In a brand new interview with Ultimate-Guitar.com, Steve Thompson, a prominent music producer who has worked with a vast array of rock icons, including GUNS N’ ROSES (on “Appetite For Destruction”), KORN (on “Follow The Leader”) and SOUNDGARDEN (on “A-Sides”) spoke about the mixing sessions for METALLICA‘s classic 1988 album, “…And Justice For All”, and the criticism that record has received for the bass parts being nearly inaudible. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: When you mixed the tracks for METALLICA‘s “…And Justice For All” album in 1988, was that a totally different experience than working on the “Appetite For Destruction” record?
Steve: “Well, what I wanted to do and what Lars [Ulrich, METALLICA drummer] wanted to do was totally different, which kind of upset me a little bit. I loved METALLICA and was very familiar with them. I said, ‘These guys are cool.’ We got the call to do it and went up to Bearsville Studios in upstate New York and the guys were on the Monsters Of Rock tour at the time. So what they would do is fly in by helicopter, a day here and a day there just to go through things.”
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Did the band know what kind of album they wanted to make and what they wanted it to sound like?
Steve: “Lars knew exactly the sound and the parameters of everything he wanted on his drums. So he would actually bring his photos of a Klark Teknik’s EQ [parametric equalizer] setup because he had a certain way he wanted the drums to sound. I said, ‘Michael [Barbiero], why don’t you work with Lars and get the drum sound he’s looking for? Call me when he’s happy.'”
Ultimate-Guitar.com: What did you think when you finally heard them?
Steve: “They called me in and I listened to them and I said to myself, ‘These sound like ass. Terrible sounding.’ I chased everybody out of the room and redesigned the drum sound and brought the guitars up. [Then-METALLICA bassist] Jason [Newsted] killed it on bass. Perfect marriage with [James] Hetfield‘s guitars.”
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Was James happy with what you were doing?
Steve: “I’m putting all the other stuff up and everything like this and Hetfield gives a ‘thumbs up.’ Lars comes walking in a couple minutes later and listens to about a minute of it and goes, ‘Turn that off’ and I said, ‘What’s the problem?’ He said, ‘What happened to my drum sound?’ I said, ‘You were serious?’ or something like that.”
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Lars was not happy?
Steve: “We had to get the drum sound up the way he had it. I wasn’t a fan of it. So now he goes, ‘See the bass guitar?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, great part, man. He killed it.’ He said, ‘I want you to bring down the bass where you can barely, audibly hear it in the mix.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding. Right?'”
Ultimate-Guitar.com: He wasn’t kidding?
Steve: “He said, ‘No. Bring it down.’ I bring it down to that level and he says, ‘Now drop it down another 5 db.’ I turned around and looked at Hetfield and said, ‘He’s serious?’ It just blew me away.”
Ultimate-Guitar.com: What did you do?
Steve: “I called my manager that night and I think I talked to Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch [METALLICA‘s managers] and said, ‘I love these guys. I think they’re amazing and they’ve created a genre of their own but I do not agree with the direction Lars is pulling me in. My name’s gonna go on it so why don’t you find somebody else?’ My manager wouldn’t have anything to do with that or Burnstein or Mensch.”
Ultimate-Guitar.com: But you were ready to walk away from mixing METALLICA?
Steve: “They talked me into being there and my only regret is that we didn’t have enough time to at least mix it the way we heard it. I wanted to take ‘Master Of Puppets’ and blow that away. That was my sonic direction for ‘… And Justice For All’. It was all there but I think they were looking for more garagey-type sound without bass. And the bass was great; it was perfect. I remember when METALLICA got elected to the [Rock And Roll] Hall Of Fame, they flew us out and I’m sitting with Lars.”
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Did you talk to him?
Steve: “He goes, ‘Hey, what happened to the bass in ‘… Justice’?’ He actually asked me that. I wanted to cold cock him right there. It was a shame because I’m the one getting the shit for the lack of bass.”
In a 2013 interview with Metal Exiles, Newsted stated about his missing bass parts on the “…And Justice For All” record: “There are so many years of water under the bridge with that and I can now see it for what it is.
“There is no real confusion or mystery to me now that I can look back after time and look on the situation.
“When I went in to record ‘Justice’, I had only recorded one time and that was with FLOTSAM [AND JETSAM] for ‘Doomsday’. I was used to recording with the band, you go in together, do it and you’re done. With ‘Justice’, I went into the studio with an assistant engineer and nobody else, no other band members, just go in, plug in and do your best. I plugged into the same shit I did the FLOTSAM record, recorded my parts and loaded my gear and went home. There was nobody there to work parts out with or discuss how this or that was going to sound; it was just ‘record your bass’ and that’s that.
“Being a bass player in FLOTSAM, I did not know about playing to the bass part yet, I just knew about playing bass really fast like guitar, basically everybody playing the same thing like a sonic wall. So it ended up with everything being in the same frequency, my bass and James‘s guitar battling for the same frequency.
“If I had of known then what I know now, it would have been different, but it became a classic album for what it was; we captured a moment in time and that is all there is about it.
“I used to be pissed about it back then, but that was a long time ago, but the records I have made since then have had some ugly bass parts all over the place on them.”
Newsted joined the band in late 1986 after the death of Cliff Burton and made his recording debut with them on 1987’s “The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited”.