On Friday afternoon, the four members of arguably the world's most famous heavy metal band flew into Austin, Texas, from San Francisco to promote a new music video game called "Guitar Hero Metallica." For the press conference, they set up shop at the Four Seasons Hotel on San Jacinto Boulevard, a few blocks away from the South by Southwest panel discussions at the Convention Center.
After posing for a quick photo session in the San Jacinto Ballroom, where photographers snapped away and the band wore sunglasses to deflect the flashing lights, lead singer and guitarist James Hetfield, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, drummer Lars Ulrich, and bassist Rob Trujillo went off to separate conference rooms on different floors of the luxury hotel to be interviewed by reporters.
On the ninth floor, in room 916, Trujillo, wearing long black hair, black pants, a black "Black Flag" t-shirt, white socks, and black Vans sneakers, took up his residence before the band played a gig tonight at Stubb's Bar-B-Q. Trujillo sat at a long wood table in a green, comfortably padded swivel chair with a view of downtown Austin behind him. As three reporters walked into the room, the bassist, a Culver City, California, native, stood up and introduced himself. He looked happy.
"Have you ever been to South by Southwest before for anything?" asked Chris Riemenschneider, a music critic for Minnesota's Star Tribune.
"Yes, I have," said Trujillo, and smiled. "I was here about 8 years ago? Maybe it was longer than that? It's about nine years ago. It's 2000 with Jerry Cantrell."
"So what's Metallica doing here?" asked Riemenschneider.
"Metallica is here for a few reasons," said Trujillo. "We want to get some really good bar-b-q food is the main reason. We're also here to talk about Guitar Hero, which is a pretty special event for us. And there should be a little fun, festive party later. Location is undisclosed. Right? Or is it disclosed?"
With a few chuckles, the reporters told him the secret was out.
"Well, then, we can all have bar-b-q together. I mean I've got people text messaging me that I know from L.A. going, 'Dude, can you get me in?' It's like, 'What?'"
Trujillo, who seemed unable not to smile, was then asked what the band hoped to achieve with the Guitar Hero video game.
"For me," said Trujillo, "Guitar Hero is a great way for people to experience the music of a band. Not just Metallica, but many bands. It's almost educational in that sense, where people can learn about groups that range from Santana to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Journey, whatever."
Trujillo, who was flanked by public relations flaks, continued, "I mean, my son loves rocking out to "Paranoid" by (Black) Sabbath, and he's only four years old. And it's great way for us to interact with each other. I always end up picking up the microphone and singing. I'm Ozzy (Osborne), and he's Tony Iommi. So it's fun in that sense, too."
Trujillo, who's also the father of a two-year-old daughter, then thought about the bigger influence of the video game.
"Hopefully," he said, "this encourages young people, and all people, to maybe want to buy an instrument or go see a rock show and hear it in person."
After a few more questions about the game, talked moved to what the band was currently trying to do with their music. Trujillo took a sip from a green mug and nodded.
"Where Metallica is at right now," said Trujillo, "I feel it's an important time and an exciting time. I feel that the thrash element is back, and it's exciting the band even more and it's opened those doors again. For me, personally, being the newer member it's a great honor to actually play that style of music in this band. And it's fun for me as a bass player, and it's challenging."
"I also think that the direction in terms of being progressive and us challenging ourselves again is very exciting. And it seems our fans have picked up on it and they're excited about the guitar solos again. It seemed that the guitar solos had taken a breather there over the last couple of years. And they're back with a vengeance. The riffs, I feel, are back and in your face again. And it's been exciting to work with a producer like Rick Rubin, who's definitely opened some doors for us in terms of the creative side, especially in getting Lars and James to step up and get back into the swing of things, and especially with the old school element."
After more talk about creative choices, and fifteen minutes into the round table interview, a flak in the room looked anxiously at his watch. One of the reporters noticed, and asked something of a wrap up question. He wanted to know if Metallica was "taking away the thunder" of the smaller, lesser known bands playing in Austin. Trujillo wasn't bothered by the question.
"I hope not. I've always heard about the South by Southwest. I was here a few years back, and it excites me to see new bands show the world what they have. In some ways, I'd rather be going and checking out these new bands, you know. We gotta do, what we gotta do, which is great. But I'm also excited about the new music."
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Trujillo paused for a beat and smiled again.
"I think that overall that's not the energy that's going on around here. I think that us being here is creating even more excitement in the air of Austin. I think, if anything, the new bands would totally like to check us out. And hopefully it will inspire their shows. Now bands that are playing at the same time we're playing, yeah, I feel bad."
In less than five hours, just like other bands in Austin, Metallica would show their stuff to the world.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.