Interview: My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way on how Metallica influenced his art, music
Their most famous record may be known as “The Black Album,” but veteran metal unit Metallica have triggered a wide palette of aesthetic visions. This Friday, Los Angeles’ Exhibit A Gallery will host Obey Your Master, an art exhibition featuring works influenced by the group’s output over the last 30 years. In addition to works created by such acclaimed names as Shepard Fairey, Travis Louie and Gail Potocki, the curators also enlisted the participation of Metalli-fan rockers as Black Veil Brides’ Andy Biersack, Slipknot’s Shawn “Clown” Crahan and My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way.
Way’s contribution to the exhibit is an installation of painted and fabricated landmines inspired by Metallica’s 1989 breakthrough track “One,” the video of which featured footage from the harrowing 1971 anti-war film Johnny Got His Gun. He talked with AP’s Jason Pettigrew about his contribution to the Exhibit A program, his unwavering love for Metallica and how he’d be terrified to meet the band.
Your piece is based upon the Metallica song “One.” What were you looking to achieve?
GERARD WAY: The original idea was to get a pile of landmines to do as an installation. I asked a friend of mine to fabricate and cast a ton of these so they’d be cost-effective. Getting actual landmines—decommissioned or even replicas of landmines—is pretty much impossible. There were a couple of approaches I tried, but I decided upon a pile of destroyed, fragmented landmines.
So you’re paying homage to “One” while conveying the ugliness of a silent, inanimate killer.
Exactly. The key thing I wanted was to make them look “quiet.”
Which is not an adjective we’d ever use to describe anything in Metallica’s universe.From the standpoint of a Metallica fan, what I like about “One” is that it was the hit that never should have happened. It was the first black-and-white video I had seen in a long time. The band looked like nobody else who were regularly on MTV and there was nothing like it. It was amazing to see these guys doing exactly what they wanted to do without compromise, writing about a topic nobody was writing about at the time when everything else was dumb hair-metal or sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. It’s an important song for that band.
Is that your favorite Metallica song?
It’s up there. [Pauses.] I think my favorite is “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).”
I’m really excited about this [exhibit]. Metallica are a band that really lend themselves to a visual element where people can actually go in and interpret the music in a different way. [MCR] have always strived to be a band like that. We have a legion of fans that are essentially artists, and I’d like to hope that we either attracted them or turned them onto being artists and they can take anything we’ve done and interpret it in an artistic way. Not a lot of bands are like that; Metallica and Iron Maiden are.
Metallica have certainly been the defining name in metal for a long time. They’ve also gotten a lot of massive flak for things like their war with Napster to the patently uncomfortable Some Kind Of Monster documentary to some of the later releases. But it can’t be denied they’ve cultivated one of the most tenacious and insatiable fanbases in contemporary rock music. Do you think there are aspects to Metallica people don’t see in the big picture that you are able to identify with as an artist?
One hundred percent. The thing that frustrates people who don’t fully understand Metallica are the things that make them love Metallica, and they don’t realize it. The fact [the band] are extremely headstrong and that there was nobody like them when they started—there kinda still isn’t anybody who sounds like them—and the fact that they made unpopular decisions like telling people to fuck off while doing their own thing. People loved them for it, but five or 10 years later, [Metallica] continue to be those same people. In a lot of ways, I can completely identify with that: My Chemical Romance haven’t caused as much controversy in that way, but we are very much individuals that have very strong beliefs, and sometimes it frustrates people that we stick by [those beliefs]. Metallica had a problem with Napster and went after it. I never faulted them for that. And I think it takes a lot of balls to put out a movie like the one they put out.
So you have no problems with the ‘tallica. You even like the S&M record, I bet.Actually, S&M has some of my favorite Metallica songs, especially “No Leaf Clover.” For what it ended up being—which was awesome—to what it could have ended up, it was a huge risk for them.
Speaking of risk, I think Metallica were the first American metal bands to readily embrace punk and hardcore. You would see them wearing Misfits and Discharge shirts back in the days when the metal and punk tribes were still heavily segregated, culturally.
Funny you should mention that: One of the really important things about Metallica that people don’t talk about is that realm of influence they had. I learned about the Misfits from the tattoo on [late bassist] Cliff Burton’s arm. Later on, Dave Mustaine—who used to be in Metallica—started Megadeth and covered the Sex Pistols. Because those bands were into punk, they in turn provided a gateway into that culture. That’s what Metallica meant to me: They were an alternative to all of that bad pop metal, while offering a gateway to a whole new slew of different bands. Me wondering what that tattoo was on Cliff Burton’s arm was kind of the beginning of that.
As a born-and-bred Jersey boy, do you want to admit that’s how you learned about Misfits?[Laughs.] I think I kinda have to, because when I started listening to Metallica, I was 12 or something. You don’t know who the Misfits are when you’re that age. Then when you find out they were from your backyard, you probably won’t admit to seeing that tattoo on Cliff Burton’s arm. That measure of influence always comes from musicians you like. A great band is a great band: Things like how you discover or access those bands stop mattering after awhile.
Have you ever met anyone in Metallica?
No, I haven’t. I’m kind of nervous. It’s less about the being-a-fan kind of nervous and more about interpreting somebody else. It’s like doing portraits and putting your vision of someone else’s work. Every time you put yourself out there as an artist to another artist is kinda stressful. Alt
The invitation-only opening of Obey Your Master is Friday, January 20, with open public viewings running from January 23 to March 23. For more information, visit exhibitagallery.com.