Kirk Hammett Recalls Challenges Metallica Faced in Early Days, Explains How They Made It Big

Guitar legend Kirk Hammett reflected on Metallica’s success and how the band members back in the formative days didn’t really expect that they’d reach stardom some day. Appearing in an interview for KSHE 95, Kirk explained how their main focus was on making great music and, at that point, other things didn’t really matter that much.

When asked whether he expected to see the massive success that they’re enjoying today, Kirk simply answered “no” and added (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“We were all pretty much just obsessed with the music, with the band being well rehearsed for whatever we’re doing, and making it to the next city, the next show, next gig. That’s all we really, really cared about back then.”

A.D. Rowntree interviews Kirk Hammett of Metallica - Full Interview

“Sure, it would have been great if we had some inkling that it would go really well for us,” he added. “But back then, it was hard to see that when you’re like sitting there, and you got like $3 in your pocket, and you’re deciding, ‘Should I buy a six-pack of Schlitz Malt Liquor or should I buy a sandwich or something?'”

Life was clearly much rougher for them back in the day but also a lot simpler. And, in a weird, nostalgic way, it does have some sort of appeal. For instance, there are alleged stories of the band members heating up hotdogs on radiators.

“We did all sorts of crazy stuff,” said Kirk when asked whether these stories are true. But although he didn’t confirm or deny the hotdog-heating practice, the guitarist added:

“We had a toaster oven, and Cliff [Burton, bassist] and I would take a Campbell’s Chunky soup and take the labels off and put them into toaster oven and just hope it wouldn’t explode. [Laughs]”

Metallica - Live at Day On The Green, Oakland, CA, USA (1985) [Pro-Shot]

These stories all sound like someone’s experience as a freshman at college. Although the guys from Metallica weren’t entirely broke, they did decide to build their own way, making it one of the most inspiring “rags to riches” stories in the world of rock music.

And they didn’t have a clue how they were going to pull that off. Sure, there were other bands before them who scored major commercial success, but rarely any of them managed to keep it together without serious drama and an occasional hiatus. On top of all that, Metallica turned into more than just a metal band — they’re now a massive international sensation and one of the most influential music groups of modern times.

“When I look back at it,” Kirk Hammett recalled, “we were extremely motivated to do the best we could every single moment of the day as far as the music was concerned — whether we were writing music, playing music, recording music, rehearsing music…”

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“And we always had an eye toward getting the best riffs together, best little nuggets of things we can come up with, and making sure it was, ultimately, the best of the best. Stuff that other bands would say, ‘Oh, this is a great riff, we’ll turn this into a song,’ it wouldn’t be good enough for us. I mean, it had to be, like, the best sort of riff.”

And what Kirk is saying is, in many ways, true. The band members often talked about how they came up with songs by piecing together the different parts that they’ve written. Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield played crucial role here, but Kirk, as well as Jason Newsted, Cliff Burton, and now Robert Trujillo, also added to the creative process.

“And also, we toured longer than we probably should have,” Kirk continued, explaining how they went about shaping the band’s future success. “We reinvested in the band to the point where we probably shouldn’t have. We made a lot of personal sacrifices. We went so far, and then more, to make sure that we’re serving the music, and we were playing for the people.”

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And the best part is that they didn’t expect that much of it would pay off. They just kept doing it:

“And our thing was — maybe it would come back to us, all this hard work would come back to us. And for years, it didn’t ever feel like that. It felt like we were just gonna play 250 shows every year, whatever we’re gonna do.”

“But then, it started coming back to us, and we started seeing real success. And that’s when I started thinking, ‘Maybe we will make a difference in the world of music and in culture,’ and whatnot. It’s hard to figure it out when you’re first starting. It’s hard to see that. You almost have to be like delusional to think that way.”

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Photo: Miguel (Metallica (52195773985))

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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