I was (ostensibly) writing a guitar encyclopedia for a Japanese publisher. I parenthesize that proviso because the encyclopedia never happened I was paid for the book but it was never published. Go figure. Anyway, one of the guitarists they wanted included was Mustaine
so I tracked him down.
I'd heard a lot about Dave
about his temper, about his take-no-prisoners approach to his bands and his music and I had an idea this talk might raise a few hackles. It does and God bless Mustaine
for kicking up some dirt. A lot of times, you'll get an artist so afraid of saying anything untoward about any other artist, that he'll end up saying nothing. But this guitarist is a warrior, a soldier, a mercenary maybe, not intimidated by the business he works in nor with the people with whom he works. And that makes for one fiery and engaging convo.
More than anything, Dave
was pointedly honest, both about his own work and the musicians around him. I mean you have to give him credit. Here he is, kicked out of Metallica
, only to regroup and come back with Megadeth
. He took it on the chin, picked himself up and dusted himself off, and put together a career that carries on to this day. That is not an easy thing to do.
UG: Did you grow up in a musical family?
"I still feel to this day that a good band can be measured by its rhythm."
Well, I have three sisters and the two oldest ones were old enough to be my mother. The youngest one is only a couple years older than me. So there was quite a variety of different musical influences and tastes people liked. We all listened to different stuff. My older sisters listened to R&B, soul, and Motown stuff; my younger sister listened to The Beatles, Elton John, Cat Stevens. So I've gotten a lot of the tonality and melody that I could use that I'm planning on using from them.
As far as the upbringing with knowing rhythm and stuff like that, I consider myself to be a rhythm guitar player first. That's really a hard thing for people to grasp. They think that because you play guitar you have to be a fluent, beautiful soloist. Playing a guitar solo is like spice, right? But you need to have meat under the spice or you're just eating dirt. So for me, the rhythm was much more important for me to attend to in the beginning, and I learned a lot about rhythm composition by listening to all the music that they listened to.
In the early bands were you playing rhythm guitar?
Nah, no. I was still an arrogant asshole and playing everything and calling the shots. But I devoted much more of my time to playing rhythm. I still feel to this day that a good band can be measured by its rhythm. Because you've got all guitar hero bands like what Marty Friedman was doing. And I mean, the solos are excellent, but try and hum one of those songs outside of maybe a quick flash lick. There's nothing very memorable about it, unless you're extremely loaded or you're out of your mind on speed or coke or something. That's the only way you can really seriously appreciate listening to one of those kinds of guitar players. I think with having the type like Marty in a band like this, where rhythm is one of the main ingredients, that the solos become so much more important because it's not just self-indulgent pig guitar playing all through the whole song.
What were some of your early bands like?
I only have really have been in four bands in my entire life and actually played anywhere. There was the band I was in prior to Megadeth, which was Metallica. And the band prior to Metallica was a band called Panic, which was a party kind of band. I was basically using it to get drunk and get pot and stuff. I was just reaching the end of my being able to live at home legally. I was just almost of age, where the people that I had snubbed and flipped off all my life could beat me up legally once I turned 18. Prior to that, there was only one other time where I had played anywhere. And that was in a band that I auditioned for. It was a school dance kind of thing and I was very, very young at the time. I was around 16 or 17, and we went in there and we played American Band by Grand Funk whatever. The student body was listening to us, and it was pretty much kind of like them experiencing a nuclear blast because they weren't ready for it. We were into KISS and Montrose and Nugent stuff like that, and they were expecting us to do Top 40. And the next thing you know it's, Blam! Hello, sorry, here let me pick up your face. I was real young at the time, too, so I was very, very nave to what people wanted to hear in a situation like that. Knowing now what the business entails, I would have probably been able to incorporate different songs to do a gig like playing a school dance.
Did that band have a name?
No. But I'll tell you one thing, even to this day, I still wouldn't have compromised my playing. Knowing that I had a way of going either this way and doing what I want, or going the other way and doing what they want, they is not I, and I get what I want now because I never really compromised my playing. If I'm gonna do Top 40 songs it's because one of our songs made it in the Top 40.
I've heard those things about you.
What's that? (This interrogative carries more than just the smallest hint of venom).
That you always had this vision of what you wanted to do and you ended up doing that.
It was pretty much developed in the embryonic stages when Lars and James and myself were together. We all knew what we wanted to do and we kind of had a ftw (fuck the world) look towards everything. And people that didn't like it, it was either get off or get under. We'll steamroll you if you don't like our attitude. I have always had that kind of an attitude, and I guess it kind of came once I realized that I had possessed something that a lot of other people just don't have the guts to try and do. But I think everybody has it within them. I don't think that I'm any different than anybody else as far as being able to possess the knowledge to play this kind of music. It's just having kind of the audacity to try and back it up.
So what kind of music was Panic playing?
We did stuff like UFO, a lot of AC/DC stuff; we did a lot of original stuff. Jump In the Fire was a Panic song, Mechanics was a Panic song. The band was a good band. We did a lot of Gamma stuff (Ronnie Montrose's band), a lot of Sammy Hagar solo stuff, a lot of really cool, guitar-oriented stuff. I mean, the Sammy Hagar thing we did was This Planet's On Fire (Street Machine) because everything else I think that Sammy does on his solo stuff is a little bit too revolved around the color red and rock and roll. My vision of the planet burning up is being just a cinder revolving around the sun, which is kind of a little bit more realistic back then. And (sings) Weekend Warriors you know, like Ted Nugent and all that kind of party crap because half of the people that come to listen to you when I was in that band would end up brawling once the keg ran out anyway.
So those were like keg parties?
Well, no. I never really played a lot of bars because I just wasn't plain old enough. I wasn't even 21 until I got into Metallica; and even then I was still really young.
How did the Metallica thing happen?
Well, I was dealing pot at the time because I just didn't have any desire to conform to authority and have a job. So I mean, that's not something I would recommend to anybody because not only is it illegal, but it really stunts your growth as a latent individual. I feel that that was probably the one thing that gave me an opportunity to do this and looking back on it, I probably wouldn't change anything, but it doesn't really make me proud. I was looking through The Recycler, which is a newspaper in L. A. Lars lived down in Park Newport, down by Newport Beach down by the dunes; near PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and Linda Isle and Lido Isle and all that stuff. I had known, because my mom was a maid, she was a housecleaner, and she worked down by Park Newport, that this kid was a stuck-up, arrogant piece of shit and that I had no chance of making this audition.
So I went down there and I was loaded and I had pictures of my playing guitar and I took my guitar down there and I took some pot. So I went down there and I got em loaded and I justsold them on myself. I said, Look, man! I hear the song Hit the Lights.' Dude, there's not enough solos in it! Solo here, solo there, solo, solo, solo, solo! Look at my guitar isn't it bitchin?.' Here are some pictures of me wailin.' He just goes, All right, man, come down and audition. So I went in and I set up my gear and they were all in the other room, and I went up to them and said, So do I get to audition? They go, No, man. You got the gig' cause they heard me warming up. So we progressed to grow and come together and then fall apart. Out of the vision and the fusion that had taken place, two great bands have happened.
So that was around 1983?
Actually I met them in 1981, and I left in '83.
Did you ever do any recording with them?
Yeah, there's an album out called The Metal Massacre that I'm on with them. There's two different versions of that. There's one where I play one solo, and there's one where I play all of them. Then there's a demo that was out, the infamous No Life Til Leather tapes, which I have the masters to. So not to say that that would ever get released, but not that it would never not. You know what I mean? Because see, I have them. If I get my arm chopped off or something like that, you never know. I may be broke someday and I may need to sell them for a few billion dollars.
So what was it that didn't work with them?
Well, basically I was a very dysfunctional person and I was a drunk and a loser and I liked to fight a lot. See, I had this fixation for the martial arts. When I was drunk, I was 10-feet-tall and bulletproof. Now that I'm sober I know that the knowledge that I possess that I have to walk away. I mean, even if you just come up and blatantly punch me in the face, I still have to walk away. I think it would surprise somebody that I would still be standing or that I would duck and then they would throw their back out. But James one time kicked a puppy that I had and I freaked out. I just said, Man, I'm gonna kick your ass! Ron McGovney (Metallica's original bassist) said, You kick his ass, you're gonna have to hit me first! I said, You shut up and sit the fuck down. Then James goes, You hit him, you're gonna have to hit me first. And I went, Okay, you win, James. Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding (imitates the sound of an explosion or a vicious punch) right in his face. He had a mouthful of bloody, baby Chiclets, and he was sitting there crying, telling me to get my shit out. I was packing my stuff up and Lars was twisting his hair like a frustrated, horny chick, going, (imitates Lars' accent)Fuck, man! I don't want it to end like this! And I went, Well, I'm out of here, Lars. And I had to drive him home, and he talked to me all the way home and talked to me into not quitting.
But then I went out to New York and then halfway out there some stuff happened. I was driving the U-Haul, we hit ice, and things spun out. They blamed me on an act of God. It's like, Yeah, I knew, I'm gonna go out there and piss on the grass so there's ice all over the place. I was responsible for driving over a freeway that was frozen from one end of the state to the next. I think there was a lot of resentment because I knew the potential we all had and I didn't want to sit back and just watch everybody act like pompous, little prat babies.
So I woke up one day, and Lars, James, and Cliff were sitting there. They go, Dave, we've got something to tell you. And I went, What? I woke up. This was after we had done two shows out in New York. You're out of the band. I said, What? No warning? No second chance? They go, No. I just went, Okay. I packed up all my stuff and I left a reel of tape there, the most stupidest thing I've ever done in my life. When I left, I said, Don't you ever record my stuff. Then Kill Em All came out and four of my songs were on there. Then Ride the Lightning came out and two more songs were there. Then Leper Messiah came out and I heard part of my stuff in Leper Messiah from the Master of Puppets album. I asked Lars about that and they were saying that that was stuff that was written while I was in Metallica for Metallica music. I get paid for it; I didn't get paid for Leper Messiah. I said, Lars, you're ripping me off! And he goes, Yeah, I did it pretty well, huh? He's lucky that he's such a shrimp that I don't hurt the guy.
I have only the best intentions for them now and I wish them the best of luck because they're definitely opening the doors for everybody in the industry right now. They primarily do what they want, think what they want. I mean, the weirdest thing about it is when I was in the band that James didn't do any talking in between songs. And the way he acts and moves with his guitar, and stuff like that, if you put the two of us together, side-by-side, split a TV monitor in half, and have use both hopping around on stage, there's a lot of similarities. I think James is one of the best rhythm guitar players in the world. As far as rhythm guitar players are concerned, there's James, there's me, there's Malcolm (Young), and there's Rudolph (Schenker). There's no one else that touches the four of us. We're the fantastic four.
So you did pick up things from him?
"I only have really have been in four bands in my entire life and actually played anywhere."
And he picked up things from you.
Well, yeah. He does the chord with his index finger and his baby finger for his two-string chords that we use with the first and the fifth. I use my first and third finger. I think it's a little bit more macho to hold the strings down that way because you can do things with your little finger. But because of the positioning of his guitar, I think that's why he has to do that. James has got a great right hand; I think his tone is really an institution, too. But I think one-on-one, I write better songs than he does and I probably play a hell of a lot better, too. Let me pull my head out of my ass for a second, man.
I appreciate your honesty.
He's a good guitar player, but he can't play solos. I mean, except for What's that one song on that video where they're all acting like they did that song in one take? Nothing Else Matters. Oh, boy.
So how long after leaving Metallica did you put together Megadeth?
Well, on the way home, I was thinking, Screw music, it screwed me. I was ready to end it all and just go back to college. I opted to not do that. On the way home, I started writing out on the back of Twinkie wrappers, on all kinds of paper that I could find, I found this handbill in a Greyhound bus station These shitbags sent me home on a Greyhound bus; they flew Kirk out and they sent me home in a bus. Needless to say, there's a little bit of animosity there. I've been pretty vociferous with my feelings about it.
I got this political thing that said, The arsenal of megadeth can't be rid. I just went, Megadeth. Great song title. I came home and I hooked up with a couple of weird people. Then Dave Ellefson was living underneath me. He was playing Van Halen really loud and thumping his bass to it. There's nothing that bugs me more than Van Halen. I opened up my window and screamed out, Shut the fuck up! I was hung over at the time. I was still pretty miserable. Then he stopped and played about five minutes later really loud. So I opened up my window and grabbed a flowerpot, and I proceeded to hurl the thing at his air conditioner. It exploded into a million shards. He, thinking that he was tough, not knowing who he was dealing with, came upstairs with another big guy. They opened up the door and met Gog (a prophet of Armageddon). The devil commenced to tell them to go fuck themselves and slammed the door in their face. They open the door and they go, Hey, do you know where to get some cigarettes? I went, Try the corner liquor store. I slammed it again, right? Then they knocked again and they go, Can you buy beer? I went, Right question to the wrong answer. Let's go. So we went and got a case of Heinekens, sat down by the pool, and we were all drinking ourselves silly. One of the guitar players in their band fell down on a bottle that day and sliced his hand really bad. In walked Dave, out walked this other guy. I'm going like, So you're name is David, huh? Well, you know what? We're gonna have to change your name. What's your middle name? And he goes, Warren. And I went, No doubt! Because that was one of the Minnesota epithets. I went like, How about if we call you Warren? He goes, Nah. And I go, Well, Junior is your name now forever. That's how he became Junior.
It was a while after we met Gar (Samuelson) and Chris (Poland). We got turned onto them by this guy who was a dealer that was trying to manage us. It was pretty funny because Gar came in and he was wearing Capezios and he was nodding on heroin at the time. I hadn't been exposed to heroin yet. He would smoke his cigarettes and stand them on the end so that they would burn straight down. I'm thinking, How the hell can this monkey do this? Not only is the guy ugly as sin, but he's falling asleep on me! So we auditioned him and he was a brilliant drummer. It didn't work right away, but it definitely worked in the long run.
Then we met Chris. Chris goes, Are you really number 31 in Europe? There was a guitar poll at the time and I said, Yeah, I am. I told him that I wanted to get guitar lessons from him because I thought he was really good. I just wanted to steal what he had. Then I said, Maybe you should play in the band with me. And he freaked out and he joined the band. I said, First thing you've got to do is you've got to wash that crap out of your hair and clean your face. He had makeup on and Dippity Do in his hair. This was when he was in a band called No Questions. One of their songs was Video Brat. They had a single out and it was Video this video that/He's just a video brat! I went like, Well, you know what? I know what you can do so I'll overlook the fact that you're in a completely blatantly homo band right now and you're all wearing jumpsuits like Devo.
Anyway, lineups come and lineups go. We're in the best lineup right now, I think, that we've had. This is really a band; it's not like a lineup. I think a lineup is kind of like putting a bunch of criminals next to each other. For us right now, everybody's in the band, we're all doing good. We're all writing the music on this record. It's almost done. We're just about ready to start mixing it.
What's the album called?
Countdown to Extinction.
Who's producing it?
Max Norman and myself.
You've produced some bands on your own, too, haven't you?
Well, yeah; there was only one that I did solely. That was a band called Sanctuary, who are pretty much now in the where are they now? files because the band kind of broke up. I don't know what happened to them. I had the deal to do their second record and they opted to sidestep that agreement. Their record company said, You guys screwed up because Don Zimmerman went from Capitol to Epic. Part of the reason that they got signed to Epic was because he kind of knew of them. They were a cool band, but I think maybe it was some political favor playing that they got signed. I don't know. I'm kind of sad to see them go because I thought they were a good band. They had some cool riffs.
As a producer, can you stand back and be objective about band performances in general and your performance in particular?
I think that's probably kind of why I have a co-producer with me most of the time. I mean, in the past it's been kind of weird because we've never completed a project with the same guy. Max got in on the Rust in Peace thing. We completed Go To Hell (EP) together and we're gonna complete this together. There are some other things that we're gonna commence with hopefully in the near future. Outside of production stuff, there's some technical stuff that we're looking into. There's just a lot of people in the business that are doing this sole for the purpose of getting ahead on other people. It's kind of like the poke-or-be-poked theory. It's very, very seldom when you run into people that you're on the same wavelength and that you can respect their opinion. Plus a lot of producers that come into the line of fire with me, a lot of the people that I've talked to, too, are pretty much inept at perceiving the band as it should be perceived by a listening point of view. They just want to take it as a vehicle to sell records and to make points off. And ultimately, point will be made if the bands capture it as it should be, with minimal suffrages from the performers because that translates into the performance.
How do you approach producing?
There are two rhythm tracks and there is one harmony track and that's about it. Drums are live. Bass, I think, there's one amp track and the DI track. And then there's one rhythm guitar track that's been doubled. Then there's the harmony track. Actually what it is, is the rhythm track is a right track and a left track. Then the harmony is just for choruses, where the guitar does something different. So at one point in the song, there might be three tracks of guitar and that's it. But I'll tell you, the sound is as big as you'd ever want it to be.
How do you go about getting the Megadeth sound?
I'm endorsed by Jackson guitar. I've used Jackson's Flying V 24-fret with the neck through the body with Seymour Duncan (SH-4)Jeff Beck (JB) pickups. I have a floating tremolo. I don't use a whammy bar because in some situations it can become a crutch. Also, I feel that people tend to overlook playing when they can use the whammy bar too much. They skip the fundamentals of the guitar. There are a couple of bands that have toured with us, solely whammy bar soloists.
As far as amps are concerned, I use VHT power amps with Bogner preamp for my rhythm and a Tubeworks preamp for my lead. I use Marshall 4x12 300-watt and 100-watt cabinets for rhythm and lead, respectively. And D'Addario Strings and Jim Dunlop medium thicks. I use the .052s for the .010-gauge because I think that the heavier bottom gives you a better sound and a little bit heavier top. A lot of guitar players use lighter guitar strings on the top because they can bend them a lot. And tonality is the key. Note selection is the key, not how far you can bend the string and how fast you can play.
Describe for me the ultimate Dave Mustaine guitar tone.
Very crunchy. A lot of mid-range as far as in the spectrum. It should be able to sit really well. There should be a minimal amount of noise. Whether you have to use the noise gain or to continue to search out for ground problems, shielding. There should be a good amount of gain and balance to the distortion so that it's not overbearingly distorted. It should be able to sustain quite a bit naturally. I think a lot of that has to do with the wood of the guitar also, with the way that you pick the chord. The velocity I use to pick chords is a lot different from what other people do. I kind of get right on the string before I pick it. A lot of other people hit the string from so far away.
Can you describe any of your picking techniques?
"We're in the best lineup right now, I think, that we've had. This is really a band."
Yeah, I do a lot of butterflying stuff. I do a lot of down-picking and I'll invert the pattern to do like the fifth and the first of an actual major chord. Like if you had the first, fifth, and then the octave again, in a three-finger chord pattern, I would pedal on the first. And then on the fifth and the octave, I would up-pick that. I've done that in a lot of songs. Say for example, at the end of Mary Jane on So Far, So Good So What! I do that a lot. I think a lot of pedaling pays off if you know how to do it properly. There's a lot of down-picking you can play, too, but you can't really always down-pick everything.
When is the album due out?
Soon. Hell if I know! We're gonna be done tracking probably by the middle of next week. We're just doing the last of the vocals, then I start my solos. I've got 10 songs to do solos on and I'm not the kind of person that has to sit there and write solos. Hell, I've got my patterns that are pretty melodic. You know, I play the same solo every single time. Live, I'll play the same solo. I mean, I'll make a few mistakes, but you know. If I make a mistake once, it's a mistake. If I make a mistake twice, it's a jazz lick. I'll change the solo.
Musically has the new album changed from the last record?
No, it's still the same. It's definitely straight, in-your-face, marching forward, onward to waging war and trying to not champion any mediocrity, as far as a lot of the commercialism that is taking place with some of my friends.
Any tour plans?
Well, you know, that's all in the future and I'm not even really too concerned about that because I have my priorities with my son, my wife, and my music. Touring is just another facet of my insanity, which I haven't had a chance to uncover or discover at this particular moment. That's something that my agent is paid to worry about. If I started getting too concerned about this right now, it would probably take the focus off of challenging myself to do the best record I can.
Looking at the condition of modern music and guitar players, is it in a healthy state?
My trying to give my benefactions to the industry right now, the way the things are going, I think it's pretty risky if you say, I like the way things are going right now. I think a lot of bands are getting signed right now because the frontmen look like shaggy from Scooby Doo. I think a lot of people are getting signed because they know how to do the licks that the guys that work at the record companies can do. You know? That's why they like it because the bands they sign aren't any better than themselves. These guys are happening! I can play all their songs! Think about it. A lot of the other bands, these guys have got like stretch marks on their mouths from getting their record deal, if you know what I mean. It's obvious. You get a frontman that sings and everybody else is session players and they all go out there and pounce about in their little leather outfits. Then they marry a cheerleader, if you know what I mean.
Interview by Steven Rosen