On this past week's awesome edition of the RIP a Livecast, we had a chance to speak with legendary former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted on a variety of topics. Jason was promoting a visual art show where he will be displaying some of his pieces at an upcoming exhibit at Art New York, which takes over Pier 94 in New York City from May 3 to 7, 2017.
We also asked Jason something Metallica fans have debated for a long time – and that is whether he could get away with never working again and just living off the royalties for the legendary Metallica Black Album which still sells around 4 – 5,000 copies a week. His answer was surprising and revealing:
ROB: And one last thing I wanted to ask — and I mean, this could be a little personal, so feel free to not answer this, but — something that I feel like I and other people have joked about was that you could basically never do another business venture at all, and simply live off of royalties from the monster that was The Black Album. Because it's still selling like four or five thousand copies a week. Without getting into financials, would that be a fair thing to say?
NEWSTED: Everything you said is correct, as far as the sales of the record is something that's never been seen before, it's this thing that won't go away, and everything we couldn't ever have predicted, so that's plain and simple, that's information for anybody to know or find. But early on, when I joined the band in '86 and they were already headed up by some very together people. Some very together team of management and other people that handled their business. From day one, even when I was just a hired gun before I started getting a cut — it took five and a half months before I started getting a full cut. So the first five and a half months, I was just a session guy. So by April of '87, which was… yeah, check THAT shit out. Thirty years ago this month, I joined as a full member taking a full cut.
So, from that time, the persons that handled them and guided them, also took me under their wing and guided me. OK? And the people that know what goes on with investments. So, when we did what we did and were able to hit what we hit, and hit that stride, and we were able to take it to the people when there were that many 12- to 16-year old male individuals on the planet that we played our metal to and they came and checked out the stuff and we made some bucks and CDs still sold and T-shirts still sold, and we really invested money. That's all.
It's cool that the record's selling and that's great, but I mostly do things for other people with that money. So […] The Black Album really didn't have to sell anymore either, because somebody helped me early on in my career.
So the short answer is: Newsted was already set for life before The Black Album even came out.
We also discussed Metallica's much-talked about performance at the GRAMMYs with Lady Gaga and I was curious about Jason's take on it:
ROB: Your former band Metallica — constantly their integrity gets questioned, and I feel a little unfairly. And from some hardcore fans, there seemed to be a bit of a blowback for the performance at the Grammys, not necessarily for the stage stuff, but just because they were collaborating with Lady Gaga. Now I know in the past you've said you're a big fan of Lady Gaga or you respect her as an artist. I was curious if you had a chance to see it, and other than, again, the mic issue at the beginning, what you thought overall about the collaboration.
NEWSTED: I think that doubting Metallica ever is not really that smart any time, for whatever reason. They keep getting up again and getting ready for another fight, you know. It's pretty impressive. I've been out of it, in, back, inside of it and whatever, man! (laughs) I've seen it from all places. And it's nothing but respectable. So, yes I did see the performance. Yes I watched them as their brother. I watched them as a supporting spectator person that's in the camp, you know. So, it's like, as a fan, and that thing, I was really pissed off at how… the disrespect because of the equipment. And the, you know, the best performers that night, James Hetfield, got the shit tech with that microphone, I could have killed a motherfucker. That's not OK with me. That shit's not OK with me.
But, for them taking a chance, just like they have with anything, whether we agreed with it or not, that's not like for us to say. If they want to take that chance with somebody that's as talented and powerful as Lady Gaga, then they should be doing it. They are the same caliber she is, on the same page. She was lucky to be there with them. You know? I mean, the ultimate thing, like — we could discuss this, and all, "bla bla bla bla", but the victory — and that's maybe our theme for today — the victory of that performance, was that, because the gear failed, James and [Lady Gaga], they were able to rise to a place as the experienced, superstar performers that they are. Feed off each other on that moment, forced in to that moment, and made it into a more powerful performance that they couldn't have planned if they rehearsed it twenty fucking times. They rose to the occasion, they pushed each other to a further place than they would've ever [gone] on their own. It was fantastic.
ROB: Yeah, like when they both — when he realized his mic was busted, and he just started going over and they started sharing the mic, I thought that was such a powerful moment, that it was clear that there were two pros on the stage right now, and no matter how bad Hetfield's blood was boiling, that his mic was broken, he knew the performance had to keep going on, and whatever it took to make it happen, and I thought it ended up, it was an awesome moment. And again, even… I agree. The mic should have been working, this is absurd, this is a professional television broadcast. But they made the most of it possible, by doing what they did, I thought.
NEWSTED: I think that was a huge, huge, huge shining crown that came out of that. It showed what the people are made of. You know? A large percentage of the persons in that room there, performers, would have been in a puddle on the floor when that shit was presented to them, when that adversity was presented to them.
Also, the most requested question we got from fans of the show was to ask what happened with Newsted's solo project. Newsted already briefly touched on it a previous interview and revealed more here:
Rob: I know you've said in previous interviews that with the Newsted thing, it ended up being a little bigger of a financial investment than you wanted and you were kind of done with that. But with the acoustic stuff, is that something you see yourself releasing to the public, and really exploring? Or is it kind of more just for yourself?
NEWSTED: I think the reason I mentioned it, and it's a good tie-in from the last bit of conversation there about the team or the solo thing, so going into the Newsted thing as my own name, my own words, my own voice, leading the band, and all that, that was all kind of new territory too, which was really cool. I love that, man. I wouldn't have changed any of that for anything.
It's just that there's a couple of — you know, it wasn't as much as just, like, finances and that it took that much money to do it. It was more of the psychological load I think, from putting my trust into a couple of people that were pretty big players that were going to help me out and then they end up not being able to do it because of other things that they had committed to. So there were some inner workings that I don't really care about letting everybody know the details of, and it's not that interesting anyway, but that has a lot to do with it too. I, you know, between you and me and anyone else that's gonna hear this, every penny that I put into Newsted I got out of it twice as far as the feeling of victory, taking my own thing around the world again, and playing for people and getting the respect, on our own like that. That was a pretty big deal for me. Even, you know, thirty years into my career it was still a really fucking big deal for me.
So that was more of a victory. It's a bummer that it had to be that way with money and management and those kind of things that are kind of beyond your control, kind of stuff. You know? It gets to be a drag. And especially, you know, if you're conditioned to something, like I was in a big band for 15 years, you know, we kind of made the rules and set the rules and the standards, and all that, and you get used to that shit. So when you come back after some certain time, you know, the respect that everybody showed, that was really great. That was right up to par. But there's so many changes from the last time that I was in a band that was peaking, from what goes on now with music and making ends meet, and all that stuff. So just that, there's all new learning, all new world once again even though I'd been in that world a lot before.
ROB: Right. So, it was coming in at a different level, and the compromises that you would have to make to succeed at that level weren't really gibing.
NEWSTED: Yeah! Not that I was — I'm not afraid to play at any place for anybody for however loud, 200 people, or 20,000 or 40,000 or whatever it ended up at those festivals and that stuff this time around. That's all good; I just wanted stuff to be right, and I wanted things to be cool for my band and I wanted to be represented properly. You know? Integrity is important and you gotta have self-respect and all that shit, so you gotta be really careful with that. It's a big deal.
If you'd like to hear the entire interview, it starts at around the 1:50:00 mark of this week's episode of the RIP a Livecast. You can stream it below…
Special thanks to Dangerous Darren Delgado for the transcription.