Imagine you and your buddies have been playing in a band for a while playing mostly Metallica covers and a few originals. Imagine Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica, calls and asks your band to open for the most popular metal band on earth. Can you even imagine? The guys in Battery, a Metallica tribute band, can because it happened to them.
Battery is Laurence Langley on drums, Jason Taylor on vocals, Jason Shrodek on lead guitar and Phil MacLachlan on bass. BW spoke with Langley over the phone about the history of Battery, how to write a setlist for the ladies, and of course, which Metallica album is really the best.
BW: You guys do have a relationship with Metallica, right?
Langley: Yes. Back in '98, we did the Garage, Inc. tour with them. They'd released a CD of cover songs and they wanted to promote that CD with a small tour. They thought 'If we do a small tour, everyone's going to want to hear all of our Metallica songs: "Enter Sandman," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Seek and Destroy" and those songs. So they come up with the idea for us to open for them and we would play only Metallica original songs and then they would cover all their favorites. So, we covered all their songs and they covered everybody else. We did a five-city tour of Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, New York City and Detroit. They were all at 5,000-seat theaters and all sold out shows. [Everyone] were hard-core Metallica fans. Every night was unbelievable. We had great response from the crowds.
How long has Battery been together?
We started in the mid '90s. We started Battery as a vehicle to promote our original band. We were doing original music under [our band] Disaster Area. Our music was kind of like Metallica back in the '80s and '90s, like the Master of Puppets stuff. So we came up with the idea of a tribute band to promote our original stuff. So we would have Battery with special guest Disaster Area. We would come out and play our original stuff and then sell our T-shirts and CDs and then we would change our drum heads, change our backdrop and come out all in black and then do the Metallica stuff. We were two bands in one essentially.
When was the last time Disaster Area did a show?
When you met Lars, did you have a moment of hero worship or was it just two guys who play drums?
(Laughs) The very first time that I met Lars was in Buffalo, New York. They came out to one of our shows there and at the end of the night, Lars and James [Hetfield, Metallica singer] came back up on stage. I had met James before in Toronto, Canada at one of their shows on the ...And Justice For All tour. When I met Lars he jumped on my drum kit and just played for a minute and we talked a bit about drums and he talked about every where they went they heard great things about the band from everybody. They would say, "Oh my god, have you heard Battery? You have to see Battery!"
When you listen to Metallica's new stuff, what do you think of it?
Some of us like St. Anger. Our bass player is rooted in hardcore punk and deathmetal and he likes St. Anger. I like it because it's fast, it's quick, there's some cool riffs. The songs are cool. They were just trying to do something different. It had been a long time since they'd recorded anything and James had just come out of rehab so they thought they would try a fresh and totally different approach to writing songs. In the past, they would go into the studio and everything was pre-planned: every riff, everything was already written and done. For St. Anger they just went in and started jamming and just tried to come up with new ideas. It has good qualities to it. We played two songs off St. Anger for the first six months after it was out. Some people liked it and some people would boo. But we like the songs. Some of the stuff off Load and Reload is a little light, a little fluffy but some of it's good. The songs we play off the newer albums is the cooler stuff. We play a little bit, but not much.
Our favorite stuff is the older stuff which is why we call ourselves "Battery": so people know we're into that era of Metallica. But we do try and cover all ends of the spectrum. If we have a large female crowd, they're not going to want to hear "Fight Fire With Fire," "Disposable Heroes" or "Whiplash." They're going to want to hear more of the radio songs. Some nights it's all guys and they want to mosh and they don't want to hear "Nothing Else Matters" or "Unforgiven."
So, what's the best Metallica album?
For me, it's Master of Puppets. The first album, Kill 'Em All, was fast and heavy and wasn't very melodic. On Ride the Lightning they started to get more melodic and Cliff Burton [Metallica's original bass player] had more input. Then on Master of Puppets, it all came to a pinnacle as far as songwriting. "Master of Puppets" is brilliant lyrically and musically. "Battery" is one of the most brutal guitar riffs I've ever heard joined with one of the coolest classical guitar intros you'll ever hear. So, Master of Puppets is the best. ...And Justice For All was good, but the songs are too overdone: too many guitar riffs and the songs are too long. Even Metallica said, "We went overboard when we did Justice."
If I was to play someone one song, I could pick "Master of Puppets" and say, "Listen to this song. It's absolutely brilliant. You have clean guitar, dirty guitar, beautiful lead, dual harmony guitars and the chunky downpicking that Metallica created. In that one song you have everything."
You guys keep your real names. Does that mean you're more serious than other tribute bands?
We've met KISS tribute bands. I'll walk up and say, "I'm Laurence, the drummer for Battery," and [they'll] say, "I'm Peter Criss" or, "I'm Paul Stanley." We saw a Van Halen tribute band once and the David Lee Roth guy said, "I want to introduce the band. Over here we have Eddie Van Halen on lead guitar." And we looked at that and were like "You're not Eddie Van Halen. You're not Peter Criss. You're not Paul Stanley. If you were, you wouldn't be standing here in this little club talking to me." That's how we look at it. I'm not Lars.
If you were, you'd have a much bigger house.
(Laughs) And much better financial status. But we're not those people. All we're trying to do is take their music, take their show, take their energy and bring it to people in Nebraska and Idaho and places where Metallica can't go. You're not going to see them in Spokane or Boise. Or Ohio for that matter. So we just try and take a Metallica show and present it the best way we can.
You guys play note for note, right? You don't change it up, you don't make it your own ... you're true to the original?
Right. The only thing we do is we'll take a few live things they do during a show and incorporate it. That's what separates us from other bands. We play the songs as perfectly as we can. We want people to walk away saying, "Man, those guys are almost as good as Metallica." And that's all we hope we can accomplish.
Friday, August 18, 8 p.m., $10, The Big Easy, 416 S. 9th St., 367-1212.
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