Jason Newsted has played bass with some of the biggest acts and names in metal and hard rock over the course of more than 30 years, laying down a monstrous bottom end and solid foundation for Flotsam and Jetsam, Ozzy Osbourne and, of course, Metallica.
After decades of being the bedrock and collaborator in other acts, Newsted has stepped out—make that stomped out—into the spotlight with his own eponymous band, which released its debut EP, the appropriately titled Metal, this January. The record quickly went to the top of the metal genre charts on iTunes.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer first displayed his formidable chops on the bass in Flotsam and Jetsam in the early 1980s, and he hit the international spotlight when he joined Metallica in 1986, following the death of their original bassist, Cliff Burton.
After leaving Metallica in 2001 (citing personal reasons), Newsted spent several years in Echobrain, along with touring with acts such as Ozzy Osbourne and Voivod before undergoing several shoulder surgeries, from 2004 to 2008, to repair damage from years of physical abuse (from both playing and lifting gear). He moved away from music while recovering and rehabbing.
An invitation from Metallica’s Lars Ulrich to join the band at its 30th-anniversary gigs at the Fillmore in San Francisco at the end of 2011, and people’s reactions to his appearances there, were the impetus for Newsted to get back into playing again. “The fans really screamed me back into this, I hadn’t felt that energy from the people for a long time, and I got bit by the bug pretty seriously,” Newsted says.
Recruiting friends Jesus Mendez Jr. on drums and guitarist Jessie Farnsworth—with whom Newsted had been jamming off and on for many years—the bassist put the wheels in motion for a new group.
“I got the boys together, wrote these songs, and here we are a year and half later, and we’re getting ready for a world tour with this new band, so I’m pretty excited about it,” he says. “It’s a great collective; everybody is hard working and focused; they’re not afraid to put in the hours. I do grind these guys pretty good. We go for hours and hours, but that is what has to happen to order to get the results that we have.”
The show here will be the band’s second live gig—and the venue, the San Jose Rock Shop, is exactly the type of place in which Newsted wants to start out. “These initial shows are to kind of buff the rust off of ourselves, and get out to the fans to let them know what it’s all about—playing in a cool, small, intimate, crushing-feeling, sweaty kind of place, so we can see everybody’s eyes, we can feel what’s going on, forming the band.”
Although Newsted has always had a rightfully deserved reputation as an incredibly intense and fierce player onstage, he has also always been known for his down-to-earth attitude and friendly relationship with fans.
“Meeting people has always kind of been my M.O., almost my forte; I meet fans before, during and after the show, that’s how I’ve always conducted myself in my career,” he explains. “I’m never going to change that as long as I can help it.”
One thing that has changed since Newsted was last out on a major tour is the advent of the VIP package that many bands now offer to fans. For an additional charge, concertgoers can get in early, with the guarantee of an autograph, a photo with the artist, commemorative merchandise and more.
While he was somewhat reluctant to participate in the new avenue of the touring business, Newsted agreed to do so after hearing directly from his fans.
“I’ve never charged people to meet me before, it still feels weird for me, but these VIP packages are something that people actually demand,” he tells me. “The fans are used to that as something that happens at a show now—and it’s something that puts diesel in the bus and makes the wheels go around.
“I will still always be available to talk to fans whether they pay for the VIP package or not,” he adds. “You have to take the music to the people, one fan at a time—sell the T-shirts at the gig, sell the CDs at the gig, and sell the concert experience—those things cannot be downloaded.”
With his band currently mixing a debut full-length album, slated for release in June, and with a European tour set for the summer (featuring new second guitarist Mike Mushock of Staind), Newsted—who just turned 50 in March—is looking forward to getting out on the road again. He wants to play his music for fans live, loud and in their face—the way he says it should be done.
“I am still that 19-year-old heavy metal kid—I’ve worked a long, long time to get this young,” says Newsted. “The game is a little different, the rules have changed a bit, but the most important rules are still the same—you still have to take it to the people.”