Interview: Jason Newsted

bill bodkin gets metal …

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Talking with Jason Newsted about his new musical endeavor, aptly and simply called Newsted, and you’d think you were talking to a young kid hitting the road for his first world tour.

No, there’s no naivete or inexperience in the legendary bassist’s Southwestern tinged words. But that same youthful and infectious energy and excitement lay behind every word that comes out of his mouth. You can hear that unquenchable fire that only comes from a person who passionately believes and absolutely loves what he’s doing.

This passion for playing live is something the former Metallica bassist never thought he’d rediscover. He seemed content on performing bass on various projects ranging from Tina Turner to Gov’t Mule, and continuing his highly successful career as a painter.

Then, Metallica invited him to perform onstage at their massive 30th Anniversary show out in California. That experience relit the torch of the dormant musical fire that lay inside his belly. And from that moment he restarted his musical journey with a brand new band but the same musical mission — to kick the audience’s ass with the sweet sound of heavy metal.

Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with Newsted about his new band as the quartet prepared to roll into the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J. this Thursday, May 23rd.

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Pop-Break: I read in your bio that when you reunited with Metallica at their anniversary show, you had a moment where you said “I’ve got to get back to this. I can’t ignore my feelings. How dare I?” Talk about that moment and what it was about jumping on that stage that made you want to return.

Jason Newsted: It was the hardest thing in my life to walk away from Metallica. It’s in me, always, and I never wanted it to stop. When I got onstage [at the reunion show] the passion in me was restoked and rekindled by the people that originally instilled that fire and passion in me. It was the biggest earthquake that ever shook my heart, my mind.

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PB: You recruited Jessie Farnsworth and Jesus Mendez Jr. to be your band — why these guys?

JN: I’ve known Jesus for a long time. He was drum tech for Echobrain and he was a local roadie for Metallica. I started jamming with him in the Chophouse around 2002, 2003. I’d bring him to special events, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, gallery shows. When we were jamming we wanted to do a power trio thing so we brought in Jessie. It’s important to perform with people you get along with and who support you and who you can hang with.

Then Mike Mushok (of Staind) came on and really sealed the whole thing. He added a lot of color and a fantastic musicianship to the band.

PB: You’re taking over lead vocals here. You’ve done vocal work for Metallica before, but was there worry/nerves/excitement about being the lone man behind the microphone?

JN: I love the challenges. I’ve been doing vocals for a longtime, the whole Cookie Monster growl thing. I’ve spent the last eight years developing my voice practicing at The Chophouse. I never thought this would ever happen; I mean I retired at like 37, 38 years old. Then this whole thing happened and there’s a momentum I couldn’t deny. It’s all on me now. It’s like Jordan with the ball with eight seconds left in the game. It’s either you’ll be heralded if you succeed or it’ll be ‘dude what the fuck’ if you miss.

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There’s definitely a nervous excitement here. This is my first new band since Flotsam and Jetsam. I’ve always been the new blood in the engine in established bands (Metallica, Ozzy, Echo Brain, Voivod, etc.). So when we were putting a name on the band, I didn’t want to go with something people didn’t recognize or wait to recognize. Metallica was always bigger across the world than in North America, so I was conditioned for years to have a worldview on things. So I thought people would recognize the name ‘Newsted’ right away and the word ‘Metal’ (the name of the band’s EP) means metal in any language.

I’m exited to sing and spread positive vibes to the people and share my music with people.

PB: What is different about Jason Newsted — the musician, the man since you last did a full tour or played with Metallica.

JN: I’m in much better shape than I was at 37 and I’m about to turn 50. When I left Metallica in 2001 I was on pills, James was drinking, the others were doing things they shouldn’t … we were all mentally fucked. But it was ‘let’s plow on and not take time to assess our mental health.’

With this band, we’re taking the old avenue of taking the music to the people. I don’t care if there’s 5,000 people in the audience or 30 people, they are all getting their asses kicked! I’ve always felt that way to go bring the music to the people.

But, there’s many new avenues I haven’t been down or it’s been a long time. I mean I haven’t been on a tour bus in 10 years since I was on the road with Ozzy. But there’s also the technology, the social networking … I’ve tried to repel all of this for as long as I could. I’ve tried and still try to remain as analog as possible. But then I learn and discover that social networking is the way to connect with the people and rekindle my relationship with the fans. Change has made me adapt. Mike just came off the road with Staind in October so he’s been a big blessing in this, because he’s helping me so much. I need that help because with this band it’s all me. I’m the manager, the bassist, the investor, the singer, I’m micro-managing things, booking flights, hotels … all things I never had to undertake before. I was conditioned to have people handle this for me when I was in Metallica. Now, it’s a humbling thing, but it’s also exciting because I’m calling all the shots and I have more control and there’s lots of new things to learn.

PB: Is it odd touring without a big production like Ozzy or Metallica and doing a more club-centric tour?

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JN: The idea behind this first tour is to get warmed up because in June we’re hitting 15 different countries playing with Iron Maiden and Slayer. So that’s a pretty big deal. This is the next phase of the band … we’ll be second on the bill and we’re there to take care of business. We don’t have the LP out yet so we just have the EP and the live show, some video is getting out there on YouTube. It’s a challenge to get people to respond to the new stuff, but they are definitely responding.

PB: Then you hit the road with GIGANTOUR this summer — how do you feel about hooking up with Mustaine and this now epic and popular tour?

JN: Dave and Dave (Mustaine and Ellefson) gave my old band Flotsam and Jestam their first shows outside of Arizona when we opened for them back in 1985. So there’s a definite camaraderie there with them. We’re going to be on the bill early, but we’ll be taking it to the people for sure. It kinda reminds me of when Metallica went on the Monsters of Rock Tour in 1988 and we played second before Dokken. (laughs). Man, he got pelted with a lot of shit on that tour. I mean we were playing a take no prisoners 30-45 minute set each night. We weren’t playing no fucking ballads and we didn’t care who was headlining we were bringing the show to the people.

PB: What songs off the new EP METAL do you think people should be checking out to get the full scope of the new band? And will these songs end up on the new record?

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JN: “Soldierhead” is our first single and its putting our best big black boot forward. I mean I like all of the songs — all four of them have their own life and personality. As far as the EP goes … I believe their function, when they were created around the ’70s or so, was to be a sampler for the long playing record and that’s what we’re kinda doing here.

When we started this project I was wondering if anyone would give a shit about us. So we put this EP together and did what it was either Clutch or Down did and put it up on iTunes and see where it goes from there in terms of a response. iTunes got flooded the day the EP came, the “Soldierhead” video has a couple hundred thousand views already and we made that video in the God damn garage.

I’m just really overwhelmed by the positive vibes and am glad we did the right thing here. This music is the real deal, new old school metal and if people are into the EP they’re going to love the record.

PB: You performed on a record with Tina Turner and performed with the likes of DJ Shadow and Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule — how was working with artists from outside the world of metal help you improve?

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JN: It really required a lot of paying attention and coming in and playing my ass off and it’s made me more well-rounded. I remember when Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath called me on the phone to play on his Who Cares record, I thought “Who’s fucking with me?” My roadies are all British, so I thought it was them at first. (laughs). [When he got into the studio with the Sabbath guitarist] I just learned. I also did work on this Italian pop singer Elisa’s single too. [I get invited to work on projects because] people tell me they respect what I did in Metallica, the way I ‘became the bass’ People still call me to this day and sometimes I’m like “Oh…My…God” at the opportunity. I mean to play with Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule was other-wordly.

PB: Finally, what’s your pop culture break in your day?

JN: My other great passion is painting. I had three shoulder surgeries from 2004-2008, two on the right shoulder, on one the left. I couldn’t really play anymore … painting gave me fulfillment, purpose. I have the same passion for it as I do music, in fact it’s the only thing I’ve discovered that I love as much as music.

I was really unhappy about my injuries so I started painting and I now have done about 1,000 of them. They caught on at gallery shows and I have a few collectors in North America and I have a few studios I own around the country. I do a lot of gigantic paintings, some six-foot by twelve-foot, they all have a direct correlation to my music. It’s as though the music has been transferred to the canvas. It’s got the same kind of of “ARRRR!!!” and intensity.

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Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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