Lars Ulrich faced a conundrum when Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff invited him to be a guest for one of his company’s fireside chats this week. Usually Benioff’s musical guests have been playing a song at the end of the interviews, which are broadcast on Salesforce’s social media channels, and the Metallica drummer didn’t know what he wanted to bring to the table. “I’m like, ‘Nobody wants a fucking drum solo,’” Ulrich tells Rolling Stone with a laugh. “It’s just kind of not the right moment for that type of thing.” Then he got a burst of inspiration.
Since his sons Myles and Layne were home from NYU for the rest of the semester because of pandemic-related shutdowns and had been heartily using the jam room in the family’s Bay Area home, he asked if they wanted to record something. They sequestered themselves with a bass and drums for 30 minutes before calling their dad back in.
“It was like this insane, three-minute Blue Cheer, crazy, garage-rock version of ‘Eleanor Rigby,’” Lars says, beaming. “Obviously, there’s been some incredible versions of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ along the way, but I’m pretty sure there’s never been one that had this kind of sound, this kind of feel, this kind of energy and madness to it. I was like, ‘You know what, boys? You done me proud.’”
The Metallica drummer then donned his cinematographer’s hat and filmed his sons’ noisy Beatles tribute. He says, “That’s me standing in the corner filming it, going, ‘Holy fuck!’”
Ulrich says he’s not quite sure why they picked that song or how they arrived at such a freewheeling take on it. “Kids in their generation are multi-instrumental,” Ulrich says. Myles, 21, has been studying drums for years, having spent two years at the Berklee College of Music after spells playing clarinet and guitar. “In every room of the house, we have acoustic guitars and basses lying around, so you can always pick up a guitar and jam,” Ulrich says. “It’s great to have a guitar in the kitchen or family room.” Layne, an NYU freshman who plays bass on the recording and will be turning 19 next week, plays both guitar and bass.
The kids’ taste formed over years of Lars driving them to school and playing them a mix of AC/DC, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Guns N’ Roses, Rage Against the Machine, and System of a Down, among others. “When you’re in a car, you can throw a lot of music their way, and the doors are locked and they can’t go anywhere,” he says with a laugh. But he’s been amazed at the ways their palates have expanded with Myles embracing jazz fusion and prog music — Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, Return to Forever’s Lenny White — and Layne digging the likes of Stanley Clarke.
“When I was their age, my tastes were literally just half an inch wide,” Ulrich says. “When I was 19, it was New Wave of British Heavy Metal. That was it. But between the two of them, it covers so much ground. Both of them are huge Radiohead fans; they listen to a lot of Arctic Monkeys, they definitely listen to a lot of more like noise rock, White Stripes and Jack White, and a lot of punkier stuff.
“When James [Hetfield] and I were 19 years old, if it wasn’t exactly what we were listening to, it was like, ‘Eh’ — we didn’t want to know,” he adds. “It wasn’t until we got with Cliff Burton and Kirk [Hammett] that we started kind of broadening our horizons a little bit.”
Incidentally, when asked if Myles and Layne are Metallica fans, Lars laughs. “I don’t know if ‘fans’ is the first word I’d use,” he says. “But I think they respect it. They’re appreciative. … I think they’re fans enough, I would say.”
Ulrich is most proud of the recording’s energy. To his ears, he hears a line back to the wild looseness of the Stooges and the MC5, and it gives him hope for what else the Ulrich boys are capable of. “It just feels like there’s increasingly less and less madness and unpredictability in music,” Ulrich says. “And when I see that clip, it just feels like, holy fuck, it’s like a moment. If they can bring that out to the world and not have it be too watered down or overproduced, then that’s certainly promising for what could come.” But whatever his children do next will have to happen in between their studies.