Lars Ulrich. Photo by Ross Halfin
This is the VICE Interview. Each week, we ask a different famous and/or interesting person the same set of questions in a bid to peek deep into his or her psyche.
I meet Metallica’s Lars Ulrich in a definitely not-very-metal situation—in a two-story suite at London’s Connaught Hotel, complete with chandelier, gilt tray of tea and cookies, and a fancy bowl of fruit. The Danish drummer is in the midst of the promo tour for Metallica’s latest album, Hardwired to Self-Destruct. “How civilized,” I say. “This is Metallica,” he replies, laughing as we sit down at the grand dining table.
VICE: What would your parents prefer you to have chosen as a career?
Lars Ulrich: My dad was a professional tennis player. When I attempted to follow in his footsteps into the tennis world for a couple of years, he looked a bit miffed because I’m not sure he thought that I was talented enough. He was very encouraging and very open-minded, and I certainly did not have the kind of parents who would have suggested doing anything else other than where my heart was at. Actually, contrary to most rock ‘n’ roll stories, my parents were cool—they were my best friends. There was nothing there to rebel against or stick my middle finger at. It wasn’t until I came to America and I met all the people in Southern California that I started understanding this whole thing about rebelling against your parents. That was not part of my agenda when I was growing up.
How many people have been in love with you?
Of the 200 people we met last night at the in-store? [Metallica had played a tiny show at House of Vans in London on the night before our interview]. Judging by that, quite a few. [Laughs] There’s a lot of love between Metallica and the fans. They get very passionate. There were tears last night. There were expressions of extreme, next-level love.
What was your worst phase?
I had a love affair with a white leather jacket for probably a little longer than I should.
What memory from school stands out to you stronger than any other?
My dad traveled a lot, so I often went with him. My parents would write the school principal a letter going, “We believe that it’s better for Lars’s global view of the world if he comes to the United States for the month of February with his dad on a tennis tour…” I got to go on these trips with my dad during the school year. Those were really cool trips.
Where did you go on your first friends vacation, and what did you do?
We were on tour, on the Ride the Lightning tour in America in ’85, and we were playing through Texas. We met a bunch of guys in Dallas who were in a band together, and we ended up becoming really good friends. James [Hetfield, Metallica singer] and I flew down and spent a week with them after the tour was over and just hung out with them. They had just formed a band called Pantera.
Lars Ulrich. Photo by Ross Halfin
Complete this sentence: The problem with young people today is…
That I’m not one of them.
When in your life have you been truly overcome with fear?
We had the accident on this tour bus, way back in 1986, and we lost our bass player and that’s been talked about a lot. What happened after that is that we were never really comfortable on tour buses, so we started flying on planes. On The Black Album tour in ’92, we were flying from Nashville and flew into a thunderstorm on this plane, and for about ten minutes or so, it was literally like [makes thunder sounds]. All the shit was flying around the cabin, and all the carry-on luggage was everywhere, hitting the ceiling. For like ten minutes. It was one of those things that you see in movies… it was dark and you could see the lightning outside the plane. That was really horrifying. It felt like it just went on and on forever.
What is the nicest thing you own?
I have some pretty cool houses. I’m fortunate. My favorite is probably the one we have up in the mountains in Montana. I don’t go up there enough, but right now, the idea that I’ll be in Montana five or six weeks from now is kind of keeping me going. What else? The Metallica masters. Those are really good to own. That’s my pension.
What would be your last meal?
It would probably be a little bit of everything. Maybe an odd combination of lots of different things. I like dining experiences…where it’s all small portions, but many of them. My last meal would probably be like, a bite of caviar, a bite of falafel, a bite of French fries, a bite of sushi, some Danish curried herring, a bite of bagel.
What film or TV show makes you cry?
The Ten Commandments by Cecil B. DeMille. The OG one, with Charlton Heston.
What’s the latest you’ve stayed up?
Even in my worst days, I always managed to get some sleep. I never missed a night of sleep. 6 AM, 7 AM, 8 AM, 9 AM, 10 AM. Maybe occasionally, once or twice, we may have snuck 11. I don’t know, but I never went around the clock like some people I knew who went around the clock more than once, for two or three days. It got a little nutty occasionally, but there was always some sleep involved in there somewhere, even at its worst. For that, I’m quite proud, actually.
What have you done in your career that you are most proud of?
I guess I’m probably most proud of our independence and autonomy. We’ve never done things for the wrong reason. We’ve never written off control of certain situations for a big pile of money. We’ve never sold ourselves out for big advances or reneged on creative control. We’ve always kept it pretty pure and pretty organic. I think we can always hold our head up high and say that we’ve done a decent job of keeping our integrity.
If you were a wrestler, what song would you come into the ring to?
Killing In the Name by Rage Against the Machine. Because the only weapon I have with my 5′ 7″, 140-pound frame would be my attitude. I would have to be like, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.”
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