Special thanks to Nick Mimikos for the suggestion
Phone interview with Bill Hale
By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal
April 6th 2010, Los Angeles CA
Andrew: Your photo book released last year. How has it gone for you so far?
Bill: The book has been going really good. It did really well and it's been selling almost everywhere online and every country has it with book retailers. So it's pretty exciting.
Andrew: You shot without the aid of a photo pit. How did you manage to do that, and do you think the pictures look more intimate because of that?
Bill: The scene was still pretty young back then. I started photography in 79. The crowds have changed since then. Even when you were watching a punk band back in 79 or 80, photographers were allowed to do their thing without being interfered with. After Metallica and Anthrax, people started to mosh pit and it was a little harder to do your job. By that time I had a lot of respect in the metal community so I could still do what I wanted to do and go where I wanted to go. That was pretty cool. So yeah people always pushed around near the center of the stage but you have to photograph! And yeah the pictures come out a whole lot more intimate. If you're a good photographer and you know what you're doing, you can make any circumstance look really cool I suppose. When you're up close and personal it's a lot better to do. There are a couple of frames of thought, where when you're trying to be professional you don't want the crowd involved unless it's on purpose and you get back to take the whole crowd shot. If you want a solo shot or something, you don't want anything else but the band. So you just have to deal with those circumstances.
Andrew: Have you been in touch at all with the current and former Metallica members after the book released? What was their reaction?
Bill: Last time I actually saw them was in 1999 but I still have tons of friends in the metal scene and through them they've come back to me. I've talked to Dave Mustaine a lot. Dave and I were still good friends after Metallica and I saw a lot of Megadeth as well. Actually my next book is on Megadeth and Dave wrote the foreword for me. Kirk Hammett is another one. I haven't talked to him but all my friends who've talked to him, everybody says the book is really cool. The way I got to know Metallica is through my magazine Metal Rendezvous. Lars actually moved out and tried to find my editor one day. When he was forming the band, he would call up when the band practised and they would play 'Hit The Lights' and stuff like that. So we knew Metallica at the beginning. When they got to San Francisco, we were all aware of everything that was going on. Couple of shows into it, we knew they were going to get Cliff for McGovney. We were already good friends with Cliff. I knew all the players, so I really had to make sure that everything had justice to it and there was no bias because when Dave got kicked out, it wasn't his fault. I knew Kirk in Exodus and stuff, so with the whole Kirk-Dave thing, I had to really keep away all the bias and just show the facts. This is the photograph, this is what I saw and this is what happened. And I think we accomplished what we wanted to do, despite the fact that it was a very touchy subject for everybody involved.
Andrew: The book has pictures from the band's formative years but it released in 2009. Do you agree that this makes it all the more special?
Bill: Yeah definitely. I was asked to do a Metallica book. But when you start dealing with the corporate world, they determine a lot of things. But I think the timing was right. Everything was very organic the way it came about. When I found a deal for the book, it was before they got the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame thing. So everything was just before that happened and it's been good. A lot of the new fans really dig the book because they can see what the band was like beforehand. All the old fans are loving it because if you saw the band before 84, this is what you saw.
Andrew: Because of their success in latter years, do you think that people forget about that early period?
Bill: In Metallica's case, no, because the band always seems to bring out a couple of songs from each album. Even on the last tour, they did 'Seek And Destroy' and 'Hit The Lights' on occasions. Some of those songs are really good for the fans and even the newer fans are digging it. I think in the middle of the 90s, that's when some of the stuff was lost. But coming back to the roots, all that stuff got really well represented.
Andrew: Would you say music photographers are lucky, getting to tour with a band and experiencing things hardly anyone else does?
Bill: Long time ago, in the 60s and 70s, people like Jim Marshall had it. They were really allowed to have tons of access with the band. Nowadays, things are so guarded that even the newer bands tell you to not do this and not do that. It depends on how you get to the band and who you are. The cool thing about most major photographers was that they had a band they started off with. Ross Halfin had Iron Maiden. The other photographers like Neil Zlozower had Van Halen. It was the same thing with Guns N Roses photographer Robert John. For a photographer to come into that situation is almost impossible nowadays. They don't care who you are, if you don't have contact with the band directly, you don't have total access anymore. I was lucky that I had a magazine and it was a really cool dedicated magazine to the whole metal scene. So I got access to everybody but a lot of people didn't. So bands are really guarding these days and I'm lucky to do the bands that I work with now. I have full access to them. You kind of want that to get your job done, but it's kind of hard nowdays I think.
Andrew: Out of the six Metallica gigs featured in your book, which one was the hardest to shoot and the most special to you?
Bill: It was the very last gig that Dave Mustaine and Cliff did together at The Stone. It was the last Metallica gig Dave played in California. It was just a tremendous gig. The first time Cliff played, they were just natural. The second time, they were the most dangerous band on the planet. That was in 83. I've seen almost all bands after that. I've seen Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, UFO, Michael Schenker Group but most definitely that Metallica line-up (James, Lars, Dave and Cliff) was the most dangerous band on the planet. You could have put any band into a battle of the bands and Metallica would have won, hands down. They were all of the same age, they were all hungry, they were all good at what they were doing and it was really cool. The crowd knew it and trying to get a really good shot in a jam-packed club was a challenge but it was the best thing. Both places were really hard to photograph. I did have unlimited access so I got to go backstage, on the stage and after the show I actually went back to their house in El Cerrito and we partied all night. Couple of weeks later Dave was gone and three years later, Cliff was dead. So that was a major turning point for everybody.
Andrew: That's an amazing line: 'The most dangerous band on the planet'.
Bill: They really were (laughs). Metal was still fun back then and there was no politics involved. It was still very young. Anthrax were starting, Armored Saint was bubbling over, all of the bands like Vicious Rumor, Laaz Rockit were happening. Testament did Legacy, Exodus was happening and a lot of bands were starting. It was very cool to be around. San Francisco had a huge thing. A band called Griffin was really cool. The bass player went on to be in Heathen. Then there was this band called Steel. They went nowhere. At that point there were so many bands. Metal was really cool, just go out and bang your head, have a good time. It was 84 when it started changing.
Andrew: Over the years, according to you is there a concert photographer whose work really stood out in your eyes?
Bill: Yeah actually Ross Halfin has gone better and better over the years. He's the photographer that all the super stars go to. He does a lot of stuff and people trust him. There was a thing in the 90s where Rolling Stone would dress up people to make their covers and stuff, and Halfin stayed to where a rock photographer should be. He has done a really good job, he's gone a lot better and he has done what he's supposed to do, just great photographs. As for American photographers, a lot of the younger people are cool. My buddy Squeak out of San Francisco, he's all heart. He shoots all the gigs and he's really cool. Off the top of my head, a couple of them in London are cool. Usually the English photographers are the ones I tend to go with a lot more than American photographers. The English ones are there to understand that they are part of the press. A lot of American photographers are there just because of the scene kind of thing.
Andrew: Other than Megadeth, what else do you have in your photo vault that we can expect to see being released in the near future?
To buy Bill Hale's Metallica photo book, go here.
Bill: Megadeth is the next one and that covers 84 to 87 I believe, mainly the first album and Peace Sells. There's a lot of good stuff in there. Actually there are six books altogether. After this I'm doing an LA rock book that has early Motley Crue, Ratt, Quiet Riot, Poison and that sort of thing. Then I'm doing this superstars book with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Then I'm doing a thrash book on all the San Francisco bands like Testament, Laaz Rockit, Griffin, Heathen and all those kinds of bands. The last one I think will be an underground book on bands like Celtic Frost, Anthem, Overkill, Voivod and bands you can't really classify. So all together it's everything that toured California in the 80s.