Les Claypool Reflects on His "Heavy" Metallica Audition

"Of course I knew Kirk from high school. But I think that James thought I was some sort of thug."

Photos: Adam Wills (left); Scott Penner (right)

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished May 18, 2021

Before Metallica named Jason Newstead as their new bassist following the death of Cliff Burton in 1986, the band auditioned a series of other players hoping to fill the position — including future Primus leader Les Claypool, who has now reflected on the experience in a new interview.

Speaking with Kerrang!, Claypool shared how his bass tryout came years after sitting in front of future Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett in ninth grade algebra class. While he ultimately didn't land the gig, Claypool now feels that it was a matter of style more than how he played his strings.

Here's an expert from Claypool's Kerrang! interview:

Is it true that when you auditioned for Metallica, James Hetfield said something like, ​"Man, you're much too talented. Go do something wonderfully weird on your own"?

He definitely did not say that! He said that later on in an interview, which was very kind of him. I think they thought I was a freak. They were very nice — Lars [Ulrich] was particularly kind — and of course I knew Kirk from high school. But I think that James thought I was some sort of thug. Put it this way, I definitely didn't look the part.

They had just lost a pretty eccentric bass player, mind.

​Yeah, but Cliff was eccentric in a whole different way. He definitely had a great look, that's for sure. He was like a Viking or something.

Asked if he entertained "serious ambitions" about joining one of the biggest heavy bands in the world, Claypool offered, ​"To be honest, I wasn't really into metal at the time. I just knew that it was my buddy Kirk's band and that they were doing really well."

He continued: "It wasn't until the audition that I got a sense of what was really going on. It was a bit of a heavy thing, the audition, and I didn't realize until I got there that it was kind of a big deal. Afterwards I fantasized about quitting my carpentry job and touring Japan with them, but I didn't get the gig."

But what would Metallica with Claypool on bass sound like? ​

"Well, however it would have sounded I would have only lasted for a month or two before they kicked me out," Claypool shared with Kerrang! "They've got enough chefs in the kitchen in that band — they don't need a guy like me. And the guy they have right now is unbelievable. Robert Trujillo is one of the nicest and sweetest guys I've ever met in the industry, and his playing is unbelievable."

Claypool and Primus recently rescheduled their summer tour on which they will cover Rush's A Farewell to Kings in its entirety, though a lone Canadian stop in Toronto is no longer included on the itinerary.

Metallica, meanwhile, have used time away from the road to consider recording a new album.

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