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Interview:
Metallica takes pandemic "step forward" with new album, concert
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Driving up to Metallica HQ in San Rafael, Calif. to rehearse and film for the group's drive-in movie concert, bassist Robert Trujillo passed one of the outdoor theaters visible from the highway in central California.



It was, he acknowledges, a bit of a sign.



"It was almost like a landmark from the past, you know," Trujillo, 55, recalls by phone from his home in Topanga Canyon. "It just had a sort of presence -- this massive screen that represents something that happened back in time, almost like a radar tower or something.



"I know for myself and all the guys in Metallica and our crew, we grew up going to drive-in movie theaters. My kids are teenagers. They have no idea. So it'd kind of fun to bring that back to life and celebrate that experience -- and come up with a new way to see a concert."



The Metallica show -- the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group's first in nearly a year and so far only show of 2020 -- is a particularly ambitious but not the only project the quartet has embarked on during the coronavirus pandemic. Metallica has also produced a couple of Zoom-created performances, and its recently concluded Metallica Mondays streaming concert series raised more than $100,000 for the groupís All Within My Hands Foundation.



On top of all that, Metallica releases "S&M2" on Friday, Aug. 28, a second collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.







So it's hardly been idle time in the ranks for the world's biggest heavy metal band.



"We were communicating via Zoom, and we still do, and that's been productive for us," says Trujillo, who joined Metallica during 2003. "I don't even remember us (communication) like that when there wasnít a pandemic. Before it was like, 'OK, we're not working' and you just don't really hear much from each other. But this has really brought us together.



"And It was a huge step forward to actually be together in person."



Metallica convened earlier this month to prepare for the concert, which was filmed outside in an older winery space in Sonoma. Trujillo describes an NBA-style "bubble" environment with full protective protocols, including COVID-19 testing and social distancing. "We took everything very seriously," he says. Doing the show, meanwhile, was its own kind of surreal but satisfying experience.



"Obviously playing without a crowd was a bit strange 'cause we're spoiled with great crowds," Trujillo says. "We literally played to crickets. You could hear rickets in-between songs, so this was for the wildlife, you know? And we're playing on gravel, so it wasnít the most comfortable setting sliding around.



"It's humbling experience, but at the same time you've got to figure we're blessed to take the step forward. And if anything this is really, in my mind, a way to cultivate the idea we can actually get together and start working on new music and a new album and build on that."



Metallica's new album for the moment is "S&M2," a follow-up to the six-times platinum "S&M" from 1999. Recorded and filmed last Sept. 6 and 8 as the grand opening of San Francisco's Chase Center, it features orchestrated arrangements of a range of band favorites, with frontman James Hetfield performing "The Unforgiven III" alone with the SFSO and Metallica joining the orchestra for Soviet composer Alexander Mosolov's "The Iron Foundry."



"I hadn't played with an orchestra since I was in high school, so it was pretty exciting," says Trujillo. "The music of Metallica really lends itself to that type of (orchestrated) treatment and that style and the layers and harmonies. On stage with 80 to 100 classical musicians, it was like an incredible wall of sound, like I was on a magic carpet."



And while Trujillo was not part of the original "S&M" performances, he could feel a level of comfort Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett had with the concept. "I feel like 'S&M 1' was a challenge," he notes. "By 'S&M2' they had already been down that path. There were challenges, but the good kind."



Trujillo is looking forward to a weekend of new album release and the drive-in concert; He and Hammett, who also lives in southern California, are talking about surreptitiously checking out one of the screenings. And he's just as excited to see what come next now that the Metallica machine has been revved up and shaken out of pandemic doldrums.



"Obviously these are crazy times, and it takes a lot to take that first step, and I feel like we've done that," Trujillo says. "We have some ideas about how we want to pursue making music together. We're going to put something together and it's going to be exciting musically, and maybe there'll be another performance or two -- not exactly sure when or how or what, but there are things in the works.



"We'll get through this stuff now and start figuring out what's our next step towards creativity. (The possibilities) go on and on and on. That's kind of where we're at."



Metallica releases its new album, "S&M2," on Friday, Aug. 28. The group has also filmed a special concert that will be shown at drive-in theaters on Saturday, Aug. 29. ticketmaster.com/encore-metallica for locations and tickets.

Web Site: www.ticketmaster.com/encore-metallica

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