: I can sympathize, I mean, I’m closer to 5’7″ than I am to 5’8″, so I’ve been in that particular situation often. I mean, I guess part of the experience of going to a rock show is that it’s supposed to be a collective experience rather than, “Can we make sure that each one of us has the perfect viewing corridor?” So I mean, you know what I’m saying.

On a serious note, when I was 12, 14, 16 years old going to shows and stuff like that, part of the reason I went to shows was because I wanted to belong to something that was bigger than myself. It wasn’t just necessarily about like, “I’ve gotta go and get the best seat in the house and make sure that it’s sort of like this perfect evening,” it’s “I’ve gotta go and understand that there are other people that feel like I do, that want to experience the same things that I do, and that I’m not alone in my world.”

You know what I mean? So maybe we could leave a little bit of the search for perfection at the door?

Rico Gagliano: Sure. So, On Tiptoes in San Jose, let them stand, and maybe the solution would be to you know, maybe crowd surf to get a better view.

Lars Ulrich: Yeah, I mean, you’re not going in for a spa treatment or something. I mean, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll show. Let loose a little, you know?

Rico Gagliano: Lars Ulrich of Metallica. Thank you so much for telling our audience how to behave.

Lars Ulrich: And thanks for having me, and I look forward to more shenanigans.