It's been seven years since Metallica first head banged into South Africa, headlining for the now-defunct My Coke Fest, and it's most probably been seven years too long for their die-hard fans. We were lucky enough to attend round one at the Belville Velodrome on Wednesday night, 24 April 2013, and were even luckier to meet and interview bassist Robert Trujillo a mere hour before their performance.
Nestled in one of the back rooms at the 'Drome and sitting against a black velvet-draped wall (so metal), a friendly and extremely down to earth Trujillo chatted to us about the tour, new album plans and band dynamics.
There are people out there who feel that Metallica are the greatest band in the world. Do you feel like you play for the greatest band in the world?
Um yeah, I feel like that. I don't like to look at things that way much 'cause my whole thing is to keep your feet on the ground and go with the flow, and what our existence is and stay humble. But that is a very, very nice thing for them to think. I understand why they would think that. We're a special band and the reason for that is because we're very involved. I appreciate that, I like that. I get shy about that, I'm kinda like: Aah, God no, it makes me feel uncomfortable. Haha.
Being in Metallica is incredible, 'cause they're my heroes, you know. We're a team; we're a family so I feel blessed to be a part of this team.
Any surprises lined up for tonight's performance?
Well the last time we were here, I'm not sure it might have been six years ago or longer, and I feel that we are now a better band and we have a stronger more adept repertoire of songs. We have Death Magnetic, which wasn't out when we were here last time, we were still writing it. It's been a huge success for us these last few years so we get to play a couple of those songs, some new music that we didn't play last time and we're playing two nights, so we can mix it up a bit. The venue is a little bit tighter and indoors, which is also different from last time. So there are a lot of factors that make it exciting for us.
Many bands, when doing their World Tour, bypass Africa completely. Why the decision to come to play here?
Well we always try to get to places where we know we have a strong fan base and it is difficult to get here, it is sorta off the beaten path. The population here is so diverse you may just have a small legion of metal fans, you know what I mean. So to have the fans really want us that bad makes the desire to come here to play all that much stronger. But its involved 'cause our production is big, it's expensive you know. It's not easy, but we're here and we're going to have a great time and hopefully we will be back again.
In a 2012 interview with the band in Rolling Stone you were quoted as feeling like the newbie of the band even though you had been with Metallica for many years. Do you still feel like this now, even though it's 10 years later?
You know you always feel new, 'cause the band has been around for 30 years and I have only been around for 10. The great thing is that since the last time I was here we have made an album together, so creatively there is much more of a connection for me - especially with Lars and James and being part of the writing it's been really, really cool. There is a lot of trust now, I've been able to do some things with and through the band and on my own. So that right there was a sign of trust. And, like I said, I feel we're a better band and I feel partly responsible for that, you know. There are certain things I do for the other guys, like I've kinda adopted the role where I pick up the slack, when I would think they didn't want to deal with certain things, like I would deal with it. So everything seems to be firing on all cylinders. There is more of an understanding and creative responsibilities. It's a fun time to be in Metallica.
More than 30 years is a long, long time for a band to be around. What do you think are the factors that drive you to keep making music and to keep touring?
One of the factors is that there is always attention to detail and it's almost an addiction with Metallica, which is standard and there is this level of I don't want to say perfection,' cause nothing is perfect, but you know in song writing James may have five like words for one word. It's not okay just to throw some words together, there is a lot of thought that goes into what he's bringing. Lars is obsessive about the arrangement. There is a lot that goes into a Metallica song and I think the end result is always, most of the time, something quite special. That's what our fans feed off, we're refuelling them with the art we have as songwriters and also the stage shows as much as possible; we really try to give 100%. Then there is the physical factor where we need to train; our instructors take care of us so we don't pull a muscle or break a leg or anything like that. So, as we get older there are more things that keep us in tune with our performance. Everybody's commitment to the band is crucial 'cause we have a great team.
Do you have any choice in the support bands?
Our choice is to have local bands and the promoters need to find the best local bands possible wherever we're playing. And I know tonight we have a special local band [Van Coke Kartel] so I'm excited, hopefully we catch a couple of songs, it's not always easy, there is a whole routine that goes into our productions, but that's what makes us have a special show so, hopefully, we can go and see them.
Can we expect a new album from Metallica anytime soon?
Well we are working on new songs. There is a process of elimination and that's when we are going to take all the ideas, and we listen through and some don't make the grade, and most of the stuff you jam on and try a few different ways and revisit them maybe eight months down the line. So there is an extensive process of elimination before you get to actually writing that song. But I can say that the ideas that I have been hearing and have been a part of, to me are very, very exciting and I see us making a great album. I feel in my heart that we are going to do something special. Beyond this I have no idea what is going to happen 'cause, right now, it feels great and we are gonna do that, but the next album - we'll see.
You know what it's kinda like, you're looking at a mountain, a huge beast of a mountain that you gotta climb and you're trying to psyche yourself up for that. What route are we gonna take? How are we gonna do this? And you get to the point where you're like: Oh man, well let's start. So we are climbing, but we still have a long way to go, so hopefully in two years or less we'll have a great album for you. We will, but we are still climbing the mountain.
You going to have any time to do some sightseeing while you're here?
Surfing, only surfing. We went to, what's that place called? Llandudno, and we'll probably go there again.
Favourite venue? You've played everywhere, but where's your favourite?
You know every venue that we play has to be my favourite 'cause I want to feel connected and make it a special experience.
You have achieved so much as band. What's next? Where do you see yourself years on from now?
The interesting thing is that we have a 3D movie coming out very soon and that in itself has been an experience and a challenge. I believe it's going to be great. I've seen a recent cut and we have a lot of work to do - we're not finished, but we're getting close and I feel that the end result will be special. Now what this will do for us or where this will take us is unknown, you know, but I have a good feeling about it. I also feel that those are the experiences and challenges that make Metallica great and special and keep people interested. We did our 30-year anniversary shows just over a year ago at the legendary Fillmore Theatre in San Francisco - you know where Janis Joplin played and The Grateful Dead and all those special bands. But the thing about that is that we flew in artists from all over the world. So let's bring in Mercyful Fate, let's fly in Ozzy Osbourne, let's bring in Rob Halford lead singer of Judas Priest. There was this long list of people to bring in, that's a commitment, to fly them in, rehearse with them, learn their songs and get on stage with them. What band does that? I don't know of any band that does that, but those are the type of things we do - we challenge ourselves. Sometimes it's a glorious experience and sometimes it maybe doesn't work out. But those chances that we take are what make Metallica a special band.
Metallica will be playing at the Soccer City Complex, FNB Stadium in Joburg this Saturday, 27 April, 2013.