An Inside Look At Lars Ulrich's Life And Career

If the world of heavy metal had its own version of Mount Rushmore, one of the prime candidates for inclusion would have to be Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. In October 1981, he and James Hetfield combined their powers for the first time (via Metallica), as the two set course to ride the lightning and take metal to the masses. Since then, Ulrich has been praised by fans for his signature beats and driving energy, while he's also been vilified by detractors for finding himself engulfed in some of Metallica's biggest scandals. His outspoken ways have made him a polarizing figure in the music industry, and Ulrich owns the fact that he can believe and say something in a specific moment while also being able to change his perspective later on, as he revealed to Vulture. Bottom line is, he's never a boring person to interview.

To get the full picture of who Ulrich really is, though, it's important to take a look at his overall life and see what shaped him and led him to become a heavy metal legend. From having to make the decision between music and tennis to his onstage clash with his partner-in-metal, James Hetfield, let's explore the life and times of Metallica's Lars Ulrich.

He comes from a family of sports stars

Unsurprisingly, Lars Ulrich comes from a creatively inclined family. As revealed in Sports Illustrated, his father, Torben (pictured), threw himself into film, poetry, and even music as he played with jazz icon Louis Armstrong. However, Torben is best known for his professional tennis career, where he competed at the highest level and represented Denmark in the Davis Cup over 100 times.

In an interview with So What!, Torben revealed that an interest in sports stretches even further back in the Ulrich family tree, as his parents were both accomplished athletes as well. He discussed how his father, Einer, played football for the Danish club now commonly known as F.C. Copenhagen and even became a referee for the league's matches later on in his life. He also played tennis and won titles in his home country. Torben explained how his mother, Ulla, also played tennis and secured her own championships in the process. Despite their mutual passion for the sport, Einer and Ulla never experienced mixed doubles success on the big stage, according to Torben.

Deep Purple made Lars Ulrich fall in love with music

Music is all around us, as songs captivate and allure listeners through different and pivotal stages of their lives. However, there are a-ha moments or special experiences that turn casual listeners into passionate fans who want to become musicians, too. The same happened to Lars Ulrich, as he revealed to Radio that his deep admiration for English rock band Deep Purple charted the course for his musical career.

"They have probably been the primary musical backbone in my body ever since I first heard them when I was 9 years old," Ulrich said, adding how Deep Purple was considered the top of the tops in Denmark when he was growing up, so he naturally gravitated toward their music.

Ulrich and Metallica went on to pay the ultimate homage to Deep Purple by contributing to the tribute album "Re-Machined: A Tribute to Deep Purple's Machine Head" (via Metallica), where the heavy metal band provided a cover of the track "When a Blind Man Cries." Metallica has also covered other Deep Purple songs in their live gigs, such as the time they thrashed out a powerful metal rendition of "Mistreated" in 1992.

He turned down a tennis career after seeing the passion and power of music

With the Ulrich family having a strong connection to the sport of tennis, there was a belief that Lars would follow in his father, grandfather, and grandmother's footsteps and compete on the world's court. For a time in his teenage years, he held the same ambition as well, as he moved from Denmark to America and planned to become a professional tennis player, as per Kerrang. However, the dreams of perfect serves and rackets came to an end when Ulrich discovered the power of drums, distortion, and electric live gigs in Los Angeles' nightlife. He became mesmerized by the whole atmosphere and mystique surrounding music while gradually losing interest in tennis.

"I was starting to realize that if I wanted to really get anywhere playing tennis," he said, "I would have to spend eight hours a day on the court and there was this grind in front of me that didn't have quite the same allure anymore."

Ulrich added that his decision to quit tennis and pursue music didn't happen overnight. Instead, it was a process that took place over a period of time.

He experiences tinnitus after years of playing with Metallica

While Metallica might have a few softer numbers such as "The Unforgiven" and "Nothing Else Matters," most of their songs are turned up to 11. The music is heavy, fast, and blaring like a klaxon. In the early years, Lars Ulrich would simply hop onstage, blast his drums, and be engrossed in the thunderous music, never giving too much concern to the noise levels around him. As a result, he began to experience hearing loss and ringing in the ears, also known as tinnitus, as he revealed to CNN.

Ulrich realized his hearing had been impacted during a 1988 tour. "I would fall asleep often with the television on, and I would wake up in the middle of the night to go turn the TV off," he said. "Except it wasn't actually on. When I realized that I was doing that frequently, actually getting up to turn the TV off that was not on to begin with, I realized that maybe I had some issues."

The Metallica drummer explained how he began to protect his ears after this; however, the tinnitus never went away and he simply had to live with it. Due to this, he is more acutely aware of the damage loud music can do to someone, so he encourages others to protect and preserve their hearing before it's too late.

He says Noel Gallagher inspired him to give up drugs

Despite Oasis being remembered as a seminal band of the '90s Britpop scene, the Gallagher brothers — Noel (pictured) and Liam — are equally as famous for not getting along and the endless controversies that follow them around. However, Noel did do something positive once upon a time that inspired Lars Ulrich to give up a bad habit, as the Metallica drummer revealed to Mirror.

Ulrich disclosed that when Metallica partied, he found his alcohol tolerance to be lower than his bandmates and friends. Somewhere in that time period, he discovered cocaine would help to keep him awake and prevent him from crashing as early as he used to, so he started to use it. "Then [years ago], I read an interview with Noel Gallagher, in which he said: 'I just stopped doing cocaine,'" Ulrich said. "I thought that was really cool: It felt so fresh, so honest, so pure — I love that side of him. I've never had an addictive personality, so I woke up one day and said: 'enough.'"

But Metallica hasn't turned into Hulk Hogan, who tells children to say their prayers and take their vitamins. Ulrich insisted the band can still let loose when they want to.

Lars Ulrich still shivers thinking about Metallica's first gig

In all fairness, most musicians look back at their first performances in horror. It could be due to their dated haircuts and horrid outfits, or maybe it's the fact that they weren't the most polished of musicians onstage at the time. However, for Lars Ulrich, it was for another reason — the same one that sends shivers down the spine of every musician when they first decide to perform live.

Speaking to Classic Rock, Ulrich discussed the details surrounding Metallica's first gig in 1982. He explained how the first song they played was "Hit the Lights," but Dave Mustaine, their guitarist at the time, suffered a major oops when his guitar string broke during the song. The guitarist needed to restring his guitar before the next track, and there was an uncomfortable silence until he did so.

"I was just sitting up there trying to hide behind these drums," Ulrich said. "It was the strangest thing. But Dave got the guitar back together and we ended up playing the rest of the set. But there was a significant lull there. Trust me, I start shivering just talking about it now."

He has a favorite Metallica song to play live

It's a cliche in the music industry that every time someone asks a musician which is their favorite song or album, they will always say it's the latest one. It makes sense from a marketing point of view — a performer will always want to push their newest work to drum up some interest for it, even if it means telling a little white lie in the process. But Lars Ulrich isn't known for doing what's expected of him, and he provided a surprising answer when asked about his favorite Metallica song.

"'Sad but True,'" he told GQ. "I just love playing that song. I play it a little differently each time. I love the tempo and giving it a different interpretation every time I play it."

The track, off the band's eponymous 1991 album, is also incredibly popular among the Metallica fan base, as well as with other musicians. Kid Rock sampled the track for his single "American Bad A**," while The Hu released a Mongolian cover version of the song.

He credits James Hetfield for helping him get out of fights

Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield have been married in music for over 40 years. The two bandmates have shared in the highs and lows of Metallica, with each of them being integral to the group's success and legacy. Recording and touring together for all those years takes a toll on a relationship, as there have been moments when they haven't gotten along — the documentary "Some Kind of Monster" famously exposed more than a few of their issues.

Yet, at the end of the day, Ulrich and Hetfield share something special. Their bond is something that isn't found in many bands, as they have been able to navigate intra-band turmoil and personal issues to stay together as Metallica for so long. Appearing on "The Howard Stern Show," Ulrich confirmed that Hetfield had once punched him in the face because the frontman hadn't liked how the drummer had played a song. But Ulrich also revealed that Hetfield has had his back when he's found himself in skirmishes with others.

The drummer credited Hetfield as his "big brother," admitting how he would find himself in numerous tense situations after running his mouth off, and it would be Hetfield who would step in to handle the fights for him.

He regrets turning down Quentin Tarantino's request to use Metallica's music

Metallica are no strangers to seeing their music utilized in films and television. The heavy metal band provided the delectable single "I Disappear" to the "Mission: Impossible 2" soundtrack, while their thrashing classic "Master of Puppets" became a major plot point of the Season 4 finale of "Stranger Things."

As it turns out, the group even had the opportunity to have their music featured in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill"; however, they turned down the filmmaker's request. It's something that Lars Ulrich regrets, as he revealed in an op-ed piece titled "My Favorite Mistake" that he wrote for The Daily Beast.

Discussing the experience, Ulrich explained how he had dinner with Tarantino, who pitched the idea of featuring "Enter Sandman" and "Sad but True" in two fight scenes from "Kill Bill." The filmmaker sent Ulrich the script to read, but the musician stated it all went over his head at the time. Ulrich admitted he had the desire to give Tarantino the go-ahead; however, he simply never did. After seeing what the filmmaker did with "Kill Bill," he realized it was a rare missed opportunity for himself and Metallica. That being said, he continues to be a big fan of Tarantino's movies.

He openly admits to being an impatient person

Watch any live Metallica performance or interview with Lars Ulrich, and one thing is abundantly clear: He is an energetic individual. There's a sense of excitement and a get-up-and-go approach to his demeanor and personality. In a 2016 interview with Scandinavian talk show Skavlan, Ulrich confessed he is highly amped-up and enthusiastic as a person. At the same time, this does have a consequential side effect for those around him.

"My breaking point is impatience," he said. "And I'm always so like, 'C'mon, let's get going. What are we doing? C'mon.' So, when people are kind of slouching along and all over the place, that sets my buttons off. So it's like, let's hurry up and get going."

Without a shadow of a doubt, Ulrich's sense of urgency has been a plus point for Metallica, too. His determination and drive played a major role in ensuring the band was started in the first place and has helped keep Metallica going for over four decades.

He's a big fan of Rage Against the Machine

As a band, Metallica has worn their influences, such as the Misfits, on their sleeve. It's easy to trace the healthy doses of punk, thrash, classic rock, and metal in the group's music, as it's there for everyone to hear. However, just because Metallica counts certain bands among their influences doesn't mean Lars Ulrich is confined to the same interests.

There have been more than a few times when Ulrich has professed to pumping a little Rage Against the Machine (pictured) to get him in the mood for the day. He told GQ that he enjoys performing karaoke to the band's hard-hitting track "Killing in the Name," while admitting to Classic Rock he spent significant time during the pandemic playing along to Rage Against the Machine's self-titled album.

But Ulrich's musical interests also branch out further than the genres of hard rock and heavy metal. He revealed to Mirror in 2014 that he looked forward to watching the likes of the Black Keys, the Horrors, and Dolly Parton at the Glastonbury music festival.

Lars Ulrich provided sage advice to his musician sons

The passion for music runs deep in the Ulrich family, as two of Lars' sons, Myles and Layne (pictured), are also musicians and determined to make a career out of it. In fact, Lars was so proud of his boys that he gushed about their cover of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" to Rolling Stone in 2020.

Afterward, Myles and Layne formed the indie band known as Taipei Houston in 2021, with Myles playing drums and Layne handling vocals and bass duties, as per NME. Expectedly, their father has been supportive of their endeavors and provided practical and valuable advice, as they revealed to Rock Sound.

Myles explained how Lars' guidance has largely been about the workings of the music industry, while also telling them to get out there and play rather than bide their time waiting for the right moments. Judging by the fact that Taipei Houston shared the stage with the Melvins and signed with C3 Records in rapid-fire fashion after their inception, it appears as if the Ulrich boys listened to their father's advice.