Metallica is an institution of music. Together, they have been cooking up chaos for 40 years. However, despite their success, being in a rock band was never the childhood dream of drummer Lars Ulrich. In reality, he initially worked towards becoming a superstar in a field that couldn’t be further away from what he is adored for today.
Ulrich has been the beating heart that makes Metallica tick, keeping everything in check since their formation back in 1981. While all four group members bring a different mercurial element into the mix, Ulrich has the same talent that sits him in the pantheon of great contemporary drummers and a blueprint for precisely how a metal drummer should sound. However, this was never the plan, and if Ulrich had it his way, he’d have a Wikipedia page that bared minimal resemblance to the one he has today.
The drummer’s life would make one hell of a biopic, documenting his journey from a kid in Gentofte, moving to America and going on to create history with Metallica. When he was 17-years-old when he left Denmark searching for his dream, becoming the stuff of reality, and America held the keys to making this possible.
However, when he left his home country, Ulrich’s initial plan was 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 a brand new world of rock music and, rather than becoming one of the great tennis players, he became a metal icon.
Speaking on Tanya’s Table Podcast, Ulrich noted: “I was 17, I came over in 1980. I grew up in Copenhagen, Denmark, and my dad was a tennis player, and spent a lot of the ’60s and the ’70s travelling a lot in the United States. So I spent quite a bit of time with him on the road here. When I started going to school when I was 16 or 17, I encouraged my mom and my dad to find my idea of moving to Southern California.”
Ulrich continued: “We landed in Newport Beach in the fall of 1980 when I was 17, and obviously, that was a pretty significantly different world from what I grew up with. Still under the false impression at the time that I could follow my father’s footsteps and play tennis, and maybe take it to a professional level.”
The drummer soon suffered a reality shock when he arrived in California, discovering that the level of competition was incomparable with what he had grown up playing against in Scandinavia. “In Denmark, which is a very small country, I was playing at different levels and ages. But when I came to Newport Beach, I was not even in the Top 10 in the street where I was living in,” Ulrich self deprecatingly added.
After watching Yesterday and Today in 1980, Ulrich suddenly had a eureka moment and decided that music was something that he wanted to follow. On top of the show giving him a fire in his belly to become a drummer, Ulrich also had the stark realisation that tennis wasn’t his calling, and now there was a new dream he wanted to chase.
The experience of stepping out of his comfort zone as a teenager and bravely starting by moving to the other side of the world helped him grow immeasurably as a person. Although tennis and metal couldn’t be further apart, Ulrich has always seemingly been destined to be a superstar in one form or another. Once he met James Hetfield in 1981, and they decided to form a band together, he waved goodbye to the world of tennis. Still, if he never hunted that dream, he’d have never met Hetfield, and Metallica would never have been born.