Latest release: Metal EP (Chophouse Records)
Band site: newstedheavymetal.com
Since leaving Metallica in 2001, there have been a few setbacks along the way (injuries, the abominable Rock Star Supernova) for bassist Jason Newsted. Following stints with Ozzy Osbourne and Voivod, he went underground for several years. He recently re-emerged with new project Newsted, for which he also supplies vocals and some guitar parts. (The band is completed by drummer Jesus Mendez Jr and guitarist Jessie Farnsworth). They recently released their debut EP, the aptly titled Metal, which debuted at No.62 on the US Billboard Charts. Loud had the privilege of talking to Newsted during a busy day of international press. The ensuing conversation covered his new venture, their upcoming full-length album, Metallica, embracing social media and more.
Q: So, you’re working on material for the album at the moment?
A: Yeah, we’re shooting for May for a full album. I haven’t been that deep in it since Ozzy in ’03 really. I did some Voivod stuff, had a couple of records out. But it was just on Chophouse, kind of our independent thing, the Papa Wheelie stuff and all that was real underground. So I haven’t really been in the thick of it. And there’s a lot of new avenues of stuff going on, technology wise and how to get the music out there that I’m just learning as I go. So my idea (with the EP) was to kind of test the water and see if anybody gave a shit about it anymore (laughs). It seems like they do, people are responding overwhelmingly positive, so I’m pretty excited about it. It seems like people do care what I’m doing, and it makes me feel good, man. So that’s really what I did; I was just trying to test the waters and so now I’m happy I’ve got all these other songs going too, because it seems that people want more.
Q: It must be reassuring that you can take such a lengthy break and people are still chomping at the bit to hear you do something new.
A: It makes me feel like I did something right along the way (laughs). I’ve been very busy with other things, but as far as keeping myself up in the public with music, it has been a while. So it’s awesome to feel that, especially since I can be in touch with so many people now through the internet and get the music to them and everything, way different than I ever could before. I used to have to be standing in front of them, my feet on their ground in order to get their feelings. What they felt about the music or any of that kinda vibe when we used to take it around the world, you know? I would only get the barometer of the neighbourhood when I was in the neighbourhood. So now I can actually check people out, like where you are man, and all over the world. I can talk to people all the time and share music with them, figure out what they’re doing and answer questions, share positive vibes and all that stuff. So it’s a new world for me. There’s a lot of the old world that’s still absolutely intact. Like you’ve got to take the music out to the people; win some fans back, reassure some other fans, all that kind of thing. So I’m looking forward to that part.
Q: There have been a lot of changes within the industry during the past decade too.
A: Oh, for sure man. I’ve only got my social media thing going for about 11 weeks now, and so most of it’s real new to me. I was repelling from all of the technology and stuff, because I am solid in analogue world man; I am true to the analogue. So I keep one big, black boot in the analogue and the old school for all my life and I’ll put the other black boot out there, reaching around to find new colours and stuff like that. I’ve always got to stick to that. I just kinda came around to this kind of thing and being able to connect with people. Now that I have something to share with them, it makes sense that I did wait this long really, I think.
Q: Indeed. Does that analogue attitude extend to the new music you’re making?
A: Yeah, for sure. Even though we use Pro Tools to capture the music now, it’s just the mode for when we were reel-to-reel back in Flotsam and Jetsam and went through all the time. Then Pro Tools got introduced to us somewhere in the 90s with Metallica and now we’re way, way into very progressed Pro Tools product. So we just make sure that we don’t cheat with anything, we make sure that it just captures what we’re doing. We did these 11 songs in about 14 days; a couple days for set-up and a day for mixing, getting everything together and that’s pretty much it. We just kinda played it like the old days; just rocking the room, have the dude record it and then I’ll go do a couple of leads over it and some vocals over it, stuff like that. I played most of the rhythm guitar on this record, most of the bass and some of the leads. It’s all my lyrics and vocals and stuff like that. So it was really my baby from the get-go on this one.
Q: How did you feel playing guitar and singing lead on these songs? Were there many nerves?
A: Well, I’ve been hacking on guitar for a long time and I still just hack on it. But I just got a couple of chords that I really like and I play the crap out of them, you know? I kinda move it around the neck and make songs out of it; then I put my bass and put all the colour in it. I don’t pretend to be any great guitar player, but I can play some metal. It felt pretty good; it’s feeling good. I’ve been playing through Papa Wheelie for (pauses), whew, 16 years now or something we’ve been rocking Papa Wheelie, so I play slabs of guitar on that thing. All of it stems from that type of playing; improvisational jams, you know? So the band that I’m playing with now, these three guys, the three of us together anyway, have played for like five years together, just doing the improvisational stuff. Then during the last six months we focused on these songs. So (it’s) new territory for me being the frontman, playing bass and singing front vocals, playing guitar and singing front vocals and even some lead and doing some front vocals. So it’s some new things. It’s a little bit scary, but mostly really exciting; big challenges for myself, and I like that. I’ve had to do that pretty much all through my career. But especially since I left Metallica, all of my time is my own and so I have to present challenges for myself in order to keep alive really.
Q: After ruling stadiums and arenas for more than a decade and then stepping away from that, I can understand seeking out a new challenge.
A: Yeah. It’s similar, familiar ground, we’ll call it. Familiar ground because of the metal and the old school vibe, and I know what it takes to take the music out to the people and everything. But there are whole new batches of fans; whole new generations of fans that never got to see me play live yet. So that’s kinda cool. The TV and the radio have kept me alive in fans’ eyes; as far as being part of Metallica or just being a metal bass player. So that’s been fortunate for me. It didn’t really go away in that aspect; people can see on TV. I’m still on TV every day in some places or another, with ‘Enter Sandman’ or some live thing or whatever. Five per cent of American radio is still Metallica. The people have still kept in touch with me, but there’s a whole new 12, 14-year-old kids now, even older, because they could have been seven when I left the band. So there’s 20-year-old people that haven’t seen me play live yet either. So it’s gonna be very enlightening I think, eye-opening to see all the people from the generations come out to see us.
Q: Titling the EP Metal as well – do you feel a lot of your fans will be appreciative of that?
A: Yeah, man. After all of the music that I’ve played in the last 30 years in a career, there’s the obvious stuff that’s right down to the metal, like Flotsam, Metallica, Voivod and Ozzy and stuff like that. But I went and played Sepultura, DJ Shadow, Gov’t Mule and a bunch of other pop stuff with people that metal fans don’t even know. There’s been all kinds of different things through time with different players. So I wanted to make it very clear that this is what you’re getting. And if anybody has had their head in the metal circle for the past 30 years they know what Newsted means and they know what the word ‘metal’ means; no matter what language you speak, you know what that means. So you put those two together and you know what you’re going to get. I just wanted to make no confusion, no mistake, sink your teeth in man, this is real, you know?
Q: Definitely. You’ve just released the ‘Soldierhead’ video as well. What vibe were you seeking to capture there?
A: Just wanted it to be as raw as the music. No Hollywood hubbub; everything is done very much on a Chophouse budget here. We managed to get the record to Number One on iTunes just out of the garage over here. So, pretty good considering what we’re contending with, you know? So it’s still that way too. Our video was made on a very low budget, and we just wanted to capture the essence of the band. We just wanted the rawness; our word for the week is ‘rawesome’. The rawesome-ness of the band, that’s what we wanted to do. I think we did a pretty good job on it, ‘cause we’re just in the middle of farm country basically when we made the record. When we made that video it was just in the middle of nowhere; nobody was really around, we were just kind of in our own little world and making our music. So it’s worked out really good with no distractions, and be able to keep focused on what we were doing.
Q: I remember reading a music magazine here which reviewed the Echobrain album, and the journalist being almost offended by it being such a departure. It was something the lines of, “hey, we thought Jason was the keeper of the heavy flame in Metallica?” I think some people didn’t acknowledge that you could explore other musical territory, yet that didn’t mean you were abandoning your heavy metal roots. Have you encountered much of that?
A: It’s important to reach out, keep yourself a well-rounded player and keep trying to learn all the time. If you’re a true musician you always want to keep learning and keep getting better. So that was, first of all, really a labour of love. I did it because I was really impressed by the musicians and it was a great mind cleaner, mind-sweeper, palette cleanser, emotional net that caught me when I fell. It was my very helpful in my recovery from Metallica, making that beautiful, wonderful music. It’s one of the greatest efforts I’ve ever made as a musician. I’m probably more proud of the Echobrain album than most Metallica albums I would say, just because of the purity of it. It was a cool thing in the way of its dreaminess; we were in northern California in the hills. It was a lockout studio, no stores, no nothing, just in the middle of the hills. There was a chef and there were people to take care of us, and we just stayed there with no distractions. Big bags of buds, mushroom tea; just doing our own thing man, trippin’ balls and making music. It was just so fantastic and cleansing for me.
I always had the metal going; I never went out of the metal. I was already working with Voivod when the Echobrain thing was being made. I’d been working with Voivod on music since 1988 (laughs). Metal is always there; Papa Wheelie was still alive all through that time. I’m kinda glad the guy was offended; it was almost a thing of people could be that close-minded about true music. So we wake people up a little bit, and now, all the things I’ve done, all the experiences I’ve been privileged to have with all these different players to learn from. Warren Haynes, Zakk Wylde, Andreas Kisser and James Hetfield; holy crap man, that’s a lot of teachers to learn from. So now, this is a culmination of all those experiences. It may seem the bleeding obvious, but that’s what it is. All those different styles of music and all those different things, playing with all those people over those years, now I’ve brought it into my own, made my own music, my own songs top to bottom. I think it’s cool; it’s got a lot of elements to it. I’m excited for people to hear the full album, because all of it’s heavy. It’s heavy music right across the way, but there are elements of everything that I’ve ever played in. There’s some interludes that are so freakin’ awesome that could be on an Echobrain record, but there’s a bunch of grunt behind it. It’s still heavy as crap, but there’s all those flavours and things. I think people are going to be entertained. That’s really my word right there; very entertaining. And the show is going to be really entertaining. If you kinda think about all the songs I have to mess with, it’s gonna be cool.
Q: You referred to the many incredible experiences you’ve been afforded, including those with Metallica. Looking back on your career, do you think being away from the limelight for a while, and being removed from the band for more than a decade now has afforded you adequate time to gain a better perspective of and appreciation for your time in the band? Like, you can better understand your role in the band’s history and the context in which fans view it?
A: For sure, man. All the different things that you go through make you look at that and get different perspectives on it. Be thankful for certain things that happened and for certain things that didn’t happen (laughs). It’s been 12 years since I left the band, the dust has settled, let’s look back and see, ‘who was the one that had the balls to make the decision and make everything okay?’ Jason. Because if I wouldn’t have made the move when I did, there’s no telling where we would be. I would most likely be in the ground from painkillers, James (Hetfield) would still be drunk and Metallica would no longer be. And there would be who knows what kind of ugliness. Because I did what I did (laughs), Metallica still rules the universe and sets the standard. I’ve got an awesome band that I’m really feeling like 19-years-old about again. James is healthier than he ever was, ever in his life. I am healthy again, I’m off drugs, I’m back on my horse again, I’m ready to kick ass.
All of those things happened because of the decision that I made. They gave me a chance in 1986 to have a wonderful career that I’m still chewing on right now. And I resuscitated them and gave them a chance to follow through with their dreams for their band. When I left, I gave them another chance to rediscover themselves, and myself a chance to rediscover myself. Now I didn’t single-handedly do anything in that band, but I have played a big part in making those big, big changes that enable it to continue 32 years later being the strongest and biggest band, still. So I was in there for half of Metallica’s life, was at the tallest peaks and went to the highest heights with them. No one has climbed higher with them on any basis, and probably won’t, for that matter. I don’t see them earning eight or ten more Grammys like I did when I was with them or any of that stuff. The Hall of Fame thing; Robert (Trujillo) was in for three years when he got in. I earned that, and Cliff (Burton). So there’s different things that I definitely played an integral part in those decisions; coming in, going out, all of it, now we’re able to look at it you know?
Q: Interesting. Are we likely to see the Newsted project in Australia in the near future?
A: Hell yes – how’s that? (laughs) I want to tell you something, man, and this is no shit. When people ask me, where is your favourite place to go? Australia is always my first answer, has been forever. I think it’s ‘cause for me anyway, it’s been one of the best continual experiences in my career. Everyone treated me so freakin’ good. A lot of places are cool and everything, but by the second time I got to Australia people were saying to me (adopts Australian accent), ‘Legend mate, legend’. And I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m like 25 years old, how can I be a legend already?’ You guys had already given me that and I was like, ‘Whoa’. That kind of respect has always been there and that makes me feel extra strong in that place. For me it’s like California without the guns, you know? It’s this cool ass place with great weather, great people, like to get their drink on, like to dig the metal. To me it’s a wonderful place. So I’ve already got my hat in the ring for Big Day Out next year. So let’s see what happens.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Well, I’m glad to be alive, I’m glad that everybody’s sharing this music with me. And to have the opportunity to bring it to everybody again, please come out and share it if you want to share it. And if you dig the heavier stuff and you’re not really digging this so much, please give your love to Mastodon and the other bands that deserve it. Let’s keep it on the positive tip, keep the metal alive. If you want to check out anything I’ve got going, visit newstedheavymetal.com and I’m Jason Newsted in Facebook. I go on there every other day for an hour-and-a-half and answer as much stuff as I can in 90 minutes’ time. So that’s me you’re talking to, if you want to send me some positive vibes, some love or whatever, check it out. CDs are available now to buy from the web-store, and we are bringing vinyl soon. Ultimately, the music will be available in all forms – digital, CD and vinyl, the album too. So it’ll be something for everybody, that’s the plan. And thanks for the help down there, man.