METALLICA drummer Lars Ulrich was interviewed on the latest episode of the Billboard.com Pop Shop Podcast, Billboard's weekly audio breakdown of the Billboard charts, hottest music news and year's biggest musical events. Billboard co-director of charts Keith Caulfield and Billboard.com senior editor Katie Atkinson spoke to Ulrich about the 25th anniversary of the band’s massive self-titled album (often referred to as "The Black Album"), which debuted at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 chart dated August 31, 1991. The set reigns as the best-selling album in the United States of the entire Nielsen Music era (1991-present), with a whopping 16.4 million copies sold. You can now listen to the podcast at Billboard.com. A couple of excerpts follow (transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On the huge success of METALLICA's "black album":
Lars: "When I look back on it, it wasn't like we woke up one day and all of a sudden we were just like right in the thick of it. It was our fifth record, and it felt like the path we were on was sort of… each record got a little more successful than the previous one and the touring got bigger and we got more in the limelight, and both the good and the bad that comes with that. But it was still a process that, by the time we got to the 'black' album, we were ten years into our career. A few of our peers at the time, like GUNS N' ROSES or PEARL JAM or, I guess to a degree, NIRVANA… Both PEARL JAM and GUNS N' ROSES released their first records, which blew up and sold a gazillion copies, and then they sort of had to deal with certainly a 180, or a huge change in everything. Our thing was more gradual. So I would like to think that by the time we came to the unprecedented levels of success that the 'black' album brought with it, that we were somewhat used to dealing with a lot of both the good and the slightly not-great things that come in the wake of that kind of a situation."
On the making of METALLICA's self-titled album:
Lars: "We knew when we were making the record that there was certainly kind of an alignment of the planets or the stars, or whatever you say. We had some songs that… We prepared ourselves to write some shorter songs after taking the progressive side of METALLICA about as far as we felt we could take it with the '…And Justice For All' album. So writing the shorter songs, and feeling surprisingly comfortable with that, and then the addition of [producer] Bob Rock, who helped us… you know, guide us through the recording process for about a year that was not always without complications and so on. But we all knew that the dynamic between Bob and these songs and I guess whatever we were bringing to it was something special, and with also the change that had been happening in rock music and culture and the role MTV was playing and so on, it sort of all lined up. I think that considering how the whole thing could have derailed and imploded, that we handled it pretty well. We sort of rode it out and lived to tell the tale, you know. [Laughs]"
On the role MTV played in METALLICA's success:
Lars: "The biggest thing for us, and I think most importantly about this, was that we felt that we didn't sell out or artificially alter the path that we were on. We felt that MTV… We felt that the mainstream was moving out towards where we were. We always considered ourselves to be sort of autonomous and obviously very left of center and living in our own little bubble, and the more successful we got, the more the mainstream sort of opened up to who we were and came to us, and we felt that the mainstream was embracing us out in our position, in the left of centerfield, rather than us abandoning who we were and going and meeting MTV at the center of their universe."
On METALLICA's self-titled record being the best-selling album of the last 25 years in America:
Lars: "I think you file that one under 'mindfuck.' There's so many inherently bizarre things about that sentence or that fact that I don't even know where to begin. If you just consider who we were for the better part of the '80s and who we remained for the better part of our career and how we've just always looked upon ourselves as outsiders. I mean, obviously, I'm not ignorant enough to not understand and get what you're saying, but we live up here in the [San Francisco] Bay Area and we don't get caught up in everything that happens in New York and in Los Angeles. I think that there's something about the Bay Area that keeps our feet on the ground, and we still have a pretty decent sense of reality, and we force ourselves to prioritize our families and [have] as normal of a life as you get up in San Francisco. We're happy and proud of the choices that we've made. So, you know, for a bunch of people that still feel like they're kids and for a bunch of people that still feel like they never really quite fit into any of the things that go on around them, it's very cool to be able to cough up a statistic like the one you just threw at me and kind of know that we're right there at the very top. I'm not a big guy in terms of all that 'being No. 1' or winning or any of that kind of nonsense — it means less and less to me as I get older — but, obviously, it's a pretty cool thing to have in your arsenal, or in your list of statistics. I think the kids are really proud of it, so it's all pretty cool."
On METALLICA's self-titled album still being a consistent seller, with the record selling around five thousand copies every week in the U.S., 25 years after its original release:
Lars: "Listen, it's obviously awesome. We travel around the world, and all over the world we see young fans still coming to METALLICA shows and still giving us a sense of feeling relevant and encouraging us and, to a degree, I guess, forcing us to be at our best and on our toes and so on. I mean, it's pretty amazing that five thousand people [still] buy this record [every week in the U.S.]. I'd like to meet, like, No. 3267 last week. I mean, who is that person? Did you not own it? Are you just replacing your old copy? Did it just show up on your radar? I mean, listen, I'm not knocking it, and I think it's awesome. Numbers like that are just so weirdly abstract to me, I don't even know what to do with it. And certainly I can tell you that other than when I'm doing an interview about it, it's obviously not something that I really carry around with me. But in the last week, I did get a few nods from a bunch of friends and some e-mails about congratulating me on the success of the record and the 25 years and all that, so it's certainly nice to… It's nice to have a record like that in your catalog and it's nice to, obviously, be part of continuing to make a difference in people's lives. Somebody told me the other day that owning the 'black' album was almost like a rite of passage from being a kid going into your teenage years or whatever. So I'll take any of those statistics happily."