During a recent appearance on "Drinks With Johnny", the Internet TV show hosted by AVENGED SEVENFOLD bassist Johnny Christ, METALLICA bassist Robert Trujillo spoke about the so-called "doodle," the fun and unusual feature METALLICA added to its shows on the band's last few tours. At each stop, Trujillo and guitarist Kirk Hammett have been covering songs from some of the local artists — often choosing tracks that are far removed from the band's traditional metal sound. The "doodles" have been showing up right before Trujillo's solo on "(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth". The songs are pared-down interpretations — just bass and guitar and sometimes Trujillo singing in front of music stands.
Asked how the idea for the "doodle" came about, Robert said (see video below): "We were in Europe — this wasn't the last European tour, but the tour before that. We were in Amsterdam, and we had tried a couple of... There was a duet moment, where we were supposed to play a METALLICA song that's maybe, like, a deep cut, so we'd play 'I Disappear' or something, and we started noticing that we weren't getting the result we wanted. It was, like, we'd go up there and we'd start playing, like, 'Eye Of The Beholder' or something, and then the crowd's expecting James to come out and sing, and it's, like, 'Man, this ain't working.' They were feeling like it was a prelude moment, and I started thinking, 'We've gotta do something different.' So Kirk came out this one night, and he started playing that song by CHIC ['Le Freak'], and it totally caught me off guard. And I'm, like, 'Oh, damn. Okay, I see where he's going.' He's walking out to the front of the snake pit playing this funk jam. He got me the first night, 'cause I didn't exactly know the bass line, so I improvised it. And then the second night, I got it."
He continued: "So it kind of started there for a split second, though we were still doing the METALLICA deep cuts. And then we got to Europe, and we were in Amsterdam, and one of our management team members suggested, 'Why don't you play [a song by the Dutch rock band] GOLDEN EARRING, 'Radar Love'? Check that out.' And we were, like, 'Really?' So I started played the bass line, and then the crowd started singing, and it was, like, 'Hold on a minute. There's something here.' So then we started to kind of formulate some local bands from each city. Like, one of the highlight moments was in Prague [Czech Republic — we played a country song called 'Jožin Z Bažin' [by Ivan Mládek], which was huge. And then we played, in Barcelona, a gypsy kind of flamenco acoustic song, by an artist called Peret — it's called 'El Muerto Vivo', And I'm singing in Spanish, I'm doing my best, and the people went nuts. And we go, 'Hold on. We've got something here.' So what we ended up doing… We came out of that tour — we scraped through it; it wasn't perfect, but we scraped through it. And then when we got home, we did some U.S. dates, we did all that, but we knew we were going back to Europe where it really worked. I said, 'I'm going deep.' So I did a bunch of research, and I researched every single city, even Estonia, and I found out what cool either punk, alternative, country — it didn't matter the style — and I learned the fucking language, and I did the phonetic with the lyric, and we went out and did full arrangements. I'm talking about if there was an accordion solo, Kirk was playing it. So we did our homework, and we really, really went into it. I was going to [Kirk's house in] Hawaii to work with him on the arrangements. I spent, like, five days there strictly on the [songs]. We weren't even surfing, we were just 'boom.' So we put a lot of hard work in it. I mean, we were surfing a little bit, but that wasn't the priority. We were actually really spending time on this.
"So I would say on that last tour run, 'cause we were in these massive stadiums, sold-out shows… And every night was great, but there was a handful of grand slams where people were crying and it was this heavy… Like, you're paying tribute to somebody in, like, Moscow, who is like the David Bowie of Moscow, and people are just, like, 'Oh my god.' They don't know what they're gonna get. All of a sudden, we surprise them, and they get what they didn't expect. [Playing a song by] Johnny Hallyday in Paris, at Stade De France, [in front of] 85,000 people. So to be up there and to feel that energy and emotionally connect with the crowd on that level was special. But it was such hard work. I don't know how we [pulled it off].
"I was meeting with people, like, I would even sometimes do it by phone, and I'd be there for two hours getting the language pronunciation right. So it was a lot of work… And sometimes you'll take some beatings," he admitted. "I remember a couple of the shows when we first started doing it, man — beatings, bro; beatings… I remember, there was a couple of 'em, but there was one… It was in Pennsylvania. It was like college — it was over where Penn State is. And holy cow, man. I thought we would play like the fight song for Penn State. Man, we got, like, 10 seconds into that thing, and nobody cared. It was, like, 'Oh my god.' And I stopped playing — I literally stopped playing. I was so embarrassed. And Kirk kept playing. And then, luckily, we kind of went into a METALLICA… Like, in the U.S., we would parlay it with a local song — these are U.S songs — and then we would always kind of justify it by going into a METALLICA [track], like 'Dyers Eve' or something. Just like, 'Okay, we screwed that up, but we got this.' So it was kind of our savior in the States."
Last year, Hammett told Cosmo Music about his live "doodles" with Trujillo: "We never really know what the response is going to be. You have to understand, we're going into a country; we're picking some song that's seemingly random and abstract to us, and we're learning this song that we've never heard before from this artist that we've never heard before, and we're taking a chance and playing it in a stadium in front of 60,000 people, and we're hoping that we make the right choice. The last, I would say, three legs [of the tour], we've been hitting it out of the park, but before that, there were some growing pains. There have been a few times we've picked the wrong song and played it and people go, 'Huh?' We'll go into a place like Indianapolis, and we'll play a song by an obscure punk band called THE ZERO BOYS, because we think they're cool... We played the hell out of it, and it was really cool, but we looked out at the audience, and they were just like, 'Huh?' Rob and I always tell each other and people don't recognize it, it's not the end of the world as long as we play it well, and they're entertaining in the way we play it, so we have that to fall back on... We were in Nashville, and we played a Loretta Lynn song... The next day, we got a message from Loretta Lynn, who said she was actually at the show with her family and was so tickled when we broke into her song. She said she might think about covering one of our songs sometime, but in the meantime, we should do more of her songs."
Not every artist that has been spotlighted in the "doodle" has been flattered by the Trujillo/Hammett version of their music. Former CELTIC FROST frontman Tom Gabriel Fischer (a.k.a. Tom G. Warrior) was not impressed with the rendition of the group's "The Usurper" that Hammett and Trujillo performed during METALLICA's May 2019 concert in Zurich, Switzerland. "They butchered it, and it was humiliating," Fischer told Rolling Stone. "Why don't they leave their millionaire fingers off it? They've long lost the ability to play true metal in my opinion. Maybe I should go onstage and do a really miserable version of [METALLICA's] 'Hit The Lights' with, like, 200 mistakes to set the balance."