When Lars Ulrich makes news he really knows how to grab the headlines. Let me say that Lars is one of the reasons I play the drums and nothing will change that. Metallica fans know that in most cases when Lars wants something he usually gets it.Producer Steve Thompson sat down to talk to Ultimate-Guitar.com. Just so you know, Steve Thompson has worked with some huge bands such as Guns N’ Roses, Soundgarden and of course Metallica. This is where the story gets good because he was in the studio with Metallica.
When Ultimate-Guitar.com asked him about the experience of working with the band on 1988’s …And Justice For All here is what he had to say.
Well, what I wanted to do and what Lars wanted to do was totally different, which kind of upset me a little bit. I loved Metallica and was very familiar with them. I said, “These guys are cool.” We got the call to do it and went up to Bearsville Studios in upstate New York and the guys were on the Monsters of Rock Tour at the time. So what they would do is fly in by helicopter, a day here and a day there just to go through things.
Lars knew exactly the sound and the parameters of everything he wanted on his drums. So he would actually bring his photos of a Klark Teknik’s EQ [parametric equalizer] setup because he had a certain way he wanted the drums to sound. I said, “Michael [Barbiero], why don’t you work with Lars and get the drum sound he’s looking for? Call me when he’s happy.“
The fact that Lars provided photos of his EQ setup should let you know that he has a very specific sound in mind as he’s going in to make the album. When asked if James Hetfield was happy with the recording Thompson continued to elaborate.
I’m putting all the other stuff up and everything like this and Hetfield gives a thumbs up. Lars comes walking in a couple minutes later and listens to about a minute of it and goes, “Turn that off” and I said, “What’s the problem?” He said, “What happened to my drum sound?” I said, “You were serious?” or something like that.
Yeah. Lars was serious alright. This serious…
We had to get the drum sound up the way he had it. I wasn’t a fan of it. So now he goes, “See the bass guitar?” and I said, “Yeah, great part, man. He killed it.” He said, “I want you to bring down the bass where you can barely, audibly hear it in the mix.” I said, “You’re kidding. Right?“
Many critics and fans alike say that Jason Newsted truly nailed it on Justice. Too bad for Jason because he had no say in the matter. Surely Ulrich didn’t really mean to make the bass disappear right?
He said, “No. Bring it down.” I bring it down to that level and he says, “Now drop it down another 5 db.” I turned around and looked at Hetfield and said, “He’s serious?” It just blew me away.
If you ask me the album sounds incredible but just imagine if the bass line was…oh…say 5db louder. We’ll never know but that’s not the end of the story. To me this is the best part. Thompson goes on to describe a conversation with Lars when Metallica was going into the Rock Hall of Fame. Classic!
I remember when Metallica got elected to the Hall of Fame, they flew us out and I’m sitting with Lars. He goes, “Hey, what happened to the bass in “… Justice?” He actually asked me that. I wanted to cold cock him right there. It was a shame because I’m the one getting the sh-t for the lack of bass.
You can imagine the look he must have had on his face when confronted with that question. But I suppose it all worked out in the end as Metallica went on to take over the metal world. But damn…5db. Is that too much to ask?
Read the full interview over at Ultimate-Guitar.com.