When Dave Mustaine
went in the studio to record Thirt3en
's latest record, he wasn't sure if he could do it. He'd been suffering from severe neck pain for a long time and it had affected his guitar playing. So there was a good chance that this would be his final recordever. But he made it throughmainly by revisiting songs he'd written for earlier albums that only made it to the demoand the resulting record is one of Megadeth's best albums ever. He recently underwent neck fusion surgery and now he's blazing up and down the neck of his guitar just like a little kid.
talks about the record, his recent autobiography titled Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir
, and finally laying to rest the ghost of Metallica
UG: The 25th Anniversary Edition of Peace SellsBut Who's Buying was recently reissued. What does that mean to you?
It's very rewarding for me on a lot of different fronts. One, I survived and two, there were just so many prophetic lyrics that have been written by this band over the years. It's not in any way gratifying for me to sit back and say, God, I told you all this stuff was gonna happen. Look at the worldit's gone to shit right now. It doesn't make me feel good at all but on the other hand it does kinda say, If I wanna find out what's going on in the world, maybe there's some merit in listening to heavy metal bands cause maybe they have an angle I may not be aware of.
But you've always insisted Megadeth was not a political band.
People have usually said we're a thinking man's band and I thought that was probably the most flattering description of us. I'd heard state-of-the-art speed metal band and a lot of really clever monikers. But thinking man's band was really to the point when it came down to what I was writing lyrically.
You've always touched on a lot of different elements in your lyrics.
Lyrics are really important if you're writing about stuff that's really personal to you and other people can't relate with. And you run the risk of people saying that your music is really stupid.
When you remixed the first eight Megadeth albums, did you gain any insight into your own legacy?
It was really fun to go back and listen to all of that stuff. You got to relive it and sometimes it was kind of a drag because you're going back to that moment and there were times where it was difficult. There were parts that were really not appealing to have to live through again. There were things I did and the other guys had done that just made it not really fun to be around everybody because we kind of lost sight of what was going on. We kinda lost the plot.
But there were more positive moments than negative ones?
"People have usually said we're a thinking man's band and I thought that was probably the most flattering description of us."
Always more good times than bad. I had said in Loved to Death that I remember bad times/More than good and that's just human nature. You do remember the bad ones more than the good but that doesn't mean there isn't more good than bad. It just means we gravitate over towards those things. It's kinda like when you get old and you start comparing scars. I just did the Eddie Trunk's That Metal Show and Rex Brown and Vinny Appice were all on the same episode as me and everybody was talkin' about getting hurt and stuff like that. And I said, What is this? M*A*S*H? And I mean honestly it was like thata bunch of old veterans who'd gone out there and we'd just pounded ourselves into the ground to deliver music to our fans. And sometimes you don't realize how much that wears and tears on ya.
In your new autobiography, Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir, there are a lot of photos but you're hardly ever smiling. Why?
Let me give you an image here: You're watching one of those wildlife programs and it's a beautiful golden desert and you see this gazelle running and right behind it you see the lion. Is the lion smiling?
Are you the lion?
I'm a survivalist and it has been chasing what you need to survive. For us, we've had a lot of opposition from the industry and we had a lot of opposition because of our own behavior and choices that we'd done. We've had our own problems that have happened from people that wanted to work with us and for whatever reason we'd say No and they'd walk away and say, This guy is a dick and make up a story. When it was just a simple no. I remember when we were auditioning guitar players and one guy came up and it was so hilarious. He auditioned for us and didn't make it and went and told people he had written the music for Wake Up Dead, which was on our second record [Peace SellsBut Who's Buying?] We were auditioning guitar players before we did Rust In Peace so this guy was off by two records because we had done Peace Sells and So Far, So GoodSo What! by then. There are so many weird people in the world and you start auditioning musicians and you find out how really truly peculiar musicians are.
I didn't mean that as any kind of insultit was just an observation.
No, you're cool. We're OK.
In the book, you wrote about playing with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax at the first Big Four concert back on June 16, 2010. Was that a kind of vindication for you?
There was really no vindication necessary because in essence that would kind of give the impression I felt I was losing something. We had been friends for a while and when the four of us parted ways musicallyKirk Hammett wasn't part of the picture and Robert Trujillo obviously wasn't eitherit was for a reason. The reason wasn't really clear to me at the time. We have two great bands now. At the time I was upset about it and I think a lot of had to do with the fact my judgment was being clouded by alcohol. We all drank but one thing is for sure: We've always been friends. I think that's what made it so difficult because when you really like somebody and you're forced to part ways with them, in some ways you're kinda either justified doing it or you try and cover up why you got the boot. I think that's kinda what happened over the years. Now there's no animosity and there's no explanation necessary. We're friends and all that stuff is behind us.
There's a moment in the book where you talk about auditioning Marty Friedman and you realize how much better he is than you are. That must have been a painful realization.
It was like having ice water poured on. The good thing is we were never meant to be the same and between the two of us we really covered that whole palette of colors that guitar players can express themselves with. Music and the frequencies are very much like the whole color world. Some of the lower frequencies like the drums and the bass guitar and stuff like that; some of the wind instruments and keybs [keyboards] and stuff, they don't get into that area that guitar can get into. It's a special kind of flavor and especially with some of the nylon and catgut string stuff that you hear with violin and cello and stuff like that. It's just so emotional. A funny thing, I was talking with Sully from Godsmack when we were out on the Mayhem festival and he goes, Man, I read you had been inspired for your guitar solos by listening to violin stuff. And I was thinking, God, I said that so many years ago. I can't believe that. And I was talking about Paganini and all the weird stuff you get influenced by as a musician if you're really open to it.
It's funny that you mentioned Paganini because I just did an interview with Yngwie Malmsteen and Paganini was a huge influence on him.
Oh, really? I'm not very familiar with Yngwie; I know who he is and I know he's a really exceptional talent but I'm not very familiar with his work at all.
Yngwie sort of comes from that same Shrapnel Records era as Marty Friedman.
"David Ellefson is just playing much more mature, aggressive bass playing and I was excited."
Yeah, I remember that. I remember when Het [James Hetfield] and me went over to see Varney's. For some reason we drove up there and Yngwie had his cabinets there and they were downstairs someplace. They had 666 painted on the back and I went, Oh, my god.
He's as much into that kind of thing as you are.
This was so long agowe're talkin' 30 years ago. And 30 years ago that was pretty bold stuff to be doing.
There are several older songs that have been resurrected on the 13 album. Is the album a throwback to the Countdown to Extinction and Rust In Peace-era music?
To a degree, yeah. When it's the same talent, it's gonna be there to a degree but I think there's a freshness to it. With David Ellefson coming back, to a degree the bass is the same but it's not. Dave has been woodshedding the eight years we've been apart because I know how good a guy isI can listen to somebody and in just a couple minutes determine if they're a hack or not. I know where Dave was at with his playing when he and I parted ways. He was really good and he was in that pretty untouchable league. And then he came back and he played again and I heard what he was doin' and it was like, Wow, man, he's gotten so much better in so many areas. He's just playing much more mature, aggressive bass playing and I was excited. The songs sounded fresh and new again. When you play em in the studio they're awesome and then when you get out on the road you kind of get away from it. You kind of push and pull and you speed up here and you kinda slow down there and you forget a part here and you overplay there. When he came back we were playing the songs and I was like, Damn, these things sound just like the studio. It was amazing.
You recorded the new album soberdoes that bring a renewed energy to the recording process?
Let me just clear a couple things up: I'm not in the 12 Step program. When I first got into the 12 Steps it was like God sent me to A.A. and then after a while AA kind of sent me to God and that's kind of where I'm at right now. Although a lot of people really don't like hearing people talk about God or anything like that, it's my thing and it's personal and private. I'll talk to people if they want to know about it but usually I don't talk about it.
Do you still get revved up about going in to record a new album?
Yeah, absolutely. The studio for me is a place to create stuff and going in to do this last record, I knew that my neck was really, really bad. I didn't know what was gonna happen so I went in to make this record pretty much like, OK, this is it. I'm gonna grab all my best stuff and I'm gonna put it together on this record and once this record is done I don't know if I'm gonna be touring anymore. So I'm gonna pull out all my tricks and grab all the songs I had left.
New World Order was one of these older songs circa Countdown To Extinction.
Yeah, that song was around and it was never released officially because we never recorded it officially. There was a demo tape floating around. Same thing with Millenium Of the Blind, there was a demo tape that was floating around and so we rearranged Millenium Of the Blind but we just left New World Order like it was and rerecorded it. Black Swan was a song written and it was released to all of our fans through our fan club as a bonus track for people who ordered the record ahead of time so it was never released. But I wanted that song to get released and so we rerecorded it and finished that and it's a totally different song now. I think it's one of the best songs on the record personally.
Did you resurrect these songs because they still resonated with you?
To a degree but probably not. I think the reason I wanted them on there was I didn't know if I was gonna be able to play anymore and I had the songs that I had left. It required me writing new material and I didn't know if physically I was gonna be able to do that. I don't want to be a bleeding heart or anybody feel sorry for me. I see people like Kerry from Slayer who has been playing as long and hard as I have and he doesn't have the problems I have because he was smart enough to stretch out and exercise before he went onstage. I wish I would have thought about that but that's what sets people apart is their difference and uniqueness. I didn't think I was gonna be playing too much longer and I used the songs I knew I had. And the rest of the stuff when we say we wrote it on the spot, yeah, we did because we didn't have any songs left.
Truthfully, the Thirt3en album could have been your last recorded work?
"We have two great bands now. At the time I was upset about it and I think a lot of had to do with the fact my judgment was being clouded by alcohol."
Yeah, absolutely. I just had my neck fused together. Did you know that? I went to the Watkins Spine Institute in Marina Del Rey on my wife's birthday of all days and I had to undergo spinal surgery. So that's the beauty of this thing even happening. When I went in to go do the procedure, they found a bone fragment that was in a vertebra that was in there pushing against stuff it wasn't supposed to push against and it was causing me all that excruciating pain. At the end of the last festival we did, the Mayhem festival, we had to play like half sets for all those shows because it was just unbearable for me to endure the pain and play but I wasn't gonna cancel. Thank God for John Reese, the guy that ran the thing. He was cool enough to let us continue and finish out with whatever else I could play instead of saying, Man, you can't play long enough. Get out of here.
The title track from Thirt3en exposes that more acoustic-oriented side. Do you dig the ballad side of things?
If it's done right it's really cool. If it's done wrong and it's jangly, it won't work in Megadeth. It's gotta be in the right surroundings and it needs to work. Megadeth has done stuff with acoustic guitar for years and years and years but it has to be done right.
Are you now in a happy place?
I'm great. You know what? I am so happy right now. My wife and kids are I are all really having so much fun right now with the band and everything. Before they kind of looked at it like it was my other life instead of, This is my job and you're my life. Now we've just gotten to this place where we're all just so close and excited about what has happened for us. I was talking to Justis [Mustaine's son] and one place I haven't played still is in Africa. And I said, Would you be willing to go with me down there if we played in Africa and I got tickets for us to go do a safari? Would you want to do a safari with your old dad? And he said, Yeah, man, fer sure, dude. He calls me dude.
Megadeth on safari.
That's right. The next thing after that is The Love Boat, right?
Interview by Steven Rosen