Metallica are unquestionably a musical behemoth. The devilish magic that James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo and Lars Ulrich have been cooking up over several decades has made them an absolute tour de force. Whilst all four members of the group bring a different mercurial element into the mix, many would say that Lars Ulrich is the not-so-secret special ingredient that makes them an incredible powerhouse.
Ulrich’s life has been a wild one. When he was 16-years-old, he left behind his life in Denmark to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a professional tennis player. Moving to California was his opportunity to make it as an athlete. However, his life soon took an unexpected turn as the bright lights of Los Angeles introduced him into this brand new world of rock music and rather than becoming one of the great tennis players, he became a metal icon.
“I went to see Yesterday And Today playing a show on, like, a Wednesday evening, at the Starwood in LA in December 1980,” he told Kerrang in 2018. ”I remember the band were having a great time. There was this vibe and energy thing between them and the audience. It was pretty chill, and I remember thinking, ’This looks like so much fun.’
“At the same time,” he continues, ”I was starting to realise that if I wanted to really get anywhere playing tennis, I would have to spend eight hours a day on the court and there was this grind in front of me that didn’t have quite the same allure anymore. It wasn’t like the next morning the roof opened and a lightning bolt came down, but over the next couple of months the tennis thing fizzled out and music started taking over.
“Most of what I know about heavy metal now came from that world,” Ulrich added. ”It was how you’d communicate and it was the first place I saw the words Diamond Head, Angel Witch, Tygers Of Pan Tang and the list goes on…”
This experience of stepping out of his comfort zone at 16-years old by moving to the other side of the world made the drummer who he is today. It gifted Ulrich an undying thirst for life and a will to grab an opportunity with both hands. Once he met James Hetfield in 1981 and they decided to form a band together, he waved goodbye to the world of tennis but those years made him the man that he would grow to be and the resilience which would make Metallica a beast.
Reflecting on his crazy life and career with GQ Magazine, Ulrich shared the best advice that he has ever received — which is simple but one we could all take on board. “At some point in the 1980s or 1990s,” the drummer begins. “It’s a bit blurry now, but our manager, Cliff [Burnstein], told me, ‘Ask questions, be inquisitive.’ It’s a great way to connect to people. It helps shape a dialogue. I’ve always been curious and I’ve always been interested.”
Ulrich continued: “Asking questions for me is a natural thing, so I really took that to heart. In any kind of situation you’re in where you’re communicating with people, if you ask questions you will always walk away from that experience being in a better place. Obviously, you have to listen to the answers.”
Although Burnstein’s advice to Ulrich isn’t anything out of the ordinary, the drummer listened to it, and it helped shape him into one the icon he is today. Sometimes the simple advice is the best. Ulrich has continued to be inquisitive, continually learning, and if these words of wisdom have been his motto to live by for the last 30-40 years, then it has to be worth a go, right?