Given that Metallica are one of the few rock acts that can still reliably sell a ton of records, the decision about who gets a piece of the band's heavy metal pie is a big one — and one the metal monsters are about to re-think. "We're free and clear of our record contract. The world's our oyster," says drummer Lars Ulrich. The band's last studio effort, 2008's Death Magnetic, was released by Warner Bros. "We can basically do whatever we want," he continues. "And we're going to start figuring that out."
The band is even contemplating non-traditional approaches to releasing its new music. Though, as Ulrich explains it, exactly what that might entail is still far from certain. "We're writing music and we're going to be recording very soon," he says. "At some point we're going to want to share that with people that are interested in listening to it. So we gotta figure out ways we want to do that, from giving it away in cereal boxes to getting people to do handstands for it. We could come up with something wacky."
One thing Ulrich wants to make clear, though, is that the band is not sitting around conjuring up buzzy distribution models. "This whole thing about who can come up with the coolest [release strategy] so it can be written about on 12 different blogs for six hours — I mean sure, that's all pretty cool and hip," he says, "but at the same time you have to remember we have a very global audience. We have fans in India and the U.A.E. and Russia. In a lot of these places there are still more conventional ways of getting music to people. We're not just selling Metallica music to people in Los Angeles, New York, and London. We have to think of the whole globe to try to find the right balance."
Just like their business future, Metallica's new music is also in its beginning stages. "We're still throwing ideas around," says Ulrich. "We work in stages. Some people will write a song from beginning to end in one go. We don't do that. We'll develop, like, 10 ideas and do a couple cycles. We'll do a verse, chorus and maybe an intro, and then we'll leave them and go develop 10 other ideas. So it's a little early yet because we haven't gone back yet and started tweaking anything. Right now we're throwing ideas at the canvas and picking out great riffs."
Much further along is the planning for the band's Orion festival, which takes place on June 23 and 24 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. "Right now we're putting the final touches on a stage that's going to host mostly thrash and punk — kind of extreme stuff," Ulrich reveals. "The whole point is to give people a chance to explore. It's not so much about, 'Okay, I’m going to park myself in front of Stage A for the next nine hours.' It becomes about continuous movement: 'I’ll go into Lars' film tent. I’ll go over to Kirk Hammett’s surf tent. I’ll check out the comedy and the thrash stage.' It’s pretty ambitious. We want to make sure it’s the best it can be."
A comedy stage at a Metallica-curated music festival? We're there.
Reporting by Jon Wiederhorn