MEGADETH Bassist Discusses Making Of 'Endgame'

Steven Rosen of Ultimate-Guitar.com recently conducted an interview with MEGADETH bassist James Lomenzo. A few excerpts from the chat follow below.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: Back when you were playing with WHITE LION, could you have connected the dots to see yourself ultimately playing in a band like MEGADETH?

Lomenzo: At the time I joined WHITE LION, I couldn't see myself doing that. Truly. Because before that I was playing with Bobby Rondinelli's brother and had actually gone in and replaced Felix Pappalardi. OK? Now that's where I was coming from; that kind of vibe. Back then, I was a big '60s, '70s muso.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: A Felix Pappalardi and Jack Bruce kind of guy?

Lomenzo: That kind exactly. Turn up the amp and make it bark. That's where I came from so you have to understand that going into WHITE LION — I loved pop music too, I really love all kinds of music and I used to play French horn in high school and college — I had a really well rounded outlook on music totally. So it just seemed like every time something came up like the WHITE LION thing, I understood pop music; I kind of understood '80s metal although it was just beginning. It was kind of just doing what it was doing there. Not my favorite music because of the simplicity and because of oftentimes the invisibility of the bass guitar in that music. After we made that first record, I was floored 'cause I was like, "I can't hear my bass; what happened?" But nonetheless the record did very well, the band did very well, and it set me on the next course. I wouldn't have chosen MEGADETH especially back then because in my mind's eye, the bass — and I have all respect for David Ellefson 'cause he's actually created a signature sound for and with MEGADETH — wasn't my style. Again, I was more into the blues thing and I was never into following the guitars quite as much. I always liked the bass pulling against and making its own space which is why I love three-piece bands. To bring this full circle, yeah, I have no problems at all playing music with MEGADETH. As a matter of fact, I thought it was a really cool challenge. When I first met Dave Mustaine, I said, "I might not be the right guy for this band 'cause really at heart I'm a blues basher." And he said, "MEGADETH is a blues band, its. It's just a lot faster!" So it was a little tough for me to get behind it stylistically although I rap it out and I could play all the parts. But after a couple weeks of sittin' there and watchin' Dave and seeing how his hands moved and listening to the records and stuff like that, it makes a lot of sense; a lot more sense than I ever thought it would.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: You did go back and listen to some of the earlier MEGADETH records with Dave Ellefson and stuff?

Lomenzo: Well, I didn't listen to it album by album which took me years to get to that point. It's embarrassing because fans know so much more about the band than I do. You have to understand that I had three-and-a-half weeks counting rehearsals to do a show with the band. They were doing 20+ songs and if I tell you I knew two of the songs! Thank God I used to hang out at that club L'Amour in Brooklyn (notorious East Coast rock club) otherwise I wouldn't have known any of them; they used to play them on the sound system. I'd go, "Oh, that's MEGADETH; I love that song." What I did was I made up a learning tape of just those songs and then later on as we started moving about and interviews and started coming, I started learning about the history of the band and which song this album is actually on.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: What were your feelings about "United Abominations"?

Lomenzo: It turned out, you know, it wasn't as organic as other bands I've been in; it was definitely a very delineated way of doing things. Dave's mind seems to work that way which is kind of cool. I think if you listen to his guitar style, it almost shows itself and everything is kind of compartmentalized. So, that was good, and it brought me more away from the blues and more into pattern-oriented music which is actually a great brain exercise. It keeps you from atrophying because you have to remember what you played three or four parts ago and then throw it away and play something completely different.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: Did you learn anything from that process that you brought to the recording of "Endgame"?

Lomenzo: "Endgame" was a completely different animal. At that point, we had played some of the riffs live; some of them, not too many. So I kinda knew where we were going. Dave made this staunch announcement before we proceeded with it and told me, "I just want you to do the British metal thing." And I said, "Well, that's basically holdin' it down." He goes, "Yeah, that's what I want."

Ultimate-Guitar.com: That does seem like a bit of a departure for Dave.

Lomenzo: And I didn't mind it; I thought those were cool marching orders 'cause we had just come off with JUDAS PRIEST and I'm such a fan of Ian's [Hill, bassist] because he really lets loose that great big attention. And I said, "The only caveat I would make on that is I've got to have that great suffering bass amp sound" because that kind of sells the attitude. And he goes, "You'll have that; you'll have that." So, yeah, we went in and did it that way. Dave started going through this organizational process for weeks. Just finding old riffs that were on tapes and I was helping him in the studio pulling out old tapes of old rehearsals and finding these little gemmy things that he hadn't touched or thought about for years. And so we started bringing that in and running to the practice room and throw one riff over the next. Again, less organic but certainly a good methodology especially for MEGADETH's kind of music.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: You've kind of talked all around it but how much freedom does Dave allow you in terms of coming in with bass parts and different sections?

Lomenzo: On this one, he kept saying, "Go ahead, man, go for it. Try it; go for it." And we just kept coming back to what was there and not because for lack of ideas. I think it just had to do with the space for measure-by-measure. I mean there's so much guitar riffing on this record, that there isn't too much pulling away that I can do. The drums seem to sit in a certain spot, too, and so most players will tell you, "You're the bridge between the rhythm and the chordal fusion of the thing" and you're trying to find that bridge between the two. There's not a lot of space here even for some of the more half-tempo songs. And so half the time I'd be there with Andy [Sneap, producer] and Dave would be around and we'd try and stretch things out and Andy would go, "What do you think?" And I'd have to agree with him. "It just sounds good, lay it in." It's one of those records.

Ultimate-Guitar.com: At the end of the day, how demanding was Dave as a bandleader? If you were 15 minutes late to a band rehearsal, would you be fined $10?

Lomenzo: No, no $10. Actually he's pretty easy; he's no different than any of the other guys I've played with in that he's a perfectionist. And it's interesting how many of these people arrive at where they are and drive their bands being this way. I could go down a list of them that I've actually played with. As far as it goes, Dave is a real sensible guy, he's a real smart guy, and he knows exactly what he wants. And I usually respond really well to that because it's much easier to know what somebody wants than to sit around and fidget all the time. But the cool thing is he's so passionate about what he does that it's a great deal for the audience. The truth of the matter is, if you've got a guy sitting out there during soundcheck and listening to the balance of the instruments on stage, it's not because he wants it to sound a certain way; he wants it to sound a certain way for the first five rows.

Read the entire interview from Ultimate-Guitar.com.

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