INTERVIEW: Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine

Dave Mustaine has something on his mind. After a heavy interview schedule he must have had to deflect a question or two about, well, any number of those topics that people tend to bring up when they just wanna get a controversial soundbite out of Dave. So Dave cuts short the topic at hand – the amazing contribution of new guitarist Chris Broderick – to state “I’m a very different kind of person when it comes down to this business. Unfortunately my reputation is nothing who the man is. People have made me out to be a very mean bastard, and I’m no different to you, I just do things differently. As far as what I think is right and wrong, man, I come from a school where things were a little different back then. I didn’t walk uphill both ways to school, it’s just that we didn’t have the same kind of things that young kids have for school nowadays. I love the way I grew up. I wouldn’t change it for a thing, because I enjoyed working hard for the things I got, and y’know, I still enjoy working hard for the things I got. I don’t want handouts. I think I should be entitled to every single thing I’m entitled to, I want it! But if it’s just something that you get because of your job and it’s not because of what you’ve done to deserve it, I don’t want that. That’s just kinda like chump change.’

Megadeth’s new album, Endgame (Roadrunner), is angry, uncompromising, powerful, energetic, dark, and at once raw and precise. Y’know, the kind of album you’ve been hoping Megadeth would have made in 1994 combining elements of both Rust In Peace and Countdown To Extinction – except heavier. Much, much heavier.

Endgame is really energetic and angry. Where did that come from?

I don’t really know what spurred this on other than just being in a good place right now. I’m happy. I still have some of the things that have wounded me – the scars are never going to go away, but it’s just the way I’m dealing with things now. And I think that’s probably the key to everything. If I look at my circumstances it’s like looking at scores from yesterday’s football matches. In the beginning, even though it’s zero to zero, at some point that time’s already designated and it’s already been exposed, expired, lapsed and it happened. And for me I’ve just got to accept those things and just do the absolute very best I can to work up to those moments. My career right now is better than it’s ever been. I’ve got a brand new contract I just signed with ClearChannel Radio over here for three years, my book’s coming out next year, my record’s coming out next month. I believe I’ve written the best record of my career and I love the way that the fans are reacting to it. And even more importantly than anyone’s reaction to it, it just seems like people have forgiven me for whatever it was they were mad at me about, and my heart is just so, just leaping with gladness. Because I am no longer the easiest boy to hate in heavy metal.

Well I think part of that too is that with the online forum and things like TheLiveLine you’ve made yourself really available to fans.

Yeah, that’s fun too.

It seems like with United Abominations you were really confident going in, but with this one it seemed like you weren’t really giving anything away until it was finished.

I think probably one of the reasons why the timing was different with that was, with the last record there were so many times where we would post about stuff and people would get excited, but I wasn’t really finding myself being able to experience the record as much as I wanted to, and the reason for that was I was too caught up in what people were thinking. And I don’t make music to react to peoples’ thinking. I write music cos I like music. And I don’t know why, but God made me good at this. Why me? I don’t know! I certainly haven’t done anything that stands out to reason why I would be blessed with this talent. I just know I want to try my best to use it, and I want to have fun while I’m doing it. Man, I love watching people have fun while I’m out there doing my job.

How did having your own studio impact the sessions?

I think having the studio was beneficial for us because it gave us the license to be able to come and go at our leisure. If we wanted to start early we could, and if we wanted to start late we could. I think that’s something that really makes the band feel respected as individuals. It’s those little things that make all the difference in the world. I’ve been around the block a few times so those things are second nature to me but it’s not to Chris or to Shawn because even though they’re relatively new, they’ve had their experiences with doing things at the proper level, and I would like, myself, I would love to get Megadeth back to the proper level.

Let’s talk about Chris Broderick for a minute – I loved Glen Drover’s playing on United Abominations but he seemed kinda polite and restrained, whereas Broderick sounds angry.

Funny you say that. When we’ve done these records in the past there’s always been the same standard for doing the music that I’ve always had, and that’s ‘there’s your way, my way, our way,’ which meant that when we were writing the record, if you wrote a part we would listen to it, and if it was good we would leave it completely intact. Secondly if we listened to it and it was good but it could do with a little bit of a change, we would make that change and it was ‘we.’ But if we came down to where it was a ‘my way,’ which wasn’t very often, that would be like… there was a circumstance with Marty Friedman where there was a song called ‘Trust.’ At the end of ‘Trust’ there was a guitar part right before the big breakdown in the solo started up, and Marty had done the solo there. I didn’t like it so I asked him to do something different and he didn’t do it. So I came in, and this guy Dann Huff that was working with us, Dann had said ‘Well we like it.’ I said ‘Hang on a second, can you guys step out for a second?’ So they they all stepped out of the room and it was just me and Dann in there and I said “Don’t you ever say that to me again.” Because I don’t give a fuck who you think you are, or who he thinks he was, but it’s like, c’mon dude, have some couth, have some dignity. That’s the kind of stuff that you don’t expect from professionals like that. Now, we had a song called ‘Breadline’ that Marty had a solo on, and he loved that song. And management called up and said ‘We hate the solo, we want you to redo it.’ I said ‘We can’t redo it, he’s gone.’ And they said ‘Well, you cut it.’ This happened because I told them we have three choices. I can either leave it bare, I can mute it or I can replace it with something I could do. They were like, ‘We want you to replace it’ and I was like, ‘I figured you would.’ So I went in and I tried doing the solo. First idea, they kinda liked it so I did it until I executed it right. Then Marty came out to listen to the song. He didn’t know anything. He’s sitting in the control room, song’s coming up, he’s fucken’ hot-buttered popcorn. Dude is just wetting his pants. Song comes up, solo comes up, solo goes past, song’s over. You could hear a pin drop. Dann had neglected to call Marty and tell him that that’s what was gonna happen to him, that his solo was going to be basically rendered ineffective and looped around so it wouldn’t intefere in the channels. I looked back at Marty and he was cryin’. And I was furious, because at that second it dawned on me that somebody forgot to tell ‘em. Terrible, huh?

That’s crazy! Do you have any new Dean guitar stuff coming up?

Yes I do! It’s a good thing that you asked. At the NAMM show that’s coming up at the beginning of next year they’re going to be debuting a brand-new Dean guitar for me. The exciting part is that I looked at Dean’s catalogue and a lot of the guitars they had and… well, my VMNTs, it’s nothing like the original V that they have. It’s nothing like the ones they’re creating right now too. My line is my line. Neck shape, the configuration of the electronics, the ease and comfort, the way the pitch of the headstock is, the way the strings go through the body for getting all of that extra resonance. It’s a one-of-a-kind mentality towards making a guitar the absolute best thing you could ever possibly want to play through. They had another body style that wasn’t being utilised by anybody. I said ‘Can I get you to make me one of those?’ ‘Well yeah, fuck man, sure man!’ I said ‘Wow, is anybody playing this?’ ‘No man.’ I said ‘Can I?’ ‘Fuck yeah man!’ I said ‘Can I change some of the lines on this?’ ‘Yeah sure!’ ‘So I’m gonna Dave Mustaine this guitar right now, ok.’ So we’re debuting a brand-new style. It’s called the Zero and I can’t really tell you much more than that other than it’s going to be a workhorse and the people who have seen it already over at Dean, they’ve been there for years and they’ve seen everything under the sun, that kinda stuff is exciting. Especially when it’s opening up another area of creativity with the company.

And Marshall?

Marshall is something where I honestly believe I’ve died and gone to heaven. Going to Marshall, having them give me the support and endorsement, the belief, the love, the kindness, the things that go along with everything, I thought that was never going to be possible. I got that from Dean but I kinda figured that is what it is and that nobody else would have that kind of relationship with me. Because the big people whose products I use, I’ve never really tried to milk them for anything. It’s just not my style. So Marshall, I asked them to make me a cabinet similar to ones I had made about 20 years ago. I tried them again about 10 years ago. I had these 1960 cabinets and I put this metal grating on the front of them. And they’re bad, they look really bad. Then I ended up not using them for a while because we went to having stuff in scrim, so you don’t need them when it’s behind the scrim. Then we went back to having them show. By that time we changed a couple more things, and now we’ve got the cabinets, and I talked to Marshall, and said ‘Would you guys be willing to help me make these cabinets so that they would be done right? Please?’ ‘Yeah sure, how about we do an endorsement and make you the happiest boy in the world?’ ‘Yabbadabbadoo!’ Man I was the fucken’ happiest kid in school. So now I get Marshall amplifiers. I have not only my own speaker, we also have the covering for that, which is available for all of the heads to go with those speakers. Now, there’s another project we’re working on with them right now – a little tiny stack called the Megastack. It’s for the mid-level guitarist with a mid-priced practice guitar. It’s going to have several presets – there’s four of them in the amplifier and four of them in the footswitch. So that’s something that Marshall is intending on doing with me too, and it’s like ‘Are you kidding? How did I get so blessed!’ I know the grand poobah of the Marshall family, Sir Dr James Marshall OBE, and man, talk about just a neat, neat, neat little old guy. Loves his bands, his guitar players. I had received a letter from him that was so unbelievably flattering, and it just made me feel like I was a million dollars. I was so unbelievably stoked. He said it was one of the first times he’d actually worked on a project with an artist, because all the other stuff was just pre-existing stuff. Now, he did have these guys work with grille cloths and cabinets with different kinda stuff on the front of it. Some of the heads would have different stuff on the front, but nothing that was a real fundamental design change. And I didn’t know that. I thought we were just working on a project of mine. And man, I was so excited. Especially when we went to the MusikMesse show in Germany, watching the way the company was treating me, man I felt like royalty. There’s just something with the guys from Marshall and Dean, they make you feel like you’ve arrived. I love those guys and I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my career with the company and just riding it out.

Here’s a question from the Megadeth forum: Are you planning anything to mark the 20th anniversary of Rust In Peace?

Well if they’re asking about me playing with those guys again I think I’ve made it pretty clear.

Well even something like a special commemorative release, or playing the album start-to-finish live.

Yeah, I’ve heard that, but my answer is pretty simple: If it was gonna happen it would have. I don’t think it’ll ever happen. I don’t dislike any of those guys. We did have some very difficult periods together but I was just as difficult to be around as they were. And all I want to do right now is just bless them and just let them know I’m a fan of theirs. Even the ones I had a hard time with, I’m a fan of theirs. They were part of my life and I look to those times together with great fondness.

Also with an album as strong as Endgame I dunno why you’d wanna look back 20 years?

Yeah, why? People are saying ‘Can you get together and do a reunion thing?’ and it’s like, ‘Yeah but you have to suck both my eyes out first.’ No disrespect to those guys but it’s like that old saying when you marry your girlfriend: ‘Why buy the cow when the milk is free?’ I’m sure there’s something nasty like that. But I love where we’re at right now and I wouldn’t change anything for anything. There’s no reason to make any changes to anything. Period.

As a fan who’s been lucky enough to hear the album pre-release it’s really cool to feel what everyone’s going to get to feel when it comes out.

Did you hear it? That’s awesome, I’m glad you liked it!

Yeah, ‘44 Minutes’ is totally one of my favourite songs of the year.

Really? Aw thanks bud! Well if it wasn’t for guys like you we would probably be over on the side of the road dying from eating roadkill. But we’ve tried really hard to keep our integrity. And I think if anything’s going to happen, it’ll be this record, and it’ll be soon. And if it’s not meant to happen for me, we’re gonna know, and this is pretty much gonna be the end of the road here, because I don’t know if can make a better record than this!

Endgame is out on Roadrunner on September 11 in Australia and September 15 in the US.
Endless thanks to Roadrunner Australia.

An edited version of this interview is also in the current edition of Mixdown Magazine.