“I love that sound”: Kirk Hammett on how Johnny Ramone inspired his downpicking technique
“He was keeping time by doing just downstrokes — he practically created a whole genre of doing that.”
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“I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, and it’s all because of The Ramones and The Sex Pistols,” the guitarist tells Rick Beato in a new interview.
The advantages of downpicking, says Hammett, is having more high-end and less percussion: “You must have the palm of your hand as close to the saddle as possible, but I love that sound. You can hear it in any Ramones song,” he says, adding that he’d become “really good friends” with the rocker.
“He was a really, really funny guy, really a crazy, divisive character, he was a contrarian, just for his own amusement. You’d say something, he would just instantly counter it,” Hammett says. “And, you know, I would let him have his opinions. And then I’d say, ‘John, you know, you’ve been a huge influence on me’ — I’d tell him this all the time — he goes, ‘How can I be an influence on you? I said, ‘The way you pick! It had an influence on so many people.'”
“And I said, ‘How did you come up with that?’ And he goes, ‘I was just counting. That’s the only way I could count, through downstrokes. It was the only way he could keep time! He was keeping time by doing just downstrokes — he practically created a whole genre of doing that.”
Elsewhere in the chat, Hammett talks about the importance of improvisation in his music and the way he enjoys the sense of “danger” and “excitement” the technique brings for both the audience and the performing musician.
“I consider myself an improvisational musician first and foremost – not a heavy metal guy, not a guitar player,” he says. “Because I believe that improvisation is everything… Everything comes from improvisation — technique, songwriting, solving musical problems, it’s all improvisation.”
The guitarist also claims that modern bands “work things out too much”, saying: “Everything is so thought out and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that — pop bands, that’s their thing. But I just miss that improvisational aspect, I miss that danger of not knowing what’s going to happen while you’re watching this band.”