The pursuit of heaviness has fueled Jason Newsted for over 30 years. As an integral component of Metallica, Flotsam and Jetsam, Voivod, Ozzy Osbourne’s touring band, and countless other fan and critical favorites, he’s among the metal world’s most fearless adventurers. Now, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and six-time Grammy Award winner is still charting new territory—for the first time fronting his own band, the explosive power trio Newsted.
Newsted’s first shot from the bow is a four-song EP, concisely and very accurately titled Metal. Although it offers but a taste of the band’s as-yet-untitled full-length debut (due this spring), the EP is reverberating like a giant’s approaching footsteps, debuting at #1 on the iTunes metal chart. Jason explains that the title isn’t pompous chest-thumping—merely truth in advertising.
“I’ve played a lot of different styles of music in my career: Echobrain, Gov’t Mule, DJ Shadow, Sepultura—it goes on and on,” he says. “I wanted to make sure everybody knew what this was this time. If you’ve been associated with metal at all in the last three decades, you know what Newsted means, and you know what the word ‘metal’ means no matter what language you speak.”
And there’s the key—this is universal metal. From ripping leadoff single “Soldierhead” to future shout-along anthem “King of the Underdogs,” Metal is the result of Jason’s long hours learning and performing with rock’s greats—Warren Haynes, Zakk Wylde, James Hetfield, Andreas Kisser—yet never losing sight of his old-school sensibilities. This time, Jason’s joined by guitarist Jessie Farnsworth and drummer Jesus Mendez Jr. The three have jammed for the last five years at Jason’s California-based Chophouse Studio, letting him cultivate not only a classic frontman rasp, but deeply personal, affecting lyrics.
“I could’ve pulled superstars together, but it wouldn’t be the same belief,” Jason stresses. “These guys support me. We hang out before we jam, we hang out after we jam. We have dinners, we have drinks, we vibe like brothers.”
The Metal EP may be the tip of the looming Newsted iceberg, but that iceberg took a long time to form. In December 2004, Jason had his first major shoulder surgery, one of many intrusive procedures, as he had to deal with one arm overcompensating for the other for three and a half painful years. In his downtime, always artistically insatiable, he took solace in painting, and became rather successful at it, making some “pretty thick lemonade out of what I was given,” he laughs.
But “the itch” to get heavy again didn’t strike until Metallica’s 30th anniversary shows in San Francisco in late 2011. Drummer Lars Ulrich enticed Jason to perform, dangling the carrot of participating idols like Rob Halford, Geezer Butler and Mercyful Fate.
“I’ve been in front of some big crowds, but I hadn’t tasted sweetness like that for 10 years, at least,” Jason admits. “I had an epiphany the third night: I’ve got to get back to this. I can’t ignore my feelings. How dare I?"
“So far I’ve gotten to live three dreams,” he muses. “Metallica, Ozzy and Voivod—those were all dreams for me. Now I’m working on my fourth one. I’m gonna be 50 and I’ve already gotten four dreams. And that’s pretty dang good, ’cause I’m only halfway through.”