Q&A: Kirk Hammett

Though they could surely afford to take a nice long break at this point, the boys in Metallica never seem to stop working. In 2013 the band not only released a 3D concert film — the pretty wildly entertaining Metallica Through The Never — but they also played a bunch of shows (including a mind-blower at NYC’s famed Apollo Theater) and celebrated the 30th anniversary of Kill ’Em All by playing the record in its entirety in Antarctica, making them the first band ever to rock that hard on all seven continents. Turns out, this year the band will no less busy. In addition to prepping for an upcoming Grammy performance with Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang, the band will finally go back into the studio to begin recording the follow up to 2008′s Death Magnetic. In addition, next month guitarist Kirk Hammett will be overseeing the first ever edition of Kirk Von Hammett’s FEAR FestEvil — a two-day celebration of horror movies, thrash metal, and all things frightening to be held in San Francisco’s 105-year-old Regency Ballroom. For Hammett, a longtime collector of horror movie ephemera, the festival is not only a respite from the rigors of Metallica, but a way to combine all of his longtime loves … and to also play a quick set with his old friends in Exodus. I snagged a few minutes on the phone with Hammett to talk about the Fear Festival, the nerdy joys of being a collector, and — of course — the future of Metallica.

STEREOGUM: As a fellow horror nerd, I had some knowledge that you were a fan but I had no idea about your extensive memorabilia collection until I saw you on Toy Hunter. How long have you been seriously collecting horror movie stuff?

KIRK HAMMETT: For a long time, man. I collected as a kid; from the time I was like five or six years old to about thirteen or fourteen. Watched horror movies, read monster magazines, books — the whole deal. When I started getting interested in music, my number one priority was finding out about new bands and listening to them, and later on picking up a guitar and playing it as much as I could. The whole horror thing took a step down in terms of my priorities. Once I started actually making a living with music — which was somewhere around the time of Master Of Puppets — I dove right back into it and started buying the monster magazines, the comic books, the toys, everything. I haven’t really stopped since I got back into it the second time, which was around 1985. There were two aspects to my collecting: when I collected as a kid — and sadly I don’t have anything from back then, though I wish I did — and then when I got back into it. What you see in my book, Too Much Horror Business, and on Toy Hunter is the latter part of my collecting. I got into the stuff and I never really got out of it. Its allure never really faded with me. I love the stuff as much as I’ve ever loved it, sometimes I think I love it more. I definitely don’t love it less.

STEREOGUM: Your private collection of memorabilia is pretty broad, but is there one thing that you sort of specialize in?

HAMMETT: I really like the classic horror movies from the ’20s and ’30s to the mid-’40s. All the classic horror stories — Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Phantom Of The Opera … all that stuff. Those movies are the ones I love the most because those are the movies that I grew up watching. Those are the movies that had the most impact on me. There’s something that’s really glamorous and elegant about those movies. There’s something romantic about those movies that you don’t really see in horror movies these days. Maybe, as an adult, I appreciate that aspect of those movies more than I did as a child, but I like it all. I like all the various phases of the genre. I like the classic stuff from the ’20s to the ’40s, but I also love the sci-fi movies from the ’50s, the more sensational movies where a lot of times the title is actually better than the movie itself. But I even watch all that stuff. I love a lot of the Hammer stuff that came out in the ’60s, a lot of the more independent stuff that showed up in the late-’60s and ’70s. I love a lot of the cheesy exploitation horror movies of the ’70s. I like a lot of the stuff that became the slasher genre that started to appear in the early ’80s. I love modern horror movies because I think to make a good modern horror movie, you really have to have a lot of originality because … It’s like modern music today: There’s been so many musical groups and so many bands now that you really have to offer something unique and different to shine through. I think that’s good for the horror genre because I felt the ’90s movies were getting a bit formulaic, especially with the whole slasher thing. But I think nowadays you really have to have a strong storyline, a strong script, a strong plot to make a horror movie that anyone is going to give a fuck about. That’s what I like about the genre these days. If you look at some of the most successful movies, their plots are just insane. Insidious, The Conjuring — fucking great. Frankenstein’s Army? Fucking great. The Trollhunter? Fucking great. A lot of really tremendous stuff. I like the movies that are being made today that are kind of influenced by the exploitation genre. Movies like Death Proof and Machetem… movies like that I love to death. It’s just a really great time for horror in general, I think. Even on television: American Horror Story, True Blood, Grimm, Game Of Thrones, Walking Dead. All this stuff is fantastic. I would never have dreamt as a child that things would be so good for the genre these days. To be able to put out a convention at a time where horror seems to be at its most popular was a great opportunity. I had to jump on it.

STEREOGUM: Have you done the rounds of going to horror conventions?

HAMMETT: Yeah. I’ve been going to comic conventions ever since the late ’70s. I stopped going to conventions in the late ’80s and ’90s because there was a time where if you’d gone to one convention, you’d gone to them all. But then, the big Hollywood studios stepped in and changed the look of conventions forever. Now they’re more about great stuff to look at and blatant consumerism. That’s fine if that’s what you’re expecting but for our convention we want to have something different to offer. We want it to be a full experience and something you can interact with, something that offers different activities. We’re going to have a taxidermist there doing a demonstration, we’re going to have tattoo artists, we’re going to have a band play during the evening. You’ll be able to get your album signed by these bands. There’s going to be a lot of horror movie producers, directors, and makeup artists. We’re really going out to make it a real experience. We’re dressing the venue up, we’re getting people to walk around and be in character. It’s going to be a really cool and different thing with a lot of different experiences that one can really be a part of. We’re really psyched about it. For me it’s going to be great because it’s going to meld my two passions: horror and music. I just can’t wait. I’m going to be so into it. I’m going to be the person that’s having the most fun in that venue.

STEREOGUM: The lineup of people you have appearing is really excellent — Slash, Heather Langenkamp, Ron Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi Jr. and Sara Karloff, P.J. Soles. You’re also going to be playing too, right? You’re going to be playing with Exodus?

HAMMETT: Yeah, I’m really psyched about that. I’m going to be playing with Death Angel as well. For us, it’s going to be super cool. It’s going to be like back in the old days of the scene. I think the musical guests are going to bring out a lot of the old school Bay Area metal heads. That’s going to be cool too.

STEREOGUM: I know organizing something like a festival is its own kind of intense work, but is this a nice break for you from Metallica?

HAMMETT: Oh yeah. Whenever I get to do anything that concerns my collection, I tend to go for it. Collecting stuff in the horror genre is something that I can say I’m an expert at. I want to be able to show people my expertise, just like as a musician I want to play my best and show people my expertise. I get off on it. Even though it’s a completely different thing, I still get off on it just as much because it’s something that I know well and I think I do well. I want to share that with people.

STEREOGUM: Heavy metal culture and the culture of horror fandom are not so far removed from each other. People who are into it are really into it — deeply and profoundly. Do you imagine doing more things like this?

HAMMETT: Absolutely. The reason why I’m doing this and putting so much time and so much effort into it is because it’s something I feel that I want to continue doing and something I want to continue having fun doing. We have every intention to have this become an annual thing. Like I said, whenever I can create an event around my collection, I’m there. There was a time when it was just me and my collection and I thought, “Wow, this is selfish. I need to start actually sharing this stuff with people.” That’s how my book came about. Basically that’s what Fear FestEvil is. It’s an opportunity to really share and show people who are into this stuff how cool this stuff is. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

STEREOGUM: What will the rest of this year be like for you? Do you get to take some time off to do other things?

HAMMETT: Yeah, we definitely will be working on a new album. That’s going to start in a couple of weeks — actually, the week before the convention. We’re going to be working on the album. At one point, we’re going to be doing some touring. We’ll be doing a South American tour in March and probably a European tour in the summer. For the most part, though, we’ll be working on the album and that’s the main priority this year.

STEREOGUM: Metallica Through The Never is going to be out on DVD in a week or so. Were you happy with the way people responded to it?

HAMMETT: I really, really thought that we made a really, really great movie. I’ll be very blunt about it. We put so much time and so much effort and made sure it was exactly the way that we envisioned it. Our fans definitely went to movie theaters and saw the film, but the people that we were counting on to buy movie tickets — which was your casual moviegoer — they weren’t as motivated to buy a ticket as our fans. For us, that was a big question mark. Why? We couldn’t figure it out. We know we made a great movie and we felt good about it, but now it’s time for us to move onto our next thing.

STEREOGUM: It would make for a cool midnight movie, in the same way that The Wall was a great midnight movie.

HAMMETT: Absolutely. I think it has the potential to do that.

STEREOGUM: One last thing about your horror collection. Is there any one thing you own that you sort of think of as your most prized possession? The most valuable?

HAMMETT: There are so many things. Actually, there are going to be some things on display at Fear FestEvil that have not been seen by anyone yet, not in my book or at the crypt. I’m really looking forward to that. We have some new props that have never been seen that are going to be put on display. We’re going to have some other full-figure displays and we’ll have a few different movie posters and props that I’ve acquired in the last year that haven’t been seen by anyone. I’m really, really excited about that. People will have to wait and see. I want some of that stuff to be a surprise.

STEREOGUM: Is there anything for you that’s like the Holy Grail of horror ephemera? Something that you haven’t been able to find, a mythical object that people are looking for and no one can ever seem to locate?

HAMMETT: Oh yeah. There’s a movie poster for a Bela Lugosi movie that was made in 1932 called Murders In The Rue Morgue. There’s only one known copy of it and it’s in a collection and it will probably never leave that collection. I’ve been looking for one for the last 25 years and it still hasn’t shown up. I’m hoping that one of these days someone will find one and email me. I’ve been looking for that for a long time. If you find one, you know where to find me. I definitely would want to talk.

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Kirk Von Hammett’s FEAR FestEvil will take place at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom on 2/7 and 2/8.

Metallica Through The Never will be released on DVD, Blu-Ray, digitally, and via video on demand on 1/28

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