Jason Newsted Gets Busy After Metallica

Bassist anticipating debut of EchoBrain; producing Speedealer, Dragpipe; recording with Voivod.

Bassist Jason Newsted toured, recorded and partied with Metallica 24-7 for some 13 years. After quitting the band in February, at least partly because of a ban on side projects, he suddenly found the flexibility to work on multiple projects with different artists.

Newsted, 38, is producing an album by punk-metal behemoth Speedealer and anticipating the major-label debut of his trio EchoBrain. Toward the end of the year, he’ll begin producing New York noise-metal band Dragpipe before entering the studio with Voivod to play bass on the band’s allegedly final album. And if he has time, he’ll play drums with his hobby band, Papa Wheelie, or hook up with old pals from Machine Head, Death Angel and Exodus to record various projects.

“I’m busier than a busy person,” he said last week from his San Francisco home. “People aren’t scared to play this raucous, harsh music over radio speakers, so I think it’s the perfect time to get in with some real serious, heavy bands.”

Newsted’s enthusiasm is refreshing considering the funk he was in after leaving Metallica.

“It wasn’t easy to walk away from them,” he admitted. “It was like having two of my children taken away from me. The first couple of months were real f—ed, and then I slowly came out of my depression and got back on the horse with EchoBrain.”

Newsted left Metallica for several reasons. He wanted to play more of a creative role but found that frontman James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich were running the show. He felt the band had lost its focus and was spending too much time involved in litigation and political rhetoric. And finally, he needed time off to recover from neck and back injuries he sustained banging his head every night onstage.

“Watch a couple videos from 1990 and it’s not hard to figure out how I damaged myself,” he said. “I mean, 200 days a year I would give myself full-on whiplash. In 1990, the doctor told me to stop doing that. Well, I did 10 more years of it after that and now I’m kind of in this spot. I can’t perform as the performer people know me as, like a complete psycho. Doing that kind of touring is not in the cards for me right now.”

EchoBrain’s debut album is available on Newsted’s own Chophouse label and may be reissued next year by Chris Blackwell’s Palm Pictures. The disc features Newsted, 24-year-old vocalist/guitarist Dylan Donkin and 23-year-old drummer Brian Sagrafena, along with a host of guest stars including Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett, multi-instrumentalist Jim Martin (formerly of Faith No More) and various classical musicians (see “Ex-Metallica Bassist Jason Newsted Debuts EchoBrain” ). The disc was completed mostly as a side project last June while Newsted was still in Metallica. The bassist has since written nine songs for the group’s next record — fast action from a guy used to releasing an album every three or four years.

“I think I’ll have six or seven records out before Metallica get their next one out,” Newsted joked. “I’m just going for it.”

Newsted describes EchoBrain as a cross between Jeff Buckley and Soundgarden. His creative flame was originally sparked, however, when he first heard Speedealer. At the time, Newsted was mastering the debut EchoBrain album in New York. Palm A&R head Michael Alago, who signed Metallica to Elektra in 1984 and enlisted Newsted for the band two years later, slipped the bassist a tape.

“I was going to retire after I finished mastering EchoBrain, at least for a couple of years,” Newsted recalled. “Then I heard Speedealer and said, ‘I guess I’m not retiring.’ It sounded like 1982 Slayer coming out of the speakers. I said, ‘Sh–, these guys give me hope for keeping metal alive.’ ”

Speedealer have released three records — eponymous discs in 1998 and 1999 and Here Comes Death, originally out in 1999 on now-defunct Royalty Records and reissued a year later by Palm. In addition to producing, Newsted will help arrange and write songs as well as play theremin on the disc.

“I played it on the U.N.K.L.E. record [Psyence Fiction], the EchoBrain record and a lot of side projects,” Newsted recalled. “I think it will bring Speedealer some extra depth. When you’ve got the total chainsaw guitars and then some interlude sh– with the theremin tripping in the back, it’s gonna be very colorful.”

Even though he’ll jam out on theremin from time to time, Newsted will wear his producer hat for quite a while. In November, he’ll enter the studio with Dragpipe, a six-piece hardcore metal band signed to Geffen on the strength of one song. He’s scheduled to work with them through March and describes their sound as “angry music for angry times.”

Early next year, Newsted plans to re-enter the studio with EchoBrain and then join forces with veteran experimental metal band Voivod for their next, and possibly last, record. The group’s original lineup has reunited for the disc with the exception of bassist Blacky. Beside producing, Newsted will play bass on the record.

“I’ve been friends with those guys for many years,” he said. “We wrote ‘M-Body’ together on [1997's] Phobos and I’ve worshipped those guys since 1984. When I was in Flotsam & Jetsam, we were peers and competitors. It’s good to be on the same team finally.”

With all the projects piling up, the thought of not being with Metallica doesn’t weigh quite so heavily on Newsted. The memories, however, remain.

“I had a hollow feeling early on when I realized those guys would go on playing without me,” he admitted before waxing rhapsodic about his still-favorite band. “I truly believe everything happens for a reason. People had to be forced to take a few steps back and take an objective view. Like, ‘Holy sh–, look how we’ve messed it up and how we need to get our focus back.’ We spent more time in f—in’ court last year than we did playing our instruments. It’s just a matter of them pulling it back together, and I’m behind them a million percent.”

He even said the separation might not last forever.

“Never say never,” Newsted said. “I would record and play with those guys whenever the time came if that’s what they felt like doing. It has to come from them. They’d have to say, ‘Jay, are you still into it?’ And I would be. I’d be there 110 percent for them again.”