Jones: “We opened for METALLICA in Korea and decided to hit Hawaii on our way back to do a couple shows. Kirk was heading to Hawaii, too, but I didn’t see him on our plane. After we landed, I was getting my luggage and I felt this tap on my shoulder. It was Kirk, and he said, ‘Are you the guitarist in TOOL? I love your band. Would you like to come to dinner?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!'”
“He lent me a long board and took me out to this spot where all the old-timers surf. I’m from California, so I’ve never had to paddle 30 minutes anywhere. [laughs] And you have to go out real far in Waikiki to catch the good waves. My arms were getting so tired, and I was so worried I was gonna look like a pussy!”
Guitar World: I’m wondering what, in your opinions, are the upsides and downsides to becoming a cult phenomenon?
Jones: “[laughs] I know, sorry. I think the downside is that there’s a real potential to forget your roots and why you started playing in the first place. It’s important to remember where your head was when you first started, because when you get successful and spoiled it’s easy to forget the excitement of when you were first writing songs. And that’s why his band and my band go into hidingto write songs and try to find that spot again. We do this so we don’t just keep writing what we wrote last time that was successful and start sounding like a cover band of ourselves. We have to constantly go back and find ourselves.”
Hammett: “I guess you can say ‘Death Magnetic’ is METALLICA reaching back to our cultish days, as well. I don’t know if you can even call us a ‘cult band’ now, because we’re a very popular band. Can you be a cult band and still be popular? I don’t know.”
Jones: “It probably depends on who you ask. I think the word ‘cult’ comes from an outsider’s perspective. When someone on the outside looks at METALLICA, they would say they have a cult following. Because METALLICA have had years of success and have a dedicated fan base, it could almost seem like people are following them out of blind faith, but I don’t think this is exactly correct. TOOL has had that too. I’ve heard stuff like, ‘How can a band that a lot of people never heard of have gold and platinum records?’ That’s when they’ll say, ‘It’s because TOOL has a weird cult following.’ To me it’s just a term people use to describe something they don’t quite know how to explain…which is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Guitar World: It also seems a cult band can become an easy target for disgruntled fans when it grows beyond being their “pet band.”
Hammett: “I know that a lot of people who are cultish types are really obsessive. They really want a certain thing, or feeling, and they find this thing in a band. When the band grows biggerand maybe more personally inaccessible as a resultthese cultish people try even harder to get this thing or feeling from the band. There’s a certain type of person who is obsessed with METALLICA who spends all of their time trying to get this one thing outta our music, and when they don’t get it they become passionately pissed off. [laughs]”
Jones: “For me, there’s nothing wrong with obsession as long as you’re getting something out of it that’s positive. And when your expectations are let down because you didn’t like this record as much as the last record…well, you just have to be a little more forgiving, or move on.”
Hammett: “‘Forgiving’ is totally the right word, because after all it is just music. You can live through it.”
Guitar World: Speaking of mysterious subject matter, Kirk, you brought a pretty tripped-out ESP guitar with you today, which goes well with this issue’s cult heroes theme.
Hammett: “More like occult heroes. [laughs] Basically, for this guitar, I gave the artist [American painter] Mark Ryden a list of topics, and I said, ‘Translate these ideas into your vision and paint it onto the guitar.’ There’s a bee, which is symbolic of knowledge; the raven, symbolizing secret knowledge; and then the all-seeing eye, symbolic of universal knowledge. Caduceus [a symbol formed by a short staff entwined by two serpents] symbolizes the tree of life, but if you notice it also resembles a DNA strand [a double helix]. Then there’s the hand from heaven, the Rosicrucian rose and my astrological sign, Scorpio, as well as assorted skulls and a yin-yang. It’s full of numerology, astrology, occult and religious symbolism.”
Jones: “It’s an amazing-looking guitar. I love all the light sources beaming off of the female shape, and the design at the center, over the pickups, which I see as a life-and-death thing. Mark Ryden is really the icon of this current underground, up-and-coming art movement, and he’s paved the way for a lot of people who have similar approaches. I’ve seen his paintings in person in Seattle, and he is a master at what he does. I’m glad he’s now getting the recognition. And Kirk‘s going to play it and scratch it all up? He should just put it under glass and hang it on his wall. Or better yet, give it to me. [laughs]”
Hammett: “It’s gonna see some wear and tear, but that’s its purpose. Plus, Mark said he’d do touch-ups when they’re needed.”
Guitar World: It seems you’re both very thoughtful when it comes to studying hermetic philosophies. Do you find them useful in adding order to your lives outside of the musical realm, too?
Jones: “The order is already there. It’s just that we’re making ourselves aware of it. Sacred geometry is basically studying anything and breaking it down to its purist form, be it a symbol, shape, color, vibration or sound. That’s what our life is. It goes outside who we are as people, the earth or the universe, into the spiritual realm or even an unconscious collective realm.”
Guitar World: Going back to your guitar, Kirk, what specifically fascinates you about symbolism?
Hammett: “Well, as far as symbolism goes, there are different schools of thought, like how colors can influence your mood or perspective. Different symbols, like the all-seeing eye or the rose, will trigger different things in your psyche or unconscious. All this stuff is influential on some level and has an impact on the person surveying it, whether on a quantum level or a more overt level. I’m really interested in that sort of thing. Another good example of this is Jimmy Page‘s use of the ZoSo sigil, which he had written on his outfit. [A sigil is a word or symbol of supposed occult power. Page‘s ZoSo symbol first appeared on the packaging of ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ and later on his stage outfits.] He thought that it helped his music and artistic direction. I’m totally into how certain images can influence the subconscious mind. On a very basic level, if this guitar was stark white I would feel completely different about it. The fact that it has this amazing graphic on it inspires me and moves me.”