It was the fall of 1986 when bass player Jason Newsted, then a virtual unknown joined the ranks of the mighty Metallica, the fiery metal trio who had been looking for a replacement following the tragic death of predecessor Cliff Burton. After fifteen years of head banging shows in clubs, then arenas, and subsequently before sold out stadiums as the band’s popularity grew to unprecedented levels, Newsted found himself ensconced in creative differences with Metallica’s principal members and opted to leave the band and potentially millions of dollars on the table to pursue interests more akin to his own virtues. Fast forward to 2013 after stints with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Voivod, and bringing his Echobrain pet project to fruition, Newsted has returned with a brand new band and a forthcoming brand new album which utilizes his very moniker and his reputation as a full on metal purist as he puts his official stamp on his return to the genre.
In January of this year, the band entitled ‘Newsted’ released a four song EP, creatively titled ‘Metal,’ which successfully sold an estimated 6,000 plus copies upon its initial release, good enough to be ranked in the Billboard 200. Each track is a throwback to the early days of thrash, which old school Metallica fans seem to salivate over with each reminiscing memory. The band’s first single and video for ‘Soldierhead’ is a fast-paced, pounding track that is unrelenting from start to finish. And for the first time in his career, Jason Newsted is tackling vocal duties on the soon-to-be-released album himself, accompanied by drummer and former local Metallica tech Jesus Mendez Jr. and guitarist Jesse Farnsworth. Notably, the band also enlisted Staind’s Mike Mushok to round out the lineup for recording their debut album as well as the accompanying list of tour dates currently slated for about a dozen or so club shows domestically with more festivals and such to be rolled out in short order. Locally, we’ve already secured our tickets for the band’s sole stop in Manhattan at the Highline Ballroom on May 21st and plan on covering the entire show in kind.
The remaining tracks that round out the “Metal” EP are equally as catchy and inspired as the initial single. The slower serpentine pacing of ‘Godsnake,’ the melodic yet heavy ‘King of the Underdogs’ and the riff-laden ‘Skyscraper’ each seem capable enough metal tracks on their own, before considering the collection is just a smattering of what we’re likely to get upon the full album’s release. And if Newsted himself and the record company executives behind this project are to be believed, his penchant for delivering his own brand of creatively inspired heavy metal is as authentic and genuine as ever.
LocalBozo.com was fortunate to grab a few minutes with Newsted frontman and former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted. Listen in as we discuss how he assembled this new band, how he’s struck by its initial success and the loyalty of his longtime fans, what kind of stuff fans can expect from the live Newsted shows, and whether or not conceptually, this album was meant to be a throwback to the days of early thrash. Oh yeah, and we also touch upon his time in Metallica. Is he enjoying the creative musical freedoms that he was seeking outside of the band? Does he miss playing within the big Metallica machine? What is his relationship like with the band currently? Newsted also delves into a story about his first time playing in New York City among a slew of other topics in this exclusive and introspective interview. If you are a fan of Metallica and even if you aren’t, Jason Newsted’s love for playing music is real and uncompromised. Just have a listen for yourself.
- Jane Van Arsdale
The audio has been transcribed for your reading pleasure below.
LocalBozo.com: Jason, thanks so much for some time today man.
Jason Newsted: Oh heck yeah, thanks for having me.
LocalBozo.com: Jason, you seemed to assemble this band comprised of musicians with the same sort of metal blood coursing through their veins as it does yours. Talk about how this project (Newsted) came to fruition and how you chose these musicians to be involved.
JN: Jesus Mendez Jr.’s the drummer and Jesse Farnsworth’s the guitar player that made up the trio that recorded the “Metal” EP for the first four songs that everybody is hearing. Jesus started out as a local Metallica road crew guy back in the 90′s and then he was the drum tech on the Echobrain tour. And then we became good friends. Then he started playing over in the Chophouse with me about ten or eleven years ago. So we’ve got a lot of hours under our belts together as a rhythm section. He brought in Jesse Farnsworth about five years ago so as a trio we’ve been playing for about five years and just improv, slab-jams in the Chophouse, getting to know each other’s musicianship as it were. Got kind of a wild hair about recording some stuff when I went to play with Metallica at the 30th Anniversary shows and called Jesse and Jesus back out and I wrote a bunch of songs top to bottom, all the parts- guitar based, drum machines, all that stuff- and gave the music to them and they brought back their artistry and made these songs. So it’s cats that have paid a lot of dues and gotten a little bit of recognition and made their own records and made their own things and different styles of music, but now they get a chance to get some real recognition. They’ve got the hours in but now they’re gonna get the appreciation- in this bad. So that’s where the basis of it started for the trio and then we brought Mike Mushok in from Staind about seven weeks ago after some auditions and now we’re a four piece. We recorded the LP as a four piece and we’re going on out on tour with all these shows as a four piece band.
LocalBozo.com: Now was it your intention to handle vocal duties all along for along for Newsted?
JN: Oh yeah. I’ve been singing and kinda trying to get a little bit more of a singing voice, pulling away from the cookie monster all the time. In the last five or six years with projects that I’ve done and different people I’ve jammed with I’m trying to get a little more singing together and that was the intention. I had my own lyrics and my own words and my own scene and that’s how it developed and I’m very happy about it now actually. It’s a new feather in my cap and a new role to assume and it makes me feel strong man. I really am enjoying it a lot.
LocalBozo.com: The four song “Metal” EP sold more than 6,000 units its first week, it charted in the Billboard 200- for someone who’s enjoyed the success that you have in your career, be it playing with Metallica or Ozzy [Osbourne], how satisfying is that for you to see that kind of initial success for this project and the kid of loyal fans that follow you?
JN: The number one, the iTunes- I definitely thought that was cool. That’s fantastic. I’m all new to this thing- only six months or since this band started have I really embraced any kind of technology or started my website for the first time, and reaching out to people like that. Like the past six months realizing what fans are out there still or what new fans are there and everything. So that’s a whole new world for me. As far as the acceptance of the fans and the comments of the fans and that, that makes me feel great- makes me feel like I did something right along the way and also continue to do something right. This project was initially meant to just be a thing that Jesus and Jesse, and myself had. We said ‘you’re gonna have a cd, and I’m gonna have one and I’m gonna have one and we’re gonna drive around in the truck and jam this out and that’s how it’s gonna be.’ But we went in the initial time- in one week we recorded six or seven songs. Four of those ended up being on the “Metal” EP. Somebody hears “Soldierhead.” They played it for somebody else. They played it for somebody else. And two weeks later, Sony, Universal, Geffen- all these people want part of the music. Now we’re six months in, full world tour right here in front of us. All those labels I just named have been signed in different territories around the world. So it’s kind of a crazy thing. It just happened and by word of thumb or and word of mouth, it became what it became. My initial approach was not anything about it being given to the masses or shared with the masses. It’s something that transpired and so now I’m chasing it man. I’ve been given the opportunity again and now I’m gonna chase it just like I always do with any opportunity I’m given whether its Ozzy or Voivod or whatever.
LocalBozo.com: With some tour dates beginning to pile up, what can fans expect from the songs we haven’t heard released yet and when can we expect the first Newsted album to officially be released?
JN: They can expect more of the same or even better. It’s all heavy music. It’s not all fast but all heavy. I’ll go into this actually from that question. It was a really big day here yesterday at the Chophouse, kind of a landmark day for us. We’ve done demos and stuff here for 21 years with, you know, Sepultura guys and Exodus and Machine Head and all those cats through time. But this was the first time we’ve made an album in my studio- a full worldwide release. The record company dudes came up yesterday into my studio to listen to the music, that’s the first time that’s ever happened here. They came away going ‘Holy shit We really didn’t think the EP was gonna be able to be beat. But you’ve done it.’ I’m getting bumps just saying, just repeating their words. So that’s the first review from the dudes that are gonna work it to the world and they would tell me if it was shit They would just say ‘go back to the drawing board.’ They don’t fuck around, there’s a lot of money involved. So they say it’s either good enough or it’s not good enough but they said ‘you did it.’ So that’s what I got going so far. I like it. I know it’s heavy. I’m proud of the lyrics again. It’s all uniform, I mean it goes together- all the shit goes together. The influences are right out there on my sleeve like always, you know? You can hear the Motorhead, you hear the Sabbath, you hear it all- just like that. But for me, and what they said, they felt it was like listening to a Metallica album in the early days so that’s what we got going so far.
LocalBozo.com: I kind of had the same impressions- was the concept behind the album a throwback of sorts to the old Metallica or is this simply where you were musically as the songs were being written?
JN: Yes, just a culmination of all those different experiences with all the different styles of players, but mostly of course the forte in the metal. And then that’s just what came out and regurgitate all that- I still have quite a diverse listening practice- lots of different styles of music, lots of different languages of music, instruments that people invent themselves, always try to take on different sideways shit while still staying true to my teachers in Sabbath and stuff. So that’s really just what came out. I am metal first, no matter what. I like putting my foot into those other styles every once and awhile, faking my way around some of that with jazz players and stuff but metal is it for me and that’s what just comes out and that’s what came out on the new songs too. I put together 22 songs or something since October, and it’s all metal all the time.
LocalBozo.com: Newsted has more than a dozen dates now lined up at club shows including a May 21st stop locally here in Manhattan at the Highline Ballroom- talk if you can about some of your favorite memories of playing in New York City.
JN: Okay, there’s a couple. I’m gonna start with the very first one. Back in 1986 I joined [Metallica] and I think on the ninth day that I was in the band we were flying to Japan for the first time. We had played a couple of club shows just to kind of bust off the rust and then we flew to Japan. It was Metallica’s first time in Japan and of course my first time in Japan- my first time out of the states was on tour with Metallica in Japan. We were the fucking Beatles when we got there. None of us knew it was going to be like that. It was back entrances to hotels. It was screaming people. It was [Japanese voice] ‘Photo! Photo!’ You know? Crazy. Out of limousines, bouncing off the bumpers of the limousines and crawling over the cars, I mean crazy dude. I was loading my own gear with Flotsam [& Jetsam] for a gig on the 31st of October, for the last gig I played with Flotsam. On the 9th of November I was playing in Tokyo to a sold out crowd. Okay so that was my first experience- I go to Japan and they’re all really nice and courteous and that’s what I had to taste first the promoters- the most courteous promoters on the planet. Then we came from Japan to New York City and got off the bus and got two suitcases stolen in the first two minutes. [laughs] Whew, welcome to the world. And we were all so casual- I was anyway, man I’d just been in Japan where everybody’s all nice and honorable and girlfriend can walk down the street with no worries and that kind of crazy shit. So I came back to New York City, went to L’Amours went to see freaking Cro-Mags and Crumbsuckers and all that stuff man, digging it in the City with James, introduced me as the new bass player. Then we went and played the Felt Forum- that was the first gig that I played in New York, was the Felt Forum. That’s pretty cool. And I wiped out on stage. During ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ but didn’t miss a note- went over on my shoulder, came back around- fortunately in ‘Bell Tolls’ it’s just [bass sounds], you know? Just big old whole notes so it didn’t really matter. But that’s what I really remember about my first New York experience. How’s that? I wiped out on stage bro at the Felt Forum.
LocalBozo.com: That’s awesome man. Listen, you guys are about to get out on the road- What can fans expect from the upcoming live Newsted shows- will the full length album be played in its entirety- can we expect some covers or some tunes from your old bands?
JN: I certainly want to share all the EP stuff with everybody because that’s what they’re gonna be familiar with so that will be within the sets. And on these shows- in these first dozen or whatever that we’re doing through the states to kind of get ourselves together, we are the headliner so I’m doing an hour five or an hour and ten. I have a repertoire of a bunch of other things I could delve into but I’m going to try to keep it to the Newsted band as much as possible. There’s a handful of Metallica things that I feel that I have the right to share with people that wouldn’t be weird. I don’t want to do like riding on laurels and riding on coattails. That’s not what I do. I never have I don’t plan on starting now. You know, there’s two people that ever sang in Metallica in 32 years. James [Hetfield] is one of them and I’m the other one. And so the things that I did sing and the people that know about my vocals in Metallica was ‘Creeping Death,’ and ‘Seek and Destroy,’ and ‘Whiplash’ you know? Old school stuff. Very good chance that I’ll be throwing some of that in just to make sure everybody knows what’s up in between the new Newsted stuff. And then as far as any of the other Metallica music that’s not the old school things, you know I got the writing credit for ‘Blackened,’ ‘and [Where the] ‘Wild Things’ [Are], and [My Friend of] ‘Misery’- so if I delve into that, a little intro here, little bass intro there, or twenty seconds of that, or three minutes of ‘Whiplash,’ that’s kind of what I plan on doing as far as any covers. I’ll always have a handful of Motorhead, a pocketful of Motorhead anyway, to bring that out whenever I want to. I’ve been playing and singing Motorhead since Flotsam days and so we’ll just reach for that when we need it. We’ve also chosen a couple other pieces of cover songs. Jesse Farnsworth is quite a good singer. He sings in his own band and so we’ve got a couple things that he might sing so I can kind of play some guitar and some bass in the set- mostly bass but some guitar too. So that’s kind of what you can expect. It’s going to be positive vibes. I want to make sure everybody knows how happy I am to be there with them and to see them and everything. I’m not going to be too worried about it being ‘Ahh fucking metal!” and all that, because we already are. I just want to bring it out positive and continue to spread that positive vibe that I always have tried to do.
LocalBozo.com: Looking back at your time with Metallica, you’ve sort of become an inspiration for artistic integrity in breaking away from something so successful because essentially your creativity was being stifled. Are you now reveling in sort of the freedom that you were hoping to find in leaving the band?
JN: Oh yeah man and there’s so many factors to that whole thing. But yeah I’m really enjoying myself now for sure. Being the man is a good thing. You know everybody likes a little applause and a little recognition and things like that. I’ve worked a long time to get to this place and so I’m really having a good time with it. I get to sing my own stuff my own way, and play it the way I want to- not necessarily the same every time. I like that a lot. I’m feeling powerful about it. And the thing with Metallica you know, it wasn’t so much that I was stifled as much as I wasn’t ready to do it either. My songwriting capabilities to be up to Metallica’s snuff as far as completing whole songs top to bottom, other than just giving the riffs for ‘Blackened’ or whatever- these things through time- man I threw dozens of riffs at those guys through all the years. It wasn’t like I wasn’t trying to get riffs in there. But as far as development of songwriting and everything, it wasn’t there yet. I’m ready to admit that. There’s no problem with that. I understand that. So it wasn’t all the thing about having two very controlling egos in the band that were, you know, leading our band. It was about me being able to come up with songs that were up to snuff, that were as good as James or whatever. So there’s no hard feelings there about any of that stuff.
LocalBozo.com: Alright now last question: considering you’ve jumped up on stage with them a handful of times since then, do you miss being a part of the big Metallica machine and how has your relationship with the band changed over the past couple of years?
JN: Sometimes, but most of the time not. I feel that I accomplished a lot in fifteen years. You know I played almost fifty countries with those guys, I certainly was able to make smart investments through time- to be able to pay for my nephew’s college and take care of my mom and get her a house- all the things that I’ve always wanted to do, that anybody would like to do if they were in that position I would hope. And so I’m very proud of that. I’m business partners with Metallica for the rest of time. We have collective investments and all this stuff so that’s forever. We’re better friends than we’ve ever been as far as that goes, you know? Everybody’s grown up and knows how to respect each other and each other’s families and things. It’s a good place to be in right now. I’m good where I am. They’re good where they are. The only times it really stings a little bit is, it’s always about the quest. It really comes down to the quest. I want to play as many places as I can play while I’m still able to play. And they went to some places that I haven’t been without me, you know like South Africa, United Arab Emirates, India. I never got to play those places before I got out- they weren’t really open to the westernized rock and roll music when I was still with them. And so now I have my own quest with my own band to get to those places. That’s the only time that I really miss Metallica is going to those really special places. When they’re the ones breaking the ground, that was something that I always took a lot of pride in, is being part of the band when we were the first ones to take our style of music to that region of the world. That was always, you know, whatever region it may have been, that was always such a powerful like victorious feeling and so that kind of thing I miss. But the rest of it- the hubbub and the demand and the sacrifice and being away from family and that kind of thing- I do not miss that part.
LocalBozo.com: Jason, anything else you’d like to leave for the readers of LocalBozo.com?
JN: Just anybody that’s interested in the old school metal and wants to come out and share it with us, I’d really love to see them. That’s all. You know? That’s really what it’s about and I’m happy to be doing it again and I hope that anybody that’s down with the old school metal or even interested- especially people that are skeptical, please come and check it out so we can set you straight.
LocalBozo.com: Fans, “Metal” the four track EP from metal band Newsted is available now wherever you buy your rock music, with a full length debut album to follow in short order. You can catch the band live when they come through New York City on May 21st at the Highline Ballroom and tickets are available now. We’ve been speaking with legendary bass player Jason Newsted, we’re so excited to see you guys on the 21st here in New York, and all the best of luck with the new album.
JN: Appreciate it very much for your help and please direct anybody and everybody that’s interested to newstedheavymetal.com for all the information, new merch stuff, old archival recordings, all that stuff. So I appreciate your help today man. We’ll see you out there.