Ordinarily I pay virtually no attention to the Grammy Awards, but I was more than just a little pleased to hear that Megadeth were awarded Best Metal Performance for the title track of last year’s excellent ‘Dystopia’ album after something like eleven previous nominations.
Furthermore it gives me a flimsy excuse to re-publish a couple of interviews that I had the pleasure of doing with Megadeth founder and main man Dave Mustaine back in 2009 and 2010 for dB Magazine. Despite plenty of nervousness on my part, Mustaine proved to be an amazing interviewee. Forthright in his views certainly, but I also found him to be an honest and self-deprecating man who was also very generous with his time and insights.
So without further ado…
Megadeth Interview – originally published in dB Magazine September 2009
Dave Mustaine has something of a reputation. Throughout his long career, the Megadeth main man and original Metallica member has been well known for speaking his mind and expressing forthright views. He also doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And so it was with just a little trepidation that I approached this interview. What followed, however, was an extraordinarily interesting, honest and frank discussion in which Mustaine spoke candidly about the excellent new Megadeth album ‘Endgame’, the forthcoming Australian tour with fellow thrash metal godfathers Slayer and his life in music and beyond.
That candour is revealed when I remark that ‘Endgame’ and its predecessor (2007’s ‘United Abominations’) are as intense and aggressive as anything that Megadeth have recorded and mark a real return to their roots. “That is absolutely accurate. These are albums that I wanted to make. I’ve wanted to make this record for a long time, but you know what? I lost my way. I don’t say that glibly at all, it was painful to have to face the fact. What had happened was the pressure from the music industry forced me to make compromises with my band and with myself. In order to have domestic tranquillity in a band sometimes you have to use your chops as a psychiatrist or a psychologist. For example Marty Friedman (former Megadeth guitarist) was having a really difficult time. He couldn’t follow direction. The songs weren’t slow enough for him, they weren’t melodic enough for him. After we had finished doing the ‘Risk’ album I was so fed up with the way that everything had gone, I knew that the writing was on the wall. I had gone up to him after it was all over and I said, ‘We’ve got to get back to our roots and play the fast stuff.’ And that’s when he quit. So the funny thing is, when we were in the studio doing The Doctor’s Calling, I was playing that song and I was trying to mock him, and my mocking of him was what the song actually ended up consisting of! We were in there talking and he goes, ‘Man, you know we just need something really heavy and really slow.’ And I was like, ‘Jeez Marty! It can’t get any fucking slower than this! What’s the matter with you?!’ So I picked up my guitar and just played this big slow riff and he goes, ‘Fuck, man! That’s it! Oh my god that’s it!’ And I thought to myself, ‘I can’t even win when I’m trying to be mean!’” To emphasise the point, Mustaine bursts into a fit of mock sobbing.
As we talk some more about ‘Endgame’, Mustaine brings up a topic that I confess to wavering about raising myself, namely his renewed Christian faith. “What I do know about this record is that I had a profound change in my life. When I hurt my arm back in 2002 I really became a Christian. I believed in god ever since I was a little kid and that belief is clear even if you listen to the first sentence from the song Peace Sells But Who’s Buying? That was back in1983, so we’re talking twenty-five years ago. I talk to God every day. So everybody making such a big deal out of this, you know it’s not such a big deal. And if it was, you know what? It made me make a great fucking record! So having this new sense of peace that’s descended on me, I’m really enjoying myself right now. A lot!”
Warming to the topic of where he is at as a person right now, Mustaine goes on to explain how his past is shaping his present and future. “I don’t have a lot of friends because a lot of people that I used to hand around with, for a variety of different reasons we’ve parted ways or gone down different paths. The more successful I’ve become and the more I’ve focused on my career, the people that I’m hanging around with are changing. I would love to learn how to fly like Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, but you can’t learn to fly if you’re hanging around in a bar. So, I’m pretty excited with my life right now. I look around me and I think that I wouldn’t change a thing. There have certainly been ups and downs. There have been moments when my heart has just been leaping in my chest. There have been times when I’ve been so angry that I could just spit fire and times when I’ve cried so hard that my whole body’s convulsed with sobs. I look at like this right now – I’m glad to be alive to experience the problems that I’m experiencing right now because my friend, I have problems in areas right now that I used to not have areas! I could very easily be taken back to those days when I was homeless and panhandling for food. It was terrible and that was where a lot of songs came from, the desperate actions of a man who hasn’t eaten for days. Things change, man. You certainly see things through different eyes when you’re homeless.”
Mustaine it seems is a man who seeks to actively learn from whatever life dishes up. “I like teaching people stuff. When I used to teach martial arts I really enjoyed teaching children. Kids were so much more fun to teach. When I was doing stuff like showing them how to roll their little fingers to make a fist, just watching their little eyes go wide, that sort of thing was great. But in one of the styles I was teaching they hadn’t been taught how to hit the ground, which is where all fights end up. So the first time I grabbed one of the little guys’ legs he fell on the ground and started crying. I felt like an inch tall! So I quit teaching that style of martial art and went back to another. So you’re probably asking yourself, ‘What’s the story Dave? Why are you telling me all this shit?’ Well, it changed me and helped me to realise that no matter what you’re doing you can always make something better. I like to take these life lessons and apply them to my career. I can ask myself, ‘Dave, what do you really need in this life anymore?’ And I can honestly answer myself, ‘I just wanna be happy.’ And I’ve got a record now that makes me so fucking happy!”
With that fine new album plus a touring schedule that will take them across the globe, Megadeth and Mustaine in particular show no sign of slowing down. But it seems he already has plans for the future, which includes the fostering of new talent. “In our fine country over here, especially in Hollywood, a lot of kids come from around the country to try to make it big. I want to build a school in my recording studio so that we can save some of these kids the hassle of coming all the way there to do that. There’s a place called ‘The Conservatory’ in Phoenix that I thought was great and I’m going to use a lot of their ideas. That’s something I’m really looking forward to as I move into retirement is to build the school over here. I think it would be really cool to have some Australian talent come over here, whether it’s young students or bands that wanted to record here.”
As discussion turns to touring partners Slayer, Mustaine offers a concise and accurate summary of why Australian audiences are so lucky to see two such important and influential bands on the one bill. “Well, we had known the guys from Slayer for many, many years and I’ve always been very respectful of Slayer and what they can do live. Being half of the ‘Big Four’ (along with Metallica and Anthrax) we stand for something particularly when I look at some of the music that was created by those bands.”
With the interview drawing to a close I thank Mustaine for his time. He reassures me of something that has been readily apparent throughout. “I certainly want to put a knife in the ground in that I want people to walk away from talking with me feeling at peace with themselves and that they had an enjoyable experience talking to an old friend. You and I don’t know each other very well and hopefully we can fix that but one thing’s for sure, I’ve spoken to you as honestly as I can. And I appreciate you even giving me the time to talk.”
Honesty has remained a constant throughout Mustaine’s long career and there is no doubt that honesty has bruised plenty of egos along the way, but from my perspective it is hugely refreshing. From past experience I can also assure you that Mustaine’s honesty also manifests itself on stage where you can be guaranteed that Megadeth will always give their all.
Megadeth Interview – originally published in dB Magazine November 2010
With Megadeth’s forthcoming headlining slot on the ‘No Sleep Til’ travelling festival being the band’s third visit to our shores in little more than three years, (in contrast to a certain other big metal band whose recent visit here was their first in six years!) one wonders whether they should look at taking up Australian citizenship.
As founder, guitarist, singer and songwriter Dave Mustaine explains down the line from California when I ask him about his apparent affinity for our country, that is actually not such a far fetched notion. “No, without a doubt I am absolutely convinced that if I was ever to have a dual citizenship it would be very hard to choose anything but Australia!” My kids were somewhat nervous with some of the choices that we’re looking at right now with our government here right now, but I don’t want to get into that. We had talked about moving down there and if things keep going crazy like they are in the ‘States then Canada’s an option too but I think Australia is more along the lines of the way that I like to live, but I think my kids would prefer to live in Canada because it’s closer to their friends. Because god, it’s such a long damn flight down there!”
Megadeth and Mustaine in particular are coming off an extremely frantic twelve months but there is no dimming the man’s enthusiasm. “Well, we’ve been fairly busy and certainly blessed. It’s really cool for us right now because there was a time when Megadeth was really struggling. I had just hurt my arm badly and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play any more. I’m excited right now to have the love of the Australian audiences and to be able to go down there and have a fan base that is still waiting for us. That is the coolest stuff in the world, man.”
Megadeth’s Australian shows are part of a twentieth anniversary tour on which the classic ‘Rust In Peace’ album is played in it’s entirety. The tour also marks the return of original bassist Dave Ellefson to the band after an absence of eight years and following a very acrimonious split with Mustaine. “So far, Dave’s been really fun to play with, it’s been cool to have him back around. I think that going out and doing ‘Endgame’ and having a change in the middle of the campaign to being the ‘Rust In Peace’ tour, that kind of threw us for a loop. But it certainly wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be. But like I’ve been saying, we’re just excited about coming down there and tour. Having Dave come in, and having Chris in the band and Shawn, we’re able to play any of the songs from the past. It’s funny, last time we played in there, I said we were only going to play the song My Last Words in Australia. And of course I always end up saying something stupid like that and end up having to eat my words. I was in San Francisco and Lars and James showed up, and they asked if we would do a request for them. So I said, ‘Yes, sure what is it?’ and Lars says, ‘It’s My Last Words’. So of course we did it, but the thing was that we hadn’t done that song with Chris in the band. The last time we did it was two years before when Shawn’s brother was playing for us. So we got out there and nobody knew what was going to happen. Thank god we got through it and there was no blood!”
“But that’s the coolest thing about coming down for this festival. We don’t know what to expect. We’re going to come down and do the ‘Rust In Peace’ stuff but we’ve also got time to do a couple of other songs. With all the great talent that’s going to be on that show, one day we might do some of the more punk stuff that we have in our catalogue. We may find that there are some days where it’s time to play the big songs. Don’t really know! We’re going to have to see when we get down there.”
As we talk further about the diverse line-up for the ‘No Sleep Til’ tour, Mustiane explains his own attitude towards supporting and fostering new talent. “It’s really important who you take out as a support band. It can really have a way of putting a bad colour on your tour if you don’t know who the talent is that you’re going out with. It’s been really beneficial for us in the past when we tour to have good people. To give you some examples, Stone Temple Pilots came out with us when they released their first record. I had heard that record when I was in Finland and said, ‘This is either a joke or these guys are going to be enormous!’ So we were the first ones to take them out. Same thing with Pantera, same thing with White Zombie, same thing with so many people who have gone on to great success because our fan base is just so diversified, and I love that! We’ve really been able to hand pick people. The funny thing is, we’ll pick people and they’ll be with us on a tour and the next thing they’ll be in the next level. It’s really interesting how people work their way up through the talent pool. Unless you’re bitter! And then it’s not going to be fun for you at all, but I really enjoy watching people now because I’ve been doing this for so long and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve accomplished in my own life. Now I get to sit back and watch people do stuff, and really be happy for them. And that’s a cool place to be.”
That philosophy stems in part from Mustaine’s own experiences and struggles to achieve success. “You know I’m glad that you said that because a lot of people aren’t really aware of what it took to make this thing happen in the beginning. It was really an ordeal. There weren’t a lot of places for us to play. There weren’t a lot of magazines for us to get exposure in, and certainly we weren’t able to talk to anyone on radio. No one wanted to talk to us on radio, probably because we were really terrible human beings! I remember one time we had covered this song No More Mr Nice Guy, a song by my godfather Alice Cooper. Alice asked that we cover this song for a movie that Wes Craven had put out. So we recorded and released it, and the next thing you know this song is on the radio and we’re all excited. After the song the guy comes on and goes (Mustaine adopts typical American DJ voice), ‘And that was, uuh, umm…an old Alice Cooper song! And now it’s time for the news.’ He didn’t even say our name, the pussy! But everybody has their day and I really believe that right now we’ve waited long enough and now it’s our time, and man, I’m so excited. I can’t even begin to tell you. I’m so ready to sit back and take advantage of all this.”
Mustaine recently released his autobiography, which is unsurprisingly very frank, honest and at times confronting. The experience of writing it was both cathartic and challenging. “I think there was definitely some healing that took place. There are certainly a lot of people that don’t understand what it takes to write a book and talk about yourself like this. It’s really easy to kind of get lost in the moment and forget what it is that you’re doing. Are you writing a book that’s a story, some kind of fairytale? Or are you writing a book that for those people who know who you are will say, ‘Oh yeah! I remember that.’ So what I did was write a book where people would not only say, ‘Oh yeah! I remember that’, but also, ‘Dude! Can you believe he did that?!’ And other people would say, ‘I can’t believe he lived through that!’ There was a line in a song that I wrote called When (from 2001’s ‘The World Needs A Hero’ album) that said I’d lived through stuff that some people would die from just watching, and I truly believe that. I’ve been through a lot of stuff, and the book is good because it could help some of our fans to be able to say, ‘You know what? I’m not the only one that has a hard life. Dave did it and I can do it too.’ And I really love that, being able to be the underdog. I’ve really had to do this whole thing myself. The music industry hasn’t ever really been working with me. My success I’ve really had to struggle for, and sometimes I sit back and wonder if I had been an ass-kisser right from the beginning, how big would I have been? But because I said no to the first guy that said, ‘Start sucking’, I started my career down that rocky road where you kind of have to work twice as hard.” Maybe so, but it is hard to imagine Mustaine ever taking that route or indeed Megadeth becoming the iconic band they are had he done so.
Writing the book presented some new challenges, which Mustaine seemed to relish. “Well, it wasn’t like I had planned on doing this. It was something where we wanted to make sure that the timing was right. It’s kind of funny when you do something like write a book because it’s nothing like making a record. You know, with a record I know what I’m doing, this is my job. With the book, it was totally, totally different. I learned a pretty valuable lesson too that it’s entirely up to you how you want another person to perceive you. If you don’t take responsibility for how you speak to people, if you’re not paying attention then how are you going to be responsible for how you are perceived?” Mustaine is characteristically forthright about what he didn’t want his book to be like. “I look at some of the guys that have done books and I was thumbing through one in particular, and the guy is talking about how he was having sex with all these girls. So I go a few chapters further and its more chicks, more chicks, more chicks. And I was just thinking, ‘Are you ever going to talk about music?’ I didn’t want to do that because I kind of think that the guys that talk so much about how much they get laid, don’t really get laid that much, you know? It’s like someone walks up and says out of left field, ‘I don’t have a problem picking my nose.’ Who the hell would say something like that except somebody that’s got a problem doing that?!”
While explaining his own preference for honesty in all dealings, Mustaine reveals that he has now dipped his toes into a new career. “So I like being very up front and honest with our fans and my band mates and my business partners that I’m working with right now. I’m blessed right now that I’ve got a couple of bands that I’m managing. I was asked by a lady from Canada if I would be interested in managing one of her bands. I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m not a manager!’ But she said that I would be perfect for these guys, and so I listened to their album and I loved them. So I’m managing this band called Baptised In Blood with my manager Mark Adelman. We’ve also got another band that we’re managing together but we haven’t announced who it is yet because it’s a pretty good sized band and we want to make sure that their fans know what’s happening before they hear it from us.”
This foray into managing prompts me to ask how he finds time to fit it all in. “You know, compared to when I was scheming and scamming, I get so much more done now in the course of a day than I ever would back then, when I was always trying to get one up on everybody. I didn’t like who I was back then, but nowadays I’m just so much more capable of getting so much stuff done, it’s hilarious actually.” It comes as no great surprise then when I discover that the band have already recorded songs for the follow up to ‘Endgame’, an album released barely twelve months ago. “We’ve got between five and seven depending on who you’re talking to, and the record’s supposed to be twelve songs. So we’re pretty stoked by all of this. The timing is perfect, we’re hungry and we’re ready to go! After being out on tour with our friends in Anthrax and Slayer and Metallica, we’re just ready to rock! I think it’s going to be pretty synonymous with some of the old school staff we did when we were just starting, some of that real quick right hand stuff. So I look forward to being able to talk to you when I’ve got my new record in my hands.”