In 1987, following the death of bassist Cliff Burton, metal titans Metallica brought a young fresh face into the band, and Jason Newsted would forever seal his legacy in the metal ranks. After the well-publicized split from Metallica, Newsted has become the ultimate journeyman of metal, playing with everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Voivod, with a plethora of projects in between. Now Jason looks to step out of the shadows of his past, break away from short-term projects, and unleash his new band, aptly called Newsted, upon the world.
Personally, getting the chance to talk to Jason was special for me. Metallica was the first concert I ever attended (March 11, 1989, to be exact), and it was a life-changing day that Jason was a part of. With a new album, Heavy Metal Music, released this week, I talked to Jason about life, vinyl, playing bass with a pick, and the past, present, and future of Jason Newsted.
Hi, Jason! How are you feeling after your bout with pneumonia?
I’ve still got it in me some, just kind of fighting through it. I’m better than I was, but there still a chunk of it over here in my lung. That’s what it does, it kind of finds a spot, and sits there for some weeks. I’m just kind of getting through it. I think the worst part is behind me. It took them a while to find the right antibiotics, so there was a little challenge there, but I’m good.
Still hanging in okay while on stage?
Oh yeah, man, no problem. Once I get out there, I mean, you could have both broken legs, man, once it starts, it don’t matter. Feel no pain! (laughs)
So tell us about the Newsted project.
Things are going good! We’ve been together five months now, and this shit is moving very fast. We put the Metal EP out in January, and Mike Mushok [of Staind] joined the band in February, and then we started making a record. Now we’ve played in 17 or 18 countries. We’ve got the EP done, the LP is out next week, and now we’re on Gigantour for another week and a half, and it’s been going very fast and very successful, actually. Very positive reactions from the people around the world so far. It’s been very, very overwhelming for me, so I did something right along the way, I guess.
Sounds excellent. How did Newsted come to be? Where did it begin?
Jessie and Jesus and myself have been playing for a lot of years together, just kind of making improv slabs of metal and stuff. Just messing around and having fun. In 2011, I had taken my punk band, Papa Wheelie, out for some shows around the Bay Area. I was playing guitar and had started singing, and it started percolating a little bit then, my interest of getting back to the people and playing music again.
I had just been in the underground for about 10 years at that point, recording in the studio and stuff. I started coming out for some live shows, kind of getting excited about it. I think the last show of Papa Wheelie was November 19, 2011. It was opening for Kyuss, and about a week after that, Lars [Ulrich] called and invited me to their 30th Anniversary shows at the Fillmore with Metallica in San Francisco in December.
I went and did those shows, and that was what pretty much set this whole thing off. By the third night, the response and the love of the people and their reaction to me and towards me, it was amazing. I was completely taken, and reminded of what I’m supposed to be doing with my life—what my purpose is—and that’s to be taking heavy metal music to the people with my bass, so that spawned it all. And here we are, 15-16 months later, and we’ve got the record. We’re going back out with a band with my name on it, which is something I never, ever planned on doing; it just kind of transpired. It’s destiny, man.
The new album is called Heavy Metal Music. Is there anything specific that prompted you to use such a simple, direct title?
Global outlook. From the beginning, I joined Metallica when I was 23 years old, and from that moment I was taught about looking at a worldwide view. You know, Metallica was worldwide before there was an internet or any of that kind of crap.
Early on, Metallica was bigger across the world than they ever were in the States, and that’s the way I was taught. It was instilled in me to look at it that way. I’ve played in 50 or 52 countries now so far, and in my career, no matter what language you speak, heavy metal music is heavy metal music, and Newsted is Newsted, and I want to make sure that’s very clear to everyone, what they’re gonna get when they lay down their money for this music.
That’s an interesting way to look at it.
I’ve played a number of styles in my career, you know, in Echobrain, Govt. Mule, Sepultura, DJ Shadow, and all different kinds of things. I just want to make sure everybody’s real clear on what’s happening this time.
So, how would you compare what you’re currently doing to things like Papa Wheelie or Echobrain? What’s similar, what’s different about those experiences?
The similarity is that this is another labor of love. Echobrain was an absolute labor of love, Voivod was an absolute labor of love, and I’ve poured millions of dollars into both of those projects. This project’s the same, you know, it’s my baby, but this time my name’s on it. I composed all the songs, from top to bottom, all the instruments basically, and all the lyrics. It’s my voice, and for the first time in my 32-year career I formed a band from scratch. It’s the first time.
I’ve done a lot of projects and things like that, with supergroups, and guys from, you know, Kyuss, Sepultura, Exodus, and Machine Head, and all those things through time, but nothing other than just a project. I never have hand-picked musicians to be in a band with my name on it. Even Flotsam [and Jetsam] was in formation when I joined. Everything I’ve ever joined has pre-existed. I came in as the new propulsion; I came in as the new blood with each project. This time, it’s mine fresh from the get-go, so there’s quite a few differences in that way. The role I am assuming now as frontman, being lead vocalist and playing bass at the same time, there’s a lot of new ground to tread here.
You mentioned supergroups. In 2010-2011, you did the WhoCares project with Ian Gillan and Jon Lord of Deep Purple, Tony Iommi from Sabbath, Nicko McBrain of Maiden.…These are legends. What was that experience like?
Well, to be asked was very humbling and flattering and pre-otherworldly. I mean, to even know that Tony Iommi knew my name, let alone track me down to say, “Dude, will you play bass on my song?”—that was like a kid waking up and going, “Let me write down my dream for the day,” or something. It was very much that, you know, your greatest teacher of all of us.
Tony actually nodded to me onstage when I was front row for Black Sabbath, and the fact that he acknowledged my presence…
Exactly! You’re like, “OH MY GOD!” (laughs) Now magnify that by a couple of million, and that’s where I was at.
Unfortunately, Jon Lord’s not with us anymore, but has there ever been any talk of doing a project like that again, or was that just kind of a one-off, charity thing?
You know, I never say never [to] any wonderful opportunities like that, and Tony did mention some things about maybe doing some recording some time later, so I am just, “Dude, what time do you want me there, buddy?” (laughs)
You mentioned how you were always the new propulsion, the fresh injection of new blood in bands, but did your experiences with bands like Voivod and Ozzy Osbourne give you any new perspectives on the way you approach music, or were they just great experiences in themselves?
Just like anybody’s experience at that time, it’s what forms you, and so is going into bands with my heroes. Metallica were heroes, and I got to live that dream. Voivod were heroes, lived that dream. Ozzy—absolutely a hero. Lived that dream. So, going at it in that way, sort of a wide-eyed little metal kid, no matter what the calendar says, I’m 19 in my heart. You know, “Holy crap, Voivod! Oh my god, Ozzy!” You know, it was that type of thing, so I want to soak up everything I possibly could, for better or worse.
I take it all in, and it’s absolutely changed perspective for me over time, learning from your heroes and getting mutual respect from your heroes. Getting a nod, and Ozzy saying “You know, you play like a young Geezer [Butler],” and I’m over here like “DAHHHHH!” He thought I was a lot younger than I was, which is also fucking cool. I was in Ozzy’s band when I was 40 or 41 years old! He thought I was 30, so that was pretty cool.
Not too bad when they think you’re younger!
Definitely not too bad! You know, when somebody that you respect so much, shows you some respect, it’s a great feeling.
Absolutely. You mentioned playing with Metallica at the 30th Anniversary shows in San Francisco. Touch on that a little, what was that experience like?
Coming back into the fold, the most important thing for me was to see my friends, and the road crew, and all those people that taught me about being a professional musician. The same people that work for Metallica worked for them for 30 years ago. That’s one of the reasons Metallica is what it is.
Wow, that doesn’t happen too often.
Yeah, I mean it’s been the same team for ever and ever. It’s been the same soundman for 3,000 shows or whatever. So those people raised me, and I was going to see them. Then I got on stage with the boys, and it was like “HOOOOLY FUCK. OK.”
The [Rock and Roll] Hall of Fame was one thing. You’re playing for people in suits, and they’re all sitting down. They’re all appreciative and everything, but it ain’t a Metallica fan club show, when there’s three pits going on the floor at once. It’s a very different ball of wax. When that started happening, and the same feeling that I always felt in Metallica every day—invincibility. Bullet-proof. That’s what you feel like when you get up there and it’s that loud, and it’s that together, and it’s that fuckin’ good. Invincible. And victorious. My word for that week was victory.
I want to touch on one last thing with Metallica, because honestly, in the media, it’s been beaten to death. “Do you still talk to them? Do you still get along with them?” It’s kind of been done. What I want to know is what is that one thing you took away from your time with Metallica? Not many people, in the grand scheme of musicians, not many get to play with a band of that caliber.
Well with Metallica, there’s only 7 of us in this exclusive club. So yeah, it’s pretty rare. Well…hmm. Never wanting to be the weak link. Ever. All of us had our own routines, and things that we did to keep ourselves strong and powerful. You have two choices with everything you do, every day. Every action. To strengthen, or to weaken. And I chose to strengthen. Every time. Now, there’s a couple of times when you take a little too much wine down your neck, you know, back in the old days, or take a little too much whatever down your face. Those were weakening times, but that got learned real quick.
By the end of the Black Album tour, that was 1993, and most of us, we just strengthened after that. Those are the choices we have, each day, with everything you do. Each bite that you take, whatever you put in your body, what you drink, what you smoke, what you swallow. All those kind of things, either strengthen or weaken. That’s what I learned from that band—you always want to choose to strengthen.
Excellent. Let’s jump back to the present. Tell us how the Chophouse came about. First, the studio, then move into the Chophouse record label. The studio came first, right?
Yeah, we built the studio at the end of 1991, when I first started getting some checks from the Black Album, I decided to put a studio together. We christened it on Elvis’ birthday, January 8th of 1992, which is my dad’s birthday by the way, one year apart from Elvis.
Good day then!
Yeah! So, from that time, we’re 21 years into the Chophouse now. It’s just a simple building that you can’t tell that that’s what’s inside. It’s an old, crusty building, but inside it’s awesome.
That’s usually where the best places are.
Yep! I’ve recorded thousands and thousands of hours of music, of many different styles of players. Some very well-known players, and some not so well known, not in the metal circles anyway. We’ve had rappers, and soul singers, all kinds. Jazz player, violinists…all kinds of crazy things through time, and we make our musical soup. We constantly chase that in the Chophouse. It’s all set up; we just turn on the microphones and just let it rip. We always record every single thing that goes down there, and it’s been going successfully for 21 years, and like I said, Heavy Metal Music will be the first worldwide release from the Chophouse, so it’s a big feather in our cap.
The record company started up, I think right around when we were doing the Moss Brothers record, right before the Echobrain record. We decided to put the label together to try to be able to serve some music where people have a bit of control when it comes to distributing and things, so that’s been going now for a while. I guess 15 years almost, probably.
So with the Chophouse record label, are you happy that you made the decision to keep things in-house, as opposed to going to an outside label for support?
It starts as the Chophouse imprint, then it goes to distributors from there. We have probably 11 different licenses around the world, trying to bring this music to the people, cause that’s how it is nowadays. We have some Universal help, we have some Sony help, we have some Geffen help, and we have some other independent guys around the world, so it’s spread out quite a bit. It all launches from the Chophouse first, you know, “Chophouse Records, under exclusive license to so-and-so.”
Are there any other bands on Chophouse Records, or are you looking to bring more bands in?
No, that’s not how it goes. There’s only been one other band ever that I recorded that I wasn’t in, and that was the predecessor to Echobrain, the band with the main guy from Echobrain that existed before I recorded with them when they were 16 or 17 years old, because they showed so much promise. That’s the only time that I’ve done things strictly as a producer. I don’t think we even did the Speedealer rehearsals at the Chophouse; I think we did that all in another studio. All the things that I’ve produced at the Chophouse were my own bands, and I don’t do other bands there. It’s on my own compound, so it’s not something where I let too many people in.
You mentioned that Heavy Metal Music is seeing a vinyl release. What are your thoughts on vinyl in the present day state of music?
I love vinyl. Because of the time that I came from, the generation that I am from, I love vinyl. That’s what I knew, and of course it’s a tangible product. Fingerprints all over the posters and the records and the sleeve and everything, it’s what is supposed to happen. So, that’s what’s right for me, and I’m proud that still to this day, we can be a part of releasing some vinyl with all the other kinds of choices and modes, all that different crap. I think it’s a very cool thing. I’m not hip enough or educated enough on them to know whether it makes sense anymore, financially or economically or anything like that, or if it’s just a big pain in the ass. I’m just happy that it still exists.
Do you have any favorite record stores back home?
Well, we have Amoeba Records. So that, pretty much.…everything else is south from that, as far as I’m concerned. (laughs) We’ve got Rasputin’s, which is a close second, but Amoeba rules the universe as far as that goes. We have two of them within 20 miles of my house.
Everybody’s got one. What was that one record for you, when you were young?
Think back to your childhood and grab that one record….
I’m gonna say [Black Sabbath's] Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Rush’s 2112. They were the ones that [were] absolutely ingrained in me, that I wore the grooves out on. As far as learning bass, and figuring that out, however, I will say that the record that I probably know the nuances of more than any other is The Jackson Five’s third album, that I got for my eighth birthday from my oldest brother. Every little thing…of a drum hit, of a bass line, of a guitar, of a breath of a “OOOH!”…every single thing. If you put the needle on that thing, it just rolls to the paper. There’s no grooves left, just a “vvvvvp!” It’s like that. Crazy, man. So yeah, Jackson Five was the first one, but then when it gets heavy, it’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
Okay! That’s a pretty interesting pair.
Well, think about this for a second, James Jamerson was playing bass on that. I wouldn’t have known that, of course, but that is probably one of the reasons I go with the bass. I listened to all that Motown stuff when I was a kid. I lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan…Niles, Michigan, you know, halfway between Chicago and Detroit. So, at the Woolworth’s, for 19 cents you go into the 45s and you could get garage funk, you know, all these different bands that only have one single out. All these bands of just bass-dominated music, and that played through my household when I was a little kid. I didn’t know at the time, [but] I look back now, [and] there’s a reason I was drawn to the bass from the beginning, and why it did what it did, was that soul music.
Well, you were halfway between the blues and Motown, living where you lived.
That’s absolutely right. Through solid, American black music. Bass-dominated music. Period.
Since we’re talking about the early days of Jason Newsted, aside from what you just mentioned, who or what made you want to get into music?
I think in the beginning, picking up a guitar, it would have been Lynyrd Skynyrd. I kinda dug what was going on with them, and they played the hell out of them on the radio in those regions, in the Midwest and so forth. That’s maybe where I wanted to get like a student guitar, and for my ninth Christmas I got a guitar. I think by the time I was 10, I had three pegs on either side, and I pulled the peg off of both sides, so I just had four. I had one string going on each side of the neck, and two going down the middle, because I didn’t know about changing the nut or anything, you know. One over here, and two right there, and one over there…(laughs). I wanted to make it a bass right away, and I think that by the time I was 12, somebody brought a Kiss record to junior high, and that was it.
They’ve changed a lot of lives, musically back then.
Once Kiss showed up, and this larger-than-life comic book character took place, that was kind of it for me, and I wanted to be Gene Simmons, and so Dad gets me an electric bass, and “Look at ya now!” (laughs)
So, did you change musical directions at any time before ending up in Flotsam and Jetsam, or once you heard Kiss and Sabbath, you were into heavy music all the way?
The first bands I was in, in Michigan, I was always the younger one. I was 16 years old, and everyone else in the band was 26-27 years old. I was actually playing bass and singing back then. We were playing Ted Nugent, AC/DC, Riot, Tom Petty, Bad Company, things like that, always towards the heavier side. We played Rainbow a lot too, things like “Stargazer” and those kinds of songs, and Riot. Oh, what song was that… (sings a melody) “Road Racin’,” songs like that. More toward the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, feeling stuff, and the Clash, before I knew what it really was.
Then Motörhead came into play around ’78, and took the place of Kiss for me, and Lemmy playing bass with a pick all of a sudden made the world ok for everything for me. From then on, it was a beautiful thing. You know, I got razzed early on, from I guess 19-22 years old about not playing bass with my fingers and playing with a pick, you know, “Real bass players don’t play with a pick, blah, blah, blah.” I was young and impressionable, and competitive with things, so I was just like “Yeah? Well, fuck you, man.” Then Lemmy made it ok, because he’s blasting it out. He’s the main cat, he’s the main writer in this thing, and he’s playing bass, and it sounds awesome! He made playing with a pick ok.
Gene Simmons always used a pick, but no one ever really noticed. It seems like it wasn’t until Lemmy validated it, that it became ok.
It’s one of my favorite arguments now. There’s only one billionaire bassist in the universe, there’s only ever been one, his name is Paul McCartney, and he plays with a pick. The next guy in line, he’s got about 6-700 million, and he plays with a pick. His name is Gene Simmons. There’s another guy, his name is Sting. he’s down there, he’s got about 200 million. He plays with a pick. Or with his thumb, but still with a pick. When the Police stuff was going on, the “bong-don-ding-dong” stuff, he did it with a pick. Jason Newsted over here? Not in the hundreds of millions yet, but I didn’t do too bad, but I’m gaining on it! I play with a pick. So, any of those guys that want to argue with that, I’m right over here.
Sounds like you’ve got some good arguments ready.
(laughs) Yeah, I’ve got some pretty good arguments.
After Gigantour, what’s next for Newsted for the rest of 2013 and beyond 2013?
We’ve got the record release next week. We weren’t gonna do anything this last quarter, but I think we’re gonna re-look at that, now that there are reviews, and everything with the album is so positive. I think we’ve had 56 of the main 66 radio stations take on a single this week, and there are some big things happening that we couldn’t have predicted.
We might try to do a little something towards the end of the year if we can get some decent offers. We’ve already confirmed some Pacific Rim stuff at the beginning of next year—Japan and Australia. Then we go on and do North America, South America, some Mexican shows. Metallica and the Newsted vibe are gigantic in South America, so we’ll be doing quite a bit of that, I have a feeling. Back to Europe again, we’ve had some good offers over there. Gonna go back for most of June again next year for all of the festivals and stuff, so it’s a fairly bright horizon, with some good things going on there.
Sounds like some great things coming for Newsted.
Yep. Hard work, you know—hard work brings it, and we’re not gonna stop chasing it. I haven’t stopped yet, so…