What Metallica Were ‘Unprepared’ for When Recording ‘Lulu’ With Lou Reed
The two spoke for a feature in Interview Magazine, recollecting Reed's approach to music, which was instinctual, decisive and was at odds with Metallica's general writing and recording process.
Both musicians had to feel each other out on the fly and learn how to work in harmony while writing and recording, resulting in an environment that was rather alien to Metallica. Despite this, working outside of their comfort zone also is something the metal legends have a lot of pride in doing, which Ulrich expressed when first talking about the band's M72 worldwide tour, performing entirely different sets across two nights in the same city at each stop.
Lars Ulrich on Metallica Finding Their Musical Footing With Lou Reed
Ulrich tells Anderson that it wasn't until Lulu was nearly finished that he and James Hetfield "understood the intensity of the work and the scale of it."
He goes on, "[We] were trying to figure out our role in it, to try to serve Lou, but also to bring to life what the musical bedrock could be to everything that was coming out on top of it. It was instinctive in the beginning. And for us, it was those kinds of impulsive and momentary musical reactions were not something that we had ever really done before, because with our own records and with our own process, it’s quite labor-intensive."
"And we do a lot of analyzing," he notes, "we remove ourselves from the creative process to try to get some space, and an understanding of what it is we’re doing. But everything with Lou was about the moment, and that was something we weren’t prepared for. But when it happened ... it was so fucking liberating."
Unfamiliar Recording Territory for Metallica
Speaking further about the in-the-moment process Reed had a preference for, Ulrich recalls what it was like actually laying down the takes in the studio in comparison to Metallica's usual habits.
While working out musical ideas to accompany Reed's vision, they learned that what they thought was just fumbling around trying to find their way was what Reed was most content with.
Ulrich recalls, "Lou said, ‘That’s great.’ The first couple of times it was like, ‘Well, thank you for that, let’s now go out and make it happen.’ But he would say, ‘No, no, no, that was great.’ As in, that was it," as Anderson states, "He was a one-take guy."
It was something that caught Metallica's members off guard.
"We were so unprepared for that and didn’t quite know how to react," Ulrich relays, "And obviously, since we had not worked together before, we knew that part of the attraction was the unpredictability. But we didn’t know what that meant, Like, ‘Are we good for today, but then we’ll come back tomorrow and try again?’"
How Did Metallica Learn to Accept This Recording Style?
The Metallica drummer tells Anderson that the recording process worked for both parties due to the level of trust they had in one another, returning to the concept of freedom/liberation of not being bogged down in tracking take after take after take.
Anderson calls it intuition, to which Ulrich replies, "It’s something that wasn’t in our arsenal until then, but we embraced it quickly. And like I said, there was an incredible—and I know this word is overused so much—but there really was just a freedom to it. Liberating is maybe a better word, because we just set ourselves free and trusted in the moment. There was no reason to go back to continuously readdress what had just happened."