Jason Newsted and Metallica: Why and When the Split Happened

Why did Jason Newsted walk away from Metallica after 15 years? Let’s talk facts: creative clashes, band politics, and the toll it took.

Focused Jason Newsted playing a bass guitar, wearing a Metallica tee, with drums in the blurred background and subtle stage lighting.
Jason Newsted
Key Takeaways
  • Jason Newsted left Metallica in 2001 due to creative clashes and a lack of voice in the band’s direction. His side project, Echobrain, became a point of contention with frontman James Hetfield.
  • Therapist Phil Towle, brought in to mend relationships within the band, exacerbated tensions, particularly for Newsted, who felt sidelined in the creative process.
  • Despite the tumultuous exit, Newsted maintains good relations with his former bandmates, appearing in significant events like Metallica’s 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and 30th-anniversary concerts.

The Beginning to the End

Jason Newsted became part of Metallica’s legacy in 1986, stepping in after the tragic passing of Cliff Burton. He held the bassist spot until 2001. Newsted had his fingerprints on four seminal albums: “…And Justice For All”, “Metallica” (often called “The Black Album”), “Load”, and “Reload”.

His exit wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. Newsted wanted more creative input, a request that fell on deaf ears. Adding fuel to the fire was therapist Phil Towle. Brought in to defuse internal tensions, Towle instead ignited Newsted’s discontent. And let’s not forget the ripple effect. Newsted’s departure acted as a catalyst, nudging James Hetfield toward rehab.

So, it wasn’t just about slapping the bass. It was about not getting heard, in more ways than one.

Newsted, Hetfield, and the Echobrain Dilemma

Jason Newsted had a side project named Echobrain, which garnered positive attention. Metallica’s management at Q-Prime were initially impressed with the Echobrain demos. They planned to represent the band, banking on Newsted’s Metallica reputation.

He pressured Q-Prime to back off from Echobrain, fearing it could overshadow Metallica.

But Metallica’s frontman, James Hetfield, wasn’t pleased. He pressured Q-Prime to back off from Echobrain, fearing it could overshadow Metallica. Q-Prime withdrew their support the very next day, calling Newsted to give him the news.

Hetfield’s unease didn’t stop there. In a band meeting, Newsted offered Echobrain records to everyone. Hetfield reprimanded him for it. It went further. In the “Some Kind of Monster” documentary, Newsted revealed Hetfield gave him an ultimatum. It was either tone down Echobrain or exit Metallica.

Newsted had sunk his own money into Echobrain and hadn’t turned a profit. The real issue for him wasn’t the loss, but Hetfield’s power play. After 15 years of being in Metallica, Newsted felt this limitation was the last straw. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that Metallica was paying $40,000 a month to therapist Phil Towle, whose presence had already been a point of tension for Newsted.

The Role of Phil Towle in Newsted’s Exit

Phil Towle, a seasoned psychotherapist turned performance coach, was roped in by Metallica in January 2001. His original mission was simple: heal the fractured relationship between the band members, including Newsted. While Towle had worked with various musicians and athletes, his collaboration with Metallica would be his most public affair.

Towle soon overstepped his initial mandate. He not only tried to mend relationships but also dabbled in the band’s creative juices, even daring to submit lyrics for an album. This further irked Newsted, who already felt sidelined in the band’s creative process.

Newsted had been the “whipping boy” for years, according to Towle. The years of hazing had done their damage, and Newsted reached his tipping point. Towle even speculated that Newsted didn’t want to walk away from Metallica per se. He simply wanted out from the unspoken tension and toxic dynamics plaguing the band.

The atmosphere was palpable when Newsted finally dropped the bombshell about his departure. Towle described the room as filled with “pain and discomfort”. In Towle’s eyes, Newsted had the audacity to be the first to voice the unspoken issues, setting in motion a necessary but painful reckoning for the band.

The Wear and Tear of Being Jason Newsted in Metallica

Jason Newsted didn’t just wake up one day and decide to leave Metallica. It was a decision marred by both physical and emotional tolls. Newsted cited “private and personal reasons and the physical damage” he’d endured over the years as key factors in his exit.

The rapid entry into the band after the tragic loss of Cliff Burton set the stage for emotional and physical stress. Within three weeks of Burton’s death, Newsted was in. Within five weeks, he was touring Japan.

Being the new guy replacing a fallen legend, he was in the eye of a pretty fierce emotional storm.

But the pressure didn’t stop there. Newsted faced resentment within the band. Being the new guy replacing a fallen legend, he was in the eye of a pretty fierce emotional storm. This contributed to his decision to bid farewell to the band.

If that wasn’t enough, Newsted had another bone to pick. His bass was suspiciously low in the mix on “…And Justice for All”, an artistic choice that didn’t exactly boost his spirits or emotional well-being.

The Band’s Response and the Aftermath

Newsted’s decision to leave sent shockwaves through Metallica. Let’s face it, after 15 years, you’d think you’d know a guy. Lars Ulrich voiced his confusion in interviews, unable to grasp why Newsted had made his exit.

James Hetfield eventually conceded that the band could’ve been more attuned to Newsted’s frustrations. His words? A regretful acknowledgment that they could’ve done better by their bassist. Kirk Hammett chimed in too, admitting that the band had taken Newsted for granted. Talk about a reality check.

The band had to move on. Bob Rock, their producer, temporarily filled Newsted’s shoes during the “St. Anger” sessions. But as time passed, Robert Trujillo stepped in as the new bassist, sealing the deal on Newsted’s chapter in Metallica history.

Newsted’s Current Ties with Metallica

Years have passed. Tensions have cooled. And as of 2023, Newsted and his former Metallica bandmates are on good terms. Newsted recently appeared on Eddie Trunk’s SiriusXM show and shared that he’s still in touch with Lars Ulrich. They even text about art, of all things.

Lars is a fan of Newsted’s art endeavors, adding a new layer to their friendship. Newsted also gives the nod to Lars’ sons’ band, Taipei Houston. In fact, it’s a mutual admiration society; they’re fans of his work too.

It’s not all pleasantries, though. The weight of the past still lingers. Newsted’s rejoined Metallica for significant events like their 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and 30th-anniversary concerts in 2011. These weren’t just photo ops; they meant something to him.

The Hall of Fame induction was a tearjerker. It didn’t just honor the current lineup but also paid tribute to the late Cliff Burton. As for the 30th-anniversary gigs, they allowed Newsted to reconnect with fans and ex-bandmates in a jubilant atmosphere.

Newsted’s got “nothing but mad respect” for his old crew and is proud of their ongoing achievements. And that, folks, marks the end of this tumultuous yet touching saga.