In the new IMAX documentary “Metallica: Through the Never,” the hybrid project combines a standard heavy metal concert movie with a narrative about a young roadie named Trip (Dane DeHaan) who is caught up in an intense riot outside the arena when he is sent on an important errand. While on tour promoting the film, Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo jumped on the phone with me to talk about the band financing “Through the Never” themselves and the new challenges they are choosing to confront 32 years after the original group formed.
Yeah, a lot of these guys are [dedicated]. Our guitar techs are amazing. We couldn’t have a better road crew than we have. They love the band and the music, but most importantly they love fixing the guitars or the amps or dialing in the sound or the pyrotechnics or the lighting. They’re very passionate. Trip is actually a “runner.” He’s a Metallica fan, but he also has to make a living. So, yeah, he’s sent off to run an errand and obviously encounters madness out there.
So, when you send a runner on an errand, what do you normally ask them to do?
Yeah, like, “Go pick up my dry cleaning!” or “Go get me this type of M&Ms!” (Laughs) I mean, usually at every gig I [ask for something], but I’m not the kind of guy that needs much. At every gig your runners are getting thrown out there to do stuff, but probably more for Lars [Ulrich] than for me.
Since the band self-financed the film, what did that give you guys in terms of creative freedom? Was it liberating not have a studio looking over your shoulder all the time?
Yeah, I mean, when you have outside investors you have to definitely worry about the creative side and collaborating with them. That can make things very difficult. There was a benefit in financing the film ourselves, but it’s also very risky. We’re doing the best we can in terms of press and promotion. It couldn’t be better. But it is a challenge to try and really get the message out. You work really hard to give people the opportunity to see your film. Hopefully, that will get us close to making some of the money back. At the end of the day, we’re so passionate and crazy about being creative, this is just an extension of one of those adventures – a wild ride we’re taking while waving the flag for creativity.
Metallica is definitely known for putting on an amazing show. There’s so much work that goes into a single concert. How much energy does it take night in, night out for you to keep that up? I mean, you’re 48 years old. Don’t you ever want to just go out on stage and sit on a stool and play a little acoustic instead?
Yeah, there are definitely times when I’m feeling in that mood. But that’s a different vibe for me. When I’m playing [Metallica] music, I need to be up there getting physical. The beauty of it is that we’re actually in the best shape of our lives. We’re listening to our bodies more. We train for the two-hour shows that we do. I’m a surfer, so I actively surf when I’m home. It’s hard to get me out of the water. My wife wants to kill me half the time because I’m always out there when the waves are pumping. Even when we’re on tour – in Australia or anywhere – Kirk [Hammett] and I are out there surfing. We’ve surfed in Peru and Costa Rica. We’re surfing more than we’re playing. We like to get physical and obviously we bring that energy to the stage.
Believe it or not, we actually have massage therapists who travel with us. That helps a lot if your neck is hurting. This morning, my back was out. It’s been like that for the last couple of shows we’ve done. You have to get a little help with that. But as long as we take care of our bodies and have people help us out in our old age, we can still go out there and kick ass. I mean, I saw Black Sabbath 10 days ago. I took my son. He’s nine years old. They’re still doing it. They were amazing. But at the same time, we have these massive stages and we’re really utilizing that space.
As you continue to create new music and your catalog continues to grow, does it get more challenging to find a good balance and keep the audience happy by playing what they expect, but also share the band’s most recent work with them?
Well, the one thing we do – and it’s for us so we don’t get bored with the shows – is change the set every night. Of course, you’re going to hear “Sandman” and “One” and “Nothing Else Matters,” but there’s a chunk of songs that we switch out. We’ve got between 60-75 songs we can choose from and plow through. One of the things that keeps it interesting for us is sometimes we will play an album from top to bottom like The Black Album or Master of Puppets. Some of those songs were never performed live. We’ve started to do that in recent years. Not many bands, as they get older, want to take on those kinds of challenges, but we try to keep things interesting. We made an album with [The Velvet Underground’s] Lou Reed a couple of years ago. Before that, it was Metallica playing with a symphony orchestra! We feel that helps our fan base accept us. I think there needs to be a balance between pissing your fans off and giving them more than what they want. It’s what keeps Metallica special and strong.
Is it still important to a band with a 32-year history to still create new Metallica fans or are you all comfortable with the legions of fans you already have carrying you to the end, whenever that may be?
We want new fans because we want our music to permeate to the masses. Our music is motivating. The lyrics are ambiguous so you can take what you want from it as long as it’s positive and it can heal. We’ve played shows in Scandinavia where we’d see 12-year-old kids out there embracing Metallica’s music. The other week we were at the Toronto Film Festival and there was a journalist there who was about 65 years old. She was in tears when she met Kirk and I and said she was so moved by our performance. She told us she is a Metallica fan now. It’s really great when you can recruit new fans. It doesn’t matter the age. All that matters is that the music speaks to you.