Influenced: Enabler's Jeff Lohrber on a Lifetime of Loving Metallica
In Influenced, we talk to
Milwaukee musicians about the artists that shaped and inspired them, both as
performers and listeners.
An international touring schedule and prolific output have earned Milwaukee metal act Enabler the reputation of being one of the hardest working bands in the city. The band is the brainchild of singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Lohrber, who’s pedigree includes ’90s hardcore favorites Shai Hulud and noise metal legends Today is the Day. Lohrber spoke to us about one of his biggest influences, a band whose extreme work ethic helped them become one of most successful heavy metal bands of all time: Metallica.
What were you listening to prior to hearing Metallica, and how were you introduced to them?
The first record I remember listening to and really falling in love with was The Beatles’ White Album. My mom would go to church on Sundays and I’d stay home with my dad and listen to records. I distinctly remember hearing “Helter Skelter” and being like, “Yes, this is awesome.” He got me into Def Leppard, too, specifically Pyromania and Hysteria. I went with my dad to see them on the Adrenalize tour around this time. I think I was about 6 or 7.
I used to wake up early before my parents did and watch “Beavis and Butthead” before going to school, and I started seeing a lot of Metallica videos-mainly singles off of The Black Album like “Enter Sandman” and “Sad But True.” I really dug those songs and eventually my sister dubbed me a copy of The Black Album. It was the first true heavy metal album I ever heard and I completely fell in love with it.
What about that record made it so compelling?
It’s an impeccable record, really. It’s so well put together and there’s not a flaw on it. They pushed the envelope even more with what they were doing, and stayed true to their existing fans while bringing on new ones who were used to hearing the more marketable metal bands at the time.
I think that record’s success is what made Metallica become the band that is synonymous with the entire metal genre.
Definitely. And it’s because of them that metal really started to get more attention than it ever had in the past. Around that time in the early ’90s, death metal bands were signing with major labels, which wasn’t an entirely good thing in some respects as some bands got really fucked over, but it did get them exposure and attention from people that wouldn’t have otherwise heard them. As a little kid I was able to discover Morbid Angel and Fear Factory and other bands like that, because Metallica opened the doors to making bands like that accessible.
Metallica are similar to The Beatles in that regard. There were tons of bands doing what The Beatles did around the same time that they were doing it, playing cover songs and slaving away in clubs and whatnot. The Beatles were doing it just a little bit differently, though and as a result, they were the catalyst for the whole British Invasion. Likewise, Metallica were the catalyst for the whole metal scene. There’s plenty of other metal bands, and there are times when I prefer some of them over Metallica, but had it not been for Metallica I would have never heard any of those other bands to begin with.
Why was Metallica the first to break into the mainstream as opposed to the other “Big Four” thrash metal bands?
The biggest thing was that they were just better songwriters than their contemporaries. Take 1986, for example. That year you’ve got Master of Puppets, Slayer’s Reign in Blood and Megadeth’s Peace Sells all being released. Those are all great records that still sound great today, but Master of Puppets has a little more variety. It has heavy songs like “Master of Puppets” and “Battery” on it and also “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” which is really melodic, but not to the detriment of the song. They were really good at writing melodic songs that still had dark themes. I think when a lot of other bands wrote a melodic song it ended up just being a shitty ballad like “Every Rose Has its Thorn.” So I think there’s something to be said about a band who can have a variety in their songwriting while still maintaining their integrity.
So The Black Album was a huge success, and then five years later they returned with Load, which was an interesting follow up. That tends to be the record where a lot of people stopped caring about Metallica. Plus, they got haircuts.
I think it was a step in the same direction that they made with The Black Album. With The Black Album they achieved success beyond their dreams and had no idea that it was going to get to that point, and at the end of it, they were just kinda like “where do we go from here?” I don’t think they made the best decisions, and I think [producer] Bob Rock had a lot to do with that. I think if you took out Bob Rock’s production and combined all the best moments from Load and [follow up album] Re-Load, you’d have a pretty solid rock record. The time those records came out had a lot to do with it, too. Those were definitely like Metallica’s attempt at making alternative rock records. There’s some cool parts and riffs on those records, but they both were ruined by bad production decisions.
When you’ve been a band for that long, though, there’s only two things you can do, either repeat yourself or move forward. In the case of metal, Slayer have tended to repeat themselves while Metallica have progressed. So I at least respect them for continuing to progress as a band.
I have this memory from 2003 of being at this used CD store and seeing at least 15 or 20 copies of the same CD in the new arrivals rack. It was St. Anger, which had been released just earlier that day. Talking about progression, how do you feel about that record?
Enabler were just talking about how pretty much the same group of people who made one of the best sounding analog recordings ever were also able to make one of the worst sounding digital recordings ever [laughs]. Its one of the most awful things I’ve ever heard.
Do you think it’s primarily the production that’s at fault?
Yeah, I think that is half the problem. They were trying to sound like Korn and all those other nu metal bands that were big at the time by making a really trashy sounding record. The thing is that you don’t need to be spending millions of dollars to make a record that sounds like shit, you know? I think, again, Bob Rock should have been taken out of the equation.
The other half is that they were in a place where they just shouldn’t have been making a record around that time to begin with. So what did they do? Not only did they make a record, but they also decided to make an awful movie about it. You’re just watching these people who you really respect making these terrible decisions.
Some Kind of Monster was completely unnecessary and they should be embarrassed for making it. I don’t need to see someone go through rehab, that’s something private. I want them to go through rehab, do what they need to do so they can come back and make awesome rock ’n’ roll again like they used to. I think the movie played a big role in why people hate St. Anger as much as they do.
They were getting a lot of heat around that time for that whole Napster fiasco, too.
Yeah, and like, to a certain extent, I get that. Someone had to address it and we’re all guilty of it. I just think they could have gone about it a little bit better. I just thought that they already pissed off their fans enough by cutting their hair and making alternative records, they didn’t need to alienate them any further [laughs].
And yet, Lulu happened.
Yeah, it’s pretty out there. It kinda sounds like Metallica jamming in a room with a homeless dude rambling over it. But at the same time, if you think about the situation-you’re in a band and Lou Reed from the Velvet Underground asks you to make a record with him, chances are you aren’t going to say no. I think they could have gone without putting the name “Metallica” on it. Had it just been another Lou Reed record that Metallica just happened to be on, I think the overall response would’ve been a bit different.
So it’s pretty safe to say that Metallica are one of your favorite bands. Can you pick a favorite album?
There’s two things there, because …And Justice for All is my favorite Metallica album, but I think Master of Puppets showcases the band at their absolute best. It’s the dream team Metallica lineup and it’s the album that’s the truest representation of their sound. If a little kid came up to me and said they wanted to get into Metallica, I’d tell them to get Master of Puppets. …And Justice for All is a transitional record, because it has elements of Master of Puppets while also moving forward, but it’s not quite as large of a step as The Black Album. It’s definitely the weird transitional album, but I love it.
What about the recurring complaint about the overall lack of bass on Justice?
I think that was entirely because of Cliff Burton’s death. That album came out only about two years after Cliff’s death, so Jason wasn’t given that much time to really assimilate into the band as a player. I think if Cliff had lived to make that record there would have been more of a bass presence on it, but at the same time I find it commendable that they haven’t gone back and remixed it. Like, it’s an obvious oversight on their part, but they’ve left that record, and all their records for that matter, the exact same as when they were released and I respect them for doing that, for leaving those records intact. That just says a lot about their confidence in those records, too, to just kinda be like, “We don’t need to change them because we got it right the first time around.”
In having loved Metallica for nearly two decades now, how have they influenced you as a musician?
I think their first five records serve as a guideline for everything you should do as a band: write honest music, work hard, tour a lot and pay little attention to the naysayers. In doing those things, they’ve brought their band to a level that’s unheard of for a lot of bands. Conversely, what they did later in their career serves as guidelines of what not to do. Be true to who you are as a band and don’t follow trends, because trends die. All those later records, they may have sold okay, but the die hard fans don’t love Metallica for Load. It’s those first five records that continue to hold people’s attention. So, for me, what I’ve taken from them is a lot of “Okay, do make a record that I can stand by and be proud of years later. Don’t make St. Anger” [laughs].
Do you think you’re always going to love Metallica, even if they make another St. Anger?
They will forever get a pass from me simply because of those first five records. Those records are so perfect to me and got me into a lot of other music that I now love. Even if I don’t really care for whatever new record it is that they release, I’m always going to respect them for who they are.