Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett named John McLaughlin “my kind of guy,” praising both his musicianship and personality.
Although McLaughlin doesn’t seem like a name you’d easily associate with metal music, Hammett is far from being the only metal musician to be inspired by the fusion jazz legend. For instance, guys like Zakk Wylde and even High on Fire’s Matt Pike have praised John and cited him as an influence.
“I’ve been on a John McLaughlin trip for the last year or so because his playing is so out there and diverse, and unique,” said Hammett in a recent interview with Total Guitar.
“I love it. And, as a person, John McLaughlin is my kind of guy. He is spiritual. He meditates. He does yoga. He’s a vegetarian. Boom!”
And speaking about meditation and music, Hammett also addressed how he got over some of his writer’s block problems. These days, he simply sits down and plays his instrument while focusing on nothing but notes.
“I just listen to the notes and I start getting ideas,” Kirk explained. “All of a sudden I have clay to play with. I’ll just play with that little thing for 10 or 15 minutes and if it shapes itself into something then that’s great, if it doesn’t I’ll just move on. It’s a real slow, quiet, very observant sort of awareness.”
To add to this, he sometimes prefers the outdoor setting which helps with inspiration. Hammett continued:
“I love playing my guitar outside because I love hearing the sounds of nature. I love incidental sounds. A plane will be flying over me and I’ll find the pitch. It’s weird. Daimler-Benz, who makes all these airplanes, I think they fucking pitch all the airplane motors because they almost always start in A then modulate down to F#. It’s so crazy, [if] a plane [is] flying over me, I’ll find the tone.”
“Sometimes I’ll hear this weird bird do a mating call and I’ll try to mimic it on the guitar,” Hammett said. “There’s stuff that’s all around you, giving you little nudges towards ideas. You can get ideas anywhere if you just open up your ears and let your creativity flow.”
While we’re on the topic of jazz and inspiration, one of the most important elements of Metallica’s latest album, “72 Seasons,” was Kirk’s approach to his lead parts. Compared to previous records, Hammett decided to go all out on improvisation. Instead of writing stuff ahead of sessions, he just blasted it all out during the sessions.
“It was a huge risk-taking, a huge experiment,” he explained. “And to this day, I’m wondering if I pulled it off or not. But I had to do it this way because it was how I felt inside. I wanted spontaneity. I didn’t want picture-perfect solos because some of my favorite players’ solos were kind of rag-tag, and I love that.”
“My solos are a reaction – absolutely 100 percent – to what’s happening in the song because it was my only point of reference. I purposely didn’t work out anything so that all I had to fall back on was what everyone else can fall back on, which is pure feeling, and that in itself is a challenge.”
Although the album was mostly received well by both fans and critics, Hammett’s approach did raise some eyebrows, even negative reactions from certain Metallica fans. Nonetheless, as he revealed in an interview published not long after the album’s release, he’s doubling down on this by improvising lead parts to these new songs during Metallica’s shows.
“I have every intention on playing every solo from this album differently when we play live,” he said. “If you watch old videos of Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Beck, or even Michael Schenker, they’re not playing the solos on the album – they’re playing whatever the fuck they wanna play. I love that because it’s a moment of real honesty.”
As far as the sessions go, he allowed himself to do whatever he wanted. Basically, he just improvised a bunch of parts and then let the producer Greg Fidelman and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich edit them the way they wanted. As he explained:
“With this album, I went in intentionally to improvise 20, 30 solos, give them all to Lars and Greg, and go ‘You guys edit them!’ I know I’m gonna play something completely different live, so I can offer something different every time you see Metallica. When you buy a ticket to a Metallica show, you’re not gonna hear carbon copy versions of the album.”
“At a time when it’s just so accessible to see videos of your favorite band, there needs to be some sort of impetus for people to go out and see live shows that are actually somewhat spontaneous. That’s my thing these days – and if people don’t like it, that’s just tough!”