METALLICA guitarist Kirk Hammett has defended the band’s decision to launch a whiskey, in spite of frontman James Hetfield‘s continuing battle with alcoholism.
METALLICA announced its brand of whiskey in late 2018. Dubbed Blackened after a track on the group’s 1988 album “…And Justice For All”, the spirit is a blend of American bourbon, rye, and whiskey that wasn’t just barrel-aged, but also sound-aged to the group’s own music.
In a new interview with U.K.’s Daily Star, Hammett said that the whiskey is unrelated to Hetfield‘s September 2019 return to rehab, which caused the cancelation of METALLICA‘s tour of Australia and New Zealand.
“You can’t compare the two things,” he said. “James‘s struggle to get dry is a completely personal matter mentally and emotionally. The fact that we produce, bottle and sell alcohol is totally independent of this. It is completely up to you whether you drink or not. And I think I can sell what I want. If I were a diabetic, that wouldn’t mean that I couldn’t sell sweets.”
According to Hammett, he and his bandmates are behind Hetfield in his efforts to stay clean.
“We hold a virtual meeting once a week to keep in touch,” he said. “James is working his way out of his situation. We can really only try to support him.”
This past August, METALLICA bassist Robert Trujillo told Metal Hammer that he didn’t see Hetfield‘s return to rehab coming. “James seemed like he was fine, but then you look back and you try to analyze the situation over time and see where there were red flags,” he said.
“Being on the road can be very challenging, and I would imagine for James, to get up there in front of all those people and have to be ‘on,’ meanwhile your family’s not with you and all these things are going on, it builds up.”
Hammett added: “Whenever something happens to a bandmember like this, it’s so deeply unsettling. It comes as a shock. You have to do a bit of scrambling just to cover some ground.”
In a 2003 interview with Kerrang! magazine, Hetfield spoke about his battle with alcohol addiction and the much-publicized trip to rehab in 2001 that had seemingly enabled the singer to emerge a much healthier and more positive-thinking person that he was during much of the group’s 35-plus-year career.
“Going away to rehab taught me about priorities,” he said. “I’ve been in METALLICA since I was 19 years old, which can be a very unusual environment, and it’s very easy to find yourself not knowing how to live outside of that environment, which is what happened to me. I didn’t know anything about life. I didn’t know that I could come home and live a family life. I didn’t know that I could live my life in a different way to how it was in the band since I was 19, which was very excessive and very intense. And if you have addictive behavior, then you don’t always make the best choices for yourself. And I definitely didn’t make the best choices for myself.
“But rehab is like college for your head,” he continued. “I really learned some things about myself in there. I was able to reframe my life and not look at everything with a negative connotation. That’s how I was raised. It was like a survival technique for me. And getting into METALLICA meant that initially I had to fight to survive, for food, for the towel, for the shower, for everything. And then fighting to be the best band you can be, and putting other bands down. Finding fault with everything was how METALLICA was fueled. And not only did I play a part in that, I was buried in that.”
“[In rehab] I learned that every human being is born perfect. I learned that the flaws in ourselves comes from the things around us, from our backgrounds and influences. But when we’re born, we all have the same-sized soul. There are certain things that are genetic, but that doesn’t mean that I have to act in a certain way, and I didn’t know that. My lifestyle has been very intense, and I didn’t know how to remove myself from that. Rehab taught me how to do that. It basically taught me how to live.”
“I was afraid of so many things. I’d look at other people’s friendships and think, ‘Man, why can’t I have friendships like that?’ But I didn’t know how to. So I used to try and buy friendships.”
Asked whether it was difficult to say to himself, “Look, things have gone too far for me, I need to reach out for help,” James said: “Yes, it definitely was difficult. That was one of the most difficult things of all. I had no humility and I felt that I couldn’t show any weakness. For me, I was James Hetfield of METALLICA rather than just James Hetfield. And I was trying to live that lifestyle at home, I was trying to wear that mask all the time. And it’s amazing how long you can wear a mask for. We’re performers who play music — I mean, this is us. This isn’t an act. But now I’ve learned how to be more congruent with where I am. Admitting that sometimes being on tour really sucks, and that I would rather go home. Or that I’m not in a good mood right now, and not worrying if people turn around and say, ‘Hey, you’re an asshole.’ That can’t hurt me now, whereas I used to be so concerned that people liked me.
“There’s a lot of machoism in this world, but I suppose the most manly thing you can do is face up to your weaknesses and expose them. And you’re showing strength by exposing your weaknesses to people. And that opens up a dialogue, it opens up friendships, which is definitely what it has done for me.”
During a 2017 interview with “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, Hetfield spoke in more detail about checking into rehab 17 years ago and how he almost lost his family in the process.
“Fear was a big motivator in that for me,” Hetfield said. “Losing my family, that was the thing that scared me so much. That was the bottom I hit, that my family is going to go away because of my behaviors that I brought home from the road. I got kicked out of my house by my wife; I was living on my own somewhere. I did not want that. Maybe as part of my upbringing, my family kind of disintegrated when I was a kid. Father left, mother passed away, had to live with my brother, and then kind of just, where did my stuff go? It just kind of floated away, and I do not want that happening. No matter what’s going on, we’re going to talk this stuff out and make it work.”
He continued: “[My wife] did the right thing — she kicked my ass right out of the house and that scared the shit out of me. She said, ‘Hey, you’re not just going to the therapist now and talking about this. You’ve got to go somewhere and sort this shit out.’ So that’s what I did… What worked for me was seven weeks someplace — like, basically tearing you down to bones, ripping your life apart. Anything you thought about yourself or what it was, anything you thought you had, your family, your career, anything, gone. Strip you down to just — you’re born. Here’s how you were when you were born — you were okay. You were a good person. Let’s get back to that again. Then they slowly rebuild you.”
Hetfield‘s issues with addiction and alcoholism were detailed in the 2004 documentary “Some Kind Of Monster”.