Dave Mustaine is counting his blessings about Megadeth reaching their 30th anniversary. Formed in 1983, the metal band is commemorating three decades in the metal trenches with the release of "Super Collider," their 14th album. But none of it came easily. Mustaine has had to fight for every inch to eventually become one of the leading figures on the metal scene.
On the new album, he covers comfortable ground-heavy, ripping guitars galloping along while his frenzied vocals scream bloody murder-but he also brings in melodic elements and even a hint of country that should confuse a lot of fans. Here he talks about the new album and what it feels like to make a living in the brutal business of music these past 30 years.
Ultimate-Guitar: We've actually spoken before a couple times.
Dave Mustaine: Great. Where you at right now?
I'm in West Hollywood up in Laurel Canyon.
I used to live up in Laurel Canyon. You know where Houdini's old place was? If you're going from Hollywood north into Studio City, right when you get to Houdin's stop signal there, if you make a right and you go up there. Me and David Ellefson were squatting in this guy named Karat Faye's house who was squatting in somebody else's house who had plugged his phone into the next-door neighbor's socket. The weirdest thing about all of this is me and Dave were trying to survive while we were selling pot and we weren't doing a very good job because we were our best customers.
That's the first rule of business - don't sample the goods.
The weirdest thing was Karat Faye, the guy we chose to engineer on the very first record ("Killing is My Business ... and Business is Good!"), wouldn't put any clothes on. I was telling Dave, "We gotta get outta here, man. This is too weird. This dude runs around naked all the time and there's not enough pot in the world to make this OK."
It's been a long road from there to celebrating Megadeth's 30th anniversary with the release of "Super Collider."
I am very proud. There are gonna be people who are gonna take exception with the record because they're people that wanna hear "Black Friday" the rest of their lives. And I feel for them, man. I know the first time I heard AC/DC versus what they put out now, it's a different time. I think that's the whole thing about if you're really a fan of the band you grow with them or you stop being a fan. I always loved early AC/DC and I totally respect older AC/DC but I was weaned on Bon Scott.
Do you feel after 30 years you've earned the right to make any kind of music you want?
I don't say I have a license to make bad music. I remember this one guy and I won't say his name but there was a guy I really, really, really looked up to and he wanted to get out of his record contract so he made a record that was utter crap. He knew it; I knew it and he duped his fans with it. I thought, "This is not the way that I ever want to conduct myself as a businessman." I know what it was it like to be a poor kid. I was brought up on food stamps and welfare. I hate dentists because we went to the dentists where they'd strap your hands down and put blocks down 'cause they'd run out of novocaine. So my first trip to the dentist was like "Marathon Man." That's what I tweeted about the other day. I'm like in the chair and the guy says, "You've got a cavity" and I'm like, "Noooo." It's not like they were saying your dog's pregnant. "Oh my God."
"['Super Collider'] is very cool. The whole thing came kind of as a surprise to me."
This is the first album on Tradecraft, your own label.
It's very cool. The whole thing came kind of as a surprise to me. We knew Universal was gonna be where we wanted to go and it was life changing. When we initially left Capitol we were unhappy there because of all the administration changes. We loved the label but the direction kept changing and every time a new president would come in, as an older band you kind of got kicked to the curb. Because they had somebody they needed to prove.
Where did you go after Capitol Records?
We went to Sanctuary and we were really excited and man, was that a disappointment. That was so deflating. I just put my nose down to the ground and I went, "You know what? I'm not coming back up until I'm satisfied." Basically when we completed our contract with Roadrunner and did it with dignity and respect in an industry where bands take the money and run all the time. We finished our contract and kept our commitment and we honored them. Now we're on the other side of it and we're all better for it.
Does having your own label give you even more freedom of expression?
I think you've got to understand the way this is all set up. When we initially went to Universal, Andy Gould (Megadeth's manager) had gone there and said, "Roadrunner is the only metal game in town. What do you think if I brought Rob Zombie and if I could get Megadeth here?" That was what we were told. The next thing you know I'm being signed to Universal and I believe I'm getting signed to Tradecraft, which is a label they give me.
"There are gonna be people who wanna hear "Black Friday" the rest of their lives. And I feel for them, man."
Tradecraft was a Universal label.
Right now we're just focusing on "Super Collider" and it's not really like a label that is gonna be able to sign anything right now because we're pretty occupied with the release. But when the time comes and that does happen, I've already got a couple bands I know I want to sign.
You've brought back Johnny K after working with him on "Th1rt3en" to work on "Super Collider."
We try to always refresh our production team. We try and do about two records per guy and move on and that's been our mantra. We'll work with somebody and if it's successful we'll work with him again. In an effort to stay fresh, we always try something new. We thought it had worked and was successful with Johnny and that's why we revisited that. Are we gonna work with a new guy next time? Probably because that's the way we always do things.
This is the first time since "Cryptic Writings" that you've kept the same lineup for two consecutive albums.
It's like when you're watching a two-on-one breakaway in hockey. You see the two players and they know - step, stride, pass and everything. Note by note they are synchronized. When you see that and the outcome when they've practiced, it's poetic. If you see a two-on-one and the guy has no clue what he's doing and doesn't know which end of the stick is which and he's just like a goon out there, it's totally different. For us right now we feel like it's Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. You watch those guys and it's like, "Wow, that is just amazing." And you feel it too when you're onstage. There's an awkwardness when you're playing with somebody and they're behind or they're in front of you or they're playing the wrong stuff. It's kinda like, "Dude, do you really wanna be here?"
"You may not like me - I like you. That's all that matters."
The lineup you have right now feels really good to you?
The guys that we're playing with right now are more hungry and better players than I usually am. So I've gotta really keep myself on my toes with these guys.
What is the pre-production process like with Megadeth?
I don't want you to think I'm trying to come up with some kind of crazy story. When we go into the studio usually I'll go in there by myself and I'll listen to a bunch of riffs and I'll start piecing together songs. Then if there's a part missing in-between the riffs, I'll write it on the spot and stuff like that. Then when Shawn (Drover, drums) comes he'll listen to it and he'll play through it a couple times. We'll try and get the take and go back over it and keep writing spots and build the energy of the song off the drum track.
You're laying for the drum track?
Yeah, then after that's done it's just a matter of icing the cake with the bass, guitars, vocals and solos.
Solos are the last thing that goes on?
Solos comes last and some people tend to solos before. I always make the other guitar players I've played with over the years read the lyrics so they know what I'm saying. Because I've got to tell you something as a guitar player - when you're aware of what the words of a song are and you understand better, it changes the solo.
Would you say in general that you give Chris Broderick a lot of freedom in the music?
Because we both play different play different parts, he doesn't really play the same thing I play a lot. So there isn't really alternates of what I'm doing. However he does come up with a lot of really beautiful parts that go in the background as layering and ear candy and that kind of stuff. It's a blessing to have a guy that's got the talent that Chris Broderick has. Plus the cool thing is he's very shy and he's very humble and you could put a square with duct tape on the stage and tell him to stand in it and he'll be there.
"We'll work with somebody and if it's successful we'll work with him again."
Chris is a remarkable guitar player.
We get into the dressing room and he puts his guitar on and he starts plinking and he's in the same spot four hours later. He practices he guitar, he says, 13 hours a day. I see him practice his guitar every moment I see him so I think that's pretty true. And he works out two hours a day so he's pretty healthy. I mean it would be a bummer if he was this good and he had his head up his butt and he was a man whore druggie. It would just be like, "God, not again."
You mentioned earlier that people might take exception to the record. What did you mean?
We did that with the song "Blackest Crow." It's a little weird the way that came about. I was told my mother-in-law had Alzheimer's and it really, really messed with my head. My mom just died on the stop - no warning, nothing. Gone. I got really close to my wife's mom and she kind of became like a surrogate role mom. You know what I mean? Now that she has Alzheimer's and I don't know if you know anybody that has this disease but it's a motherf--ker. Excuse my language. We'll be sitting there and she'll forget who we are, what we're talking about and can't finish a sentence. She looks normal and she's healthy and looks like she hasn't lost any weight. But mentally it's like an ice sculpture that's melting before our eyes. Part of me just wants to shake her and say, "Stop f--kin' around." But it's not like that.
You wrote "Blackest Crow" about that?
I promised my wife and our family that we were gonna do everything we can so we have her seeing some alternative medicine doctors. A guy named Dr. Udell out of Phoenix who is actually having some results right now with some special kinds of nutrients she's using. One of 'em is called lion's mane mushroom and it's slowing down. It may not stop and it may not be reversed but it is going down.
That's good news.
So I wrote the song "Blackest Crow" about her and when I finished reading it, it was like, "You know what? This is too heavy. It's like the subject in the song died." I didn't want the subject to die so I shelved the lyric. I wrote "Forget to Remember," which is obviously about somebody who doesn't remember. It has a double entendre because it could be a girl saying, "I don't want to remember this date with this guy." And I'm sure that's happened to somebody you know. I know I've had a couple of dates where I didn't want to remember them. When we were doing the music for the "Blackest Crow," I just had this really cool thing and the chorus of the song was really hooky to me. And I thought, "You know what? I think this 'Blackest Crow' would work over that" and I tried it and it was like, "Yes, man. That was perfect." Because it's so far out of character and when you take risks with stuff like that with your music and you're really putting everything on the line and to know it worked makes it all worthwhile.
"[The same lineup for two albums in a row] is like a two-on-one breakaway in hockey. When you see that it's poetic."
"Blackest Crow" is not the kind of song you would have written for 10 years.
No, I couldn't have. I would have been closed-minded and I don't think I would have had all the skills. I've learned so much. The sad thing is I've got this reputation that people have perpetuated. They don't know me and it's like saying, "Oh, I hate the Raiders." Everybody hates the Raiders but I don't - I love the Raiders. I've been a Raiders fan my whole life. Is that why people don't like me? I don't know but it certainly makes sense we would gravitate towards one another. When you think about all these years trying to write music and having all this adversity, it really tires you out. At some point you've got to ask yourself, "Am I writing because I wanna write? Or am I writing because I want other people to like my music?" At some point people cross that line and they have to say, "You know what? It just is not worth it anymore." For me the stuff I hear people saying about me, it just rolls right off my back. I look at it like this, "You may not like me - I like you. That's all that matters."
That's a good attitude to take.
Two things that are cool about that is one, it kind of bridges the gap. And two, if it doesn't it pisses my enemies off. The other thing is people think I'm this ogre and unapproachable guy. That is so far from the truth. We do all kinds of charity work with kids all the time. When I teaching martial art out in Arizona, I strictly worked with children because the adults just too reckless. They'd try and learn something. I remember one time I kicked somebody and they cried and I was like, "No more grownups." I love working with kids and stuff. We have this opportunity because the fans love and support this band regardless of what the haters say, we were able to buy fresh water wells in Africa for villages that didn't have any water. This last year we brought a soup kitchen in Port Au Prince, Haiti, which is the most dangerous city in the world right now. We were able to buy a soup kitchen and the fans did this. They helped provide the funds for me to have the excess that I could buy a soup kitchen. So no matter what anybody says about me at the end of the day, I know that a thousand little kids are getting fed every day. So you know what? Tough.
"Forget to Remember" was another cool track that featured Disturbed's David Draiman on it.
For me on "Forget to Remember," I like listening to a lot of European music and for some really weird strange reason, "Forget to Remember" kinda reminds me of a "Tout Le Monde" flipped upside down. I don't know why but it just does. I remember Johnny K had something to me about one of the bands that he worked with and they had turned in their record to the record label and they said they didn't have any songs and where's the hit? The band was mad and he flipped the song upside down and put lyrics over it and showed it to the band and they said, "We can't do that." And he goes, "Oh yeah?" Then he played it and sang the lyrics to the song that was going in the right direction and it was like, "Oh my God." You know what? It was a number one song.
"It's a blessing to have a guy that's got the talent that Chris Broderick has."
How did you know David Draiman?
They did the Mayhem Festival when my arm got blown out. They were the headliners with Godsmack and it was really cool to be out with different bands in different genres. Granted they were all at the top of their game and that's the beauty of European festivals.
When you do a festival like that over here in America, people are like, "Why are you playing with guy? Ahhh." But I remember playing a festival over in Europe with Oasis, R.E.M., Bo Diddley, Sheryl Crow, Megadeth and Faith No More were all on the same bill. Picture seeing that concert in America somewhere (laughs).
You would have had that kind of concert in America back in 1967 with Bill Graham.
Wow, good point.
What was it like having David Draiman in the studio?
It was very cool. He came out and helped a little bit with some ideas and I was just really open-minded to the whole process this time. I had my ideas and what I wanted to do and I thought, "You don't know if you don't ask." So he came and we hung out and he had some really cool ideas. The actual melodies for "Dance in the Rain" for the chorus, he had. He had a part to do with that and in "Forget to Remember" there's a little ad lib part right before each chorus. I wouldn't have done something like that but he did and it was like, "Wow, this is really cool."
So David Draiman did push you in a slightly different direction?
Actually with "Dance in the Rain," we had asked another artist to do this but he thinks a little highly of himself was keeping us waiting. And it's like, "Well dude, we're mixing. Well dude, we're mastering. I was out in Austin and went to dinner with David and his lovely wife Lena and I went back to his house and was listening to some of the Device stuff because they're on Gigantour and I was so excited about that. The funny thing was he was thanking me for giving him the break with this band and it was like, "Hey c'mon, we're friends. The band's great. You don't need to thank me for that. This is gonna be a fantastic summer with my friend." So anyways we went back to his house and we were listening to Device and listening to some of the Trivium he just produced and I just had this idea. I just said, "Hey you know what? Why don't you sing this end part here?" It's supposed to be like "1984" and the whole song is about how society is going to the dogs and how people have to work more and more and more and more to be able to make ends meet. And at the very end it's like, "OK, here we go. 'Endgame'." The loudspeakers are telling you what to do and my voice going from me being the main character to being the voice in the speaker just wasn't as cool as having a guest. When David did it it was like, "Oh my God, dude. You totally nailed this."
"Having David Draiman in the studio was very cool."
In an earlier interview we did you said to me, "I tried singing and it felt like someone had driven a nail into my eyeball. It felt like Scanners." How do you feel about singing today?
Yeah, I think by my 40th anniversary, I'll become a singer. It's so funny the way the whole thing went down. We had some really terrible auditions for singers. Nice guys would come but they just weren't the right guy. I remember the one guy we thought was so cool but he was really pushing the Steve Perry edge. It was kinda like, "I don't know, man. I love Journey and I love Neal Schon shredding and stuff like that. But Steve's voice kind of wears on me a little bit and the lyrics are a little tricky. But let's give this guy a try." You know what? He shows up and he's a totally different dude. Now he's got eyeliner on and I like at Junior and I went, "Finish the beer." So we finished the beer and then we said, "OK, we gotta go home now" and never saw the guy again after that.
Did you have a real sense of the kind of voice you wanted singing the Megadeth songs?
We knew what we wanted and we knew what he looked like. This is so wicked, man, and I can't believe I'm gonna tell you this. But this is one of the things we did. We would videotape the interviews with the guitar players before we got Marty Friedman and then what we would do is we would play them back fast-forward to see if they had nervous tics. And you'd see this one guy, his foot was like a propeller like vroom. Just vibrating, man, with RLM, which is rapid leg movement really bad. Or these other guys would be flippin' their hair the whole time like he was C.C. DeVille. I remember this one guy was the funniest thing - before he would say a sentence he would stick his tongue straight out and he would lick to the left and then to the right like the was lickin' the corners of his mouth. He'd do this every time you said anything and I went, "There it goes again." People don't think like this mischievously when they interview people but I thought, "You know what? I know what I want. We know what we want."
If you could have had the perfect singer, who would it have been?
There's two people - it would either have been Chris Cornell and I absolutely love his singing. I think he's just a superstar. Or it would be a guy named Sean Harris who you don't know, which is the singer for Diamond Head who was a great singer too. I love Chris and I think he's a great singer. It's sad the way bands kind of come and go and you watch talent soar so high and then it's always hard for them to re-accomplish that kind of greatness. The one about Chris is the one thing about him is whenever he sings you know it. It's just like with Axl, me or Hetfield. We have really identifiable voices.
Have you heard the new Soundgarden record?
No, I heard they did get back together again, which I'm happy about. It's funny 'cause I had a personal assistant that worked for them for a long time and he used to tell me all their kind of crazy stories on the road and stuff. We used to always joke around about how we wished they would get back together. Like I said, man, Chris is one of my faves. I love the weirdness of the guitar playing in Soundgarden too. There was a band a long time ago called Sugartooth. I don't know if you remember those guys but they were like here and gone in a matter of seconds. My manager Ron Lafitte at the time was working with them and I remember I was gonna produce 'em. Something happened where schedules didn't line up and it was a bummer because they were awesome and just like another Soundgarden.
"If I could have had the perfect singer, there's two people - it would either have been Chris Cornell, or Sean Harris [of] Diamond Head."
How does it feel releasing "Super Collider" and looking back on 30 years gone?
The first thing I would say is it's not 30 years gone - it's 30 years in the bank.
I didn't mean in any negative way.
Yeah, I dig. I'm just trying to make lemonade out of a lemon here. Looking at the time, there's nothing I could have done with my life that would have been this fulfilling. Because at the end of the day, there have been times where I've been on the phone talking to people and I remember one time there was a girl that was gonna commit suicide in Australia. We talked her off the ledge and I got on my cellphone and called her back when cellphones looked like phone books. It cost an arm and a leg but you know? It was like her life was more important. Looking back at stuff like that it's about being able to do the charity work we've done; being able to help younger bands; and being able to bring happiness to people's lives. Having people come up and say, "You have no idea what 'The Darkest Hour' meant for me and I had some very dark times and that helped me." That's made it all worthwhile. So that 30 years I don't look like it's gone at all - it's just been a total blessing.
What's coming up for Megadeth?
What's on the horizon for us is what's got me excited. Because with "Super Collider" coming out, we have all these tour dates coming up with Iron Maiden and we're headlining over in the UK. Coming back to Gigantour and it's got Device and a band called Death Division is opening. It's an unknown band I like and I think the guitar player in that band (Rick DiMarco) is one of my favorite new guitar players. I just announced that Hellyeah is gonna be on the tour. We're not divulging everything yet. I've kinda been doing it every week just to let everybody get excited and stuff. I'm super excited about that and at the end of the year we're gonna be going down to South America and then over to the South Pacific next year.
Interview by Steven Rosen
"I remember playing a festival over in Europe with Oasis, Sheryl Crow and Faith No More. Picture seeing that in America somewhere."