Thursday, March 06, 2008

Metallica embraces U. P. native

U. P. native Steven Wiig, left, works for Metallica co-founder Lars Ulrich, right. He also appeared in the movie "Into the Wild," released on DVD this week.


Upper Peninsula native Steven Wiig will never forget the date he saw Metallica perform at Brown County Arena a few months after the heavy metal band released their self-titled album.

Wiig will tell you the day, Nov. 12, 1991, changed his life forever.

Born in Negaunee, Wiig had travelled to Green Bay to see Metallica perform "Enter Sandman," "The Unforgiven," "Nothing Else Matters," and other tracks from the massively-successful compact disc known by fans as the "Black Album."

Released three months before, the album elevated Metallica from cult status to major headliners. Founded in Los Angeles a decade earlier, the band included drummer Lars Ulrich, vocalist James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bass player Jason Newsted.

Attending his first Metallica concert, Wiig stuck around after the show and met Ulrich, who co-founded the group with Hetfield. "We hit it off pretty quickly," Wiig told me about meeting Ulrich.

Wiig, now 35, is a 1991 graduate of Negaunee High School where he played football, basketball and tennis, as well as participating in band as a trumpet player. The son of high school teachers, he continued his education at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. but, to pursue his goals, Wiig decided to move to Duluth, then Minneapolis, where he met his wife, the former Tricia Wheeler. They were married on June 30, 2001.

In Minnesota, he played music and began working with Metallica, first on the road and later in the studio. After doing that for a few years, Wiig was invited to move to California to work with the band full-time.

Over the years, he and Ulrich became close friends.

"I've been working with them for around twelve years now and my role has been constantly evolving," Wiig told me. "My current 'title' would be personal assistant, which covers a lot of ground. It's constantly changing, depending on which cycle we're in. I work and travel with the band year around-- at home, in the studio and on tour. I mainly work with Lars, who is the 'business center' of the band."

While that may seem time-consuming enough, Wiig also plays in a Metallica-related band called Papa Wheelie.

Formed in 1996, the group is fronted by Battle Creek native Jason Newsted, Metallica's bass player from 1986 to 2001. Wiig plays drums and occasionally guitar for the band which also includes bass player Joefus, while Newsted handles vocal and guitar duties.

Papa Wheelie has released two compact discs so far, "Unipsycho" and "Live Lycanthrophy," which was recorded at the famous The Plant Studio in Sausalito, Calif., and issued on Chophouse Records. "We're on hiatus right now due to Jason Newsted's recurring shoulder injury--not to mention my family and current work commitments," Wiig said.

Newsted, who injured himself trying to catch a falling bass amp head, is working through a lengthy rehabilitation process.

In the meantime, Wiig is raising his two-year-old son, Magnus with his wife Tricia, and continuing his involvement in movie work. He appeared in the documentary "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster," but increased his visibility considerably with a role in last year's "Into the Wild," directed by Sean Penn.

Based on a book by Jon Krakauer, "Into the Wild" tells the story of Christopher McCandless, who gave up a promising career to live-- and eventually die-- in the Alaskan wilderness. Wiig plays Ranger Steve Koehler in the film which was released on DVD March 4.

"I'm honored to be part of such a moving story and amazing film. It was a great experience working with Sean as a director and acting with Emile (Hirsch, who plays McCandless). I'm very grateful to Sean for re-awakening the acting bug in me," said Wiig, who was voted "most artistic" in his high school graduating class.

I contacted Wiig in San Francisco recently, where he was working on "Milk," a Gus Van Zant film starring Sean Penn. Wigg plays a "straight-laced liquor store owner," in the film about the murder of gay San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk.

Wiig, son of Judy and the late Ray Wiig, thinks his U. P. upbringing has contributed to his success.

"Well, I do believe in the 'good things happen to good people' theory and I know I was raised by good people in a good place, so I'd like to think that was a significant part of forming a solid foundation. I also think my artistic nature wasn't as nurtured in the sports-emphasized world I grew up in, so that may have played a part in catapulting me onto some sort of soul-searching journey that landed me where I am now."

Wiig added: "I have great respect from where I came from and my appreciation for it grows stronger the longer I'm away."


Anonymous said...

this is a wonderful story of a true "yooper". i,m proud to know and love him. BEKU

Anonymous said...

Wow, i graduated from Westwood in 2001. I never had your father as a teacher but i knew of him. I was saddend when i heard of his passing, my condolences.

I have been a life long Metallica fan, and the fact that someone from the U.P. has a daily role in their story makes me all the more proud to be from where I am. Keep up the good work and I look forward to hearing more about your growing career.