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Interview with Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine

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Who is one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time? Well, most people’s top three might consist of in some order Metallica, Slayer and none other than Megadeth. As a pioneer of thrash metal, Megadeth has risen to international prominence and acclaim over the last three decades. Although some of the band members have come and gone over the years, the one constant has remained Dave Mustaine, the singer, guitarist and brains behind Megadeth’s sound and style. Recently, the band has regrouped with some new members and have just released their latest studio album Endgame. The record contains eleven new Megadeth songs that will be sure to smack you right in the face; just like the band’s classics from the ‘80s and ‘90s. To help promote Endgame, Dave and the guys will be out on an extensive world tour, including the upcoming Canadian Carnage Tour with Slayer. We just very recently had the amazing opportunity to speak with Dave about the tour, the new album and Dave’s feelings on the current state of metal. It was definitely a true honour to chat with Dave and let me add that he’s far kinder than he’s often given credit for.

Megadeth’s twelfth studio album Endgame just came out in mid-September. Now that it’s dropped, how are you feeling about the record?
Dave: Well I love the record; I certainly wish that it would have come out at a different time back when record sales were actually indicative of the people who are capable of holding the record in their hands. People really did actually enjoy owning the vinyl and holding it in their hands. I think all the people who burn records, who download it and the people who just don’t give a shit about music anymore because they’d rather sit at home and play Madden Football or something like that. I mean it really hurts the bands too, the last bastion for us to make any kind of living to support ourselves or our business or our families is the live frontier and even that is being oversaturated with talentless bands. You go out to a concert and you basically end up with your fingers in your ears and you’re at the bar you know because most bands aren’t entertaining anymore. You go out to a nightclub and you listen to a band and they play too damn loud and the stuff is usually not that good. You have to listen to two bands of crap to get to the headliner and they’ve only got one or two good songs. I’d rather stay home and play video games myself and I don’t play video games. [laughs] When the music business pulls its head out of its ass and stops signing talentless bands and the promoters do the same thing and they stop booking talentless bands, the music industry is going to correct itself.

The twelve new songs on Endgame cover a lot of different subject matter including some political themes and commentary. Would you venture to call Endgame a concept record?
Dave: No because the only thing that’s congruent from the beginning to the end is that I’m on it. The songs are so different; you got songs about drag racing, songs about bank robbery, songs about burying people in walls of wine cellars [laughs] so there’s no theme there. And granted, it’s very testosterone driven so if you’re a wuss you’re not going to like this record.

What was the writing and recording like for Endgame?
Dave: Very challenging, very challenging. Chris Broderick is such an extremely talented person and playing with James and Sean, James having all that experience you know, he’s the oldest guy in the band believe it or not, I’m not the oldest anymore and that makes me feel good. We’ll go places and we’ll have to wake James up from his nap, no I’m just kidding... We get along really well and with Sean being Canadian of course, he brings an international flair to the band, I found out from my sister who was doing some genealogy on our family on my dad’s side, we never knew that our family had migrated through Canada so there’s some Canadian in our background. And I told Sean and he goes “I knew you were cool for a reason.” I was cool for more reasons for where my ancestors are from. [laughs]

So anyways we’re so excited about how the record’s being received, it did really well in Canada, I hope the record company is going to redouble their efforts now and now that the initial wave of people have bought it, now is when the real work starts. This is when we have to try even harder to get new fans, we have to you know, really get in touch with guys like yourself and build that relationship so you know, “hey I know I’ll always get a good story out of Dave, I know that he may talk about stuff that’s hard to swallow but you know what he always shoots straight with me.” I mean I don’t know you from Adam, but I’m not going to fuck around with you, there’s no reason to lie to you. And frankly, I’m having the best time of my life, even though my family is kind of in disarray again, it usually happens at the beginning of every tour, they start getting antsy and stuff. But that happens with almost every band member in Megadeth in the history of the band, anybody who’s been married. You know like Junior used to get in the limo as soon as we would get ready to go to the airport, he’d get in and he’d go like “thank god!!!” like that and I would think “wow that’s got to really suck.” You know, because when I left it was like, I don’t want to go, but I need to go because I love playing and you know what, I’m not doing concerts in front of thousands of people every night in my office.

Endgame is the follow up to your 2007 album United Abominations. What would you say is the main difference between that record and your latest release?
Dave: Well the obvious thing right off the bat is there’s a new guitar player and while Glen is a very talented guitar player and he can also play the drums, I think he has been... the most generous contribution he’s given to Megadeth was his skills as a talent scout. You know, we had Nick Menza on the drums when Glen came in and Glen and I were in a room with Nick when we called up his brother Shawn to ask him if he wanted the drum tech position. And Nick, being his typical arrogant self, he goes... Glen picks up the phone and says “hey Shawn it’s Glen,” “hey Glen it’s Shawn,” “how’re you doing,” “I’m good,” “how are you,” “I’m good,” “hey Dave it’s Shawn,” “hey Shawn this is Dave,” and I’m going like “okay already.” But this is Nick, we’re looking for a drum tech for Nick and I guess Nick had gotten a little bit turned off with the kind of comedy that the Drover brothers have, he didn’t like it and he said “you know, I don’t even want to fucking know you,” meaning that he didn’t want to have a relationship with the tech. But the way he said it was so rude, you don’t say that about somebody, “I don’t even want to fucking know you.” Okay well I’m going to leave my house and my wife and my children to go out on the road and bust my ass for a guy that doesn’t even want to fucking know me and that’s how he talks to me, I haven’t even met him yet? So I said you know what, we’ll call you back Shawn, because I knew I had to end the conversation right there.

So I went outside and Glen goes “Dave I got to talk to you” and I said “okay let’s talk,” and he goes “I can’t play with this guy,” and I said “I get it Glen, I fired him once before too” and he goes “what an asshole.” And I thought, well you can think what you want but you know, I’ve already had my whole experience with him. And then Glen goes “you should just get Shawn to play the drums, he’s been playing Megadeth songs ever since he was a kid.” I said, if I let Nick go and Shawn comes out here and he can’t do this, I’m going to be fucked. So I let Nick go, Shawn came out, sight unseen, no audition, he gets on the drum set and starts playing... We do our first show, four days after I meet the guy, we’re in the bus riding to Reno, fifth day’s the day off, sixth day he’s playing on stage with Megadeth headlining. After the concert, Drover goes “I think I need to go to the hospital.” And I’m like “what’s the matter?” And he says “I’m feeling kind of dizzy.” So he goes to the hospital and he’s got vertigo. I asked him “how the hell did you get vertigo?” He goes “dude this is only my third concert” and I’m like “what?!?!” If he had have told me that before we went on stage, I would have had a baby, I would have lost my mind. He’s now become a great addition to the band, he’s probably made the most of an impressive improvement in his playing since the last record, James is what he is and I’m what I am but Shawn really stepped up to the plate.

The other thing that makes Glen a good talent scout would be when he recommended Chris Broderick, because I didn’t know Chris, I had no idea who he was, I wanted to get Jeff Loomis and I had always thought of Jeff Waters (of Annihilator) but Jeff and I don’t really mix very well when it comes down to music. We’re friends and stuff like that, but we could never get anything together and there’s probably a reason for that, I don’t know what it is. And then the thing with Jeff Loomis, he was doing a solo thing and there was really no position for him because we were in the middle of a tour, we weren’t ready to make a change and this happened. So Glen got us Shawn and Chris, the two more ferocious guys that are in the band right now. If it wasn’t for Shawn Drover, we wouldn’t be playing all these rare, old tracks, he’s the one that keeps going “let’s play “Black Friday!” And right now, we’ve got it back in the set list, after five years of twisting my arm he finally got his way and we’re working on it.

Endgame is the first Megadeth album to feature new guitarist Chris Broderick. How involved was Chris in the writing and recording?
Dave: Well he only participated in one song as far as a writer’s concerned and just to give you an idea of the way we do things, when we go into the studio, when it comes down to a guitar solo, there’s their way, our way and then my way. What that means is like when it’s time for them to do a solo, I let them go in there and do their solos and then I’ll come and listen to it and if it’s cool it’s cool, if it’s okay I’ll say, hey you know what, let’s try a little thing right here and then it becomes our way. And then if it’s just wrong, I’ll say well this is kind of what I was thinking would go here and I’ll sing it to them and it sounds weird, but jazz guys do that like George Benson does that. So that was something that I’ve done ever since the beginning. Now with Chris on this record, I had to say something to him twice, that’s it, there wasn’t a song that went by in the history of Megadeth that I didn’t say two things about and he did an entire record that way. And here’s what happened, we were trying to do the solo for “1, 320” and we’re in a hotel room trying to jam the solo out of it, it’s not really happening, it’s just not comfortable, none of us are comfortable but we’re still trying to do this because we wanted to get a single out. We figured we would make up for it by re-recording it in the studio and he did the solo for us and I said you know what, why don’t you wait until I do my solo. So I did my solo and he goes, “oh okay, I need to rethink this.” So that was the first thing, the second thing was a thing with a wang bar and when you’re going down with a wang bar and then you shake it, it has a kind of (imitates sound), I know you can’t print that sound but there’s a difference, one kind of vibrates and stutters in the sound it makes like a machine gun and then the other one just sounds like a sound that’s going down like a plane that’s crashing. So that was the second and last thing I said to him, every single other note on the record was all his genius.

When I auditioned him, he came to my house because I just wanted to see if he could do it, anybody can do shit on youtube so I wanted to see if he could do it first take, you know he came down, he did it and it was mind-blowing. And then I said okay I need your help now, I needed to challenge him outside of music just to see you know how he was as a person. So we went in my garage and I said see this, it’s two thousand pounds of steel that needs to be assembled into a weight center and I need your help and he goes “okay.” So we put it together and what I found out after four hours of working with this guy is that one, we’re a great team together, two, we totally communicate well, three, we can do things together very well and four, his personality is really engaging to where you want to be around the guy, you just want to. I’m not saying “oh he’s sooo cool,” it’s just he’s one of those guys, he just makes you feel alive you know, he’s such a great player and he’s so healthy and that’s what it’s all about. It makes me want to play my ass off to be in this band and I never thought that there would be a guitar player that came in after Marty that would inspire me like Chris has.

Now for Endgame, you again worked with producer Andy Sneap who also helped with the last album. What made you decide to work with Andy for Endgame?
Dave: I lost a bet.

Really?
Dave: No. [laughs] When we did the last record, we started with Jeff Balding, great man, great producer, great engineer but he’s more polished and does stuff more in the rock vein because he’s been really successful with country and gospel music. I wanted to have an engineer that would be to his calibre but certainly not that production style and he had worked with me before and um, it was exciting to go back in the studio and try to do something with him because he helped me on The System Has Failed. The problem with that though was that when the record was done, the relationship kind of took a hit. When we went in to do United Abominations, that residual, strangeness in the relationship was still around and I was finding it harder and harder to talk with Jeff. Then Andy said you know, I want to get a chance to mix “Gears of War” and he did it and I was like wow, this is great. So he came in and finished the record and then it was just so enjoyable working with him we decided that we were going to do it again, this time we were going to start from scratch with him, he’s just a brilliant guy.

On the touring side of things, you have the Endgame tour coming up featuring yourselves, Machine Head, Suicide Silence and Arcanium. You have so much material to choose from now, what do you think the setlist will be like?
Dave: Well we have the songs that we were playing on Canadian Carnage, that was the twelve that we could fit in the hour slot that had because we were both headlining, it’s called a co-headlining show and everything is mutually booked and billed the same. So we both had an hour and we wanted to make the best use of the time we had because the guys in Slayer had been playing together for quite a while and they could probably pick any song out of their repertroire and play it. Whereas with us, these guys don’t know the previous hundred and twenty songs you know, and we have to in some cases re-learn songs and we have I think twenty-five songs right now that we’re capable of playing in concert and there’s another twenty on the list that we’re working on to add in to the list.

Because, I went back to these guys, I said you know what, we really should go back through the catalogue and grab some of the more fun songs to play and this all started with me saying that we should play “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” because it would be a way for James to kind of get a little bit of some of the gravy because you know, people are going nuts over Chris and they’ve always been crazy for me but the bass player kind of gets a little left out. Ellefson’s always in the shadows and that’s probably why he hates being called Junior because at heart, he’s always going to be a junior because that’s how people know him. Instead of resisting it, you would think one would just totally embrace it and say “fuck yeah, I am junior and this was a great period in my life.” We don’t talk anymore, although I did forgive him, forgiveness isn’t for the other person, it’s for the person who’s doing the forgiving. It would have eaten me alive if I had have stayed bitter at the guy, I mean he did what he did and that’s that. The chances of us playing together are zero, but I wish him well, he’s probably trying hard to make ends meet, probably in a whole bunch of bands and I don’t know what any of them sound like. Hopefully he’ll strike gold with something.

As a band, Megadeth has helped influence an entire genre of heavy metal. What are some newer metal bands out there that you enjoy?
Dave: That I enjoy? There isn’t really a lot of new bands out there that are any good. It’s like I said, as soon as the music industry stops signing shit bands then the industry’s going to correct itself. You know, you’ve got a couple of good bands like, people will say Avenged Sevenfold and My Chemical Romance, Trivium and Bullet For My Valentine. Some people also will say Lamb of God or Killswitch Engage and stuff like that. But you know, the way I look at it music to me is something that I need to be able to fuck or fight to and there’s nothing that I’m hearing anymore that gets me that kind of adrenaline that I’m willing to step in the ring with somebody or something that makes me feel cool enough that I would walk up to somebody and try and score. I don’t feel that confidence when I listen to music nowadays that you know, back in the day you would put on a record and you were ten feet tall and bullet proof, now songs just don’t have that same feeling anymore. It’s so ridiculous, I don’t know one band out there right now that I’ve heard any good lyrics on in probably the last eight years, maybe even ten because the lyrics are just so stupid. I’m not saying my lyrics are any good, because you know I’m pretty self-absorbed myself. As far any good new bands that I listen to, I really don’t, I like the classics, I like the thought of what’s happening with Slayer and Megadeth coming up with the next leg of the Canadian Carnage, I think that’s just mind-blowing that we get to do this historic event first up in Canada of all places. And you know, it spawned the Australian Canadian Carnage and it begged the question why won’t you come to Eastern Canada? And the answer is I will, I would always play in Canada, I love Canada.

As a band, Megadeth has had an amazing career that has spanned nearly three decades now. How long do you see Megadeth going on for? Can we expect to see you making music and touring for years to come?
Dave: Well not for years to come. I’m forty-eight right now and by the time this tour ends I’ll be fifty and I used to make fun of people for playing too long. It can be done, I mean look at Springsteen, nobody ever talks about his age, the fucker’s as old as the guys in the Rolling Stones, trust me. But you know, nobody’s ever made a big deal about it. Why? Because he doesn’t look like a mummy. And I’m taking really good care of myself, do I think that I can continue playing forever? Well it depends right now on how my neck holds out because with all that head banging over all these years, I have arthritis in my neck. I would say, if anything I could say to any musicians who are just starting out, if you play music where you head bang, you need to warm up your neck before you go out and do it, you’ll end up like I did and I don’t mean successful, I’m saying a pain in the neck. It’s a very demanding sport that we do, you think that you get out there and you just play music, if you’re good at what you’re doing, if the fans are digging on what you’re doing, you become Herculean with the things that you can do.

You can play stuff that’s just beyond human comprehension. I’ve watched guys that I play with in the studio do things and then we get out live and you always play faster live, you just do, the adrenaline makes you play faster. So to do those same technically difficult solos in the studio, live, faster, you’ve got to be paying attention. I’m really grateful for where we’re at right now, I’m happy with the job the label’s done and I’m really excited that we’re going to continue pressing forward and not just let this be the end of it. Because that seems to always be the mentality of smaller labels, when the record comes out, as soon as you break even, they stop pushing. I’m not going to ever stop pushing with this record, this is one of my proudest moments. I’ll be talking about this record during the campaign for the next one. Fuck the new record, buy Endgame[ END ]
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