Ken manned the racks in the rock department at one of the biggest record stores in Denmark, where Ulrich, 46, grew up before moving to southern California at age 17. "You have to understand, this was the mid- to late '70s. There was no Internet," he says. "And we didn't have any real radio stations in the way you guys had stations in America. There was national radio, which every three months would maybe play something by Status Quo or fucking Alvin Stardust. Going to the record store was all you had."
As a teenager Ulrich delivered newspapers and worked in the cafeteria at his tennis club, and two or three times a week he'd take the 20-minute train ride into Copenhagen to spend what he'd earned at Bristol Music Center. "There I'd be in the basement," he recalls, "and Ken would say, 'OK, check out this band from England called Motörhead.' And I'd be like, 'Whoa, look at that cover!' It played a huge part in shaping who I am."
Thirtysomething years later, Ulrich and the rest of Metallica-singer/guitarist James Hetfield, 47; guitarist Kirk Hammett, 48; and bassist Robert Trujillo, 46-are hoping to help keep that experience alive with the release next Friday (Nov. 26) of "Live at Grimey's," a new nine-track live set to be sold exclusively at independent retail outlets and at the band's website. Available on both CD and double 10-inch vinyl, the Warner Bros. Records title documents a tiny pre-Bonnaroo gig Metallica played in 2008 underneath Grimey's New & Preloved Music store in Nashville.
"It was very hot and sweaty," says Warner Bros. senior VP of marketing Peter Standish, one of the approximately 150 hardy souls in attendance at the show. "I remember turning around at one point and seeing at least a half-dozen Nashville police officers at the back of the room-definitely a moment of, 'Uh-oh, what's going on?' But then I realized they were there as fans, not as security." Standish laughs. "They did whatever it took to get inside."
It's hard to blame them. Metallica is undisputably one of the biggest-and loudest-rock bands in the world. Its career predates the launch of Nielsen SoundScan in 1991, but since then it has sold 52.6 million albums in the United States, according to SoundScan. Its most recent studio disc, 2008's "Death Magnetic," debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (Metallica's fifth straight bow at the top), notching nearly half a million sales in just three days. (Today the album is at 1.9 million copies.)
The veteran metal group's touring business is even more robust: With only limited international road work, Metallica was the eighth-highest-grossing act in the world for 2010, reporting a gross of $62 million and attendance of more than 700,000 from just 33 shows reported to Billboard Boxscore.
Ulrich suggests with a self-effacing chuckle that "Live at Grimey's" may not live up to the classic live albums of his youth, such as Thin Lizzy's "Live and Dangerous" and "Double Live Gonzo!" by Ted Nugent. Even so, the opportunity to see an act the size of Metallica demolish a space the size of Grimey's isn't one to be passed up.
Metallica proved that again Nov. 4 at the Santa Monica Airport, where the band played a packed, invite-only launch party for Activision's top-selling "Call of Duty: Black Ops" videogame. (Last year Activision released "Guitar Hero: Metallica.") With celeb guests including former California governor Gray Davis, actor Zach Braff and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, the event also served as a benefit for the Call of Duty Endowment, which, according to its website, "helps soldiers transition to civilian careers after their military service." If that sounds like a sober affair, nobody told Metallica, who roared through an hourlong set peppered with hits like "Enter Sandman," "One" and "Master of Puppets," as well as a cover of Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy."
"Live at Grimey's" serves as a centerpiece item for Back to Black Friday, an inaugural day-after-Thanksgiving retail event assembled by organizers of the annual Record Store Day, including representatives from the Alliance of Independent Media Stores, the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS) and the Music Monitor Network. Metallica celebrated the first Record Store Day, in 2008, with an in-store appearance at Rasputin Music in San Francisco.
"Black Friday used to be when retailers got into the black," MMN executive director Michael Kurtz says. "Nowadays it's about retailers moving a bunch of stuff as a loss leader. We wanted to change that. We're putting music front and center-we want Black Friday to be about the artists, the music and about how special it all is as a gift."
"Traditionally, indie stores don't feel the holiday season until about 10 days to two weeks out from Christmas," says CIMS executive director Michael Bunnell, who owns the Record Exchange in Boise, Idaho. "This is an attempt to give the indie stores something to brag about for the holidays: 'We don't have cheap toasters, but we do have Metallica.' "
Other Back to Black Friday items include a U2 live EP; 7-inch singles from Soundgarden, Cee Lo and the Ting Tings; and vinyl reissues ofGeorge Harrison's "All Things Must Pass," the Doors' self-titled debut and "A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra."
The "Grimey's" set also launches Metal Club, an MMN initiative designed to "connect [members of] the vibrant metal community with their local record store[s]," according to a press release. Kurtz compares Metal Club to Record Store Day but notes that the new program is ongoing and genre-specific and that it includes Hastings outlets.
The Metallica release will be distributed by CIMS' Junketboy, whose head of A&R Scott Register says stores "have really stepped out on their orders" of "Live at Grimey's." "Especially with the economy the way it is, we're extremely pleased."
Neither Standish nor Cliff Burnstein, one of Metallica's managers at Q Prime, says he's experienced any blowback from big-box retailers over the band's decision to sell the album exclusively through indie stores. "I don't think it's any big deal to Best Buy or Walmart," Burnstein says. "It's not like it'll make a huge dent in the business they do."
According to Hetfield, "Grimey's" is indicative of Metallica's support "for the kind of smaller mom-and-pop shops" he shopped at while growing up outside Los Angeles, in Downey, Calif. "I remember not being able to bike far enough to get to the big record stores," he says. "But there was this tiny place that was pretty close-it was more like where you'd go to take violin lessons. Every once in a while they'd have something cool, though. I actually bought my first single there."
Do you remember what it was?
Hetfield: Of course: "Sweet Home Alabama."
How have things changed for the music buyer since then?
Hetfield: There was a mystique and an anticipation you don't get as much any more. Anticipating the new Judas Priest record or the new Scorpions record-that was great. Or even when you had to order something: an Angel Witch or Venom record. Then you finally get the call, and you're like, "Oh, it's there!"
Ulrich: I have three kids, and my 12-year-old and my 9-year-old, they listen to Rage Against the Machine and System of a Down, and they rock as hard to it as anyone else. But they don't enjoy the experience of records-the discovery of all this stuff-the way we did. They listen on an iPod.
Is the experience you had at Bristol Music Center replicable online?
Ulrich: I don't think it's really about comparing the two experiences. I'm more of a glass-half-full kind of guy, so instead of sitting here thinking about what everybody's missing out on, I'd rather celebrate what we do have.
Which is what?
Ulrich: The awesomeness of the Internet-the whole world at your fingertips. You can follow your favorite bands on a day-to-day basis and see their set lists from the far corners of the world. In Metallica's situation you can even hear the show six hours after it ends. When I was 11, if I'd had the opportunity to follow Deep Purple or Uriah Heep all over the world, that would've been huge. I'm happy that kids still want to envelop themselves in music and get so close to their favorite bands. That's a very cool thing-it's just different from how it used to be. I tell my kids, "I was on that fucking train to Copenhagen every morning and all you have to do is click a mouse!" They could care less.
The awesomeness of the Internet wasn't always so apparent to the members of Metallica. The band's highly publicized battle with Napster in 2000 did no shortage of damage to its reputation among some fans, and Metallica famously resisted making its catalog available for sale on iTunes until 2006. Regarding the former, Ulrich is confident that when his obituary appears in the New York Times, the word "Napster" will turn up in the first paragraph.
"That's something I have to accept, and I accept it," he says. "But it's not something that plays a big part in my life in 2010. I'm proud of the fact that we stood up for what we believed in and took a stance. Were we caught off-guard? Absolutely. Were there some gross underestimation of what this thing was? Yeah. But it came from the same impulsive spirit that drives everything else this band does."
As for iTunes, Hetfield acknowledges that "a little bit of fear" was what initially fueled Metallica's reluctance to do business with the digital retailer.
"Something new had come up, and it was like this late-night TV gadget," the frontman says. "You don't necessarily want to jump on it right away. Obviously, it's a big way people are getting music now; the younger generation, especially, want everything right now. I totally get that, and we can't change that. It's just how the world is."
Next: Metallica Talks 2011 Plans
Hetfield also points out that the issue of control is at stake. "With our record company, we have say over our direction," he says. " 'We want to put this many songs on the album and we want to sell it for this amount.' They've left us alone, which we like. iTunes does not subscribe to that. There's no negotiating, and unfortunately there won't be until a rival comes up."
Asked about the evolving perception of Metallica's relationship with consumers since the Napster days, Burnstein replies, "Why start with Napster? Why don't you go back to 1983 when they released a record on Megaforce and nobody paid any attention to this little indie band?" Burnstein insists that "Live at Grimey's" wasn't conceived in consideration of Metallica's image. "That doesn't play into it at all," he says. "It's the kind of thing we've always done. We've had numerous limited-production fan-club items of interest available to Metallica fans. This is just another in a long line of things."
Ulrich says that selling "Grimey's" as an indie-retail exclusive is actually consistent with the point he was trying to make regarding Napster.
"The two biggest misconceptions during that period were that it was about money and that it was about Metallica's survival," he says. "We all presumed Metallica would be fine. What it was about was all those people who heard Metallica and then three months later formed their own bands. We were concerned about where the money was going to come from to support those bands and the labels to release their records and the stores to sell those records through." Ulrich laughs. "And now all of that is pretty much playing out the way we predicted 10 years ago."
How much time do you spend thinking about how Metallica can adapt to those changes-to the decline, in other words, of the model in which Metallica came up?
Ulrich: Not that much. I consider myself Metallica's No. 1 fan, so for me it's just about, "What more would I want from Metallica? Where could they be better?" The main thing is access, and we try to give as much access as possible so people all over the world can get close to what goes on out on the road or in the studio. That old idea of mystique doesn't exist any more, so pretending it does is a waste of time. You might as well capitalize on the fact that your fans want to get close to you.
Hetfield: We're not interested in becoming a state-fair band that just plays our greatest hits. That's definitely not on the list of things to do. But staying relevant starts with your attitude and your hunger and passion for what you do. What comes after that is just frosting. You can do all the fanciest new tools-downloading straight into your earbuds or whatever-but if you don't have the songs, then it doesn't last.
Burnstein says the only effect that decreasing record sales will have on Metallica is that the band sells fewer records.
"It won't change anything else we do," he says. "I'm trying not to be cocky about it, but for Metallica, at their level, the kinds of things you might think about to replace income are minor compared to what you make playing tours and selling merch. We're just finishing 225 shows worldwide [in support of "Death Magnetic"], and these are massive shows. We can play anywhere. What else do we need to do, really? If we sell fewer records, so be it. Of course I'd rather sell more, but I can't do anything about the size of the market, and neither can they."
Metallica plays the last of those massive shows on Nov. 21 at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. Then, Ulrich says, it's "time to get the fuck back home and stay there for a little while."
Plans for 2011 are minimal at this point, according to Ulrich and Burnstein: The group is scheduled to play Brazil's Rock in Rio festival next September, and writing for the follow-up to "Death Magnetic" should begin sometime in the first half of the year. The other night in Adelaide, Australia, the band members even threw around some new riffs in the tuning room.
Ulrich says Metallica is nearing the fulfillment of its current record deals all over the world, which means the band has some "interesting decisions to make" about how (and with whom) it will sell its music in the future. He's not worried, though. "Given the slow pace at which we write albums," he says with a laugh, "it's not something we'll have to deal with any time soon."
Source: by Mikael Wood | Additional reporting by Ed Christman and Mitchell Peter | November 19, 2010 11:43 EST | Billboard.com