It was an eventful Friday when Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich called in for our scheduled interview. The group’s most recent album, “Hardwired to Self Destruct,” had been certified platinum that morning, and that night they played to more than 63,000 fans at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.
Then again, it wasn’t an unusual day for the world’s biggest hard rock band, which is also one of the most successful groups in history. Metallica reliably rakes in millions each year via its annual tours (they’ve toured every single year since 1982), album sales (they own their masters and sell hundreds of thousands each year via their Universal-distributed Blackened label) and, since they buried the hatchet with the digital world by pacting with Spotify in 2012, streaming services. Nearly two decades after the band waged war on Napster, Ulrich spoke with Variety about the ever-changing music business — and the little matter of him recently being knighted in his native Denmark.
How have your views on streaming and technology changed?
I was having dinner with somebody yesterday and we were talking about the state of the music business and I don’t think it’s something you can control. “How do you put records out? How does it feel to be in a band? How does the business side work?” All that stuff is something that is constantly evolving and the only thing you can do as an artist is sort of hold on and let the ride take you wherever the ride takes you. You have to adapt — if you don’t, and you don’t continue to evolve, you’re dead. Somebody else will take your place or you’re just gonna run into a creative stagnation. And I think as an artist that makes it much more interesting. When we put out our last record six months ago we had no idea what the f— we were doing, but that was part of what made it so interesting because it was almost like there was a creative process attached to releasing the record. The creative process didn’t end with writing the songs and making the record: It was like releasing the record itself was a creative process, whereas 30 years ago it was just a formula you followed. So that’s kind of what’s cool about what’s happening in 2017, all this is constantly evolving. For me but also the other guys in the band, we fear complacency, we fear being uninspired.
Given it is so different now how rewarding is it to have “Hardwired” go platinum?
I don’t take anything for granted, so the fact that we could sell a million copies of this record in 2017 is an amazing thing and we’re really appreciative and psyched about that. It’s great, but even beyond that is the fact that people are really responding to the music. I think this is our best-received record in 25 years and people want to hear more songs live when we’re playing. We get, “You should play more of the new record.” I’ve never heard that in our 35 years as a band! It’s really cool, the way both fans and newcomers have taken to this record.
You were just knighted in Denmark — what was that like?
First of all, it was a surprise — I didn’t know it was gonna happen. I was at a dinner party with the Crown Prince of Demark and about 40 other Danish [VIPs], and all of a sudden he started talking about a special talent in the room and I was like, “Who the hell is he talking about?” Then I realized he was talking about me, so I tried to hide under the table, but to no avail: He pulled out the cross and the whole thing, and it was very humbling, but I was completely unprepared for it. It was a little bizarre, but it was awesome.