With a metal “Geeks of Doom”, ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted is ready to talk. After 15 years with the world’s biggest metal band – and spells with Voivod, Ozzy Osbourne, Echobrain, and Flotsam and Jetsam – the extremely talented Newsted is clearly a member of rock royalty.
Back with a new band that he fronts, Newsted, and a new four-song EP entitled simply Metal, out on iTunes today, he is hungry to get back out there and play the music he loves and we need to hear.
“Kicking the ass” of a holiday bug, I caught up with Newsted on the eve of the release of Metal to discuss his new EP, getting back out on tour, and why James Hetfield is “untouchable.”
Geeks of Doom: Tomorrow is the day. Do you always feel the same way on the eve of an EP or an album release, or does this feel different, does this feel special?
Jason Newsted: It’s always exciting. I mean like the nervous excitement and that kind of thing. Putting yourself out there like that always kind of gives the nervous excitement. But it is different this time, it has been a long time since I had this feeling [laughs] and it’s magnified a bit because it’s my name, I wrote all the songs, all the parts myself, and created pretty much all [the music] and then put it together with my boys [guitarist Jessie Farsnworth and drummer Jesus Mendez Jr.]. So it is the first time I’ve done that. I mean, I wrote stuff in Flotsam [Flotsam & Jetsam] back in the day on bass and then we kind of made compositions out of it, but I constructed all these songs on guitar and I composed all the pieces.
So between that and putting my name on it, which I never thought I would do … I have never had a problem coming up with cool band names, so I could have done it again but that wasn’t the deal. I wanted to make it very clear what was happening this time, that this was a fan-driven, inspired, whatever you want to call it, enlightened, happening, offering. It was absolutely fueled by the fans. When I went and played with Metallica at The Fillmore for the 30th Anniversary shows [in December 2011], man, I just went to jam and I thought it was going to be fun … but I had no idea that the outcome was going to be like it was. Like the actual physical feeling from the fans, the energy, the respect, just the magnitude of it, I had no idea. It hit me hard, and it got better with each day as we played together and then I just felt it again. They called me back, and that’s why we are talking now, man. It’s all from that feeling that night. Or that week anyway.
Geeks of Doom: And you must have seen online that the video and the song “Soldierhead” are just everywhere now. Has that surprised you, that reaction to it?
Jason Newsted: There are some surprises now because there’s a lot of unknowing. I haven’t been amongst it like this where it’s my baby, my control, my name and stuff, since really kind of Flotsam days where I had to watch everything and make sure all the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed. So I wasn’t sure what to expect once I embraced the social media and everything. I know I had planted some good seeds by always having such rapport with fans and all that, but the way it’s flooded back to me now is more than I ever could have imagined because it really is unknown. Many familiar avenues out there that I knew from back in the day and being in a big band or even being in Voivod or Ozzy or whatever, but a bunch of new stuff that I don’t quite know how to fathom yet. So I’ve been two months or something on the internet and try to talk to everybody on Facebook each night and get back with the fans and make that reconnection. But to answer you, I’m pleasantly surprised and honestly a bit overwhelmed.
Geeks of Doom: So because the focus is all on you, it sounds like you do relish it, but there’s a little bit of trepidation?
Jason Newsted: Yes. I think anybody that plays their game with real conviction and does that – they self-doubt, any true artist. You want to make sure that you are the very best that you can be to present to people. So that’s been part of my M.O. from the beginning, I always want to be my very best. So the roles that I am taking on in this band are some new territory for me. I am familiar with the interviews and the people person thing, that’s kind of been my forte for a long time. But as far as being a six-string guitar player writing all the songs on guitar and then playing guitar, and singing lead vocals at the same time, or even playing bass and singing lead vocal? That’s a lot of new roles to take on, and it’s a little bit scary. I have a lot of confidence when I am holding onto my bass, I can play in front of anybody or with any musician, I’m not actually encouraging that at any time [laughs] but as far as the guitar and stuff, I just don’t have the same amount of hours and weeks and use on it. So I feel a little, well, it’s just different. So I just knock out the rhythms like, man, I’m like a Roky Erickson [of 13th Floor Elevators] type of guitar player. I know a couple of chords and I rock that friggin’ chord around the guitar as hard as I can and as loud as I can and make some songs out of it! The other guys put on their pieces and Jessie does his leads and that’s awesome. Jesus plays the drums killer and makes it what it is. So, [laughs] there’s a lot of new roles for me to take on here and it will be exciting to see what transpires. I know I’m going to have to practice hard and I will. I will make sure that we are ready.
Geeks of Doom: Was it always your choice to sing, or was it something that just happened?
Jason Newsted: I have been working on it for a long time and for what people know about a big band and stuff and I was always just [guttural vocalizing] DIE! [Laughs] That guttural, vocal kind of stuff, and I can still do that thing, but that’s such a one-dimensional kind of trip and the past ten or eleven years, as I have played in all the different projects, with different kind of people, I have tried to work on my real singing voice over time and developed it and developed it and developed it. In 2002 it wasn’t great, 2004 it was getting better, 2008 it’s doing okay, and now I am getting someplace where I can actually keep some pitch and play along and sing some leads and play the guitar parts and sing some songs at the same time, which is quite challenging. So it took a while to come around to it, but I am kind of excited about the challenge. I have been fortunate enough to be around [Metallica frontman James] Hetfield for fifteen years and his weaving of words. He’s the best at playing and singing, it’s just impossible to do some of those parts that he plays on guitar and still sing a straight vocal line. It just gets my vote forever as far as the capacity to do that. He’s just untouchable in that way. So being exposed to that and just being able to let it rub off on you, I just try to take it in. So I will pay a lot of credit to that. Also being exposed, I think even more importantly, to Snake from Voivod. We have been friends for decades, but being exposed to him and his actual work and the way he goes about things for three or four years as we made records and got serious about things … that was probably one of the most character building and musician building parts of my career so far. Especially with the singing thing, Snake’s ability to weave words and it’s a second language that he’s working in so there’s no fodder. He doesn’t use like the in-betweens and the little words, the connectors and stuff. He just does info, data, words, no fodder, information, no wasted words, just the story. And the way that he weaves it, the manner in which he weaves it and the music, I give him a lot of credit too by inspiring me to try and find those places and weave those words like that and make it musical yet kind of creepy and stuff.
So, between being exposed and being able to work with cats like that, it helped me to find my voice. Even though I sang in Flotsam and played bass … that was such a different world and whole different person then. Now I have learned what I have learned and gone through what I have gone through and now I work out my voice like I do my sit ups and my pushups, man. I do a vocal exercise every day to try and make my voice better all the time. And it’s a new voice when it comes right down to it, because it’s actually a young voice in this old body! Seriously, I am 19 in my brain and heart, and whatever the calendar says as it goes by, whatever man [laughs]. And I know that the flesh and the bone okay, my shoulders, yeah I got it, now you got my attention [laughs], but it’s still how I am inside and I still want to project that for always. It’s a young voice.
Geeks of Doom: Well, it’s sounding good to me!
Jason Newsted: Thank you.
Geeks of Doom: You knew Jesus from your Metallica days. How did you reconnect with him and then get together with Jessie?
Jason Newsted: We always kept our connection, Jesus and I, from the very beginning when he was just moving Lars [Ulrich, Metallica drummer]’s stuff around back at the end of the 90s. Then he came out with Echobrain as a drum tech on that tour and so we just always kind of stayed close and we kept the jam going. From about 2001-2002 he started coming to the Chophouse [studios] in a drummer capacity. And so we made noise and noise and noise ever since that time and about five years ago he brought Jessie Farnsworth into the picture. The two of them have got about ten years [of experience playing] together, Jessie playing bass sometimes as they were a rhythm section in some bands and then him playing rhythm guitar in other bands when they played together. Nothing can replace the experience of playing together. We got three or four years into our improv metal jams and I started seeing what they were doing. I mean Jessie has made his own records where he’s the lead guitar player and writes all the songs and lead vocalist and everything like that, so they are very accomplished in their own right, being able to do all those things. Each of them knows how to record stuff very well and write songs and all those things, so that’s the kind of people that I needed. And they have worked hard and paid a lot of dues in a lot of different bands through time but never quite got the successes that they really deserved and now they are ready for this. They are hungry, I am still hungry, even though I don’t have to be, I am, and they are, and they believe in me. They support my vision and I am not sure I can find that if I had put together a super group. Or to find the connection of the ten years they have together and the five years that we all have together. When you are bringing in a bunch of super cats from other bands or whatever, it would be hard to find that place. You certainly could put music together that was very fantastical and everything, but as far as the real through and through hanging out with people and want to have a beer with them, not afraid to sit down to dinner … I’ve learned over time that you have to have that in your people and in your band, otherwise it will be a short-lived situation.
So these guys, they are the real deal and I’ve got to tell you, man, it’s so fucking awesome to see the looks on their faces and live vicariously through them, as they experience the things that were happening to me when I was experiencing them for the first time. I am getting bumps right now just thinking about it! The feeling through them, man, and it is so freakin’ obvious and they are so happy and so willing to work hard, dude. They will go sixteen hours with me and they will be looking up and I will still be going, come on fuckers, and I will finally be like, Okay guys, let’s go get some rest. But they can stand there with me for a long time. I still am the last one standing every time, but you can’t replace some of the things these guys bring and the actual, genuine conviction to make this happen and to follow through with it. To have this opportunity to do something that’s big, is so large, and so important in our lives. They are willing to really lay it down. And so with all that said, I think I have got the right combination together. We will go out as a four-piece when we do the tour. I have already chosen my fourth guy, but I can’t tell you yet!
Geeks of Doom: It’s interesting what you are saying about those guys, because when you joined Metallica, you described yourself as a fanboy.
Jason Newsted: Absolutely.
Geeks of Doom: And did you feel that from Jessie and Jesus at first? Were they kind of in awe of you?
Jason Newsted: No. I do not present myself in that way to my people and even though they show the respect and every once in a while I will catch little Jessie, he’ll say, ‘Dude, that one time, we saw Metallica and blah, blah’ I will catch him and I’ll go, What the fuck is that all about?! But the thing is that they are real players, they stand on their own away from me. I mean, Jessie is a way better guitar player than I will ever be. His capabilities to record stuff is better than my capability to record. They are absolute peers and right across the board. I happen to get in a good spot, one time I could hold it up for fourteen or fifteen years with a big, big band and I didn’t put the money up my nose, my father helped me invest it, I have money now still to be able to do these projects that I want to when I want to. It’s beautiful. It’s like, I got to live a few dreams in my life so far and now I am going on my fourth one. So I had Metallica and Voivod and Ozzy and that was three dreams for me right there and I am working on my next one right now. I am going to be 50 in a couple of months and I ain’t even scared!
Geeks of Doom: [Laughs] Good! Like you said, age doesn’t mean anything.
Jason Newsted: Not really, man. Not when the metal is rolling, it doesn’t really matter! [laughs]
Geeks of Doom: Obviously the EP is in the bag, so is there talk of a full album?
Jason Newsted: Yeah, we actually recorded eleven songs. We did just short of two weeks in the studio, we went into this little farmhouse literally in the middle of a giant cornfield down in a farmland in Central Valley, California … and locked ourselves in and just rocked it out. We had a cat come in, his name is Anthony Focx, and he has done some pretty big stuff lately. We got to know him, he did all the Metallica mixes for Guitar Hero, and then he did some other stuff like Aerosmith records … and he did some other things that aren’t necessarily hard rock, but pretty successful, like Kelly Clarkson and some big time artists. So he came in out of respect ‘cause he digs the metal and he digs what I have done in my career and so he came in and recorded the stuff with us. That was quite a big deal because we just plug into the amps and rock the shit and he was able to capture it. I mean, we didn’t give him any time, we didn’t know him, we threw him into the blue fangs and said, Let’s go man! And he plugged it in and he just captured what you are hearing now. And it was really just a matter of hours at a time per song. So we had that on our side. Between those few little things, people from the old Metallica camp are reaching out to help and friends from the past and it’s just for the right reasons. When you keep chasing it for the right reasons these things show up karmatically, you know?
Geeks of Doom: You talked about live dates as well. What are you hoping for, festivals, that kind of thing?
Jason Newsted: Yeah. Oh, I know what I was going to tell you now! So we actually recorded the eleven songs, and the idea is through the next ten to fourteen months, depending on how the fans respond because let’s not forget that’s why we are doing it, [if] they are digging it, then my plan is to release two more EPs through the next month and then at the end of that last one, when the third one comes out, it will compile to finish the LP. That will come out as full vinyl with maybe some of my artwork and stuff like that. So there’s plans to have physical CDs two weeks after each iTunes release and then the vinyl will come at the end of this particular round. And then the tour stuff. “Soldierhead” started playing on Eddie Trunk [radio show] ten days ago or something … between that and the clips that people are seeing, like you say, there are videos around and everything, between all that stuff, there’s been a lot of calls now … the offers have started coming for international festivals, domestic festivals, some cool club stuff, and then some supporting things of like heroic, some of our heroes and stuff like that [laughs]. So all of these things are on the table now and I am open to all of that stuff. My quest is still the same, to take the music to whoever wants to share it around the world. [Newsted told me after the interview that he'd like to get into the line-up at UK's Download festival on the day Queens of the Stone Age play, and also at the Graspop show in Belgium - both taking place in June 2013.]
I would love to be able to go to some places I haven’t been yet. That would take some doing, but I would like to. I think those guys, Metallica, went to India, South Africa, and United Arab Emirates. Those are the three places I haven’t been, but they have been, and I need to go there so I can be there, too. You know what, dude? That’s the only thing that I ever look at and just go, Goddamnit! [laughs] It’s not cause I am following [them], but someone will bring it up, like my sister or one of my friends, ‘Did you know Metallica just played in India or blah, blah, blah?’ and I was like, Fuck man! [laughs] I want to play in India! Damnit! That’s all though, that’s the only things [I miss]. They played the United Arab Emirates, I haven’t played there yet! If they will let our Westernized rock in that place, I want to go there. So I am hoping that I get to go to some places that I haven’t been. And since I was out in any kind of international capacity, I think there’s new places that I know have opened up for our music. So I am looking forward to that, man. I really hope that the response follows through and we are able to do whatever shows, man. If they keep it reasonable right, it makes sense as far as I am not looking to make any funky, crazy money or stuff, that’s not the deal at all. If they offer us enough to get us out there, pay for my guys, I’ll be there.
Geeks of Doom: Awesome. The world awaits.
Jason Newsted: Yeah! [laughs]. It’s kind of seeming like that. I am trying to keep my head on, man. I am telling you what, there’s some things coming through from these corners of the planet, African nations and things like that. Some dude from Sri Lanka says ‘Down with the metal!’ and I’m like what?! How the fuck did you…? I mean, do you think Muddy Waters, when he was playing in Biloxi or wherever the hell he happened to be playing that night in 1964, that we would be talking about him right now in 2013 and you are in Oxford [UK] and I am in San Francisco [U.S.]? The great Muddy Waters man, that he would reach us in that way? Do you think that he would ever even be able to imagine in all of his wildest dreams of how long it would last and who he would influence and how far it would go? I’m not comparing myself to him, I’m just saying that I get overwhelmed sometimes about the reach. You look in a National Geographic and you see there’s like a report on Cambodia or Laos or something like that and a cat in a rice paddy up to his knees in a Metallica shirt on. I’m like fucking what the fuck?! [Laughs] You know? How the hell, man, does that happen? So I hope that you are right with this. If half of the predictions come true that people have been telling me for the last week, I’m going to be freaking having a good time! [laughs]
Geeks of Doom: That’s a perfect way to end. Thank you so much for your time, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you.
Jason Newsted: Thanks, man!
For more information on all of Jason Newsted’s music projects – including an updated music archives section – visit the official site at NewstedHeavyMetal.com. You can also visit Jason at his official Facebook page – facebook.com/jasonnewstedofficial – where he says he spends an hour and a half each night and will answer fan questions. If you have a decent question for Jason, the man says, “I will always answer you, no matter where you are.”
The Newsted Metal EP is released January 8, 2013 on iTunes.
[Special thanks to Stoogeypedia for his super-fast transcription.]