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Jason’s Back! An Interview with Jason Newsted

Jason Newsted

Twelve years after leaving the ranks of Metallica, Jason Newsted has again stepped into the spotlight. Late last year he launched his online presence with a brand new website and Facebook page, from which he announced his new band and a brand new EP, Metal. The four-song album, available now through iTunes, is packed with in-your-face riffs and raw thrash honesty that fans of heavy music can appreciate.

While Newsted’s over the top energy is contagious, the music is something he doesn’t take lightly.

“I’m doing this because I want to do this,” he said in a serious tone. “I only do what I want to do. I’ve played by my own rules for a long, long time and I don’t think that’s any mystery to anyone that’s in the metal world. I just want to share this with anybody that wants it.”

We reached Newsted to get the scoop on his renewed efforts, the new project, and his gear.

What charged this renewed connection with fans?

The catalyst was when I played with Metallica at the Fillmore for their 30th anniversary in December of 2011. You know, I’ve been playing in the Chophouse in my studio for years and years with all kinds of projects and making noise. Pretty much every week we’d be doing some kind of something. After all that time of writing songs and playing with different people and kind of honing my skills and getting myself together, I played with those guys at that Fillmore show and got my spark lit up again by all the fans.

[I felt] that feeling that you get from starting the song and stopping the song together and getting the reaction of the people. I felt that feeling that we continue to chase in a way that I hadn’t in over a decade. Something came over me and I said, “I wanna try this one more time. I’m gonna give it one strong effort with some of my own songs for the first time and put my name on it.” So it all started from Lars calling me and asking me to jam for a couple songs [laughs].

Especially with the name of the project, this seems like a very personal endeavor for you. Do you find yourself learning a lot or does this feel like getting back into gear?

Jason Newsted in studioThere’s a lot of new stuff. There’s a lot of familiarity, of course, from the years that I’ve spent doing studio stuff and working on songs and all, but it is very fresh and very new because I’m taking on new roles. I wrote all the songs on guitar to begin with and I play all the rhythm guitars on all the tracks. I play bass on a bunch of the songs and Jesse Farnsworth plays guitar and bass on some of the songs, so we just switched back and forth to make it. All of that is very new to me.

Being a frontman for the first time and playing guitar and singing is completely new. You know, I’ve played some bass and sang some lead vocals before with very strong rhythm guitar players behind me, so that was its own thing. Now when I’m having to come up with all the melodies and play leads and do lead vocals at the same time, it’s all new. I feel like a kid with that, [like I’m] nineteen years old in my brain and my heart. No matter what the calendar says, that’s what I feel like now.

It’s not starting over, it’s just kind of a fresh beginning because I already climbed the tallest mountain that’s possible to climb in this type of music and I stepped off of that peak while I was at that peak. So I’m just kind of taking it from there. I don’t have to climb back down the mountain, I can just start from right here.

You mentioned you’re split between bass and guitar duties. Is it a 50/50 ratio of bass to guitar time?

Like I said, all the songs were composed on guitar, so that’s that as far as the writing stuff. As far as recording, I’d say it’s 60/40 because Jesse [Farnsworth] plays four of the ten songs on bass. Then he does probably eight out of ten leads, and I do two of the leads. He does all the background vocals, too.

Jesse is a very talented cat. He’s made his own records writing all the songs and lead vocal and lead guitar. It’s kind of one of the reasons I got him in the band, because he can play anything.

So who is in the band, how did you get the guys together?

The drummer’s name is Jesus Mendez, Jr., and I’ve known him for just about fifteen years. He was a local roadie for Metallica. He hung out with us at the headquarters for years and did different stuff. And he was the Echobrain tech on that tour. We’ve been playing at the Chophouse for ten or eleven years with different improv metal projects and stuff like that. He brought Jesse Farnsworth into the fold about five years ago and we’ve been that power trio that you hear on the Metal EP for about five years.

Jason Newsted's band

We’ve been making mostly improv music up until August of this year, when I wrote all the songs on an iPad and I gave them the discs and said, “Go learn these parts.” They came back and put their spin on all the music, and that’s how we kind of got this going now. So the actual band as you hear it has had about five or six months of life now.

Where did you record the album?

Newsted: Metal EPWe recorded in a couple different sessions. We did five songs in one session and seven songs in another session. We did it in the middle of a cornfield in the central valley of California. It was a little bitty farm house with some awesome digital gear and some other cool, old, vintage gear and amps. We just made it happen. One week for the first batch and one week for the second batch. We actually got everything done in two weeks for this whole record.

So what kind of gear did you use?

Bass-wise I still use my Sadowsky stuff. There’s a blonde natural 4-string that Roger [Sadowsky] built me about four or five years ago. Then I used a ’74 Telecaster bass – the old slab body with a big humbucker on the neck – for one song, then I use a Jerry Jones baritone guitar for some heavies. I also used the same bass that did the bass solo on the Cunning Stunts [DVD], the orange burst P/J setup Sadowsky. I used that on the new batch of songs, the latest four.

Amplifier-wise I use the same SVT head that has been on every record I’ve ever recorded from The Black Album forward. It’s the same one that tore my shoulder out of socket. It’s the same one that… [laughs] It’s the devil and the angel at the same time! It’s the same bass cabinet that I’ve used since Flotsam and Jetsam that I made payments on back in the day. It’s all the same gear I recorded The Black Album with as far as amplifiers go.

Oh, I also added one of those baby SVT Micro’s for some buzz.

Are you much of a gearhead?

I like my gear, yeah. I’m not real technical, but I do know what I like now and I have been collecting for a long time so I do have my favorite stuff. I keep it very simple though, man. I really do. Not too much complicated stuff.

Halfway through “Soldierhead,” there’s a great bass breakdown that introduces a new riff. Are you using any effects on that?

I think that was the old Musitronics phaser. It’s an old silver box that weighs about ten pounds. That’s the only effect I think that was put on there. I went at first with more of a buzzing, kind of Motorhead-y, Voivod-y bass sound in that breakdown, but [the song] keeps layering and layering guitars every four measures. By the time I got to the third layer of guitars punching in, the bass got lost. I had to kind of keep that pushing through the middle phasing sound so it would still be poking through once all the guitars came in. It might not be super strong out of the gate kind of like I wanted it growling, but once everyone else comes in it’s what it’s supposed to be.

We asked No Treble readers what they wanted to ask you, and one of the questions was whether you prefer a four or five-string bass.

It’s definitely whatever is appropriate for the song. I think if I only had to pick one, I would probably go with four. Five-string has its applications, and I have spent many, many hours on it, but on this record I mostly played four. There’s only one song I think that has five on it. We change a lot of tunings. There are three or four different tunings on these songs, so we just kept each instrument intonated to its own thing.

What are you listening to nowadays?

My favorite band right now is Black Mountain. I also like Red Fang. And Muse is always at the top of the list, and they have been for some years now. They can do no wrong in my eyes. [They’re] innovative. They can go so many places and they can still be heavier than anybody that’s heavy. I’ll put their heavy riffs up against any heavy band. They can get down.

I also like Mastodon. They’re my favorite tonality-wise. I love their guitar sounds and I love that the bass player sings. They’ve got props from me up and down. The Sword I really like.

Who are your top five metal bass players?

Geezer Butler is top of the heap, and then there’s a big gap. Then Lemmy, then Rob Grange from the original Ted Nugent band. He may not have been the metal-est bass player, but he was one of my greatest teachers. And then all the bands I mentioned, I like those bassists too. I mean, [Muse’s Chris Wolstenholme], he’s not really a metal guy but he’s hella good. [He’s] innovative and very musical, and not everyone is like that. A lot of people just thud.

I’ll say Tom Araya, because he’s a great frontman and the main singing bass player of our music, so let’s give him props. [Troy Sanders] from Mastodon, too, because he gets out there and sings.

Mastodon is great. They put on a great live show.

Yeah, they’re good. They have a lot of confidence and they seem like they have pride in each other. That’s not something that you see every day. You see a lot of people looking at each other all nervous, like, “What’s coming next?” With these guys they know what’s coming. They’ve got their feet planted and they’re ready to go.

You mean in their band relationship?

I mean on the stage you can recognize that everyone has confidence in their other players. They don’t show the weak link in front of other people. Their personal lives and whatever, I have no idea, but when you see them on stage they have a confidence. They know what’s coming next. They know what to expect from their bandmates, and that is hard to come by. That’s one of the unspoken things that you couldn’t have enough money in the world to buy.

Speaking of live shows, will you be touring your new music anytime soon?

That’s the plan. Since about the last seven or eight days, the “Soldierhead” single has been out in its entirety for people to hear, so a lot of calls have been coming in. We’ve had a lot of offers domestically and internationally [for] pretty much every array of show. There’s some cool club shows, some support gigs, a couple headlining things we could do, and there’s festival stuff where we would place well on a bill on a Motorhead or Anthrax show, and these kind of things. All that stuff is out there and I have big, big meetings these coming days to make a lot of decisions about the trajectory for this whole thing for the year.

But yeah, the offers are there. Everyone knows what my standards are as far as the managers going out to people, and they have to come with a certain amount of money and a certain quality of show. My quest has not changed forever for thirty years. My quest is to take my music – westernized rock and roll music – to anybody around the globe wherever we can play it for whoever wants to share it. It has never changed. A lot of people talk it but not a lot of people can walk it and I’ve already been around the world four or five times all the way around. So it’s like, “I’m good.” [laughs]

What do you want to tell all the bass players out there?

Unite! That’s the thing about us bass players: we always have to team. We always do no matter what. In all my travels, I have yet to meet a bass player that I wasn’t a bro with. We all get along. It’s not the same as guitar guys or drummers. We do have our unspoken stuff that’s very strong. We cheer each other on very often… Way more often than not. That’s a pretty cool thing to be able to say.