It’s a mild November afternoon in Ireland’s capital and as Overdrive wait patiently in the relaxing contemporary surroundings, of one of Dublin’s more upmarket hotels, for Megadeth founding member, and notoriously outspoken frontman/guitarist Dave Mustaine.
It’s impossible to ignore the complicated and much publicised legacy, which has surrounded the front-man, from his rather abrupt exit from heavy metal giants Metallica, back in the early 1980s, to his affair with alcohol, substance abuse, line up changes and run in’s with the press, band members to the re-birth of his multi-platinum selling band, Megadeth.
Whether you agree or not, Megadeth some regard the band as one of the most technically advanced metal acts on the planet, continually setting the bar with razor fast and technically mind-boggling music since the very birth of the Thrash Metal genre.
Today, a much more focused and happier Mustaine sits before us to talk about the bands’ forthcoming album ‘Dystopia’ and what the feeling is behind the walls of the Megadeth empire.
OD – Firstly let’s talk about Dystopia! It’s almost like you went through a sort of cleansing on this album, with lineup changes, etc. The result is outstanding and reminiscent of a more classic-sounding Megadeth, but with a fresh edge. What was the approach to Dystopia in terms of sound, composition, and concept?
DAVE – Well, to be honest, there was a lot of upheaval in our camp over the last couple of years with management changes, bad touring decisions made by our management, and the loss of my mother-in-law and the Rust In Peace reunion thing.
David Ellefson (bass), was a total gentleman and stood up and said “look this wasn’t Dave’s idea to do this reunion, it was my idea“, because my take on it was, that I really didn’t want anything to do with it. As far as I was concerned, it’s done, and let’s just leave it where it’s at. Dave really wanted to do the Rust In Peace thing and I love Dave, he’s my partner, so I figured we’ll see what happens. When it didn’t happen, of course, everybody blamed me and I was just politely saying “go fuck yourself”.
When Kiko (Loureiro, guitars, ex-Angra) and Chris (Adler, drums, Lamb of God) came into the picture, it was a breath of fresh air, because they are, without a doubt, two of the most talented musicians that I have ever played with.
To have musicians of that caliber playing at the same time is a formidable force. Any of the previous lineups always had at least one member that was not up to standard. For example, say the guitarist is great and the drummer is OK, or the drummer is great and the guitarist is OK, but to have totally changed and to have both positions filled with excellent musicians, really helped to raise, not only the morale of the band but also the professionalism and the ability for us all as musicians. To be honest, I think that my guitar playing has improved, because of Kiko pushing me.
OD – Dystopia is a major step up in terms of sound and musical arrangement and is on another level in terms of technicality. There are moments on Dystopia that are just mind-blowing when you consider some of the breakdowns and solos. Was this a conscious decision when you all began recording together?
DAVE – Well, check this out! All four of us had never played together in the same room until we started rehearsing for this tour. Those songs were being written/recorded with some of us being in different locations at different times.
When Chris completed his drum tracks, Kiko then recorded his parts, while Dave (Ellefson) was actually the first one to record. We were working with Chris, but Dave was the one who had the keeper tracks from those sessions. I was telling someone this the other day, just how excited I am about getting out there and playing the live shows because we have only played one show in Canada, four shows in Australia and India, and two in Russia.
That’s less than a dozen shows with this line-up. So think about this, take away that they were shows and think about rehearsing as other bands do! We never got to play and rehearse together before those shows. A band that has only jammed a few times together and on the first show with all of us together, was in front of eighty thousand people in Quebec! Talk about a baptism of fire!
OD – Were you not shitting yourself with anxiety during those shows?
DAVE – Yeah, I was a little concerned for the boys, but I knew that I was going to have a good time and was ready to carry a heavy load if need be because that’s my job as a frontman. The other thing is, they are so professional and great at their jobs and most importantly, they have charisma. Also, being in this particular music genre, let alone being in this band, you have to be able to carry it.
OD – One of the stand-out attributes for me on all Megadeth albums is your ability to combine memorable and heart-soaring choruses, entwined with the most technically mind-blowing guitar arrangements, does it become difficult to keep pushing the boundaries in terms of writing? Are you the type of person that will suddenly scrap a song because it’s not feeling right or do you think you can push yourself harder to make it better?
DAVE – The way I deal with it, is very much like with what I can only imagine Michael Jackson was struggling with after he finished ‘Thriller’ when he was trying to follow up a diamond-selling album pretty much right after its release. He followed that album with ‘Bad’ and I remember when people were laughing at him because that record only sold eight million, I mean come on man, eight million? That’s still amazing!
For us, we are really our own harshest critics. Melody is very important to me and I don’t have anything against the bands that growl and scream, but it’s just not my cup of tea. I just don’t like it. When I’m driving in my Aston Martin, I’ll usually have the jazz channel on, or I’ll be listening to our own stuff because it helps me to get the feeling.
Cruising in a good ride, having a bit of horsepower under the hood, and listening to Megadeth, is not a good recipe for your insurance (laughs), but I think that it’s a great way for me to put things into perspective. I will usually think; “how does this song resonate with someone’s life, how do I get to say what it’s like being a young man and to have what seems like, no options?“. You know, these things are part of who I am. Coming from a broken home, being homeless, and begging for food with Dave Ellefson.
This was a part of my life that actually happened and these are just some of the things that people don’t really remember when they see us. Sometimes they just think; “Dave’s a big rock star” well you know what? Dave is a big rock star that was actually homeless at one point in his life!
People make fun of me for many things, people make fun of me for believing in God, well you know I actually died once! If you take all of those things and you look at where I”m at now. If I called whatever saved my skin “God“, then I don’t really care if you don’t like it or not!
OD – But that’s personal to you, if you believe in something and you’re happy with that belief then, what’s the problem? There is way too much witch-hunting going on these days. If that’s what makes you tick and keeps you doing what you’re doing, what’s the big deal?
DAVE – Yes, I totally agree. That’s why I love melody so much because you can close your eyes and listen to a song and it just takes you away, you know! I remember when we used to get records and we would listen to it from one side, all the way through to the other and nowadays, people are reaching for the skip button continuously. The attention span of most music fans is a lot shorter these days, so you really have to focus and set the hook with the listeners.
Back on our earlier albums were only had to turn on eight songs, because they had to consider the grooves on the records for when they got too close to each other and bleed into one another. You know, if you listen to Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog, and when Robert Plant’s vocals come in, it’s almost like it’s sort of faded, and then suddenly, it gets really loud.
That’s because the grooves are too close together on that record. With Dystopia, we have fifteen tracks on that album, that almost two complete records when comparing it to back in the day when we started out. The music business has changed so much over the years and is continuing to change at such a fast rate. I
n order to be competitive is one thing, and to win over the hearts of the listeners is another thing.
OD – You have been through almost every situation imaginable within the music industry, from the early days in forming Megadeth to your arm injury, band lineup changes, etc. However, you continue to push forward with a relentless intensity that is quite astounding. What is the driving force inside you, that helps you overcome all the things that have happened to you in your life?
DAVE – Some of it is faith-based and then some of it comes from being pissed off! There is only so much that a man can take with people challenging your worth. It’s not so much what people think of me, it’s what God knows about me and I know that I’m self-taught. Guys that are self-taught… they don’t get a free ride like this. Something is behind this and I want to make sure that the gift that I have been given, is shared with the fans.
I’ve spent hours on the phone and on the net, chatting with fans outside of venues, in meet and greets, signing stuff, and letting people know that they are not alone. I’m not available in the same capacity as say their family or friends, but I just want them to know that they are not alone.
I have been through some really hard stuff and I want them to know that if I can make it through, then so can they. You can reach me through our website and through the various social media outlets and I really try to be inspirational to our fans, through different media outlets. The most important thing really is the message in the songs, such as In My Darkest Hour, I never would have thought that song would have touched so many people as it did.
OD – You have always been very outspoken with a strong character that intimidates some people, do you feel that this is a necessity when involved in this business?
DAVE – I really think that people don’t understand me. I was recently in Russia and was doing an interview with this guy where he asked me something like; “what would you like people to think about you” and I said; “Nothing really, just that I’m approachable and I’m a lot nicer than people think I am” and he responds with; “So, all the journalists are wrong then?” and for just a moment, I was thinking “Go get him Dave“, and I was going to say something like, “No, just you butt-hole!“, but then I thought, just be yourself and let it go.
I really try to be myself and try to help people when I can, because, at the end of the day, it brings me more pleasure to help people, than for people to help me.
OD – We are coming to a time within metal when we have to accept the realisation that over the next decade or so, some of the great bands that started it all will eventually hang up their guitars. Do you have faith in the new wave of global metal that exists today, or do you think that there has been too much sub-genre dilution, resulting in the loss of the true essence of what heavy metal is all about?
DAVE – Well, I think a lot of it has to do with what the bands stand for. When we were just starting out, people used to call us dangerous and bad boys and the truth is that yea, we were on heroin and behind the wheel (laughs) and people didn’t like us. I mean, around that time, Chris Poland (former Megadeth guitarist circa 85-87) said something to me that I didn’t like and I kicked him in the face!
I mean, what kind of guy does that to one of his band members? Well, he said something stupid and it’s just what I thought at the time.
There’s a difference between knowing that you’re dangerous and not being comfortable with that, and trying not to be like that, versus knowing that you’re not dangerous, but trying to make people think that you are.
There’s a saying in Texas that goes “Big Hat, No Cattle“, and I think that’s one of the things that the most facetious thing about the metal genre now. These frontmen tend to act like they’re bad-ass, and they are gonna put a whooping’ on somebody, at any given moment, it’s just so stupid [laughs].
There are a lot of videos on the net of some famous guys, who have been knocked out by fans! Fans just call them out. They act like a bad-ass and then there’s a skirmish and they get knocked out by the fans because they can’t back it up.
For me, I learned over the years from all of my martial arts training, the best thing to do, is to turn around and walk away. I would rather say I’m sorry to someone instead of hurting them. I have this lifestyle, because of the fans.
Because we are an international band, we have a lot of fans from around the world and sometimes English is not their mother tongue.
There are times when they might say something and it’s lost in translation, and totally misunderstood. Even if it isn’t and people are just trying to be mean to me, I just ignore them. It’s crazy to me to think that some people feel that being negative, is the way to behave or art around me.
They almost think that’s how I am, instead of thinking; “You know what, let’s just check it out and see what he’s about and find out“, and you know what? I could be the best friend you could ever have, and yea, I could take that; “I’m gonna be your worst nightmare” route, but the best way for me to get back at people, is to ignore them and cut them out of my life.
I used to get back at people back in the day and a lot of that was fueled with alcohol and other stuff. These days, I don’t drink as much as I used to and I think that if you’re willing to learn, willing to grow, and willing to accept your faults and make amends for them, you’re going to end up being a better person.
Also, when you have kids you’re leaving an example for them. I told Justis (Mustaine, son of Dave) that the best thing that I want to leave for him is a respectful name and that really is the most important thing at the end of the day.
Megadeth are currently on tour with Lamb Of God, Children Of Bodom, and Sylosis (see dates below).
To pre-order Megadeth’s 15th studio album, Dystopia, which is set for global release on January 22nd 2016, simply click on the graphic below.
Interview, transcription and words – Oran O’Beirne
All images obtained from stock & Megadeth.com © 2015
Interview contents © OVERDRIVE 2015
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