Exclusive Interview/Recap: Metallica’s Kirk Hammett at the “Obey Your Master” art opening
When eighteen-year-old Kirk Hammett was blasting UFO in his bedroom and dreaming about getting his band Exodus off the ground, he couldn't possibly have conceived that over 30 years later he'd be mingling at an art gallery filled with elaborate pieces inspired by music he helped create, record and perform as lead guitar player for a band whose influence now dominates all genres of heavy music.
"As a kid in Exodus, I just wanted to be able to play guitar well and that's all I fucking wanted to do. And to see your musical vision turn into something else, a totally different sort of vision—it's amazing, it's astounding," said Hammett, speaking exclusively with AP at the invite-only "Obey Your Master: Art Tribute to Metallica" opening party at Exhibit A Gallery in Los Angeles on Friday night.
Steadfast Metallica militiamen James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich (no stranger to the art scene), bassist Robert Trujillo and Hammett packed themselves in shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the crowd inside the intimate gallery, situated in L.A.'s Little Ethiopia neighborhood on Fairfax Avenue, as the Southern California music industry was knee-deep in Anaheim's NAMM convention trade show.
Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park), Fletcher Dragge (Pennywise), Rick Rubin (producer of Metallica’s Death Magnetic), Bob Rock (producer on every Metallica release from 1991's bazillion-selling Black Album through 2003's St. Anger), Corey Miller (LA Ink) and members of Slipknot were among those in attendance. The luminaries were on-hand to look at the paintings, sculptures, installations and related Lowbrow-style oddities created by a number of artists such as Lauren Bergman, Steve Caballero, Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance), Andy Biersack (Black Veil Brides), Slipknot's own Shawn "Clown" Crahan and "Obey" mastermind Shepard Fairey, who DJd the event.
"It's incredible to see what people's vision of the music has become. It's so fucking amazing," Hammett reflected, hanging in a tent setup behind the gallery where folks like music biz blogger Bob Lefsetz and Bring Me The Horizon co-manager Matt Ash munched on Metallica-themed cake, drank free beer and Monster Energy cocktails and snapped pictures in front of a professional backdrop. Lefsetz talked with Bob Rock about the impact of Spotify. Hetfield stood nearby, surrounded by tattooed, car club-looking guys, while Lars animatedly chatted with Rubin, Flea and Crahan inside. (Other commitments kept Way and Biersack away from the event).
"It's really interesting to see how differently people interpret the music," Kirk continued. "I mean, I can't believe how farfetched a lot of this stuff really is! I have my concept of what the music means to me in a visual aspect. But to really see how other people interpret it and how other people are visualizing it is mind-blowing, bro. Totally, completely, mind-blowing."
Dreadlocked skateboard legend Tony Alva, who had 100 limited decks on-hand and co-presented the event with gallery founder/Black Veil Brides cover artist Richard Villa III, was just a few feet away from Hammett as the lead guitar shredder took it all in.
"I'm so fucking overwhelmed right now!" Hammett said, looking around. "I am so completely overwhelmed."
Jon Chase, who worked up something based on "The Four Horsemen" from Metallica's Kill 'Em All, expressed his own enthusiasm via Twitter: "If 14 yr old me would have known. James Hetfield, Gunner, in front of my piece @exhibitagallery!" Biersack contributed a surrealistic portrait of late Metallica bassist Cliff Burton. Brian M. Viveros worked up something based on "...And Justice for All." Clown's "Damage Inc." installation included skeletons and doll parts. Miller, who has tattooed Hetfield, drew a "Fuel"-inspired "Metallitiki."
(Photo by Jon Weiner; more photos from the exhibit's January 20 opening are here)
Limited prints were available of the propaganda style "Disposable Heroes" art done by Fairey, who spun the roughly 40 slabs of classic punk, hard rock and metal vinyl he brought from his personal collection. Gail Potocki's girl-, blood- and bird-centered piece was one that particularly impressed Hammett. "The 'Through The Never' piece? Totally, completely, just mind-blowing," he said, shaking his head.
Musicians often say they hope that people will listen to their work and draw their own conclusions; "Obey Your Master" offered one of the most literal manifestations of that concept imaginable. "It's interesting to see where the music has taken them, where it's led them, and how they've gotten other bits of meaning out of it. I mean, it's profound," Hammett said. "It's fucking profound!"
Considering the Big 4 shows that united Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax; last month's four guest-filled/deep-catalog-exploring 30th anniversary shows; the upcoming start-to-finish Black Album festival sets; the recent Beyond Magnetic EP (initially emailed, track by track, to the fan club); and the critically maligned but undeniably brave collaboration with Lou Reed, Lulu, one can't help but wonder how all of it, combined with the "Obey Your Master" art show, may impact the next Metallica project creatively.
"I don’t know, but I think it's going to be something that's going to be pretty individual again," Hammett insisted. "We see these situations, these circumstances, and they always lead to something else. We don't know where the fuck they're leading. We're just kind of being led." The Lou Reed partnership, for example, began with a few songs for the Rock N' Roll Hall Of Fame.
"Exactly!" he said, laughing. "It's just amazing where this stuff leads, where it's leading us. You would assume that we're in a situation where we're in control but things just kind of evolve into something kind of like totally wacky, bro. I mean, it's insane. It's just insane. And you know, it never used to be that way!" He laughed a bit more. "Or maybe it did, but now it's happening more! I don't know."
Certainly, Metallica has come a long way from the days when demo cassettes were re-dubbed and traded by mail.
"Yes, yes, yes, absolutely," Hammett said with a wide smile, as he turned to greet yet another well-wisher. "Absolutely!"
The "Obey Your Master" exhibit continues at Exhibit A Gallery in Los Angeles through March 23. alt