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Metallica's Kirk Hammett speaks about Guitar Hero

Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett talked to me about the addictiveness of video games, beating Lars at Guitar Hero, and what he uses to record ideas at home.

Guitar Hero: Metallica, which lets gamers play along with the band and its influences, comes out in the U.S. on March 29. Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammett spoke to me this afternoon at the South by Southwest music festival about the game and other issues related to music and technology.

Metallica's Kirk Hammett as he appears in Guitar Hero: Metallica. Gamespot

Q: With the Guitar Hero game, do you think you'll be reaching longtime fans, or is this mainly a way to reach younger fans who might know a song or two but don't really know Metallica?
Hammett: We'll be reaching fans across the board, longtime fans, fans who've just gotten into us, Guitar Hero fans who might have reached Metallica through Guitar Hero. It works in a lot of different directions. Our demographic gets wider and wider through the years; at our shows we see a lot of kids who are 10, 12 years old, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that their parents have been fans for a long time. And a certain percentage of it is because they're Guitar Hero fans and they got turned on to Metallica through Guitar Hero, and they want to actually see Metallica as a live performing band.

Were you a Guitar Hero player before this?
Hammett: I have to say, I've only really played Guitar Hero once. I'm the kind of person who, if I start playing video games, I don't stop. So a few years back, I said to myself that I have to stop playing because I don't play guitar, I don't eat, I don't sleep. I had found out about Guitar Hero from seeing it in the media, seeing the poster on the wall in the studio where we were recording our album, hearing about it from friends. So I did actually play it once, I played against Lars and I beat him. He plays it all the time. But I had to tell him I had a fair advantage being a guitar player myself.

Do you find there's a split between musicians and non-musicians? I think a lot of musicians look at Guitar Hero and say "I'd rather be playing."
Hammett: I never feel like I'm playing my instrument enough. It leads back to what I was saying earlier about being totally obsessive. I've talked to other guitar players who've played this game, it's apples and oranges, it's a different thought process between this and actually playing an instrument.

Do you think kids growing up today are going to be drawn to games like Guitar Hero instead of learning how to play the guitar? Or do you think musicians will always be musicians?
Hammett: I think it's going to be responsible for creating a lot of musicians, for kids making the leap to playing a real instrument. I have a friend who works at a music instrument store, and he told me that because of Guitar Hero, guitar sales are up. For me, that's a great thing because these kids are being brought up on the music that's in Guitar Hero, it's great music, great classic rock, great classic metal that they wouldn't hear otherwise. It's all just about pop drivel on the radio. They're getting an education through Guitar Hero, and if some of these kids are truly inspired, they'll make the leap and grab a guitar and learn how to play the songs for real.

What about the songs from other bands that are in the game? Did you guys pick all of those bands, and were there any specifics that you picked?
Hammett: Well, I wanted UFO to be in there, but for legal reasons we couldn't do it so we had to settle for Michael Schenker Group. Same thing with The Misfits. We would have loved for The Misfits to be on here, but for legal reasons, we have Samhain instead.

Do you have a recording rig that you use to get ideas down outside the studio?
Hammett: Traditionally, I'll use a small recording processor, which I'll eventually load into ProTools. A lot of the stuff written in the last four or five years, I used (Apple's) GarageBand. Then from GarageBand I put it on a CD and then dumped that into ProTools. GarageBand is really handy in that I can just have my laptop, have my guitar, have a guitar cord, and plug my guitar into the laptop. Once I've tweaked it and modified things, and built upon the ideas, I'll put the music into ProTools, which has become the industry standard. So for me, it's really about GarageBand and ProTools.

So you just go direct, you don't even need a microphone?
Hammett: Sometimes I'll use an Mbox, yeah.

I know they captured a lot of moves for the game, how did that work?
Hammett: They filmed us with sensors on us. It was pretty cool. We lip-synced to the songs, and they got full-motion captures of us playing the music. They did full body scans of us as well.We tried to aim it to be as accurate as possible.