Steven Rosen of Ultimate-Guitar.com recently conducted an interview with MEGADETH mainman Dave Mustaine. A few excerpts from the chat follow below.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: In a recent conversation I had with [MEGADETH bassist] James Lomenzo, he described you as a "perfectionist." He said that all the guys he'd worked with — Zakk Wylde, Slash, and David Lee Roth — all had that quality. Would you agree with that assessment?
Dave Mustaine: A perfectionist? I'm a Virgo so I think people make generalized statements about Virgos. And although I really don't like hearing a generalized statement or even ascribing to them because it usually comes out as superstition when you hear stuff like that. So, you know what? I am a Virgo and I am a perfectionist. But there are other situations that must be taken under consideration when you become the person that's the leader. Whether it's a bandleader or a group leader or a Cub Scout leader. If you're a person who's in a position of authority then you have to take on some other chores. Like understanding the human psyche and dealing with people. Especially if they're temperamental and they've got a gift but they don't know how to get to it. Over the years it's been a challenge being a person who was just a guitar player and having to talk in-between songs. In METALLICA, that was James' [Hetfield] job and it was frustrating for me in MEGADETH not being able to find a frontman because I wasn't a singer. My whole experience as a singer was being a background singer in METALLICA and singing in Sunday school.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: "The System Has Failed" was actually recorded as a Dave Mustaine solo album. Is there a difference between a Dave Mustaine solo album and a MEGADETH record?
Dave Mustaine: I think probably the best way to answer that is to say I like "Risk"; I think "Risk" is a great record. People don't like it because it says MEGADETH on it. Now if it said Dave Mustaine on it, that record would have probably done really well. But I think because it came out as a MEGADETH record that a lot of the fans wanted something more aggressive. Now that record was supposed to have been done a lot quicker and was supposed to have had a lot heavier stuff on it. But at the time I was trying to keep tranquility in the band with Marty Friedman as much as possible so I really, really turned myself inside out to accommodate this guy. After "Risk" was over, I went up to Marty and told him I'd heard people had the record and threw it out the window on their way home from the store and stuff. And there were a lot of people who liked it because it was different. So that probably is what a Dave Mustaine solo record would sound like. If it didn't sound like MEGADETH, it would probably sound like a cross between "Risk" and "Endgame".
Ultimate-Guitar.com: As the person who is writing the lyrics and the music, you're intimately involved in every aspect of a song. On "Head Crusher", for example, because you're so aware of what is being sung about and because you've essentially written the riffs, are you trying to match up the solo to the emotional content here? Trying to create a solo that bends and turns and twists to accommodate the lyric?
Dave Mustaine: Yeah. That's something I'm grateful to Marty Friedman for; he really helped me in the beginning. See, a lot of people who don't want to be Dave supporters have found all kinds of things that I've said and take exception like, "I will take the solos in the band." And what happens is we go in the studio and it would be, "Your way, our way, and my way." For example, with Chris [Broderick], when we did this record, there were only two things I said the entire record. There was a dive bomb at the end of "44 Minutes" and Chris had grabbed the bar and let go of it and then the string vibrated so it was like nnnuuuuu [mimics a whammy bar descending] and then that vibrating thing. But I don't like that because it reminds me of NIGHT RANGER. So he tried a different approach.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: You would provide input about the solos from the other guitar players?
Dave Mustaine: With the solos with the other guys and they would get to a part where they were playin' something and if I listened to it and it wasn't really clicking? I would say, "Well, why don't you try something like this right here?" And if it wasn't clicking at all, I'd say, "Listen, I want you to do this." And I would sing a solo and stuff. It's real easy for me to go dudududu dudududu diddledidddle diddle didddle duh [sings a mock guitar solo] like I was scatting like George Benson. I've done that with a lot of the guys. The only person I haven't done that with is Chris. I used to say to Marty, "In order for the solos to take on color and really be able to identify with the anxiety of the song, read the lyrics." There was very rarely a song without lyrics when we started the guitar work on it. It would be, "Here's your solo section, read the lyrics, and your solo goes here."
Ultimate-Guitar.com: You not only had a positive experience with the "Endgame" record but it sounds like you've arrived at a point where you don't have to hide behind the curtain. That you're willing to man up about the music you make and deal with how people are going to react to it.
Dave Mustaine: The thing is I've grown up a lot and there's gonna be people out there who are going to talk shit about me no matter what I do. Whether it's good, bad, or indifferent and that's OK; they have that right. I have the same right to say what I want on my records as they have to say what they want. The bummer is sometimes people say stuff and it's not cool. It's nothing about me as a musician; they make a personal statement about me and they don't know me as a person. I've accomplished a lot of stuff. When I first started in the band I was in before METALLICA, metal was just starting to hit the United States in the form of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. My work with what I did with METALLICA; what I did with my friends in ANTHRAX; what I did with SLAYER and Kerry King; that was a really big connection. Like the seven degrees of Kevin Bacon. Think about that: The four of us, the big four, one thing that is a common thread with all of us is that we love this music.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: With all of that being said, there does seem to be ongoing feuds with you and the guys from SLAYER, METALLICA, and even the former members of your own band.
Dave Mustaine: I was involved with everyone of these guys and hanging out with these guys and having friendships with them and stuff. And still do it. Although I don't really talk with the guys from my last band, I still respect them. And I said so when they [METALLICA was inducted in 2009] went into the Hall of Fame; I thought it was cool for them. My relationship with ANTHRAX is great. So much so that I even have a relationship with some of their ex-members. Danny Spitz is one of my best friends and although Joey [Belladonna] is a little hard to understand, we're still friends.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: You've actually been touring with SLAYER on the "Canadian Carnage" dates.
Dave Mustaine: Yeah, we've just renewed our working relationship and hopefully it will continue to lay down some foundation for us to re-establish our friendship. And I think something great happened out there. By the way, I wanted to send my best wishes to Tom [Araya] on his surgery. The readers should send their best wishes and prayers if they don't think they're gonna burst into flames praying for Tom. We had 19 years ago an incident that happened and it caused some hurt feelings between the bands and we were not close after that for a long time. But that's behind us. And not only is it behind us but it's gotten to the point right now where Dave [Lombardo] and Kerry were in my dressing room and we were hanging out and it was great. I took Kerry outside and said, "Can I just ask you what is it that pissed you off so bad?" because I didn't even remember. He was ready to tell me and some guy walks up and goes, "Dude, 'Endgame' is so great." And I didn't want to seem disrespectful and say, "Yeah, I know" so I said, "Yeah, thanks, I appreciate that." And another guy came up and I said, "Kerry, let's just go back inside" so we went back in and that was the end of the conversation.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Did Kerry ever tell you what went down?
Dave Mustaine: No, we went back inside and were just holding court with everybody. But I look at it like this: When I went over to talk with them before at the beginning of the tour, I think those guys were a little reluctant because of my past. But I had a profound psychic change in my life. I recently saw the statement that SLAYER had made and just the fact that they said something kind about us was like, "Wow, it's workin'; we're becoming friends again." And I heard from my manager that Kerry wanted to call me and I thought, "This is so awesome." Granted, I'm a Christian and they may not be but I am trying to live my life differently. And I'm the one who said the thing that caused the harm and I've apologized. So maybe some day these guys will trust me again and I feel like right now we're being able to become friends again. I think about, "Do I want to spend another 19 years like this?"
Read the entire interview at Ultimate-Guitar.com.
MEGADETH performing "44 Minutes" on November 20, 2009 in Covington, Kentucky: