His name is synonymous with metal. Jason Newsted has carved a long and successful career, playing with the likes of Metallica, Flotsam and Jetsam and Ozzy Osbourne. Now, the respected bass player is doing the rounds with his own band under the working band title, Newsted. In anticipation of the group’s Soundwave 2014 appearances, Killyourstereo.com chats to Jason about the industry, the genre and Spinal Tap moments.
The album has just come out. Obviously you’re quite well versed in album releases, how much is it still a case of feeling like a kid before Christmas with the anticipation and excitement?
It’s 100% that. Enough time has passed from the previous excitement for me to really embrace this. It’s like being a little kid again. There is that innocence to that. I think it has a lot to do with it being my first time that I [have] ever composed a whole record – top to bottom. In the beginning of the demos I programmed the drums, all the guitar parts, all that stuff. That’s a pretty big deal in that way after 30 years of learning from great players and great teachers, and great influences. This is my first chance to really tap into my own song-writing stuff. We recorded it in my garage, in my little studio there. It [the album] cracked the Billboard top 40 this week out of the garage (laughs). That’s pretty fucking cool man (laughs).
Like you said there with the album cracking the Billboard top 40, the wheels are certainly in motion. How far into the future are looking in terms of where you want to take this?
As far as we can. I guess it’s not like you are asking a 25-year-old guy who is starting his first band how far he wants to take it because of all the things that have already happened. I just turned 50 and got married and all that kind of thing, so there’s a lot of different kind of worlds going on (laughs). I’ve been so touched and so surprised by the positive vibes, and acceptance from the fans we’ve played to across the world. As long as my shoulders and neck keep working, I’ll keep going at it, keep chasing it. As long as people keep giving a shit and keep giving us this acceptance I’ll keep chasing it. As long as we can still come up with music that reaches a certain standard for us to be able to share then I’ll keep doing that. It’s so important when to say when especially in a business like this. But, we’ve only got to play about 15 to 17 countries so far on this first six months of the band and I’ve got a lot more to play. I ‘ve got a lot more things to do.
I think the title itself ‘Heavy Metal Music’ is quite reflective because it is something that has been a career, a lifestyle, a passion of yours for a long time. These days, do you feel it’s easier or harder being a metal musician?
I think for any kind of musician or entertainer or journalist, it takes a lot more. We’ve got to work four times as hard for half as much as you used to get. There’s so much more competition. There’s so much of this instant gratification stuff and people feeling entitled. There are fewer jobs and more people trying to get them. Everybody wants to be famous and all this different kind of silly shit, and there are factors that maybe weren’t there before. They were there, but not as intense as they are now since the Internet and the ‘everybody is somebody’ vibe. [However] Just like any of these things we just mentioned, if it’s a person that is gifted and it’s a genuine article then the cream will rise to the top and they will have a proper career, and people will learn to appreciate it. People will see through it if it’s fake. For me personally, I’ve got to say, I’ve been pretty enlightened these last couple of months as I’ve travelled around the place playing music for people. The metal world is in better shape than I thought it was before I went out there. That’s my take on it now. I’m happy to be a metal musician. It is harder to be one, but those of us that have been in it for a long time and done the right thing, we will be here forever.
As you were saying there, you’ve done this for a long time. Probably one of the biggest changes in music is the role of social media. How important is it to interact with that medium and specifically interact with fans more directly?
I’m finding that it’s all-important. That channel wasn’t really available last time I was in a big band. A lot has changed in the last ten years since I was in the business. I guess pretty much everything has changed (laughs). Only a couple of [major] things have changed [though]. You’ve still got to take the music to the people, you’ve still got to have that human interaction exchange with the rock when the volume is up and [with] the sweat – you’ve got to have that. A computer can’t change that…it can’t take it away either fortunately. The ability to press one button and get to the corners of Timbuktu and all that is amazing to me. It’s still so new to me that I’m fascinated by it. I repelled it for so long and I’ve only just taken on my Facebook of November last year. It is kind of real, real new. I was always a fan-based guy myself, so having the ability to rekindle relationships with long-time fans and also make new ones [is great]. I used to have to go out right to the city itself, out in the middle of wherever, to find out what music people were listening to. I had to play in their town and shake their hand, and say, “what bands do you listen to?” to know what was going on there. Now, I can just go on the Internet to see what is going on in that area or region, and who is popular where. It’s amazing. Learning about it every day my man (laughs).
Before, you were talking about countries you haven’t toured before and also you mentioned you just turned 50, what’s still on the bucket list for you to achieve as a musician?
I’ve only played 50 countries, so there are probably only about 30 more that will accept our music that I haven’t played in yet (laughs). That’s always going to be part of my quest – to take this anywhere we can possibly take it. [Also] maybe even be some of the first ones to take it some place that we are brave enough to. I like that pioneering aspect of things. But, I’ve had the privilege of living a few dreams already in one lifetime and I’m only 50. Considering I started Metallica at 23, that’s 27 years I’ve got to live all those dreams from being in Metallica to being in Voivod and jamming with Ozzy [Osbourne], and now having my own band and being successful with it, those are all pretty dreamy things. I’m thankful for all that stuff and heavy metal has made it possible. There’s some kind of reason for it I guess. Maybe because I keep working so hard and never let up on it no matter what – always keep chasing it and trying to better.
You would’ve seen the good and bad, and do’s and don’ts of the music industry. What advice would you give to a young kid that was looking to start a band?
Be ready to have to sacrifice everything if you really want it. There are a lot of dreamy things and you see the shiny side of stuff and see the bands on TV in front of the big crowds, you see the videos and the cars, and this stuff. But, how much hard work this takes is so much beyond people’s ability to fathom. There’s no thing about an eight or ten hour day. That’s not even in the cards. Eight or ten hours a time in a 20 hour rehearsal day, yeah. That’s what’s real. [It’s] Year after year after year for going and going and going, and [you are] always having to be on. Always having to be on your best behaviour even if it’s the shittiest you’ve felt in your life, your dog just died, your grandma is sick – you still have to present a smile to the people and say, “I’m so happy to be here.” It’s not an easy task. If you really, really mean it, there’s going to be different levels that are reached in entertainment, like any style of entertainment. In this music business, it’s tougher than it ever was and there’s more competition than there ever was. You can play in bars. You can play at parties at your friends [house], you can go to club level, you can go to arena level, you can go to stadium level if you want to, but each level takes more sacrifice. If you want to go to stadium level you will have to sacrifice everything that you know. Every relationship, family stuff, life and death things, everything has to come second, third or fourth to the band. If you don’t believe that then you’re never going to be able to get anywhere. That’s the only true, true thing. You have to be ready to give everything else away in order to have it.
This might be hard to pinpoint, but is there an ultimate Jason Newsted Spinal Tap moment that sticks out?
Fuck yeah. We came to the US after playing Japan, I’ll take you to right spot – it was Halloween ’86, last show with Flotsam and Jetsam. I had already joined Metallica. Four days earlier they asked me to join. going to play the last show because I had already committed and booked it with Flotsam – a Halloween show in Phoenix. We were wearing black armbands to commemorate Cliff [Burton]. I loaded all my shit into my little Ford truck and drove it to the show, did the gig, came back home and unloaded the gear in to the Flotsam home – the home we all lived in together. Then went to get with Metallica. 11 days after that gig I was in Japan playing sold-out shows with Metallica. They had never been there before. It was a pretty contrasting, surreal, ‘what is happening?!’ moment.
We do those shows – about a week’s worth in Japan. I haven’t slept the whole freaking time from sheer excitement and adrenalin from the shows. [Later that year] We get to New York, we are going to play the Felt Forum, the gig underneath Madison Square Garden. There’s a video of it that’s still on TV today. We are playing ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and I go climbing up the stairs for ‘Bell Tolls’ and fortunately it’s the beginning when it’s just the big notes. I trip on the last step and go down on the top platform next to the drum riser. Everybody can see. I roll over to protect the bass naturally just out of instinct. Fortunately, I’m able to hit the same note that is there because that’s all the note is. I roll over and get back up but I was so fucking embarrassed (laughs).
Somehow, James [Hetfield] ended up getting the tape. He kept it that long that somehow after all that time – 27 years later – it still goes on YouTube of Newsted falling on stage (laughs). So, there’s my Spinal Tap moment for everyone to share (laughs).
Fortunately or perhaps more so unfortunately, it’s going to stick with you, particularly with YouTube (laughs).
It’s so beautiful though man. It really is. If you don’t have that stuff, what is life for? Maybe I would’ve tripped at a really big show? (laughs) Instead I paid attention (laughs).
Absolutely, you learn from your mistakes.
It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you today Jason. Really appreciate your time.
Thanks for your help man. You did real good on the old impromptu there.