Former Metallica Bassist Jason Newsted: 'The Hollywood Vibe Is the Opposite of What I Am'

Fronting his own band for the first time, the veteran rocker looks back on some trying times and how a love of painting put him on a new path. Basquiat, Jean Dubuffet and Picasso "are my Black Sabbath, Motorhead and Rush," he tells THR.
Fran Strine

The release of Heavy Metal Music (Chophouse Records) by Jason Newsted's new band Newsted is something of a triumph for the former Metallica bassist. A solid, straight-forward heavy metal album with Newsted on bass and vocals and a lineup boasting Staind guitarist Mike Mushok, guitarist Jessie Farnsworth and drummer Jesus Mendez Jr. The band has been playing most of the album on Dave Mustaine’s “Gigantour” tour (featuring headliners  Black Label Society, Hellyeah, Device, a side project of singer Dave Draiman from Disturbed, and Newsted) for people who hadn’t yet heard it and the response, judging by the trek's recent New York stop, has been great.

Says Newsted: “We’ve played 40 to 50 shows in the last few weeks, in a bunch of countries, and it’s been very positive all the way around. It’s definitely a lot to ask of people to listen to new material, especially at a festival like that, but they’re out there listening and nodding their heads right along with us!”

The band is the first group the infamous bass player has put together in his decades-long career. He’s been known for joining other bands: Metallica, and Ozzy of course; but also several others, including Voivod and the pre-fab television group, Rockstar: Supernova. “This is the first time I’ve put together a band in 32 years. I’m usually joining someone else or filling in but this is the first real band I assembled. I chose the people, I wrote the songs -- I sing the songs -- it’s my lyrics and my voice. So I decided to name it after me.”

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Newsted first released an EP, Metal (which bowed at No. 1 on the iTunes metal chart), in January after forming the band in 2012. “This wasn’t contrived or manufactured or me sitting at the table saying, ‘Now I’m going to have a band.’ We went and made a demo last year and things started rolling. We had managers and agents at the door and a few weeks later we had record labels talking to us. We’ve been together six months now, with over 50 shows under our belts, got an EP and an album out: things are moving really fast for something that wasn’t really planned.”

With heavy, pounding numbers like “Heroic Dose;” “Ampossible;” “As The Crow Flies” and the Sabbath-y “Nocturnus,” Newsted is forging a sound that's unique and totally his own. Last week, Newsted released a video for the song “Above All,” the first single from the album. “Writing songs for me is just like painting. I’m with my garage band and have my guitar in hand and channel it from the sky and it just comes down and I make a song. That’s how most of the music came together. You can read a lot into the lyrics of ‘Above All’ -- ‘Above all the people/Above all the creeps/Above all the steeples/Above all the freaks’ -- but for me, I think it’s that the people that come first... above all.”

When he’s not writing killer metal songs or rocking the house, Newsted paints. It’s something he picked up during his time with Rockstar: Supernova, a venture he does not remember fondly. “It was a great experience, I made good money and I think I played some good five-string bass on the recording, so those three things were successful for me. The whole Hollywood vibe is really, really the opposite of what I am: pretty much the direct opposite. I’m in first, last one out and play like I’ll never play again and work as hard as possible all the time. When I came into Supernova I had all my shit together and sat down with these guys and said ‘This is what we need to do if we want to get this record done.’ And they went, ‘Who made you boss?’ So I was like, okay, fine: let’s see how this goes…”

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Newsted continues, “We ended up rehearsing about seven hours total. Total. Ever. I tried to be a leader -- none of those guys have been in as big or as successful bands as I’ve been in. I wasn’t trying to be arrogant, but that’s the deal and they should have shown some respect for my opinion and my interest in the leadership role. They had their irons in many other fires at the time and I didn’t. I moved out to Los Angeles to focus on that show and they spent more time waking around than anything else. Fortunately for me, at that time I discovered my painting. So if they hadn’t been jacking off it would have given me a chance to paint: so everything for a reason. The record got done, I put a big check in the bank, and now I’m selling my paintings. I make some wicked lemonade if you give me lemons, you know?”

Newsted had an exhibition in San Francisco in 2010 and some of his paintings now go for tens of thousands of dollars. “Most of my work is abstract, mixed-media. Giant pictures about five by ten feet; plastic and acrylic. I also do some sculpture. I have eight or nine hundred pieces since 2004 and have studios in three different cities across the country. Some of my pieces go for maybe $150 for a little picture and some are $40, 000 for a giant one. So there’s something for everyone.” Newsted says he’s very influenced by Basquiat, Jean Dubuffet and Picasso. “Those guys are my Black Sabbath, Motorhead and Rush of painting.”

In the meantime, Newsted is focused on music and his new album. “I’m proud of the record and I’m proud of what it sounds like. If people dig it too, then I’m really going to be happy. I have very reasonable expectations about this album and I did it because I love the music. I say it all the time to the people in the crowds: heavy equals happy. The heavier the music, the happier we are and the music brings us together. I’ve had a bunch of great experiences in the form of old-school metal, and that’s what this album is. It’s not too fancy or anything like that: it’s heavy metal.” 

The “Gigantour” plays its last show on Sunday, Aug. 11 in Toronto at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre.

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