Q&A: Former Metallica Bassist Jason Newsted

metallica
Newsted, center, with his band

Metallica’s longtime bassist reinvents himself in laid-back Jupiter

As Jason Newsted likes to say, “I retired when I was 38. And I left a beautiful, breathing corpse.” And where, you ask, does a millionaire bassist go to settle down? South Florida, of course. Metalheads—they’re just like us.

Newsted, who spent 15 years with Metallica before parting ways with the band in 2001, has played stadiums in 55 countries and all 50 states, each performance a two-and-a-half-hour testament to his endurance. He’d typically soak three to four T-shirts a night in sweat, contribute guttural backing vocals, and headbang so many times that he eventually gave himself whiplash.

It’s a different world in 2020. From his home studio in Jupiter Inlet Colony, he now leads the Chophouse Band, a mostly roots-rock quartet with a song catalog as eclectic as its audience.

He plays for local charities, not personal profit. Instead of arenas, the Chophouse performs at cozy venues around the corner, like the Maltz Jupiter Theatre or Tequesta’s Lighthouse ArtCenter, where in February a standing-room-only audience of 278—from seniors to kids in Metallica shirts—listened to a mix of reimagined country and Americana staples (“Seminole Wind,” “Folsom Prison Blues”), Tom Petty-esque originals and, finally, bona fide heavy metal, rattling the roof of the art gallery—where, in the next room, Newsted’s visual art, a vocation he picked up while recovering from a shoulder injury, hung for purchase.

He was dressed for a cocktail party, in crisp dress shirt and sport coat, and he dedicated one of his ambling originals to his wife, Nicole, a fellow-artist.

A love song? From a metal guy? Get used to it: These days, Newsted is all about confounding expectations.

“When they mention it to their grandson that a guy from Metallica lives in their neighborhood—no, it can’t be. They believe the Doobie Brothers, Creedence. But the guy from Metallica lives by Grandma? No.”

WHAT APPEALS TO YOU ABOUT JUPITER?

These particular 244 homes in this little enclave have their own police station. It’s one way in, one way out. … The police come by to see if they can hang with us, and people gather by the mailbox, and bring a beer, and listen. That’s the vibe. People don’t go, “turn that shit down!” It’s exactly the opposite.

HOW DEEP IS YOUR SONG ARCHIVE WITH THE CHOPHOUSE?

I keep two bibles—heroes, and my songs. I try to stay at about 100 in the bible of heroes—everything from Zeppelin to John Prine to Dolly Parton. My [personal] song bible is probably between 24 and 32, most of them in the last 10 months. The band’s favorite band collectively is Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. I’ve become friends with [Isbell] over the past couple of years, and taken time to learn 20 of his songs. We always perform at least one in the set, trying to make it my own—kind of the idea with all of them.

ARE THERE FANS WHO HOPE YOU PLAY METALLICA STUFF?

I f**k with them every once in a while. I’ll do one figure of a song.

WHAT KIND OF FULFILLMENT DO YOU GET FROM PLAYING IN INTIMATE THEATERS?

I could do a stadium here, or a tour of arenas, depending on who asks me at what time. But I play by my own rules. … I already went to the top of that mountain. Those guys can continue to carve paths in that mountain, and climb higher. But … I did that. I’m still living, breathing, happy right now, coming up on my 57th birthday.

I’VE HEARD YOUR VISUAL ART REFERRED TO AS A HOBBY. IS THAT HOW YOU SEE IT?

It’s not a hobby. I pretty much make pictures five days a week. In 2010, I started selling pieces, and I was surprised at what they paid for things then. In 2010, the most expensive was $15,000. In 2018, I sold a piece for $110,000. I learned a lot about the business very quickly. There’s a lot of similarities to rock ‘n’ roll; it’s show business. It doesn’t matter so much how much it’s sold for as what it’s hanging with. So if my picture’s hanging with Picasso and Basquiat, and they send me a picture of mine hanging next to my heroes—I would have given it for free.

This story is from the May/June 2020 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.