Metallica - Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark

He might live in a rather nice home on top of a very steep hill, but Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett is no lord of the manor-type guy. The 36 year old Bay Area guitarist (born in San Francisco's Mission District) is one of the friendliest, most amiable of rock stars.

As the lead guitarist for one of the world's most successful bands, Hammett has earned the praise and plaudits of millions for his tasteful and articulate solos, which evoke all manner of players from Michael Schenker to Jimi Hendrix, and in the process has helped Metallica sell over 60 million records worldwide.

He joined the band in 1983 after receiving a phone call from New York, where Metallica were making their debut album Kill Em All, and having thrashed his way through their storming debut, he quickly etched his own style on 1984's Ride The Lightning and 1986's Master Of Puppets. By the time Metallica sold over 12 million copies of 1991's eponymous "Black Album" Hammett was in need of a recharge.

Fresh from time spent in college during 1994, a revamped Hammett stepped out with a refined Metallica in 1996 for the Load album. His playing, too, had undergone a change, less flurry and more measure, a response to time spent enjoying more jazz and blues-based influences. The musical maturation of band and player was further enhanced by Hammett swapping lead and rhythm guitar duties with Metallica frontman James Hetfield, a move which added yet another string to Hammett's neck of accomplishments.

The past year has been a busy one for Hammett. Metallica's Garage Inc. covers-only double album was released, the group toured international stadiums and festivals this Summer, but most significantly, on April 21 and 22, Metallica performed a pair of shows with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under the guidance of composer Michael Kamen. Hammett recently took some time to discuss those shows. How did it feel to have an orchestra playing selections from your entire back-catalog?

Kirk Hammett: There were times when it was just incredible. To have a 100-plus instruments backing you up with every riff and every note was an amazing feeling. It took our songs to a completely different level. The songs were literally morphed into symphonic pieces. The symphony would play either the exact same line or unison complimentary lines to my solos, and to have that kind of interaction with musicians onstage was electrifying, exhilarating, orgasmic! How important was Kamen to the entire process? Can you explain exactly what he did?

Hammett: He supported the weight of both us and the orchestra superbly. It was through him that the orchestra took up what we were doing. He was the middle man, the guy who took it all on his shoulders. We just did our thing and he took on the rest. Walking off those two shows I really felt we had hit a high mark, a milestone. Every time I hear strings now, it catches my ear, and I'm sure that's happened with the other guys. You obviously respect Kamen a great deal.

Hammett: Michael Kamen is one of the greatest musicians I've had the pleasure of working with. His attitude and his whole way of going about music is so infectious. He's the walking example of the potential a musician has. He's simply inspirational. Can you give us some brief details about the film production company you have put together with Primus bassist Les Claypool?

Hammett: We both wanted a company where people could come up to the Bay Area and make movies, commercials whatever, and where there would be a team of people in house, producers and directors. The idea is to give the Bay Area somewhere for its film talent to go so as they wouldn't have to go down to LA. I'm looking for something that I can express myself in through non-musical terms, I love movies, Les does too, so we have a lot of things lined up at the moment and we'll see how it all turns out. Kamen works on a lot of soundtrack material. You love film. Have the two of you had any conversations regarding a collaboration?

Hammett: Yeah, as a matter of fact we have spoken about doing some stuff in the future. I mean he does something like 15 soundtracks a month. I told him if he ever needs someone like me to play guitar, even for 15 seconds, I'm there. He made me say it again. And then he thanked me! That would be a great thing. You seem a much happier person since the Load era. Can you credit that to the refocus everyone went through between the 'Black' album tour and Load'?

Hammett: I just remember thinking around 94, "Fuck it, I'm tired of this stock heavy metal image it doesn't work for me anymore." I felt miserable being that, which meant I became physically tired of it. And when you get tired of something, hopefully you have the guts to change. The catalyst for all of it was three years of touring followed by a whole year off. Do you have any ideas as to where the next Metallica material might take the band?

Hammett: There's no telling right now, but personally speaking I think we'll start to embrace technology a little more. It makes no sense for us to be on the cutting edge of it, finding the newest samples and tools and all that stuff because we thrive on a classic formula that in my opinion, will never die, and that is good ol' hard rock and heavy metal. But we're constantly looking for things that will open our sound up more, that's just us. But before anyone asks, no, it won't be electronic. Are you ever concerned about the old-school Metallica fans who don't appreciate your efforts to progress and evolve?

Hammett: I don't really care what people think. These are our songs, and that's the reality of it. You can either take it or leave it, and if people don't like it, they have every right not to. We've never catered to anything ever in our lives, and why should we start now. Like all good bands, we definitely believe in moving forward and we believe in not trying to rekindle any former flames. You just end up going in circles when you do that.

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