AFTER STEPPING OUT FROM THE METALLICA SPOTLIGHT, JASON NEWSTED RETURNS TO HIS THRASH -METAL ROOTS WITH HIS OWN BAND AND A NEW BRAND OF HEAVY
IT HAD BEEN A DECADE SINCE JASON NEWSTED stepped down as the bassist of the legendary band Metallica, when in 2011 he received a call from his old drummer, Lars Ulrich, asking him to join them for their 30th-anniversary performances at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Having kept minimal contact with the band over the years, Newsted was honored to receive the invite and agreed to make his cameo at the four performances to play the songs that he helped make famous. The second he stepped foot onstage with his bass, the frenzied crowd and the heartfelt reception from his ex-bandmates reignited something in Newsted that had been missing for some time. “It just felt so powerful, man. It was a very special moment, and I hadn’t felt the love from the fans in that way in so long. I could just feel it in my bones,” explains Newsted. “That was one of the best experiences of my career, and it was the catalyst for me wanting to put together a band. From that point on, I just knew I had to do this.”
With his re-sparked hunger to create, Newsted began writing songs drawn from the thrash and speed-metal components of his DNA, and before long, he had a full album of brutally heavy material. Evoking every bit of fury that lined his career—from his early days playing speed metal in Flotsam & Jetsam to his iconic years in Metallica to his experiential prog playing in Voivod—his first solo record was worthy to get the title Heavy Metal Music. Taking on the frontman role for the first time in his career, Newsted’s powerful vocals and masterful playing take center stage, as his famed lightning-fast picking explodes through thoughtful metal compositions such as “Heroic Dose,” “Long Time Dead,” and “Kindevillusion.” The album’s first single, “Soldierhead,” puts to rest any fears that the numerous shoulder surgeries from years of touring and injuries would slow down the metal bass innovator.
Joined now by guitarist Mike Mushok (Staind), drummer Jesus Mendez Jr., and guitarist Jessie Farnsworth, Newsted is hitting the road. With no driving incentive from money, fame, or notoriety, he’s doing things on his own terms and for the sheer thrill of electrifying stages. And if you think he’s lost a step in shredding over the years, think again. “I’ll bring it to the people, and they’ll see what they expect to see. I’m still the same crazy SOB from the Metallica days. The calendar days have gone by since then, but I’m still a 19-year-old metal kid at heart. My bones have felt every moment of my 50 years, but if it doesn’t hurt a little, then you didn’t do it right.”
From left: Jesus Mendez, Jr., Jason Newsted, Mike Mushok, and Jesse Farnsworth. Once you decided to start the Newsted project, what happened next?
It was so weird how it all happened. There was never a grand scheme behind it—it just kind of manifested. Last year I made a demo and one person heard it, and then the next person, and then it started getting some radio play, and managers and agents started contacting me, and everyone was saying, “Jason is back— let’s do this.” So it kind of took off from there. I didn’t even have a band together. I had never planned on going back out and touring, let alone putting my name behind something like this. The wagon was always in front of the horse, and in this rare instance that was probably a good thing.
How did you write the material for Heavy Metal Music?
My wife gave me her old iPad, which was a jump because I had been resisting technology up until last year. I’ve used analog stuff forever and I still do, but I figured it was about time to step into this century. So I started using GarageBand to play around with some ideas, and it was way different from my old Tascam recorder. I put down drums, bass, and guitar, and they turned into some of my main ideas for this album. I would just sit down and look to the sky and let my experience from everything I had done musically influence what I wrote. That’s basically what the project is—me combining all of my experiences in music into this.
What gear did you use in the studio?
It’s the same gear I’ve been using for 25 years, man. It’s mainly my Signature bass from Sadowsky, but I played a Will Lee Sadowsky as well that Roger [Sadowsky] built some new electronics for. I plugged into my same rig that I used to record the Metallica black album and Voivod. I didn’t use any effects this time around, which is a trip because I used a ton of effects in my past projects. Now, any effects you hear are a result of just my hands.
How do your hands sculpt your tone?
It’s all about the right hand to me, and it always has been. My left hand is agile, but it’s always about the speed and downpicking technique and being able to use muted picking well. I use the flat edge of the pick to slide down the string. My entire tone comes from my right hand, and it keeps getting better with experience.
What other elements of your playing have grown better with age?
Figuring out my part in the orchestra and my role of being a bass player. I was never the guitarist who switched instruments; I’ve always been a bass player. So when you look at my early writing with Flotsam & Jetsam and Metallica, I was playing the guitar parts on bass, and I kept up with the guitarists regarding speed and with all of the technical flair, and that was the style I developed early on. When I finally met up with [producer] Bob Rock, he showed me what a bass player is supposed to be and how to support a band by being the concrete. You have to be base, not just the bass frequencies. Bob instilled in me that the most important skill a musician can have is the ability to listen. You have to be a good listener before you’re a good player. Before that, it was just blast, blast, blast as hard as you can and as fast as you can.
Bob Rock also had an influence on your bass tone.
Without a doubt. Bob and I worked on my tone for a while; we boosted the low end and scooped out all of the mids, and then boosted the hi-end to get the bass sound that Metallica invented. And then we took it further by looking at the guitar frequencies, which took over the scooped-out mids of the bass, and we would boost the bass right there and add more low end—and all of a sudden, there’s the bass powering through, even though you can still hear every note of the guitars.
Did you feel pressure to please your fans from Metallica?
In the beginning, it was really just for myself. It was a personal goal to write some songs and show them to my girl to say, “Look what I made.” I approached all of it like a 19-year-old with child-like wonderment. I didn’t even realize until I got back out here, and began interacting with people, how many people’s lives we’ve affected. I’m glad that I’m going personal with this, because if it meets my stamp of approval, hopefully it’s good enough for our fans. I’m 32 years in, so I don’t worry about what other people think anymore.
How did your time in Metallica help sculpt you into the player that you are?
I have incredible gratitude to those people who were my bandmates. Metallica taught me everything about what I do. Metallica is as big as they are for a reason, and that is because they are professional and do everything 100 percent. The conditioning that I had for 15 years in that band was the best of the best; I was treated like a king wherever I went, but I had to work my ass off just to be even. James [Hetfield] can wake up without playing for a week and just shred like no other and be perfect without even warming up. He starts right there! So I would be working the whole week he had been sleeping, just to get to where he’s starting. They went into every show like it was their last, and I never wanted to be the weak link because we took so much pride in each other and our playing. I learned so much about being professional, being on time, keeping a clear head, and not being afraid to get your drink on when the time comes—but we had to keep our stuff together, because otherwise you’ll be letting everyone down. It takes a lot to be in an outfit like that. Metallica instilled a standard in me, and that’s the only standard I’ll accept.
How has your health been since your shoulder surgery and considerable health issues from years of touring?
The shoulder surgery was pretty severe, so it took me about four years to get back to being the monster again. I had to play sitting down for recording, and I couldn’t be the performer I wanted to be. But I’m 90 to 92 percent recovered, and that’s all I’ll ever be from here on out. It’s flesh and bone, man, and the damage is done. Kirk [Hammett] got me into yoga and eating right a long time ago, so I learned how to take care of myself from him. A lot of these young cats just go out there and they jump off the stage and start drinking beer right after shows without taking care of themselves. I’m like, “Dude, I’ll see you in about four years when you’re in a puddle over there and I’m still kicking your ass.” You have to be smart about your health if you want to maintain a career.
Did your injuries ever make you consider walking away from music?
Think about it, man—how many records did we sell? Like, 105 million, right? It’s no secret that I could be playing golf the rest of my life. But I want to thrash, so I’m out here thrashing still. It will take much more than just age and injuries to keep me away from music.
Newsted, Heavy Metal Music [Chophouse, 2013]
Basses Sadowsky Jason Newsted Signature, Sadowsky Will Lee Signature 4-string
Rig (Two of each) Ampeg SVT Reissue Classic, Ampeg SVT-810E, Marshall JCM 100-Watt Lead head, Mesa Boogie 4x12
Strings Ernie Ball Heavy Gauge
Picks 1mm Dunlop Tortex Triangle