I know I’ve said this before about all of the bass players I’ve interviewed in the past from Nikki Sixx to Gene Simmons to Rex Brown, but Jason Newsted, former bass player from Metallica, might be THE biggest influence in my bass playing ability and performance. His stage presence and bass playing with a pick was something many bassists on the music scene today try to mimic even today. If I’m not mistaken, Jason Newsted might also be one of the first players that I’ve seen live bang his head in a circular motion. If you saw him do it back then, you know what I’m talking about! Well, after laying low with many projects after leaving the mighty Metallica, Jason Newsted is back with his own band Newsted, and from the sounds of things, he might be back for world domination.
Following the tragic death of Metallica bassist and legend, Cliff Burton, in September 1986, Jason Newsted had some major league shoes to fill. He beat out over 39 other bass players to fill those shoes and leave his band Flotsam And Jetsam behind forever. His first CD with Metallica would be The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited in 1987 followed by the critically acclaimed …And Justice For All. Do I really need to mention why that album is critically acclaimed? (No bass.) Either way, …And Justice is still one of the best Metallica discs out there only to be followed by the much commercialized self-titled CD, also known to many as The Black Album, in 1991, which pushed Metallica over the top.
Jason proved to be an integral part of the band, quickly becoming the face of Metallica. On tour, he would sing parts of “Creeping Death,” “Whiplash,” and “Seek And Destroy.” He would eventually perform on Load in 1996, Re-Load in 1997, Live Shit: Binge And Purge in 1997 and S&M in 1999. In 2001, Jason and Metallica would part ways due to his unhappiness with the direction of the band. Not one to be held back, Jason would turn his focus to his side-project Echobrain, which never really went anywhere, but in 2002, Jason would join the Canadian thrash band Voivod, whom he would release two CDs with. Within that time, he also became Ozzy Osbourne’s touring bassist replacing Robert Trujillo, who coincidentally replaced him in Metallica. So, they did the old switcheroo! In 2006, Jason would suffer a shoulder injury when an amp fell on him, putting him out of commission for some time and allowing him to spend time on his other passion: painting.
In April 2009, Jason was asked to join Metallica on stage as they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. This was his first performance with the group in almost a decade. Then in 2011, he was asked again to join the band on stage as they celebrated their 30th anniversary. These performances made Jason realize that people still wanted a piece of the Newsted. Now, in 2013, he’s coming full-force with his own music and his own band. Backing up Jason is drummer Jesus Mendez, Jr., guitarist Jessie Farnsworth, and Staind guitarist Mike Mushok. Newsted currently has a four-song EP out called Metal, and it is awesome! He brings his “Metal” circus to our shores on May 21 at the Highline Ballroom in NYC and May 23 at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park with the band Wilson in tow and my group, BlackOcean. I got to talk to Jason for a bit about the new project and his upcoming dates in our area. Here’s what he had to say:
So, how did you come up with the band name Newsted?
I think I got it from Germany or maybe England, and then my grandpa, then my dad, then me, and now it’s the band! How’s that? (Laughs)
What made you finally put a solo project like Newsted together?
In October and November 2011, I took my Papa Wheelie project out, where I played guitar and screamed on the record. It was kind of a get one riff and play it for five minutes, really stony metal slabs and just kind of sloppy, and we played a couple of cool shows. We opened for Anvil, we opened for Kyuss, and did a couple of things around the San Francisco Bay Area, and I got bit by the bug a little bit again with those smaller crowds really getting into it and stuff.
Within those weeks, Lars [Ulrich, drummer] called me to play with the Metallica 30th anniversary thing and so I went down and played with them, and really got pulled back into it by the fans. I hadn’t tasted that kind of feeling or that kind of energy or the recognition or the respect and so forth, I really didn’t know what to expect when I got there. I was overwhelmed by the amount of pure, genuine love. Really, it was crazy! And I felt that before plenty of times in front of lots and lots of people, but it had been a long time since it was that sincere and stuff. So that really kind of sunk its teeth into me and it just happened to be the timing of things in my personal life. My wife had just gotten me a computer. I’d repelled computers and technology for a long, long time. The analog guy that I still am, I’m embracing this thing now.
Anyway, within that time, she bought me a computer, and I had the GarageBand application on there. I started writing some songs and figured out that I can just do everything on that little machine. I can just take one instrument or have my bass or a guitar and I can make anything I needed. I can play the drum machines and all that to create tracks. So I’ve written about 20 to 22 songs since October 2012.
So we started recording these tracks; the EP [Metal] that you guys are hearing right now are from the first batch. We recorded seven in the first batch and five or six in the second batch and now we just recorded a new six a couple of days ago, so I’m just compiling whatever best stuff out of the remainder to make the LP.
As for the name, I always had cool names for my projects like Echobrain or Wheelie and all that different stuff, but this is the first time that I composed the music from top to bottom—all my lyrics, all my guitar parts, all my lead vocal—so it’s just appropriate that my name was put on it. Initially, it wasn’t meant to be shared with anyone. I went into this little studio friend of ours. He let us have a really nice digital studio in a very small building and I was going in there to record a song for my wife for a wedding present. It was an acoustic song. I hired a cello player and I played a six-string and a 12-string acoustic. It was a really nice kind of ballady composition and in the meantime, we had a couple of hours left over and Jesus and Jesse and myself went in there and the other songs that we happened to record are the EP songs.
So, we had this really nice pretty song and then we had “Soldier Head” and the other stuff on the other side of it. And one person heard it, then another person heard it, then that guy heard it, then Geffen heard it, then Sony heard it, then Universal heard it, and here I am six months later talking to you with a world tour on my hands.
Why did you decide to put out an EP as opposed to a full-blown LP?
I was trying to test the waters on the social media thing. I read about Down putting out EPs with three or four songs at a time, sharing them with their friends on iTunes or from their own websites, and that was all new to me. So I said, “Let’s try this out and see if anybody really gives a fuck anymore.” I mean, that’s what it really came down to.
I’ve been in the underground with Voivod for so long; I haven’t had myself neck deep in a real tour and real shit since 2003 with Ozzy. Other than that, I just spent it on Voivod records and my own thing. I did some cool recordings with some pop stars and all kinds of stuff all around the world. I played bass on a Tina Turner song that went to number one. I played bass on a single for a European pop artist that went to number one in Europe. There were all kinds of different things I was doing like Gov’t Mule and Sepultura and stuff through the 2000s, but all kind of low-key.
Yeah, well, I don’t think too many fans realize this because you’ve been so low-key that people thought you fell off the face of the earth after you left Metallica.
I actually played more music out of Metallica than when I was in Metallica. I kind of always try to be a well-rounded player. Once you got to play in Metallica for a couple thousand shows in a row or whatever, it started to be the same show over and over again. You have to keep yourself fresh. You have to go and find a way to keep it exciting for you, so it’s exciting for the people. Like in the beginning of our conversation, you were talking about giving your all every show. That’s what I always try to do, but two main reasons I was able to do that every time was because I kept myself, the diversity of my listening practices and my playing practices with other styles of playing and other styles of music as opposed to the metal that I was playing over and over again. And also the energy for the fans, going out and feeling when I was completely dead, exhausted beyond belief, I’d get the energy from the people to come back and do another show. So between those two things, I try to keep it very genuine in that way.
But getting back to it, I’ve played lots of different music with lots of different people. There’s like a culmination of all these different styles and all the things I’ve learned in 30 years—players like Zakk [Wylde] and Warren Haynes—and, I mean, these are some pretty heavyweight, serious, accomplished players. I just tried to pay attention when I’m around them. When I had the opportunity, the privilege to be around players like that, I just try to soak it up, man. Like where I’m at now is a culmination of all those things, put my name on it.
Like you said, people didn’t know where I was and didn’t know what I was doing and for the handful of 40 or 50 thousand people who bought Voivod records around the world, that’s how I figured anybody gave a shit about anything I would do, but then I realized since I got on social media that there’s a lot more people that give a crap about what I’m doing. So that was a wonderful eye-opening, overwhelming experience for people to come at me like that.
Speaking of Metal, the song “Skyscraper” has such an infectious main riff that will stick in your head for days, but “Soldier Head,” I have to be honest, after you left Metallica, I kind of stopped following them, so when I heard “Soldier Head,” I felt like that was the direction Metallica should’ve went in as opposed to the direction they headed in and that you picked up where you left off. Did that make any sense?
Yeah, and that’s cool too! I guess that kind of is really what it is. Just like Flea from the Chili Peppers, he can only be what he is, the white boy funk that come up out of Parliament and James Brown, but he also had some rock and punk in it. But that’s what he is and that’s the style he plays. I came up on Sabbath and Motörhead and I’m only old-school metal. That’s what comes out. I can play other things and I can fake my way through certain styles, but metal is me and me is metal! There is “me” in “metal!” (Laughs)
Are people telling you that they hear your Motörhead and Sabbath influences in “Soldier Head?” Because I totally hear it.
Fuck yeah, man! That’s the biggest compliment anybody can give me. Without Lemmy, there is no me. It’s like I’m the spawn of that. Just like Mastodon is the spawn of Metallica. We’re the style of Lemmy, that direct style of bass and the direct style of vocal approach. I don’t mind wearing my influences on my sleeve because my influences are the kings.
How did you end up getting Mike Mushok from Staind in the band?
He’s a freakin’ monster, dude! I have no doubt in my mind that people will be set on their freakin’ ear when they hear this guy play in our band playing our style of music because he never got a chance to stretch out in Staind. Staind did very well. He did great as a songwriter in Staind. I never really knew much about their band. I heard a couple of songs on the radio or pieces from my girl, but I never really knew what was going on with them.
This dude is a shredder, man. He was taught initially by Tony MacAlpine. He comes from the old-school Shrapnel Records. He comes from the old school of fucking shredding. I’ve calmed him down a little, but he’s still got that power and that speed. He added a new dimension to this band that I never really expected. I knew he was going to add some color, but the other dimension he brought were these ripping leads and I think people are just gonna go “Woah!”
So I knew Mike was the one before we even played because of his personality and his professionalism and stuff like that. So he’s been with us for about six weeks now and this is gonna be big. It’s gonna be large. I’m really excited to bring it to the people for sure!
You’re bringing Newsted on May 21 at the Highline Ballroom in NYC and May 23 at The Stone Pony, where my band BlackOcean gets to open for you! Now, since your EP only has four songs on it, how do you plan to fill out the rest of the set?
Yeah, well like I told you, I’ve got like 20 or something new songs that we’re going to pull for the set and the demand of our shows from now until the end of June—I think we’re playing like 13 countries in June—some sets will be 35 minutes, some 45, some 55, and we got a couple of headliners. All of these first U.S. exclusive shows like the Highline and The Stone Pony are headline shows, so we’ll play an hour and five or an hour and 10 or something like that.
I have all of our new music to pick from. I also have a repertoire of quite a few songs from other bands I shared that I feel I have the right to play. You’re not going to hear “Enter Sandman” and shit, but anything that people have known me for that actually call me out for like pieces of “Creeping Death,” pieces of “Whiplash.” There have only been two people who sang for Metallica in the past 31 years and you know who those two people are. So the songs I sang and I kind of made my own, in a couple of spots, I will share those with people. Pieces of them, some in its entirety, a little chunk of “Whiplash,” a big chunk of “Whiplash,” whatever. Then the other three that I have a right to do anything with is “My Friend Of Misery,” “Where The Wild Things Are” and “Blackened.” So between the pieces of those just to remind everybody where I came from as if they needed to be reminded, I will do that within our new music.
There was so much more that Jason and I spoke about, but unfortunately, I can’t seem to fit it into print. I’ve reached my word limit, so you’ll just have to listen to an upcoming podcast! Since this interview, Newsted was added to Gigantour this summer with Megadeth, Black Label Society, Device, and Hellyeah!
Jason Newsted and BlackOcean will play at the Highline Ballroom May 21 and The Stone Pony May 23. Newsted’s new EP, Metal, is available now. For more information, go to newstedheavymetal.com.