gets a bad rap for talking smack about other musicians. Well, maybe they deserve it. People also have this vision of him as a bandleader wielding a whip, snapping it at anyone who disagrees with him or dares to voice an original idea. Not true. In fact, according to James LoMenzo Dave
encourages input from his musicians. Why does Mustaine
have this reputation? He has criticized bands in the past and he has fallen out with a lot of other bands and even members of his own band [the Dave Ellefson lawsuit one of the more infamous moments].
But here, Mustaine
shows a gentler, more restrained side. On the heels of Megadeth
's new Endgame
album, the former Metallica
guitarist admits to finding God and attempts at soothing the savage beast within him. An undeniably bright and insightful individual, Mustaine
covered a lot of ground in this conversation.
UG: In a recent conversation I had with James LoMenzo, he described you as a perfectionist. He said that all the guys he'd worked with Zakk Wylde, Slash, and David Lee Roth all had that quality. Would you agree with that assessment?
A perfectionist? I'm a Virgo so I think people make generalized statements about Virgos. And although I really don't like hearing a generalized statement or even ascribing to them because it usually comes out as superstition when you hear stuff like that. So, you know what? I am a Virgo and I am a perfectionist. But there are other situations that must be taken under consideration when you become the person that's the leader. Whether it's a bandleader or a group leader or a Cub Scout leader. If you're a person who's in a position of authority then you have to take on some other chores. Like understanding the human psyche and dealing with people. Especially if they're temperamental and they've got a gift but they don't know how to get to it.
Over the years it's been a challenge being a person who was just a guitar player and having to talk in-between songs. In Metallica, that was James' job and it was frustrating for me in Megadeth not being able to find a frontman because I wasn't a singer. My whole experience as a singer was being a background singer in Metallica and singing in Sunday school.
So it was only by default that you became the lead singer in Megadeth?
Yeah, I tried it and it felt like someone had driven a nail into my eyeball. It felt like Scanners. Remember that movie? It felt like my head was gonna pop. I thought, This was all I need trying to sing one of these fuckin' songs and have an aneurysm. I realized the reason you're hurting yourself has to do with breathing. I learned as I went along and the more I did it, the better I got at it. But there was really not a lot of room to range out as a singer in metal. There were the greats like Dio and in heavy metal people like Lance [King] and stuff like that. But as far as the metal that we came from, when it came down to singing there weren't really a lot of greats out there. Geoff Tate was really good but people said it was operatic and I wasn't an opera singer.
There were a lot of good singing singers but none of them really played guitar either. So I was pretty challenged right out of the gate. What am I gonna do?
So you were looking for ways to develop your own sound and style and also become an adept guitar player at the same time?
"I am a Virgo and I am a perfectionist."
I would like to lie to you and tell you Yes but I've got to tell you the truth I didn't have any of the tools to be able to do that. At the very beginning, I didn't know anything about it. I did everything I could to look like I wasn't lacking confidence but the truth was I did lack confidence. Because this was something I'd never done before.
Following that logic, you did learn your craft along the way and that has culminated with Endgame. Are there vocals on this album that you couldn't have pulled off on Countdown to Extinction, for example?
I would say that a lot of the singing on this record came from exploring singing on the records between Countdown to Extinction and The System Has Failed. There were the records Youthanasia, Cryptic Writings, Risk, and The World Needs a Hero and they all had a lot of vocal experimentation with melodies and stuff and I was really stretching myself out as a writer.
The System Has Failed was actually recorded as a Dave Mustaine solo album. Is there a difference between a Dave Mustaine solo album and a Megadeth record?
I think probably the best way to answer that is to say I like Risk; I think Risk is a great record. People don't like it because it says Megadeth on it. Now if it said Dave Mustaine on it, that record would have probably done really well. But I think because it came out as a Megadeth record that a lot of the fans wanted something more aggressive. Now that record was supposed to have been done a lot quicker and was supposed to have had a lot heavier stuff on it. But at the time I was trying to keep tranquility in the band with Marty Friedman as much as possible so I really, really turned myself inside out to accommodate this guy. After Risk was over, I went up to Marty and told him I'd heard people had the record and threw it out the window on their way home from the store and stuff. And there were a lot of people who liked it because it was different.
So that probably is what a Dave Mustaine solo record would sound like. If it didn't sound like Megadeth, it would probably sound like a cross between Risk and Endgame.
So you're saying you really took the bull by the horns on Endgame.
Endgame is me being free to do whatever I want under the guise of Megadeth. Just thrashing it out and having fun. If you can imagine lookin' at me in the studio, imagine this picture: I'm sitting on a chair and somebody calls my name and I look back and I'm smiling. OK? Instead of me saying, What the fuck do you want? Like that kid in Gumby where he goes, Get off my planet!
You had a good time recording Endgame?
Yeah, there was a time where I was very possessive about all the secrets that we've used to play. Like on Killing Is My Business And Business Is Good, I tuned down a quarter of a step instead of half a step so that people would not be able to tune their guitars and play it. When Eddie Van Halen came out, he did something basically the same way and I learned that trick from him play with your back turned. I couldn't do that because I'm too much of a ham.
The Endgame album does cover the expected Megadeth territory, but there a few tracks that wander a bit. The Hardest Part of Letting Go has acoustic guitars and keyboard strings and stuff. Do you dig this softer aspect of the music?
I didn't really set out for that song to do anything other than serve a purpose with my wife. She had said I'd never written a song about her. So I wrote this song but I also like to read and I was reading a book of Edgar Allan Poe's stories and I'd just gotten a book by H.P. Lovecraft. For whatever reason I chose Poe over Lovecraft to start reading and the story for The Telltale Heart was something that I really, really dug. Near that story was The Cask of Amontillado and that's what the second half of the song is about. So I played the song for my wife and the first half is how we met and the second half is about the relationship and she doesn't like it because she thinks that I'm talking about bricking her up into a wall.
I love the music on that and Chris Broderick actually wrote the music with me on that one. That was one of his first efforts as a co-writer with me. Just like Shawn Drover was a co-writer on Headcrusher.
As the person who is writing the lyrics and the music, you're intimately involved in every aspect of a song. On Headcrusher, for example, because you're so aware of what is being sung about and because you've essentially written the riffs, are you trying to match up the solo to the emotional content here? Trying to create a solo that bends and turns and twists to accommodate the lyric?
"My whole experience as a singer was being a background singer in Metallica and singing in Sunday school."
Yeah. That's something I'm grateful to Marty Friedman for; he really helped me in the beginning. See, a lot of people who don't want to be Dave supporters have found all kinds of things that I've said and take exception like, I will take the solos in the band. And what happens is we go in the studio and it would be, Your way, our way, and my way. For example, with Chris, when we did this record, there were only two things I said the entire record. There was a dive bomb at the end of 44Minutes and Chris had grabbed the bar and let go of it and then the string vibrated so it was like nnnuuuuu [mimics a whammy bar descending] and then that vibrating thing. But I don't like that because it reminds me of Nightranger. So he tried a different approach.
You would provide input about the solos from the other guitar players?
With the solos with the other guys and they would get to a part where they were playin' something and if I listened to it and it wasn't really clicking? I would say, Well, why don't you try something like this right here? And if it wasn't clicking at all, I'd say, Listen, I want you to do this. And I would sing a solo and stuff. It's real easy for me to go dudududu dudududu diddledidddle diddle didddle duh [sings a mock guitar solo] like I was scatting like George Benson. I've done that with a lot of the guys. The only person I haven't done that with is Chris.
I used to say to Marty, In order for the solos to take on color and really be able to identify with the anxiety of the song, read the lyrics. There was very rarely a song without lyrics when we started the guitar work on it. It would be, Here's your solo section, read the lyrics, and your solo goes here.
You not only had a positive experience with the Endgame record but it sounds like you've arrived at a point where you don't have to hide behind the curtain. That you're willing to man up about the music you make and deal with how people are going to react to it.
The thing is I've grown up a lot and there's gonna be people out there who are going to talk shit about me no matter what I do. Whether it's good, bad, or indifferent and that's OK; they have that right. I have the same right to say what I want on my records as they have to say what they want. The bummer is sometimes people say stuff and it's not cool. It's nothing about me as a musician; they make a personal statement about me and they don't know me as a person.
I've accomplished a lot of stuff. When I first started in the band I was in before Metallica, metal was just starting to hit the United States in the form of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. My work with what I did with Metallica; what I did with my friends in Anthrax; what I did with Slayer and Kerry King; that was a really big connection. Like the seven degrees of Kevin Bacon. Think about that: The four of us, the big four, one thing that is a common thread with all of us is that we love this music.
With all of that being said, there does seem to be ongoing feuds with you and the guys from Slayer, Metallica, and even the former members of your own band.
I was involved with everyone of these guys and hanging out with these guys and having friendships with them and stuff. And still do it. Although I don't really talk with the guys from my last band, I still respect them. And I said so when they [Metallica was inducted in 2009] went into the Hall of Fame; I thought it was cool for them. My relationship with Anthrax is great. So much so that I even have a relationship with some of their ex-members. Danny Spitz is one of my best friends and although Joey is a little hard to understand, we're still hands.
You've actually been touring with Slayer on the Canadian Carnage dates.
"I was really stretching myself out as a writer."
Yeah, we've just renewed our working relationship and hopefully it will continue to lay down some foundation for us to re-establish our friendship. And I think something great happened out there. By the way, I wanted to send my best wishes to Tom on his surgery. The readers should send their best wishes and prayers if they don't think they're gonna burst into flames praying for Tom.
We had 19 years ago an incident that happened and it caused some hurt feelings between the bands and we were not close after that for a long time. But that's behind us. And not only is it behind us but it's gotten to the point right now where Dave and Kerry were in my dressing room and we were hanging out and it was great. I took Kerry outside and said, Can I just ask you what is it that pissed you off so bad? because I didn't even remember. He was ready to tell me and some guy walks up and goes, Dude, Endgame is so great. And I didn't want to seem disrespectful and say, Yeah, I know so I said, Yeah, thanks, I appreciate that. And another guy came up and I said, Kerry, let's just go back inside so we went back in and that was the end of the conversation.
Did Kerry ever tell you what went down?
No, we went back inside and were just holding court with everybody. But I look at it like this: When I went over to talk with them before at the beginning of the tour, I think those guys were a little reluctant because of my past. But I had a profound psychic change in my life. I recently saw the statement that Slayer had made and just the fact that they said something kind about us was like, Wow, it's workin'; we're becoming friends again. And I heard from my manager that Kerry wanted to call me and I thought, This is so awesome. Granted I'm a Christian and they may not be but I am trying to live my life differently. And I'm the one who said the thing that caused the harm and I've apologized. So maybe some day these guys will trust me again and I feel like right now we're being able to become friends again. I think about, Do I want to spend another 19 years like this?
Interview by Steven Rosen