INTERVIEW: Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 2.23.00 pmIt’s safe to say that metal as we know it simply wouldn’t be the same without Megadeth. The other ‘big four of trash’ bands contributed certain elements to the form – Anthrax brought the humour, Slayer brought the evil and Metallica brought the gruff manliness. But Megadeth contributed intelligence, social awareness and instrumental virtuosity in a consistent and incredibly assured way. Megadeth’s lineups have changed throughout the years but the one constant is Dave Mustaine. In many ways he is Megadeth – he’s the band’s songwriting anchor, and his rhythm guitar style defines the whole band’s approach. Megadeth are returning to Australia for Soundwave 2014, and their performance is sure to be a highlight of the festival. How could it not, with classics such as “Holy Wars …The Punishment Due,” “Hangar 18” and “Symphony Of Destruction” to draw from, as well as material from latest album Super Collider, which sees the band returning to the more melodic vein previously explored in albums like Youthanasia and Cryptic Writings

It’s going to be great to have you back in Australia. Megadeth and Australia have a great affinity for each other, if previous tours are anything to go by. 

We’re chuffed. We’re really excited to be coming back. It’s long overdue and we can’t wait to get back down there.

You’ve recently started to incorporate digital screens to your stage show, which is a new thing for Megadeth. 

Yeah. We started doing that because we realised that with all the new bands coming out with all their production stuff, playing with just a backdrop and a back line was cool and everything, but it wasn’t really what we needed. I mean, you’ve got opening bands that have fire and confetti and inflatables and strippers and video cameras and all kinds of stuff like that. What do you do when you’re a headliner!?? So we started looking at what we were doing and we decided to take the plunge into more production stuff. And I think it’s good for us because Megadeth is a band that has really intense songs, and when you’ve got that kind of visionary delivery with the songs behind it it just takes things to a whole new level. I think it really helped us.


One thing I really liked from your new Countdown To Extinction Live DVD was when you used the screens to show a backdrop of Marshall stacks. 

Haha, yeah! Are you a Marshall guy?


Good man, good man. When Dr. Jim (Marshall) passed away I was so sad, and I figured ‘Y’know, I’m going to honour him, no matter what,’ even though weren’t not using the cabinets on stage any more. I thought we should do the right thing, and I think he would have been digging that.

Countdown To Extinction was a very pioneering album. I hear you were very precise about how it was recorded? 

Well, we weren’t really doing a lot of digital editing when we were recording that, because that stuff was still very new technology at the time. One of the things that we did do was we hooked up to the guitars a Peterson strobe tuner so we could check the tuning as we were recording the songs.


Let’s talk guitar. I was at the NAMM show thing year when you unveiled your new Dean VMNT double-neck…

That guitar, the ‘Flying W,’ is actually called the Diadem because it is based on the artwork and the song “Diadems,” which is about the story in the book of Revelations with the crown… diadem is another word for crown, and I thought that was just such an incredible crown jewel. It’s definitely the best guitar in my quiver.

And I noticed also at the NAMM show that there were a few models with Floyd Rose vibratos. Is that something you use from time to time?

No, I’m not a Floyd Rose kind of guy. I’m a Kahler guy. I use Kahler, but what we were doing was we were showing that the guitar can come with either setup.

And you recently switched to Cleartone strings. Strings can be such a personal thing…

They’re pretty monstrous strings, and when you do something like starting to play guitar when you’re a kid and you can’t really afford to buy new strings every day, you get your pack and you’re kinda loyal to it. And you do get to a point where you start to be able to afford more strings, and you stay loyal to them and you don’t even know why: you just are. And you do get to a point where it has to take somebody to really convince you to switch companies. When I went from D’Addario over to GHS, that was a huge, huge change. And for me to go from GHS to Cleartone, it was going to have to take someone to move a mountain, basically, to get that to happen. Evan (Skopp, Inside Track) had told me about the way the quality and the way that the strings were manufactured, the sound, the support from the company, and basically the way that we do things and the way that they do things, and Evan knowing how Dave Mustaine does things because he’s worked with me for so long, he just knew it was a perfect fit. So I said “Okay Ev, you know me, you know the way I play, so these things better be a motherfucker.”

A few years ago you switched from the passive Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz pickups to a signature active set. What drove that change?

Nothing, really. I just wanted to have a better sound, and I talked to Evan and they told me they were really great pickups and were along the line of what I was trying to get sound wise, myself and my playing. I listened to him and I said “Y’know what, Evan, you’re totally right. This is what I’m looking for.”

I started trying to borrow bits and pieces from your guitar style ever since I discovered Megadeth when I was about 12 and I’ve always wondered: how do you treat your guitars? How hard do you have to play to get that sound? 

They get pretty beat up. I remember seeing something one time, a guy had said he’d done an interview with Jeff Beck, and Jeff had said you’ve gotta play your guitars gently. And I thought “Fuck that.” I’m not gonna play my guitar gently. I’m gonna kick it in the stomach, y’know? It’s my guitar and it’s my weapon. It’s my tool, and I’m gonna be using it to change history. I’m not gonna go out there and try to carve Mount Rushmore with a feather!

Yeah, you’ve gotta break ‘em like a horse. 

Of course you do, man! Get out there, get it on! Don’t be afraid!

Megadeth will be at Soundwave 2014.