Discover How Jason Newsted Broke Free from Metallica’s Shadow to Build his Own Thriving Career

When Jason Newsted was plucked from the ranks of Phoenix thrashers Flotsam And Jetsam to replace the late Cliff Burton in Metallica in 1986, it was the start of an incredible, sometimes tumultuous journey for the bassist. In 2013, more than a decade after he quit Metallica, he sat down with Metal Hammer to talk about his new group Newsted and his time in the world’s biggest metal band.

At 11am, the morning after a rapturously received Download show with his brand new band, Jason Newsted huskily confesses to feeling “toasted”. At first, the bass monster-turned-frontman seems quiet and subdued, but when he starts to talk about his eponymous new project, his enthusiasm is such that his voice and demeanor are quickly taken over by an infectious and resounding geniality.

“If you think about it for a second, this is my first band! It’s the first thing I’ve ever put together from scratch,” he points out. “From 1982 with Flotsam And Jetsam and every band since – Metallica, Voivod, Ozzy, Echobrain – every band is something that already existed. I came in as the new energy, new propulsion, transfusion, that whole thing, that’s been my gig! I got a lot of great opportunities, I seized them. But this is the first time that I’ve formed a band, I’ve picked the guys, written the songs, production, bass, lyrics, my voice, my name, everything. First time for me in a 32-year career. So there is innocence in it, believe it or not! After all this, there is childlike wonderment. There’s parts of my shoulders and neck that have felt every minute of my 50 years, but I am 19 in my heart. I’m still that metal kid; all that happened was the calendar went by.”

This should be clear after one listen to the album. Newsted the band is an emphatic and joyous assertion of Newsted the man’s roots: a mean and strident set of classic biker metal anthems, a love letter to the founding heroes of the genre. It sounds like Newsted reconnecting with and exalting his earliest influences, his teenage top five of unsurpassable favorite bands that so many of us share.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m wearing them on both sleeves!” he laughs. “Motörhead, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden… My original teachers. It’s right there and very plain to hear! I got to hang around with some really cool musicians in my life, tried to soak up as much of that as I can, so after all the cool experiences I’ve had, this is the culmination of those.”

Hence the decision to call the EP Metal and the LP Heavy Metal Music. There’s an appealingly blunt zeal about such unambiguous nomenclature. “From the ages of 23 to 38 years old I was in a band called Metallica,” Jason Newsted reminds us. “And I got conditioned to their global outlook. No matter what language you speak or where you’re from, you know what heavy metal means, it’s very easy to understand. Considering all the different music I’ve played in the last 10 to 15 years outside of Metallica, all different colors and shapes of music, I wanted to make it very clear to people what I’m doing this time.”

Given how fiery and spunky this band sound, it’s tempting to imagine that Jason was always biding his time to come back with his own band. We loved it when he took the mic for Whiplash or Seek And Destroy; plenty of fans had been begging for him to make the move to frontman.

“I never planned on coming back into music at this caliber and level, or putting this much effort into it any more,” he reveals. “The reason I got into this at all is because people screamed for it. The catalyst for it took place at the 30th-anniversary reunion of Metallica in December 2011 at the Fillmore in San Francisco. I played with those guys for four nights and we played some old, fast songs. It was a fan club show, so there were 30 countries represented on the floor – and they screamed and screamed and screamed. There’s no way I could have predicted the reaction I received. I’m not being arrogant, I’m just stating the facts! They were so loud and so in my face, it was just freaking amazing. They screamed me back into this, and that’s absolute truth!”

Once the seed was sown, the band came together quickly; Newsted started writing just over a year back, and guitarist Mike Mushok only joined four months ago. Mike’s addition to the three-piece that recorded January’s Metal EP raised a few eyebrows due to the divisive nature of his parent band: drippy Massachusetts nu grunge stars Staind. When Jason heard what Mike could do, he was as surprised as anyone.

“I knew their band existed,” he says. “I knew they had radio power in America, but I didn’t know what the guys looked like, or their names, anything like that.” Auditionees included Rob Cavestany from Death Angel, but the right man was obvious to Newsted. “Mike was the one, no question. Great person: smart, professional, motivated, disciplined, clear-eyed and ‘one of us’ in terms of the silly sense of humor taught us by British road crew guys – we all get that! We were fortunate enough to be brought up by these fuckers, y’know! Then he started playing! Amazing. When the live show let loose, he was completely unleashed, flying around the stage. I was like, ‘Holy crap! I didn’t know you had that in you, dude!’ He’s a metal kid at heart, and now he has this chance to show people what he’s made of. It’s cool because that kinda used to be my gig, on that side of the stage going fucking bonkers, now I have to spend time remembering lyrics and talking to the people, all that stuff.”

For Jason, reining in the onstage madness is a medical necessity; in the announcement of his departure from Metallica in 2001, the bassist cited “the physical damage I have done to myself over the years while playing the music that I love” as a factor, with headbanging-related neck injuries needing special attention. Then in 2006 he sustained even more damage to his arm and shoulders when attempting to catch a falling bass amp. Newsted has a grueling tour schedule lined up: presumably the frontman is back to full strength?

“I’m probably 95 per cent, about as far as I can get,” he admits. “The damage, flesh and bone, in my shoulders and vertebrae and cervical spine and stuff, it is what it is, man. Go watch the videos, there’s no secret I get a sore neck once in a while! Three major surgeries from 2004 to 2008 debilitated my playing during those years. I’ve been back to full power on the bass for about a year and a half, and I started writing these songs just after I started getting my full capacity back.”

When asked how he would compare the Newsted album to Metallica’s recent output, Jason’s reply is instant. “It’s all good and heavy and loud! I’m not gonna say a bad word about Metallica, they gave me the opportunity to live my dream. I will always be indebted to them for that, though I did work very hard in that band, no question! They have a band that still sets the standards for our genre. I have a band that I’m very happy about and I’m setting my own standards. So there’s no comparison or contest; in my eyes, they can do no wrong. They can play 60 more Lulus and I’m fine! They’ve earned the place to do whatever they want. We’re brothers and business partners for the rest of our lives, and we have a better relationship with each other than we probably ever had as far as mutual respect goes.”

Are there any remaining regrets about walking away from the biggest metal band in the world?

“Umm…” he begins, chuckling quietly. “There’s a few little envious spots like a little brother would have, but they have to do with my quest. The quest that I set for myself when I started in Flotsam, back in the day, tape-trading with people all over the world, I first started to see that global thing we were talking about. I had this inflatable globe, and I looked at it all the time: ‘I’m gonna go there, there, there, gonna play there, there, there…’ For 30 years that was my quest, and it still is. So those fuckers have played in maybe 56 countries. I’ve played in 52, so I want to go to those places, too! I wanna go someplace first, before they do! It’s not like I’m thinking we can ever compete with them, that’s not the point; it’s my personal quest to take metal to the people wherever I fucking can! I put in a quarter of my life into that band. At the show I was always the first guy in, last one out, always played like I was never gonna play again. I’m very proud of all that, but I had to make the sacrifice that I did when I did. I had to stand up and make a decision that had to be made for us all to continue living and thriving. I was a part of taking that band to the tallest mountain that metal can be taken to, and when we got to the top I stepped off on my own conditions.”

And Jason’s been setting his own conditions ever since. After so many years as a journeyman bassist lending his input to established acts, does he relish being in charge?

“Yes!” he affirms. “Who doesn’t like to be in control? It’s good to be king, y’know! There’s a lot of responsibility with it that I didn’t have before, I got a lot of new roles to assume in this thing, but I dig a challenge. I’ve had happy, successful, conquering times in my life, but this one means a lot. I’m very happy in the way that I feel supported by my guys, I feel loved, I feel like they believe in me… It’s a great fucking feeling, no matter what you do in life.”

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