Ross halfin gav nyligen ut den ursnygga boken "The ultimate Metallica". En fotobok modell större med allehanda bilder från i stort sett hela bandets karriär.
Själv växte jag upp med Halfins bilder i Kerrang och tyckte nu att det kunde vara dags för ett snack med den legendariske fotografen. Under två samtal pratade vi bl a om Metallica, hans vänskap med Jimmy Page, band han fotat under karriären och mycket mer.
Man kan lugnt säga att Ross är oerhört ärlig och säger precis vad han tycker och tänker om saker och ting.
How are you Ross?
Ross Halfin: Wonderful!
Is it snowing in London too?
RH: No! Where are you?
I´m in Stockholm, so we´ve got tons of snow.
RH: Alright! Obviously!
First off, what was the main reason for putting out the book “The ultimate Metallica”?
RH: To make money! Lots of money! No, I just wanted to do a book where they were involved in. The other two I´ve done, they were not. I wasn´t working for them anymore and I thought it would be good to do a book that they had some input in. That was it.
How do you go about picking pictures for something like that?
RH: I didn´t pick any of them. A guy called Noriaki Wanatabe did it. I said “I can´t face doing it!” and he likes Metallica. I met him on the first Japanese tour and I said “Nori, you go and pick all the pictures for this book!” and he did.
That must be like thousands?
RH: Thousands yeah, because I couldn´t bring myself to go through them. I mean, there are certain things in the book that I would´ve changed now, earlier ones, but I think he did a good job. Everybody likes something for a different reason and what I particularly like doesn´t mean it´s something Metallica would like.
True! This exhibition of yours in Australia, was that mainly to tie it in with the Australian dates?
RH: Well, I was going to have a general exhibition of everything I´ve shot and then I realized as Metallica was down there, the Gallery said if I would be interested in just doing a Metallica one and I said “Yeah, why not!”, because the book´s out so it makes good sense.
How about the Australian tour then? You tagged along there for quite a while.
RH: Yeah, yeah! I was there at the end of it.
What´s that like these days when it comes to the Metallica camp? Is it more business than music these days?
RH: Well, they´re quite good fun to be around, but I think being with the Internet and everything and the whole thing they´ve got with the meet and greet, and it´s all about to warm up his voice… they get there at five o´clock and it´s very much a schedule of what they have to do, so yeah, it is more business, but you know, people aren´t drinking and being stupid like they used to be. I mean, the mistake people make is the music business is a business, you know. They´re there to make money and sell tickets. There is the musical part of it and it´s fun, but it is a business, the same as BMW is a business. It´s true!
There were a couple of years when you weren´t in touch with each other.
RH: Eleven years! Yeah! Basically it started because Lars wanted to use Anton Corbijn, simple as that. The others all said no, but Lars will always get his way, you know. That´s basically it and I was sort of relegated into like “You´re not important, Anton is!” and I´m like “Fuck you!” and Lars´ attitude was “Fuck you!”, you know. He used to sleep on my couch, but Lars was a social climber. He was very friendly but he would always be like “Who´s more important?”, you know. I like to think… I mean, Anton is a very good photographer, but he´s not a Metallica photographer at all!
No, I think more of U2 and Johnny Cash when I think about him.
RH: Yeah, Cash and U2 and R.E.M. I mean, everything he takes is the same. Anton is not stupid. He doesn´t do it because he likes Metallica, he does it because they pay him a lot of money.
When all this started and I guess it was mainly Lars… I just finished reading Mick Wall´s book and did it all kind of start when Lars started wearing the white leather jacket?
RH: Weeell… he became a bit sort of like infatuated with the whole Guns N´Roses scene, which they all hated. I´ve got a picture of him in it. No, they really did! But they were all guilty, not just him! They´re all the same. Since I´ve gone back working with them, they´re great! They´re easy and we respect each other a lot more. They came to me, I never went to them.
So I guess you see yourself working with them again?
RH: I hope so! I do! I enjoy working with them. I had the most fun in Australia than I´ve had on all the tours with them.
Is it mostly live shots or is it studio shots?
RH: No, the problem… the stuff that I do with them, they want to use it first. That´s the problem with the Internet. I stopped posting stuff on my website, because people just take it and start sticking it on fan sites and using it. If you´re being paid to shoot something that the band wants to use for products, they don´t want it on some fucking fan site six months before, so that´s why I don´t post stuff. People have no respect!
Your history? You started out in Sounds and then Kerrang, what was it like working in those days compared to today?
RH: Ah, completely different! You could do anything you wanted. Now it´s a corporate run empire. Everybody has sold everything to Live Nation and all the different corporations. It´s purely a corporate run business. When I first started you did whatever you wanted. There was no merchandise, there was none of this, it was just magazines. Now they´re more interested in whether they can get the rights to wallpaper online. It´s true!
(laughs) Do you remember the first picture you got published?
RH: The first picture I got published was a band called Dirty Tricks who opened for Ted Nugent in ´76 at the Hammersmith Odeon.
That must´ve been a special feeling?
RH: Yeah, it was actually. I was like “Wow!”. In those days you were like excited. (laughs) Now, I don´t even care. The more things I look at now is whether or not they´re gonna pay me.
I read your diary on your website and you put up the latest stuff from the latest magazines and it´s so much.
RH: For magazines now days I don´t put everything up. I just tend put things up that I like. I don´t put up anything that comes. I mean, I probably would have if I was 20, you know, but not now. I just put the odd thing I think look good.
What would you say is the most fun band you´ve ever shot?
RH: UFO in the day. Who did you think it was?
Well, I thought Metallica when you were really in that moment and maybe AC/DC and stuff like that.
RH: Yeah, they were fun early on but they were like dealing with a bunch of school children, you know. UFO were a little bit more fun because they were more adult. Metallica were more juvenile, so there´s a big difference.
Did you see Metallica becoming something big when you met them the first time?
RH: No, I thought it was a rubbish band and they would never go anywhere. I never thought they would be big. Amateurish! They were like a garage kids band. I thought “This won´t happen!”. They were just like bad Iron Maiden wannabees. It was only after they played The Palladium and they were opening for Armored Saint and it was Armored Saint´s hometown show and Armored Saint seriously could not follow them on stage. And then that tour with Van Halen and the Scorpions.
The Monsters of Rock tour?
RH: Yeah! When Metallica had played, half the audience were leaving and I thought “Hrmmm, something´s going on here?”.
I read in an interview from 2007 and I also get it from your diary on your website, that you´re very honest when it comes to opinions and what you think of bands.
Has that ever been a problem when working with people?
RH. Yeah, many times. I had a big fall out with the Foo Fighters over it last year, but we made up. Lots of them. Robert Plant… many people, because they don´t care. You know, musicians, at the end of the day they only care about two things and that´s themselves and money. And they are not your friend. You can have a good time with them, hang out with them, have fun with them, but there´s only a few of them that I would call friends, a handful, if that. The rest of them are just business acquaintances.
What will be your next big project?
RH: My travel book.
Is that out yet?
RH: No, in February. I stopped it form coming out because it was Christmas and if it came out then it would just get lost.
And that´s just pictures from travelling the world?
RH: Yeah, there´s no pictures of bands what so ever.
Favorite country you´ve been to then?
RH: I like Asia. You can travel for an hour and it´s just a completely different country. The place I´d most like to go where I´ve never been is Easter Islands. Just like to get there.
When I read your diary it´s kind of like when I read Henry Rollins column in LA Weekly once a week, he´s never at home and he´s always somewhere in Africa or something and it seems to be the same with you. Does it ever get tiresome being on the road that much?
RH: Very much so. When things are tiresome you´ve gotta look at… I think my job is hard, but you go and explain that to a miner that my job is hard or you go and explain it to someone who ploughs a field that my job is hard, it´s not hard! You go and explain it to someone who digs a ditch all their life, you know. But it´s stressful. The easy part is taking the pictures, the hard part is dealing with the people around it. How old are you?
I´m turning 40 in a month.
RH: Well, then you understand. When you´re younger, you don´t care about anything and when you get older you have mortgages, you have family, you have bills to pay, you know. You have to deal with the real world. An old girlfriend of mine said that “You´re blessed because you get to do things you want!” and a lot of people don´t. When I´m in rush hour, sitting on a train and it´s sold out, I think “Well at least I don´t have to do this every week!”. Are you a Metallica fan?
Well, I´m a music fan and Metallica is just a small part of it. But I like them a lot!
RH. Oh yeah, I like them! There was a period when I didn´t like them, but that was more like personal issues, I suppose, if I´m honest.
How´s Jimmy Page doing these days? I understand that you have a great friendship with him.
RH: I do! He´s doing nothing. I would say he´s retired. He says he isn´t retired, but I would say he is retired. (laughs) “No, I´m doing this and I´m doing that!”. What does he do? Nothing! That´s my view of him.
What was your opinion after the reunion show? Would you have liked them to have gone out on tour?
RH: Yeah, absolutely! They agreed to do 20 shows and the Robert Plant wouldn´t do it. He just wanted it to sell his solo career full stop.
Do you think it will ever happen now?
RH: No! But you never know because people are greedy, but that band has a lot of money and they´re old. They´re all getting old. Jimmy Page is 67 in a week. He´s an old man! And then also, I could see them doing Led Zeppelin, but I can´t see them doing anything else. They could make a lot of money, but then again, there´s too much bad blood between them.
What dou yo get a guy like Jimmy Page for his birthday?
RH: He doesn´t celebrate his birthday. Something Satanic from somewhere, how´s that?
Makes sense. Do you have any idea what the next band will be that you´ll work with?
RH: Jeff Beck apparently in a couple of weeks. I´m going to Thailand next week with Brian Wheat from Tesla.
Ok! I interviewed him a couple of years ago.
RH: I just photographed his group Soulmotor, which are really good, they´re excellent.
Yeah, I have one of their albums actually.
RH: One of their albums, ok! So I´m going to Thailand with him for a week and then I come home and do Jeff Beck. Maybe Kings of Leon in Australia.
You´ve done a lot of work with KISS as well?
RH: Yeah, I love KISS! I like Paul Stanley. He´s great!
A guy like Gene Simmons…?
RH: I like Gene, but he´s a bullshitter! If you want something straight forward, ask Paul! Paul runs that band.
You mentioned that UFO was the most fun you´ve ever shot. What was it about UFO that made them stand out more than others?
RH: They had their own style and when I went to America with them, they were very British as well in their own way. They looked really good, whereas a band like Metallica had no identity, UFO had identity.
When you went to Australia with Metallica, how much gear do you bring?
RH: Not much really. I tend to hire it now. I used to take lighting and everything, large format cameras, but since digital I tend to take 35 mm and if I need lighting I hire it where I am. I used to take everything and it´s a pain in the arse.
When you do live shoots, are you restrained to shoot for the first three songs as well?
RH: No, I won´t shoot for three songs. I refuse! If they want me, I shoot what I want.
Has it always been like that?
RH: No, it was actually started by Rush, because what would happen is that local photographers in America, for the newspapers, only need one picture and they would always use flash and it annoyed them, so they would say “For the first three songs, flash, and then no flash!” and that slowly got changed into the first three songs and then no photo. But it never used to be like that at all.
You read about big artists playing and then there´s no photos from the show because they (the papers) were supposed to sign a contract and so on.
RH: That´s because the music business now is so corporate that it´s only run by Live Nation and artists are all trying to control everything, because of the websites. I agree it´s ridiculous.
When a magazine uses your pictures and pays for them, can they do whatever they want with them after that?
RH: No! One use only! They buy the one use.
Like with Metallica, you must´ve taken thousands of photos. What happens to the stuff that you don´t use?
RH: I´ve got it! It´s in my files. I´ve got a huge collection of it. Huge archives.
During all these years you´ve been photographing, what would be the most decadent thing you´ve ever seen? Have there ever been places, like backstage, where you´ve shot things and then people saying that you can´t use it?
RH: Oh yeah! But you´ve got to have respect, but Mötely Crüe really, because they didn´t care. They would just abuse people and they couldn´t care less. You shoot things of bands in their 20´s or when you´re young, then when you´re 50 and married with kids, you don´t want people to see it.
True! You mentioned that you had some trouble recently with Foo Fighters, care to mention anything about that?
RH: It was more their management really. Not the band themselves.
Is that usually the problem, the management?
RH: Yeah, it always is, yeah. Management are always pampering them. Treat them like they´re not adults.
That´s always the image you get, like with a band like Mötley Crüe, that they were or have always been like a bunch of teenagers that never grew up.
RH: Juveniles, yeah! They get their own way because they make a lot of money. All bands are like that. All bands only care about two things, themselves and money at the end of the day and the reality is that they can get away with it because of who they are, you know. Being rude to people and acting like spoiled children. Any other kid, you´d whack them and send them to bed! It´s true!
Like the film with Metallica, “Some kind of monster”. How much of it do you think was…
RH: I´ve never seen it! Why would I wanna watch it, I know them?
But how much from the Metallica organization was it about keeping them going because they make a lot of money?
RH: I´ve never seen it so I can´t comment on that. I think it was more… Lars is a real big filmbuff and he wanted to have a film at Sundance Film Festival.
Ok. When did you really become friends with Jimmy Page? Did that start early on?
RH: About late 80´s. When Oliver, my kid, was… maybe it was in 91, I met him on holiday in Florida. I photographed him a lot and our kids were the same age and we hung out, that´s all. Then his daughter worked for me for two years, as an assistant, so I sort of got to know him more as a friend, socially rather that professionally.
He´s got this really expensive book out from Genesis Publishing, why do you think he did it that way?
RH: Because he likes limited editions. He collects old books and Genesis make books how thet used to make books 50 years ago. Handmade, hand stitched, printed on the best paper and so on. Everybody moans about the cost! They don´t complain if it´s a Beatles book, do they? What´s the difference? It´s only pathetic people that complain. I think eventually it will come out as a mass book, in a smaller version.
How did you hook up with Brian Wheat of all people?
RH: I´ve known him since they first opened for Def Leppard. Q Prime managed Def Leppard and they managed Tesla, so I did their first shoots. I´ve been friends with him for years and years.
Cool! Reading from your diary, you see each other quite a lot.
RH: Yeah, he likes to travel and we´re off to Asia tonight for a few days and then we come home and he´s back to his job.
How many days of the year do you spend away from home?
RH: Not as much as you´d think. You do it in chunks. Not as much as I used to. When you were younger you didn´t care and as you get older you only like doing it in bits.
I was going through your website and found a list of all the bands you´ve worked with through the years and thought you might comment on some of the bands:
Guns N´Roses? You took pictures of them early on.
RH: Yeah, they were great early on and then it all got so big quickly that the manager and Axl took it over. That´s what happened. Axl´s very controlling. If you meet him, he´s actually very nice and then when you´re not there he starts getting paranoid.
Is he crazy?
RH: Yeah, I´d say he probably is. More paranoid than crazy. He doesn´t trust anyone, that´s what I´m thinking. And he´s got people there wiping his ass all day long, so what can you say.
RH: What do you want to know?
What´s it like working with them and not working with them?
RH: I didn´t work with them in a period where I didn´t particularly like them and I didn´t care. Early on they were fun, but now it´s more like a business. It´s more fun because everybody has respect for each other. I do what I want and I come and go. It´s good and I enjoy working with them. They´re a lot more mature.
About Jason, because I don´t think anyone really understood until after he left, what he had been through with the band? Did you see anything of that, how they treated him in the band?
RH: Yeah, but Jason was a dick when he joined! Jason was always a bit of an outsider and he sort of sided with James and he fell out with James and that was the end of it. Lars never liked him and Kirk never liked him! That´s a fact. I like Jason a lot more since he stopped being in the band.
And Cliff Burton? Everywhere you read, you always read that he was the fantastic person…
RH: He was! He was very down to earth. He was good! They all came to him for a yes or a no, even Lars.
Have you read the Mick Wall book?
RH: No! Why would I want to read a book on Metallica?
RH: Oh, a pain in the arse! Steven is like not happy unless he´s unhappy. It´s all this drama. Everything is high drama. I like them as a band and they´re great to shoot. Every simple thing is drama. Whatever you want to do, Steven wants to do the opposite.
RH: I don´t do them anymore! I think they look like a bunch of builders, you know. It´s very funny, because they say that they don´t care about how they look, but they really do care about how they look. At the end of the day you have to end up cutting your hair short to look more mature and you can´t try and carry on looking like 20 and they still do. I like Steve Harris very much as a person, but I mean, he´s very narcissistic.
RH: I love Judas Priest! I don´t see them that much, but they´re one of my favorite bands. Great, great band!
Van Halen? You did classic Van Halen?
RH: Yeah. I shot Edward before he sobered up and he was appaling. A horrible, horrible drunk! But Edward is like another one who doesn´t trust anyone, thinks everybody´s out to get him and everything´s done cheaply. The classic Van Halen was amazing!
Yeah, they were. I just bought a Japanese bootleg from South Korea. Live at Starwood in 1976.
RH: Yeah, that´s been around. When they did covers and stuff. Any good?
Yeah, it is. It´s actually a soundboard recording.
RH: Alright, good for you!
Thanks! I read that you thought Tyla from Dogs DÁmour was the worst ever.
RH: Yeah, worst person I´ve ever worked with. He was so drunk. He had an entourage of like 10 people and it was like he was lecturing me. He was such a dick!
Did you take the pictures of him cutting himself?
RH: No, not me. But I remember shooting him at the time in LA and I had an assistant, Toschi, and he´s really polite and he said “What an asshole!” about Tyla. He thought he was really great and he wasn´t!
He lived here in Stockholm for many years.
RH: Yeah, well he´s just a drunk. That´s probably why he likes Sweden.
Yeah! Well, one of my favorite old bands from the 80´s. Ratt?
RH: I always liked Ratt! Robbin Crosby was a great guy and then he started using heroine and got AIDS and he died. One of the last times I saw him was on a street in Hollywood and he had bare feet and he asked me for some money. A friend of him said “Don´t give it to him! He´ll just buy drugs!”. I felt terrible. He was a really nice guy. I always liked ratt. I liked Bobby Blotzer and Warren. Really underrated band.
I saw that you worked with a Swedish band, Backyard Babies?
RH: They looked good. Would I listen to them? I find they were all a bit substandard Hanoi Rocks, you know. But they looked good. Do they mean anything in Sweden?
Yeah, they do actually. The singer´s got a new band now and he´s gonna be in the runner up for the Eurovision Song Contest.
RH: Is he the one with the ring through his lip?
No, that´s Dregen, the guitar player. Do you think a band like Kings of Leon will be as big when the U2´s and Stones are gone?
RH: They can write songs, so you wouldn´t be surprised. You never know. I saw Vampire Weekend on TV the other day and they were terrible.
Have you ever thought about doing a book on KISS?
Was 1980 the first time you shot them?
RH: No, I shot them before that. In 1979 in America. Honestly I don´t think it would sell, outside of Sweden. People have asked me and people write me on the Internet “Why don´t you do this book?”.
I also saw that you shot Pamela Anderson.
RH: Oh, she was all fucked up! Was it with Aerosmith maybe?
She´s standing with this guy, John Bionelli.
RH: Yeah, he worked for Steven Tyler and she was all drunk. That´s all I can tell you.
I read that one of your early inspirations was Fin Costello.
RH: I thought he had a very artistic approach to what he did.
Is he still around?
RH: Well, Fin´s a bit of a scam artist and the last I heard of him he was in Ireland. He was scamming people. He sold his files years ago and now he says that he owns them. I don´t really know, but I heard he was back in Ireland. No idea.
Finally, I started buying Kerrang in the early 80´s and I was always looking at your pictures and mark Weiss and Neil Zlozower.
RH: Mark Weiss is terrible! Neil was really good!
You must´ve come across each other?
RH: Yeah, and Mark would always try and undercut me, but he had no concept of lighting or anything. But Zlozower is a really good photographer. I like Neil a lot. He stands up for stuff!
Well, thank you very much Ross and I hope you have a great time in Thailand!
RH: Thank you!
Ross Halfins hemsida