Hammett talks Hetfield: "We connect in a place that is not comfortable"

James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica perform on stage at Johan Cruijff Arena on April 29, 2023 in Amsterdam, Netherlands
(Image credit: Paul Bergen/Redferns)

Since Some Kind Of Monster showed us (some would say too much) behind the iron curtain of Metallica's inter-band relationships in 2004, the band have definitely become more open during interviews. Even so, we don't often hear about the Kirk Hammett / James Hetfield relationship. We know that musically in the studio, Hetfield tracks all the rhythms and Hammett is the solo man with the vocalist still seemingly the main contributor when it comes to songwriting, with arrangement input from Lars Ulrich. But what about that personal dynamic?

We've presumed Hetfield is an alpha with Hammett as a more passive figure, but there are apparently key similarities between the two metal veterans, at least according to Hammett. 

"When it comes to James and I, mentally, we’re both challenged and sometimes we’re challenged in a similar way," Hammett told Metallica fan club mag So What in a new interview. "So, we have this weird emotional connection. We connect in a place that is not comfortable. It’s not warm and fuzzy. It’s actually a scary place and a place that’s super challenging and dark."

While that sounds bleak, we know Hetfield came back from it to help deliver a triumphant album and is currently leading the band on a world tour. The context is also two musicians facing sobriety – Hammett is nine years sober – with Hetfield admitting himself to rehab again three years ago. 

"In all honesty, it felt like where we were at Some Kind of Monster" Hammett revealed regarding Hetfield's most recent struggles. "Because whenever someone experiences something that’s life-changing, life-moving, you have to just accept the fact that you don’t know what’s going to happen once the person returns. You don’t know how the process might change them. So, when James went off to rehab, and then COVID hit, I mean, that was a double whammy! And it looked like the future was very, very bleak."

Hammett's response was to stay creative – and the result was a more active role in the creation of new Metallica album 72 Seasons, with the help of bass player Rob Trujillo.

For me, being positive is picking up my guitar every day

"I didn’t want to just sit there and wonder about the unknown or succumb to something that was so freaking unpredictable," Hammett reflects. "I wasn’t going to just sit there, ruminate, and ask questions that I knew there were no answers for. So, I turned to my partner in crime, Rob Trujillo. My musical partner in crime and my soul brother. We had a long discussion, and we decided, whatever happens… him and I, we’re going to just fucking stay connected to all this. We connect on a lot of different levels; musically, personally, surfing, it’s a lot of different levels. We had a long conversation, about 45 minutes or so, and at the end of that conversation, he said, 'Kirk, this is what I’m going to do. I’m just going to stay positive and stay creative, and that’s what you should do too!' I thought to myself, that sounds so simple yet so beautiful, and that’s what I’m going to do. And I stayed positive, you know? 

"For me, being positive is picking up my guitar every day. Playing guitar with an eye to writing music for the future," continues Hammett. That’s a very, very positive sort of practice that I can rely on to bring me to a good place pretty much every time because that’s what I used to do when I was a kid. [When] I just didn’t know how to deal with certain things, I’d pick up my guitar, and all of a sudden, I was brought to a better place.

"So, I sat there, and I did that. I wrote a ton of music. A lot of it ended up on this album. A lot of it ended up on my solo album. And a lot of it, you know, I still have… and I’m thinking, “What do I do with all this music?!” But I do have a ton of ideas. I know Rob has a ton of ideas too, and some of the music that Rob Trujillo has written in the last couple years has been really frigging great. I’ve witnessed him writing the stuff right in front of me, and I’m going, “Rob, this is brilliant stuff!”

Hammett's connection with Trujillo has gone beyond Metallica, with the duo playing in covers collective The Wedding Band together for gigs. 

"The level that I connect with Rob musically goes really, really deep because he and I come from basically the same musical place," notes Hammett. "We grew up around funk, R&B, soul, jazz, classical music, Latin music. And I was exposed to this type of music from the time I was five or six years old. 

"Growing up in the early ’70s, there was so much of that music everywhere in the Bay Area and on the radio. And I know there was a lot of it down in SoCal, too, on the radio. And [so when] we jam, there’s no limits on the types of music that we can play. We play jazz, blues, country, polka, weird Gypsy jazz, weird Eastern European folk stuff, French pop, Dutch pop, top ten, new wave, punk… We’ve played it all, him and I. And you know, it’s amazing because we’ve done it in a way that we feel has been convincing. We’ve brought our musicianship to it, played it convincingly, and from the heart. 

"Just being put in a weird musical situation and saying, “Okay, I’m in a difficult musical situation, and I’m really comfortable, now play from the heart…” That is big, that’s a tall order. It’s asking a lot, but it’s doable."

Check out the full interview at Metallica.com

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.