In 1981, drummer Lars Ulrich ran a newspaper classified ad in search of like-minded musicians, citing English metal acts Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head and Iron Maiden for reference.
The rest, as they say, is history. Vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield responded to it and Metallica was born. Today, the ad signifies the earliest days of a band that would go on to sell over 125 million albums, exposing thrash metal to a whole new audience as one of the most successful acts in rock history.
Since 2017, Metallica’s All Within My Hands Foundation has battled food insecurities while training skilled workers via the endowment of Metallica Scholars, a program which donated $1.6 million to 23 community colleges and tech schools this year.
As Metallica stares down a once unthinkable 40 years, the metal icons have partnered with Carhartt to recreate Ulrich’s now legendary classified ad. The new campaign shines a light upon the importance of workforce education while recruiting a new generation of young fans to skilled trades, with the work apparel manufacturer donating 100% of Labor Day online sales at the Carhartt website to All Within My Hands Foundation’s Metallica Scholars program.
It’s the beginning of a busy stretch for Metallica who are scheduled to return to the stage on Friday, September 23 and Sunday, September 26, 2021, rolling out a pair of unique sets in Louisville, Kentucky at Louder Than Life, the first of three U.S. festivals Metallica will perform at this fall in partnership with promoter Danny Wimmer Presents.
Metallica is also celebrating the 30th anniversary of their most successful studio release, the 16x platinum Black Album, via a remastered edition available on CD, vinyl or as a limited edition deluxe box set. Available on September 10, 2021, the remaster accompanies the physical release of the Metallica Blacklist, an album which finds an incredibly diverse roster of 53 artists covering the Black Album’s dozen tracks, with all profits from the release split evenly between All Within My Hands Foundation and more than 50 other charities chosen by the artists taking part in the project.
I spoke with Lars Ulrich about recreating his 1981 classified ad, the importance of workforce education and curating the new Metallica Blacklist set. A transcript of our phone conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows below.
One of the things I most respect about Metallica is that constant desire to look ahead not back. But recreating the ad does sort of force you to revisit the band’s literal earliest days. What’s it like doing that at a point like this 40 years in?
LARS ULRICH: That is definitely taking it back to the earliest moments!
It’s funny. Seeing the video and seeing the ad come to life warms my Danish heart. It’s sort of crazy on a parallel path that we’re just about 40 years into this in the next few months. Who would have thought that Metallica would exist 40 years later? Who would’ve thought that we would be in a place to have an opportunity to create a charitable organization like we have – to encourage the rock community to join us in giving back and rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty. Who thought that Metallica could partner up with such an iconic American company like Carhartt and do something like this?
If you had said 40 years ago that I would be speaking to Forbes on Labor Day weekend, all of that would’ve seemed so preposterous. But here we are. And it’s not just a dream. But, again, seeing that video – seeing that ad come to life – who would’ve thought, right?
After a period of record unemployment, how important is it to help train a new generation of young people to fill these skilled worker positions via the All Within My Hands Foundation Metallica Scholars?
Ulrich: It’s important to highlight these issues. And I think that we feel that we have a niche where we can shed some light. And we obviously have a platform where we can help shout from the rooftops about these issues. The last year and a half in so many people’s lives, and the hardships that have come in the wake of that, it seems extra timely.
We feel that there are so many other organizations that highlight an endless amount of worthy causes. And we’re so happy to be a small piece of that. But we feel that our niche with workforce education fits a significant amount of our fanbase. And, really, it’s about giving back to communities and to the fans themselves. So this is a big part of who the Metallica fanbase is all over the world.
We’re very proud of that and we’re very vocal about it. It’s great that we can make a little bit of a difference in bringing attention to these issues. And I just want to say that for our friends at Carhartt to step up and basically do 100% of the [online] proceeds for 24 hours on Labor Day – that’s pretty cool. It’s not just 100% of the profits, it’s 100% of everything generated from dollar one. That’s a commitment. And that’s a commitment to giving back and wanting to make a difference.
Something that really sets the Metallica Scholars program apart to me is its hyper focus on community colleges and tech schools. How important was it to get involved at that level?
Ulrich: We’re five years into this now – five years into it in a public forum. We’ve been helping behind the scenes for years with food insecurities and working with local food banks all over the place when we’ve been playing. But, when we sat down and decided in 2016 to put an organization together and make this public, it was important to have a mission statement and figure out where we could make a difference. So we sat down and looked at what our passions were internally, within the group and the organization, and tried to balance that out with where there were places that we felt that we could make a difference.
I’m not saying that other organizations haven’t looked at workforce education but it felt like there definitely was something that we could contribute in that particular niche. It feels like an authentic extension of who a significant part of our fans are. And all four of us relate to people who need education just like all four of us in different situations have been at the receiving end of some challenges. So we’re just trying to make a difference at that level.
Metallica has always tried to be about transparency and authenticity and sort of try to do away with smokescreens. And this is real! What makes the world go round is a balance of all sorts of different things. But to be able to contribute and get more people out there with these types of skills feels like it’s a worthy cause. So we’re super psyched about the interest in it so far.
We’ve donated I believe over $4 million. And, like pretty much everything in Metallica, it feels like we’re just getting started. So lots of work to do and lots of places to make a difference – and lots of smiles on people’s faces as they understand that they can be a part of these programs.
And I’m super proud that the rock community can contribute. It’s great for the world to see that hard rock is fueled by the same passions and sense of community as other genres of music. And I’m super proud of the way that all of the fans have joined in and made this happen at their local level and at the national level and things like the workforce programs that we’re doing.
Beyond the artists themselves, there are so many people impacted by the loss of live music amidst pandemic. You guys will be back on stage soon. What kind of impact have you seen the pandemic have amongst that community in your own camp and, after the last year and a half, how important is it to put these people back to work?
Ulrich: A lot of people don’t understand the mechanics of the amount of people that are involved in these undertakings. Our partners at Live Nation put a charity together called Crew Nation that specifically helped all of the stagehands and everybody. A lot of people, when they go to a concert or sporting event or any type of big gathering, don’t really understand how many people are involved – from stagehands and drivers and ushers to all of these incredible people that just make stuff happen: scaffolding, stage sets and all of these crazy things.
We’ve done our part with the charity to help as much as we could in the last year and a half. And we’re very proud that we’ve been able to keep pretty much all of our people sort of engaged. We haven’t had to let anyone go. It’s been difficult. But we’ve dug deep and everybody has rolled up their sleeves to try and stay engaged. So we’re just like everybody else – just trying to do our part.
It’s been an unprecedented 18 months. And, as you know, we’re not out of the woods yet. It’s still a period of uncertainty. It’s a period of anxiety. It’s almost a day-to-day thing. Every morning when I look at my news sources, I see that so-and-so has cancelled and so-and-so has COVID or so-and-so is postponing and this event is being done away with… It’s crazy.
We’re supposed to start back up in a couple of weeks and fire the whole Metallica machine up. It’s definitely an uncertain time. We hope and pray every day that we can make it. We hope and pray that we can get back out there safely and that all of the people that make all of it happen – our incredible crew and everybody that we bring out: our touring crew, the local crew and local staff, all of the workers at the venues and all of the fans – stay safe and remain healthy.
Music makes such a difference in these times. And the power of music and the power of connectivity that comes in the wake of music is really amazing. It’s amazing what a difference it makes. And so we’re gonna have to find a way. What is the saying? The show must go on.
So – as long as the boundaries are set and safety is the paramount thing – if rock and roll can sort of exist within those safety measures, than I think we have to take it upon ourselves to go out and connect people to each other and to music and sort of keep it going. That’s important.
How important was it with the Metallica Blacklist project to find a way to revisit the Black Album and embrace fan nostalgia a bit while still pushing the music forward in the process?
Ulrich: Metallica started as a cover band. And Metallica still loves to engage in all things covers and other people’s music. And, over the years, there have been so many different groups and genres that have been respectful and have done some crazy cool covers of Metallica songs – from bluegrass to great lullabies to Korean death metal bands to incredible hip-hop and classical interpretations. Here’s somebody playing five Metallica songs on a hurdy-gurdy! Just an incredible range of stuff.
But we’ve never really encouraged any of that. We’ve been grateful and appreciative but this project, the Blacklist, is the first one that we’ve sort of curated where we thought about getting peers and other musicians and bands together that we respect and admire and that have been maybe on our radar as Metallica fans or who have been appreciative of what Metallica has done over the years. So far, to curate this for sort of the first time, and see this project come together… 53 songs strong! 53 incredible artists. That was crazier than anything we could have imagined. We didn’t anticipate we would get a response rate at this level. So it’s turned into a sizable project. But I think it’s one that’s going to have legs for some time as people discover all of this different music.
We encouraged everybody to just pick a song. We were not going to tell them which songs [to do]. And if five different people wind up doing [the same song], that’s fine.
An incredible British artist named Sam Fender did a very, very sort of sparse and simple interpretation of the song “Sad But True.” Jason Isbell, who is also an incredible artist, has done it too. Many people have done “Sad But True.” But if you listen to those two back-to-back – Jason Isbell and Sam Fender’s takes on “Sad But True” – that is indicative of the kind of diversity that this project, to me, really signifies and what I’m proudest of.
I think that in 2021 to be able to cast a net that wide is so special. To have all of these artists from all of these different countries and genres and backgrounds take these 12 songs from the Black Album and make them all just sort of sound their own and give them their own stamp… And then sitting down as a group with 53 songs and sort of understanding the diversity and the scope of how varied all of that is, that just makes me super proud and super grateful. And I think to be able to hear the different interpretations of how different artists have sort of taken a Metallica song and turned it into something that’s completely their own, and that is completely different than what our original interpretation was, is crazy.
Kind of circling back to where we started, who the f—k would have imagined 40 years ago that that could even happen – that that type of thing was in the future. It’s pretty crazy.