Interview: Metallica (Robert Trujillo) on South Africa, their Children, Van Coke Kartel & Randy Blythe

Watching Metallica once is fantastic. Watching Metallica twice is a privilege. Being able to interview Metallica is an out-of-this-world honour. I got the great opportunity to interview Robert Trujillo, bassist of Metallica when they were in Johannesburg.

Robert Trujillo is a man of a grand stature and a clear deep voice, and you can’t help but feel a sense of wisdom in the nature of his answers.

MR: We are extremely honoured to have Metallica back in our country, it is very rare that bands promise to return and actually do return; especially a band of your calibre. What made you guys decide to come back? What was the draw card?

RT: The real reason is the fans, it sounds like such a cliché but it’s very important. Look at tonight, there’s a lot of people out there to see us. There’s a lot of love, I guess Metallica is still relevant in this part of the world. We had two great shows in Cape Town that were a bit more intimate but wow, the energy was pretty spectacular! I thought Van Coke Kartel had great energy; I know that a lot of people said they aren’t really the genre, but that doesn’t register on our radar. We like bands that like to have fun and rock out and really deliver live. I really enjoyed watching them. The last show went really well for us and we all left with big smiles on our faces.

MR: Metallica have written countless songs and have served as an inspiration to so many artists. For you personally, which song throughout history have you wished you had written yourself?

RT: Historically, there have been an incredible amount of songs I wish I had written myself and not just Metallica songs. I respect songwriters a lot. In fact, last night when we were driving back from surfing we were listening to Stevie Wonder and Jane’s Addiction and there is all this exciting music and different styles. I was even playing some of the music from my old band, Suicidal Tendencies, and thinking ‘Wow, this is really cool!’

I feel song writing is a form of magic and being a great songwriter is just being a great artist. It is a person or a group of people’s statement, for a band it means being in this together and presenting something that is like a canvas with a painting. We work really well together creatively as a team and we are excited to be doing the process again with the new record.

MR: What song, are you most embarrassed to know all the lyrics to?

RT: Oh wow! Um… there’s a few! *laughs*

Well, there’s a Beatles song called ‘Michelle’ *starts singing in a warm baritone the lyrics to the song*

I learnt that when I was in college, in my vocal class.

I also learnt a Stevie Wonder song, ‘Ma Cherie Amour’

What is it with these French songs?

MR: It’s the language of love.

RT: Well, my wife is French.

MR: Metal is far from what it was 30 years ago, hell even 10 years ago! What is your take on metal today?

RT: Well, it depends. There’s a part of me that feels that there are bits and pieces missing from the ingredient. I think the purity of what metal was in the early 80s and 70s and even in some sense the 90s has been lost. Every band back then had an identity and I think today for me, I lose track of the identity. When you go back, you knew if you were listening to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath or UFO. In the 80s you knew if you were listening to Van Halen or Judas Priest and Metallica. In the 90s you had Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Suicidal Tendencies. There always has to be an identity. For me, I love the experimentation, I wave the flag for R‘nB and old school soul music but I also wave the flag for punk rock. I like it when people mess with the recipe and I’d like to hear more of that.

Last night we went and saw this band and the musicians were amazing and they sounded the best when they played the really traditional South African rhythms. I loved the more South African sounding songs; I really felt it as a musician. It moved Kirk and I while we were watching, it was really original.

MR: Has your perception changed on live shows and mosh pits since the unfortunate event that happened to Randy Blythe?

RT: Not a whole lot because the specific thing that happened to him doesn’t really happen often. However, it does happen to a lot of bands, it’s happened to Metallica; it happened to Suicidal Tendencies, it happened to Suicidal Tendencies opening for Metallica.

The situation with Randy [Blythe] was pretty critical because when you get the government involved there isn’t a whole lot of control as a person over everything. You don’t really know what direction it’s going to take you in. You know it could be one person, who wanted to make an example of him or whoever is in that situation; and that to me is just lame and that is where it gets really tricky.

As far as kids moshing or showing that kind of energy, I think it’s normal and it’s been going on for so many years. There are shows that have preceeded us that were probably a lot crazier, for sure, I was there! *laughs* There were a lot of people getting hurt and no one was suing anybody back then, there wasn’t any of that. I think in other parts of the world, authority gets involved and takes things way out of proportion.

MR: Leading onto that, Metallica are pretty much the gods of Heavy Metal and the rest of the band all have children, including yourself. How do you feel about your children exploring the metal genre and at what age do you think is appropriate for them to fully experience all the facets of it?

RT: My kids have already explored and are in deeper than me. My son is a bass player and drummer, he loves Slayer.

MR: Do you encourage it?

RT: Well, my wife is into heavy metal as well, so he gets it from both sides. He is really into Death, they aren’t around anymore. He loves them, but he also really likes Infectious Grooves, which is another style of music and he loves Public Enemy.

MR: And your daughter?

RT: My daughter loves what my son loves, she loves to dance, as long as she can dance and mosh she’s in 100%.

They both don’t like ballads. They were both exposed to metal at a very young age and it’s been a part of them their whole existence. The funny thing is; we had Bob Marley playing in the background when they were being born. So they have a broad spectrum of musical taste.

MR: What is your most treasured music-related item or memorabilia?

RT: That’s an easy one. My hero is a bass player by the name of [the late] Jaco Pastorius; Jaco’s bass was missing for 20 years, and it’s a long story as to what had actually happened to it, supposedly stolen or sold for drugs, it was a mystery. The bass returned to the world around 4 years ago, and it was held up by a collector who managed to get hold of it. The family enquired about it and wanted to get the instrument back, because they felt it was theirs and it was nearly impossible because of legal issues and it turned into a war. I have been friends with the family for 17 years and I managed to help them to at least get the bass back into the immediate family. So we got the bass back; I’m the legal owner of the instrument, but we are really all in it together.

I’m not a collector of instruments; and I don’t like any of my bass guitars more than the other, but that instrument is loved not only by me but everyone else in the world. I’m glad I was able to get it back to our immediate circle.

We’re making a film, not about the bass, but about his life and that will come out in September. In fact, the film company producing it with me was the very same one that did ‘Searching for Sugarman,’ Passion Pictures.

MR: So we might be looking at an Oscar?

RT: I wish!!

MR: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and have a great stay in South Africa.

RT: Thank you. I will; it has been great. How much is property here?

Written by Jina Min

Jina has a diploma in Management & Marketing for the Music Industry, and is currently studying Bcom Marketing & Logistics. When not busy studying, Jina can be found at live shows or her favourite sushi bar. Find her on @missjinamin

  • Wayde F

    Such a cool guy! Great interview Jina!

  • Fi Fitzpatrick

    haha, property is probably dirt cheap for him. great interview Jina!!

  • Andrea

    That is soooooo awesome, I like his sense of humor.

    … If property here is too expensive for him (Obviously it isnt) tell him he is welcome to stay at my house for the duration of his trip.

    My doors are always open to true rock Gods :D