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Citi Sound Vault Presents Metallica
Credit: Charley Gallay/Getty Images

Late last year, Metallica roared back with their 10th studio album, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct. The double LP — their first full-length since 2008’s progged-out Death Magnetic — marked the legendary metal group’s return to the breakneck thrash that defined their vaunted ’80s catalog. And, come May, they’ll be taking their latest tunes to stadiums throughout North America with their WorldWired Tour.

“The biggest surprise of the first couple of months post-Hardwired is how much the fans are demanding new songs,” Metallica’s colorful drummer Lars Ulrich tells EW. “In 35 years of being in this band, I’ve never heard the phrase, ‘Play more new songs.’ It’s just not something that you hear, being in a rock and roll band in 2017!”

And while Metallica can still easily draw stadium-sized crowds decades into their career, Ulrich assures they don’t take their status for granted: “At this point, we’re so psyched that people still give a s—, 35 years later.”

Ulrich connected with EW to discuss digging deep in their catalog, collaborating with Lady Gaga at the Grammys, and what makes stadium shows so special. (Hint: It involves blowing stuff up.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After decades of touring, how do you guys keep things fresh?
LARS ULRICH: We tour in very short spurts. That keeps the sanity somewhat sustained. Keyword: “somewhat.” One way to keep it fresh is to mix up the places we play. We’re doing stadiums now, we played a lot of festivals the last couple years, the last time we did a run in the United States and Canada we were indoors in arenas. There’s different energies that happen in stadiums. [And] I believe it’s since 2004 that we haven’t played the same setlist twice. That keeps us on our toes.

What specifically is it about stadiums that’s different from arenas?
Stadiums are a lot about the thousand-yard stare, as we call it. Including everybody at the back of the stadium — which in some places may be a different zip code. Playing a stadium show is something that really requires you to go next level spectacle event. You want to bring some s— that blows up. You want to have everything be larger than life.

But obviously, a Metallica show, whether it’s at Giants Stadium — or whatever it’s called this week, MetLife Stadium — or whether it’s [Manhattan club] Webster Hall, it’s still about Metallica, about Metallica energy, and about the Metallica connection that happens between the band and the fans. Whether we play the big or small places the ultimate goal is to bond with all the people that are there and try to create as intimate an experience as possible. The best thing about it, for us, 35 years in, is just that we are in a super humbling place where we can do all of it. We play stadiums, we play arenas, we play festivals, we play your backyard BBQ.

What will the setlists look like on this tour?
There are about 60 to 70 songs that we can more or less play [with] 10 to 15 minutes rehearsal. Most of the time the setlist is written in the last hour before the show, depending on what the mood is, what city we’re in. If we’re in St. Louis, I’ll take a look at what songs we busted out when we were in St. Louis the last time and make sure the setlist is a little different from the last time we were there.

What Hardwired songs are Metallica most excited to play?
The fact that our fans continue to demand we play more cuts from the new album is really inspiring and super cool. [Hardwired closer] “Spit Out the Bone” seems to be an early fan favorite. It’s this crazy journey through six minutes of really early Metallica flash days. When the album was finished and I played it for one of my kids, I played “Spit Out the Bone,” and his head was absolutely blown off. He said, “That’s amazing.” There was a pregnant pause and then he looked at me and he goes, “How are you ever gonna play that live, dad?” And it was like, “Eventually, I’ll get there son!”

How did the Gaga collaboration come about?
[The Grammys] always encourage you to do cool, crazy collaborations. We thought some of the songs on the new album lent themselves well to a female co-conspirator. I was at a dinner party at my buddy’s house a couple months ago and she was there. We ended up sitting and talking about her old metal days in Jersey and the Lower East Side. I knew she was a metal chick at heart, but I didn’t know how deep her metal roots were. Her relationship with Metallica goes way back — like deep album cuts on the early couple records. We’re sitting there and I took a shot. I said, “Listen, we’ve been invited to do the Grammys again, come sing with us, it would be so much fun. I think this is the right fit.” She just said, “Yes.” She didn’t have to like, “Oh let me just check with my team” or “Let me call my 17 managers.” There was none of that stuff. She’s so open and so authentic. She makes all the decisions herself and she’s so talented and she’s so eager. And she blew up the f—ing Super Bowl!

Did you know when you were on the stage that James’ mic had cut out or did you find out after the fact?
When I couldn’t hear his vocals in the first verse, I knew there was an issue. But in the heat of the moment, you don’t quite know where the issue is — it’s very difficult to troubleshoot. We just had to battle through it and keep going, which is what we did. It’s live television, this stuff happens. This year it happened to us, last year it happened to Adele. In the context of the bigger issues that face humanity, I think we’ll all be OK. I think, in some ways, the fact that James and her were singing out of her mic, there was another level of intimacy that was created. I’m totally happy.