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Kirk Hammett on going solo at 59: "I’m pretty adept at a lot of different styles but 90 percent of our fan base out there only hears me in a Metallica context"

Kirk Hammett
(Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

It's taken a while, a long while, but Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett is finally going solo with the release of his instrumental Portals EP. And while former bassist Jason Newsted incurred the wrath of Hetfield and Co in Some Kind Of Monster when he wanted to pursue his Echobrain project 20 years ago, Hammett is relieved to find his band are much more open to extra-curricular activities now. 

“I was also pretty shocked that I got the complete band’s blessings on it,” he tells Rolling Stone about the reaction to playing them Portals. “It was amazing because our band has not had a lot of great progress with band members going solo, as everyone knows. But all that went down almost 20 years ago, and we’re such different people now. We’re all just older, wiser, and more mature.” 

Hammett is very self-aware of his standing in the world of Metallica too. 

"And those guys know I ain’t f***ing going anywhere," he adds. "Metallica is my f***ing bed. Metallica is my home, and it would be fruitless to leave the band because, if I did, people would be reminding me every single day of how I was the Metallica guitar player. 

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"I don’t want to be put in a situation where I have to resist that. I want to always f***ing be seen as just another guy in Metallica trying to make the best music along with these other three guys because that’s basically what we do. That’s our calling. It’s what the freaking universe wants us to do. I think along those lines."

Nevetheless, the Portals EP has allowed the guitarist to show he's more than metal, writing a pair of its songs with his wife Lani, and another two with composer Edwin Outwater. 

"I could play a whole range of styles, ranging from f***ing jazz music to bossa nova to blues to classical to f***ing polka," Hammett says of his capabilities. "I’m f***ing pretty adept at a lot of different styles, but 90 percent of our fan base out there only hears me in a Metallica context. And so I realised this EP is a great opportunity to show a side of my playing that a lot of people aren’t aware of."

The self-described 'audio-cinematic' approach the guitarist took on the EP also presented a new freedom for him with his lead work. 

"With this album, I didn’t really have to worry about playing solos that were catchy or were accessible," he adds. "So a lot of the solo parts are truly a hundred percent stream of consciousness, rather than, 'We need to make this Metallica sound.' I’m really stoked about that because in the future, if I do put out something that’s a little bit more radical, it won’t be such a surprise to people."

Portals is out now via Blackened. 

"Jimi Hendrix has played that guitar, Rory Gallagher, Jeff Beck, George Harrison… I mean, the list goes on and on" – Kirk Hammett on owning Peter Green's legendary 'Greeny' 1959 Gibson Les Paul

Rob Laing
Rob Laing

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. I've currently set aside any pipe dreams of getting anywhere with my own songs and I am enjoying playing covers in function bands.