Interview: James Hetfield of Metallica


Metallica frontman James Hetfield is understood all over the world for his music, however he’s additionally a passionate automotive customizer who recently donated most of his collection to the Petersen Automotive Museum. For individuals who can’t make it to California to see them, he’s additionally written his first guide, “Reclaimed Rust: The 4-Wheeled Creations of James Hetfield” out July 28. We had an opportunity to speak to Hetfield about his guide, his automobiles, and his customizing philosophy simply forward of the guide launch.

MotorTrend: You’ve got an enormously in style band. You’ve got a fleet of customized automobiles. You’ve got a household. You’ve got a ranch. What made you suppose, “I ought to write a guide, too?”

James Hetfield: The guide actually got here out of the truth that I knew these automobiles wanted to be seen by different individuals. I simply needed to have a guide, principally type of a yearbook, of all of the automobiles that Rick Dore and I’ve put collectively.

MT: Earlier than or after you donated the cars to the Petersen Museum?

JH: I began this guide, after which the Petersen Museum got interested within the assortment. Having a guide is lots simpler than having all these automobiles in a storage someplace.

I had a imaginative and prescient of not having to deal with these automobiles anymore as a result of in some unspecified time in the future…when I’ve these automobiles, in some unspecified time in the future they’ve me. It takes loads of effort and time to maintain these items up and working, and in good situation. They have been going to be both auctioned or donated or one thing. Then that did really occur.

I’m tremendous grateful that the Petersen Museum was in a position to take the gathering and hold all of it collectively. That’s the one factor that I used to be actually upset about, the truth that in the event that they went to public sale and so they all went off someplace completely different they wouldn’t be dwelling collectively anymore, and it wouldn’t be as a group. I feel phrase obtained round to them, and so they provided to take the gathering. I used to be stoked. So far as the status of the Petersen Museum, and my assortment being in there, it’s an enormous honor. It truly is.

MT: The museum assortment opened in February. Do you miss the automobiles but?

JH: I get to have a look at them day by day in my guide, man.

Yeah, I miss driving sure automobiles and simply being round them however, you understand, they served their goal. I obtained to get inventive. I obtained to assist different individuals get inventive, all of the completely different guys: Robert Roling, and Scott Mugford, and Josh Mills, the De Leys. I set to work with some superior, historic individuals. Artwork Himsl, who did the paint on the Skylark. Darryl Hollenbeck. I met loads of nice individuals who have some old fashioned craftwork of their blood, which I really like. I obtained to do these items. Now different individuals get to have a look at them.


MT: You give loads of credit score to Rick Dore and to the De Leys, and different builders in your guide, but it surely does sound such as you do really do a few of these customizations your self.

JH: Nicely, loads of it’s in my head and in Photoshop. I really like artwork. I really like logos. I’ve gotten fairly good at Photoshop, and with the ability to lower and paste, and do issues on the pc to see, “How would that look? What in the event you took this and did that?” It’s approach simpler and approach faster, much like writing a track. You set a track into Professional Instruments, or Logic, or one thing, and also you’re in a position to prepare it shortly with out having to fully redo it and see what it seems like earlier than you try it.

However so far as the steel work and issues, yeah, I did some stuff on the Iron Fist or the Grinch, however I wasn’t going to go close to any of the others with a torch.

I do like getting within the storage. I adore it. The storage is a sanctuary for me to get in there, simply disappear into element. I really like welding. I like woodworking. I like doing stuff with my palms, gardening, clearly enjoying guitar, stuff like that. I like handbook labor. I like getting soiled.

MT: Do you employ the identical inventive course of designing a automotive as you do writing a track and writing a guide, or is every completely different?

JH: No, they’re not completely different. Even when I assumed they have been completely different, they wouldn’t be as a result of it’s simply how issues get digested creatively. Discovering a few of the earlier automobiles— doing the Grinch, which is that ’52 Olds, simply discovering it in a subject someplace—that jogs my memory of, I hear an previous track and it’s obtained an amazing melody, or it’s obtained some lyric, or one thing that conjures up me. Then you definitely digest it. Then you definitely rebuild it. You rebuild it in your individual approach.

The title of the guide, “Reclaimed Rust,” is bringing issues that also have life again to life, and even like previous guitars. I’ve a reasonably respectable assortment of guitars as properly. There are songs simply sitting in guitars ready to have some vessel to get them out.

I feel the identical with these automobiles. They’ve possibly served their goal as a correct meeting line automotive, after which they’ve was some customized piece of labor down the road and turn into one thing distinctive and shined differently.


MT: The title of the guide is supposed to be literal, then? Among the builds began out trying like they have been heading to the scrapper, however others got here from a significantly better place.

JH: There’s fairly just a few of them that most likely have been [headed to the scrapper], however sure ones… clearly  the Skyscraper or the Zephyr, or the ’32, they may appear like they have been scrapped, however somebody was going to do one thing with them as a result of they’re such iconic automobiles. Yeah, there was fairly a little bit of rust on a few of these. Then, such as you mentioned others, the Black Pearl and the Aquarius, they have been just about constructed from scratch. There wasn’t actually any rust on them.

I messed with so many various titles, but it surely needed to do with rebirth, rust rebirth, no matter. There was loads of that. Giving issues a second likelihood and giving them a second life. I don’t know. Perhaps there’s a nostalgic a part of me that loves that. I feel something deserves a second likelihood.

MT: Talking of names and titles, you’ve named all of your automobiles, however do you imagine all automobiles want names or do solely sure automobiles deserve names?

JH: I suppose it comes from, I don’t know, like after I’m writing a riff, I’ve to call it. I’ve to call it to provide it a little bit character or one thing. It’s like a pet. You title it. After a short while, it’s obtained a personality to it, and that’s what it’s.

Issues having a reputation I feel is essential, but it surely additionally helps with the character, and it helps with the colour selection, the inside, and particularly the present automotive. You bought to have one thing that’s… I don’t know. I’ve at all times liked that. I liked logos. I liked the visuals of it. I’m fairly grateful that they’ve all obtained their very own characters, and so they’re not only a automotive.

I feel like naming songs, there’s loads of visualization that comes together with a reputation. I do like including a visible, or some sort of, I don’t know, made up storyline round it. Writing lyrics to songs, you’re sitting there engaged on a track, and it’s obtained a working title for some time for a motive.

The track “Black Squirrel,” we wrote that in Toronto the place there’s a bunch of black squirrels, or one thing. It’s obtained one thing linked to it, and finally the lyrics give it extra of a personality. I just like the visuals. I like logos. If it’s obtained a reputation, then you possibly can connect a glance to it. That’s what I get pleasure from about that.

MT: Do you will have any curiosity in doing a concours restoration in some unspecified time in the future, or do you must tinker and modify the automobiles that you simply personal?

JH: I really like the customization of it. I like having one thing distinctive, making a prototype, or how loads of prototypes, whenever you first see them, they appear wonderful. You suppose, “Wow, they’ll by no means produce that.” No. It’s simply so—most likely—expensive, or it’s a little bit too slim of a like. It’s not watered down sufficient for most of the people.

So far as songwriting, most of my tastes are that. They’re distinctive, and so they’re completely different and never appreciated by everybody. That’s okay, however so far as automobiles, I feel the closest, the Blackjack, the ’32 Ford Roadster, that’s near a bolt-correct restoration as a result of it’s tough to enhance that ’32, however all the things else actually, it appeared prefer it simply wanted a little bit assist and wanted to be a little bit extra distinctive.


MT: Do you a minimum of really feel like sure automobiles want period-correct engines and modifications?

JH: There’s not loads of big thought put into that. It’s nice that they run and drive round, however I do know lots of people suppose that the engine is the guts of the automobile. To me, all of them have a physique, form, and a face. The cosmetics, the surface, the silhouette, that’s the character of the automotive for me, the engine a little bit bit much less.

Just like the ’32 Ford, it needed to be a flathead. The entire thought was to convey that automotive… A ’32 Roadster, what wouldn’t it be like if some child from the ‘40s obtained ahold of his dad’s previous automotive and needed to sizzling rod it? That was enjoyable. That was extra of a narrative we have been attempting to observe. What was out there in ’46, ’47 so far as velocity tools goes for the flathead? Many of the different ones, it didn’t matter as a lot so far as the engine goes.

MT: I’m getting the impression how the automobiles drive and deal with aren’t high priorities in your builds.

JH: Nicely, [that’s not the case with] these, and [they’re] not my every day drivers for positive, so far as the dealing with and whatnot. Most of those automobiles, they’re so low, they obtained airbags (suspension kits), they’re not driving nice. They’re simply not, however it’s a sacrifice for the look, having the wheels tucked approach up underneath there, sitting low within the weeds. There may be simply one thing actually cool that I discover actually enticing about it being low and glossy.

So far as the dealing with, all these automobiles have been pushed. Some drive higher than others, and a few that you simply count on would drive horrible really drove actually nice. It was rather less in regards to the automotive’s dealing with than the creative a part of the physique, and the form, the silhouette.


MT: Is there a sure side or component of design you’re feeling each one among your creations has to have?

JH: Nicely, I feel that it’s like taking what’s already there and make it a little bit extra noticeable. Within the ’30s lengthy and glossy was the look. We might take—similar to the Zephyr, the ’37 Zephyr, we threw ’38 rear quarters on it as a result of they have been even longer, and stretched that factor out. Yeah, I suppose there’s something about low, and lengthy, and glossy that…it’s simply lovely. Clearly, the Aquarius has that look with the full-fendered entrance and rear, similar to it’s floating alongside the bottom.

I obtained to do a shout out for Scott Williamson who did the images, who did a spectacular job on this guide as a result of all of these items seems prefer it’s Photoshopped publish, or simply lower out and placed on a black backdrop however it isn’t. That is all his studio. He took weeks with every automotive to get the look proper, and the lighting, and all the things. He did a tremendous job on that.


MT: You talked about rat rods within the guide, however all your creations are very clear, particularly automobiles like Aquarius. Have you ever ever completed a rat rod?

JH: Nicely, there have been a pair that began off as that. Iron Fist began off extra as a rat rod, simply open hood and straight pipes, and all of that. Rat rod is enjoyable as a result of it’s straightforward to do, and there’s no guidelines. If you happen to’re not likely gifted at steel work, you’re not one of the best welder, or this or that, you’re in a position to put collectively some distinctive creations.

It’s like artwork, similar to artwork. You see sure items of artwork that, they’ve their very own character as a result of they’re just about thrown collectively from a junkyard. Otherwise you’ve obtained these items just like the Aquarius which are simply unbelievably easy. You may’t imagine that that was constructed from scratch. Marcel and Luc De Ley, they have been simply these unbelievable steel employees.

I feel there’s room for everyone on the market on the automotive exhibits that I’ve gone to. I’ve seen all of it. I feel the rat rod world is absolutely cool to have individuals get began in it. That’s the place I obtained began, and it went on from there with Rick Dore along with his eye, and hooking up with these sure fairly excessive finish of us it simply took it to a different degree.


MT: Within the guide, particularly concerning the Skyscraper, you deal with the controversy between preserving or modifying uncommon automobiles, and also you come down on each side of it utilizing the instance of a Tucker Torpedo as one you wouldn’t contact. The place do you draw the road?

JH: I don’t know. That line most likely, if I had a Tucker I most likely, actually, wouldn’t try this. There’s a uniqueness to it. I feel I don’t know what that line is. I actually don’t. Everybody has their very own line. For me there have been sufficient of the Skyscrapers on the market that have been restored and in good condition. Between Rick and I, we had this imaginative and prescient for it.

Yeah, we may have taken one thing else, one thing that wasn’t the ’53 Skylark that was already considerably custom-made and completed this factor to it. However I had a bead on a Skylark that wanted restoring anyway. Discovering the unique components was fairly tough. We began with that and went for it.

MT: Now that almost all of your automobiles are off within the museum assortment, is there a brand new venture within the storage?

JH: There’s not, actually. I get the inkling each occasionally. As I’m my guide right here I see…I’m fairly obsessive about the ’30s automobiles. There’s nothing from the ‘40s in right here. Nicely, I suppose the chassis for the Black Pearl is from the ‘40s however nothing with the fashion of the ‘40s. Sitting in my storage proper now could be a ’47 Chevy Fleetmaster two door convertible that I simply love.

It’s a straightforward and exquisite automotive to drive. It’s just about inventory. I haven’t completed something to it actually. The place I stay in Colorado, there’s about three months out of the 12 months the place you possibly can hand around in your convertible. You higher be close to some type of overhang or one thing round 3:00 pm as a result of between 3:00 and 6:00 there’s at all times a thunderstorm that rolls by.


So far as extra initiatives, this was type of a chapter of my life. I don’t see it as ever being an enormous assortment like this once more. There is perhaps a one-off that I hold. I nonetheless have the Grinch, which is a every day driver. No, there’s not likely something within the works so far as that goes. There’s extra to life and I’m shifting on to the subsequent chapter. I’m undecided what it’s but.

MT: Is the Grinch a automotive you possibly can hold eternally, or are you at all times going to want one thing new and completely different to work on to spark your creativity?

JH: Creativity will at all times be there. It sparks itself actually. That’s extra of the problem. Can I see a automobile and never need to do one thing to it? The Grinch, I simply love that automotive. It’ll be a every day driver and I’ll have it eternally and who is aware of, go it to my children in the event that they’re . Yeah. I prefer it.

Typically I really feel a little bit, I don’t know, a little bit egocentric in a approach the place I’m driving round a automotive that, particularly in Colorado not lots of people have customized automobiles, or automobiles from the ‘30s, ‘40s, or ‘50s simply due to the climate and the place we stay. Typically it feels a little bit bizarre getting a little bit an excessive amount of consideration, and folks pointing, and all of that.

That was once one thing I actually, actually craved. Now it’s completely different. It’s like, “I don’t need to be seen, man.” I just like the anonymity and dwelling in a small village right here, however nonetheless there’s part of me that loves automobiles, and being distinctive, and so be it.

MT: You talked about the eras you’d dabbled in. I seen that, too, within the guide that you simply vary from the early ’30s to the early ’60s. Was it ever a acutely aware choice, or is it simply that point interval in automobiles spoke to you?

JH: It was kind of the automotive, and the pattern at the moment. The ‘30s was very Artwork Deco, and really sweeping, and actually lengthy, and glossy. There’s simply one thing…You have a look at the profile of those automobiles and so they look quick. The ‘30s automobiles, they appear quick even once they’re simply sitting there.

The ‘40s obtained a little bit boxier, I feel, and simply weren’t as easy or nice-looking. The ’50s was boxy as properly, however the Skylark had some roundness to it. Plenty of the Buicks did, which I actually like. That was actually not, “I’m going to just do ’30s automobiles, or simply ’50s automobiles.” No, there was no thought behind it.

It was: what are some iconic automobiles all through American historical past, and the way can we manipulate or modify to make them even cooler? That was just about the concept. You see it and also you need to do one thing with it. Some simply don’t lend themselves to that, like that ’47 Chevy sitting in my storage. I wouldn’t mess with it. It’s what it’s.

MT: I seen, too, you don’t appear notably loyal to anyone model.

JH: Why discriminate? If it’s lovely, it’s lovely. Amassing a sure model is smart for some individuals, however for me, I don’t prefer to really feel restricted with it. I’d say that I do get a little bit extra biased, or a little bit extra…Nicely, relating to vehicles—I’ve at all times had vehicles in my life, too—however Ford is my go-to, simply their historical past. They’ve been good. They’ve been actually good at making vehicles.

No, I’m fairly loyal in most different locations. Loyalty has a constructive. I feel loyalty in seeing magnificence and stuff like that’s extra of a detrimental in the event you’re a little bit closed minded round it.

MT: I’m curious in the event you personal a Ford now, or what James Hetfield every day drives.

JH: Nicely, I’ve obtained a Tesla that I’m in love with, however I really like scaring individuals in that factor. Yeah. It’s the P100D [Model] S and it’s quick. It’s enjoyable and it handles actually nice. I do know there’s loads of individuals on the market which are probably anti-electric, however I don’t prefer to restrict myself. I assumed there’s no approach I’d ever love an electrical automobile, however this factor has some spectacular torque, and the dealing with, I adore it.

Then I’ve a Ford Raptor that’s my every day driver so far as only a getting round truck, heading out to the ranch and all that. There’s a pleasant mixture of stylish, quick, and rugged on the similar time.

MT: Does the Tesla provide you with any concepts about customizing an electrical automotive?

JH: It doesn’t, no. I’ve obtained the Tesla as a result of, dwelling in California for some time, we have been shut by. I used to be very intrigued by it. I suppose that may very well be one thing if I used to be going to construct one thing that I needed to race round or one thing. There’s something a couple of automobile that appears like one among these within the guide, and having it have an electrical motor. I don’t know. It will be completely different, very completely different, not having the sound of that decade.

It will be attention-grabbing, however similar to again within the ’50s somebody needed to modify the primary Merc (Mercury), taking a brand new automotive and chopping it up, and making it completely different. I don’t know actually in the event you may chop up the Tesla, make it look a little bit higher.

MT: You mentioned “race round.” Did you imply actually? Do you do any racing?

JH: I do. I’ve enjoyable. There was a time after I actually appreciated drag racing. We’d take a few of our sizzling rods all the way down to Sears Level and do some bracket racing on Wednesday night time. Actually into the horsepower and all that stuff.

I’ve gotten actually superior alternatives all over the world with the ability to go onto sure tracks and hop in automobiles that I can’t imagine they hand me the helmet to get in these items and drive them round, like in Brazil or down within the south. Get to journey alongside in a inventory automotive. I obtained to go 175 miles an hour round a nook in a NASCAR. He simply yanks the wheel. It’s like, “Are you kidding?”

I obtained sit in some old-school dragsters, entrance engine or some previous gassers, that are superior. I’ve obtained to face on the Christmas tree when high fuelers go off. That could be a mind scramble. Oh, my God. Between the nitrous oxide and the noise, and the rumble, the thunder, I imply, it scrambles each one among your senses, and even senses you don’t have.

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