Lars Ulrich has played many diverse roles in his 26-year career as typhoon-tendoned drummer for S.F. super-group Metallica. He's been a trailblazer who revved sluggish '70s arena rock into a punk-infused speed-metal future; a Grammy winner, seven times over; a classical musician in two 1999 appearances with the local symphony, reworking band classics; and even the villain in an '00 Napster snafu, where he testified against then-novel file sharing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But his most demanding part to date has been becoming a father, says the 43-year-old: “Because having kids has changed everything in my life, from my relations to other people to my awareness of myself _ you find yourself getting involved, getting passionate, paying attention, you find yourself for the first time in your life thinking of others and not just yourself.”
Ulrich _ who's taking a break from recording Metallica's latest gear-grinder with producer Rick Rubin to headline the Bridge School Benefit at Shoreline this weekend _ oversees a bustling household: three kids ages 9, 6 and 5 months, with his wife, plus another, 17, from her previous marriage, which spells out a strict regular ritual that begins when the rooster crows.
“The alarm clock goes off at 6:45 a.m., I get a quick cup of tea while I check the headlines in the paper, and then I, you know…start,” says the percussionist, who's trimmed down daily studio sessions from 14 hours to a more family-friendly five or six.
On a recent morning, in fact, he spent an hour in one of his children's language arts classes: “I sat down with the kids and we looked through magazines and cut out pictures of things that started or ended with 'L,' like a lawn, a lake, a lady.” Or that old heavy-metal staple, Lucifer? “Or Lucifer,” he laughs. “These were old National Geographics from the '70s, so there were no pictures of Lucifer. But I'm sure if there had been one, someone would've recognized him, like 'Look! There's a picture of Bush!'”
There's a pointed poignancy to Ulrich's wit. He and his significant other both hail from Denmark; as foreign nationals, they're unable to vote in this country. “But we pay taxes and have American kids,” he adds. “So we try to be as active in our community as we can be to contribute to our kids' futures. And instead of thinking about the next Metallica record as your priority, you're thinking about your kids. And the Metallica stuff kind of works its way around that.”
The next album, set for release next February, its almost finished; the band will be polishing up vocal mixes until December.
Fans may be stunned by the decision to waive longtime producer Bob Rock for Rubin. “But for our own sanity, our own creative survival, we needed to work with a different set of circumstances and dynamics,” Ulrich says. “So we've been stripped of our defense mechanisms, and it's been very invigorating to be challenged again. Rick's taken everything we've known about making records and completely turned it upside down.”
And song titles? Ulrich says, “There's one called “19,” “10,” “German Soup,” Glass Cow,” and even “Black Squirrel.” Just names that relate to where the idea came from, like Glasgow, Scotland became “Glass Cow.” And when we don't have anything clever to call it, we just call it a number. They're just silly working titles.”
It's been five long years since the quartet's last onslaught, “St. Anger.”
Are the songs punchier, four or five minutes long? “Well, the most of the intros are four to five minutes,” he says. “I don't know — Metallica and short songs just don't go that well together. But whereas 'St. Anger' was an exercise in over-pummelling the listener, these new songs echo some of our stuff from the '80s — long, epic journeys through different musical landscapes, heavier, but a lot more melodic.”
As a parent, Ulrich had no problem accepting his second Bridge School invitation. “When Neil Young calls, all you say is yes, and when and where,'” he says. “Neil has dedicated his whole life to helping others, so when he calls you don't ask any questions. All you do is show up.”
IF YOU GO
Bridge School Benefit
With: Neil Young, Metallica, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Waits with the Kronos Quartet, John Mayer, My Morning Jacket, Tegan & Sara, Regina Spektor
Where: Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View
When: 5 p.m. Oct. 27; 2 p.m. Oct. 28
Tickets $39.50 to $150
Contact: (415) 421-8497 or www.livenation.com