"i really don't feel that i'm a musician's musician: some drummers feel that they always have to have a pair of drum sticks in their hand so they can sit there and tap for 12 hours a day and read all this shit out of a book. But thinking things like 'can I really do a triplet flam paradiddle backwards?' is completely useless."
The lecture in Attitude comes from none other than Lars Ulrich, skin-basher with king-thrashers Metallica. As a musician who plays a style of music that's often dismissed as requiring little in the way of thought or playing skill, his lectures are worth sitting at the front of the class to listen to.
"The more you can play and the more you know about playing", he continues, "the better you feel and the less you have to show it. A couple of years ago, we were all very concerned about trying to show everyone that we were great musicians. But I think the more confidence you have in yourself, the more you begin to care about songs. You become a lot more interested in doing what's right, and holding back, instead of saying: 'Look! I can do all these fancy drum rolls'."
Now, this sort of talk might give you the impression that our man Lars belongs to the school of "feel first, technique second". And to a certain extent, you'd be right. Metallica's latest CD single, 'Harvester of Sorrow', contains the telling statement "No Production" on its inlay card. "Those two words work well together" is Ulrich's comment.
Yet Thrash Metal isn't quite the closed book many assume it to be. Far from being a bunch of blockhead musos crashing their way through a simple, punked-up, spunked-up race to the end of the song, Thrash occasionally incorporates such things as odd time signatures, great attention to studio detail, and highly skilled, inventive, precise playing.
Listen to a Metallica record (the latest double album 'And Justice For All', say), and sure, the "power" of Thrash is there in abundance. But so are all the other elements mentioned above. The band's playing is exceptionally proficient, their songs are well structured, and the rhythm tracks are amazingly sophisticated - that last quality courtesy of Mr Ulrich, of course.
"I'm not one to inflate my own ego too much", he says modestly. "But I think it has something to do with the way it's all put together. The drums in Metallica are a very, very upfront thing, and very much part of the overall sound picture.
"With most Heavy Metal bands today, the drums are treated as a timekeeper. Or there's a rhythm pattern that the guitar players and the vocalist have worked out and the drummer is expected to try and work something in with that. He usually ends up going 'Boom, Clap, Boom, Clap', and doesn't really get a chance to do much. It's different with Metallica because of the way it's written, which is basically by me and the rhythm guitar player. We write the songs, structure them and so on."
Certainly, not the way the average Metal band works. But then, Metallica are from being an average Metal band - despite their name. The reason 'And Justice For All' is a double album is simply that the songs it contains are too long to fit onto a single slab of vinyl. And such is the intensity with which the band play their instruments, recording these huge slices of music is often a painstaking process.
"IN A TYPICAL SONG WE'LL GO THROUGH MAYBE FIVE SNARE SKINS AND THREE SETS OF THE TWO TOMS I USE THE MOST... BUT IN THE END IT GETS THE RIGHT RESULT, SO I'M NOT COMPLAINING."
"You have to pace yourself', says Lars. "I am very concerned about geting the most energy and 'liveness' into every song: I try to give it as much as I can. The way I do it is to start the song and just play as hard as I can, with every ounce of energy in my body until, basically, I f*** up.
"Usually I end up playing for 45 seconds to a minute at a time, so we build the drum tracks up from the beginning until the song is done. And sometimes that takes quite a long time."
Well now, Lars Ulrich is a small man but he's no wimp. If he can only sustain it for that amount of time, he must be playing incredibly hard...
"Absolutely. In that time I've knocked the snare drum completely out of tune, so my drum roadie has to get the sound back to where it was before. I take a break for a couple of minutes. After that, maybe the kick drum will go, so that has to be re-tuned. It takes an awful long time because I am so particular about it. In a typical song we'll go through maybe five snare skins and three sets of the two toms I use the most... But I set that situation up myself, and in the end it gets the right result, so I'm not complaining."
And so he shouldn't. After all, Metallica's meticulous approach to playing and recording has paid big, big dividends. They're currently the hottest property on the Thrash Metal market, shifting records by the thousand and selling-out mammoth tours of here, there, and everywhere.
There isn't just an outside chance, is there, that Metallica's finely tuned musicianship might get too much for their music, and their sound may lose its soul?
"I don't want to get into an area where things are too progressive", Ulrich asserts. "I feel I have to retain the feel of the rhythmic structure... I suppose it comes from some sort of instinct of what feel is right. I don't think you should try to over-analyse things that you do, because sometimes if you think too much about them, they will come less naturally."
So, Lars Ulrich's three golden rules of playing Thrash, or playing anything for that matter, can be summed up like this: play hard, play thorough, play natural. Got that?
Interview by Michael Corkrey
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