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Forced to Pause by Pandemic, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich Finds Surprising Chance to Reconnect

Metallica co-founder, in conversation with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, reveals he’s bonding with fans and getting back to his musical roots

Salesforce Leading Through Change
Courtesy of Salesforce

Metallica drummer and co-founder Lars Ulrich has had a lot on his mind since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, from the stronger connections he’s forged with his family and his fanbase, to nature’s rebound in the absence of normal human activity, even new ways technology can help artists share their work with the world.

But when he appeared on Salesforce’s Leading Through Change series, he shared one “secret” that will probably stand out for fans watching from home: Like you, Metallica holds weekly videoconferences.

And those meetings are helping him rediscover something important about his life and his music.

The webcast featured Salesforce chair and CEO Marc Benioff and Ulrich in a wide-ranging chat, by turns philosophical and practical. Both spoke about the sense of obligation they feel to do something positive in response to the pandemic.

Metallica, which Ulrich co-founded in the early 1980s — or “about 300 years ago,” as Ulrich put it — established its charitable foundation All Within My Hands in 2017. The band has been particularly active with its fundraising in recent years, gleaning hundreds of thousands of dollars in response to wildfires in California and Australia. Presently, the band’s foundation is raising money for both food banks and support initiatives for live music-crew workers hit hard by the raft of tour cancellations.

Benioff reiterated his imperative that “everybody has to do at least one thing to improve the world” during the crisis. Ulrich agreed, and noted: “I think if you look for one positive thing that has come out of the last six weeks, is that there really feels like a sense of community. We are in touch with music fans and with Metallica fans all over the world. And it really feels like, in some way, the world has just gotten a little bit smaller.”

One of the silver linings to this dark time has been the visibly improved air quality in major cities. Even a few weeks without normal human activity has provided a glimpse of a cleaner world with a resurgence of nature. As they discussed the newly blue skies, Benioff wondered whether the “at home” editions of popular late night TV shows might lead to a way to reduce the carbon footprints of future entertainment production. Ulrich stressed the importance of collaborations between tech and entertainment, telling Benioff, “I’m sure that somewhere right now, some of your colleagues in the technology world are figuring out how to make that happen in a way that will be new and exciting.”

For Ulrich, who noted he already had most of his 2020 and 2021 fully scheduled before the tables suddenly turned, the pandemic has served as a reminder to embrace the uncertainties of life, and he noted that these circumstances have forced artists to confront the challenge of how to be creative “in ways that don’t rely on the tools that we relied on in the last 50 or 100 years.”

“I was supposed to be in Brazil this week, playing shows Latin America,” Ulrich said. “We were supposed to play festivals all over North America in May. … [But] there is a significant chance that none of those dates are going to happen. Because the idea of bringing tens of thousands of people together in concert settings is not the right idea for the health and safety of everybody in 2020.

“So the fact that we, once again, find ourselves in situations where we don’t know exactly what the next six months or the next year of our lives look like is a very, very valuable lesson: We have to kind of surrender to the moment.”

Speaking in front of a Metallica-themed virtual background, Benioff asked if the band had any plans to release a quarantine album. Ulrich didn’t rule it out, noting: “The people who make all the software, all the stuff that we use to record, are sitting right now trying to figure out how [all four band members] can make a record from four different locations.”

But for Ulrich, the primary focus going forward is to reconnect with the passion that led him to start the band in the first place.

“I can tell you that, on these weekly Metallica video calls, we are talking about how we can just be a band again,” Ulrich said. “I mean, there are many different phases to being in a band, but the most basic one, and certainly where it started 37 years ago, is just to have four guys play music together. The fact that it ends up being shared all over the world and connecting with millions of people, that is much later and a whole different thing. But at its core essence, it’s just four guys in a room, or connected via, making music together.”

And then, to illustrate his point, Ulrich introduced the session’s surprise musical performance: a two-song set by his college-aged sons Myles and Layne from the Ulrich home studio. As their jam session showed, neither of the two apples fall far from the tree, with Myles pounding the drums with typical Ulrichian flair as Layne wailed on the bass, thrashing through a punked-up instrumental version of an orchestral rock classic.

“Follow that, dad!” an impressed Lars joked after his sons’ performance. “I guess I have to get myself down to the jam room now and get my chops together.”

Watch the entire conversation between Benioff and Ulrich above. To see more of the “Leading Through Change” series, go to salesforce.com/blog.