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Interview with Megadeth frontman and guitarist Dave Mustaine

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Not that he really needs an introduction but Dave Mustaine has accomplished and seen it all over the last thirty years while becoming a heavy metal legend. In this exclusive interview, Dave speaks at length about becoming a born against Christian and how it has changed his life and motivated him to mend some broken relationships in the past. Dave attributes his re-found faith to him mending his relationship with his friend and founding Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson who rejoined the band last year after eight years away. His rekindled spirit and energy for life has also seen him put the past behind him over his long time feud with Metallica which has even resulted in the bands playing together in some forthcoming “Big 4” concerts. We also got into details about the next Megadeth album and why Johnny K is helming the production in place of Andy Sneap who has been at the helm for the last two records. The past is the past and the present is a happy time for Dave Mustaine.

Judging by your frequent Twitter updates it seems that the new Megadeth album is coming along quite well. What can you tell us about where you are in the recording process?
Dave: It’s going pretty good. My Twitter account got hacked. You know what I’m talking about right? Congressman Wiener’s Twitter account got hacked and there was a picture of his privates posted and he said he couldn’t tell if it was his or not. I can sure tell what mine looks like. He doesn’t look like he gets much action, poor fella.

Ok so where were we, Twitter updates… yeah it’s going pretty good. I like being able to keep the fans updated, I’ve always been really internet savvy when it comes to megadeth.com and then all the different things we’ve done like askdavemustaine.com which was really innovative, only Paul McCartney and I have ever had anything like that. And then some of the other things that we did a long time ago, I tried some things that were way ahead of their time, but things basically like full stop services and just making the fans feel like they’re apart of things. And I feel that’s what’s probably responsible for the longevity of my career, including them in things and not acting so secretive all the damn time. There’s nothing more obnoxious to me than some rich rock star going around telling people they need to donate money to starving people and stuff like that, you know, why don’t you do it? Don’t tell me to do it, you do it. If you have so much damn money you do it. You want to make a difference then start with yourself. And that’s one of the things I’ve done, I’ve really gone out of the way when we’ve met our fans and stuff to help underprivileged kids and stuff like that.

The studio that I’ve built here in San Marcos, it was set up specifically to help us make Megadeth stuff but the ultimate goal was to have a school here where I could teach underprivileged how to play music and how to record. I thought it would be something really cool to give something back because I’m from down here, I was born in La Mesa and I wanted to do something really cool and give something back to my community here. Most people when they get rich they don’t ever look back, not me man, I’m wearing flip flops right now, I enjoy who I am, I know where I come from. It’s like Jimmy Hoffa, “these are my people!”

What can you tell us about the new album’s sound? How would you describe it compared to your last record Endgame?
Dave: Different, a hundred percent different, unlike anything we’ve ever done before because the guitar sounds are different, it sounds really super modern. If I was going to say it sounds like a particular band I would say it sounds like really old classic Sabbath and with a little bit of a modern edge of Queens of the Stone Age kind of thing. But then again with the twists and turns of music that Megadeth has been famous for over the years, you never know how it’ll turn out. I think it’s cool to have songs that aren’t just verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus, out, although that’s a time warn recipe for success.

For me, like I was talking to Johnny K our co-producer here and I said to him in the beginning Megadeth isn’t just one, two one, two one, two, we take right turns every once in a while. Sometimes we’ll be driving along absolutely fine and we’ll do a u-turn, just because we want to revisit something or there’s a lick or a riff that’s really cool that we want to come back to. Sometimes a song just in the middle you have to completely chuck where you’re going and switch horses in the middle of the stream and get over to another part of the song. For example, a perfect example would be like in "Wake Up Dead." At the end of "Wake Up Dead" the song stops and drops in tempo and does something completely different. Or in songs like "In My Darkest Hour" where at the end it just jumps up in tempo to breakneck speed and just hold on to your hat kind of thing. So I think that this record has tons of stuff.

When we started this record I had the eleven new songs that I was going to do that’s on my contract and then the twelfth song that’s due to the Japanese audience and that was it. And then Johnny said "yeah but the record company said they’d like you to get to fifteen songs." And I said "that’s great but my contract says twelve so that’s what we’re doing." So we got all the way done with the twelfth song and we started arranging the twelfth song and halfway through it I just started writing this other thing and we’re calling it "song 13" right now. It just came out of nowhere, it’s probably the most melodic, most geared for success song out of the whole record based on what makes a song successful and stuff like that because you know it’s got really open picking and some acoustic parts and you know melodic things and stuff like that. There’s some heaviness on it too, the point I’m trying to make I guess long story boring, I did go beyond what my contract says again which I’ve always done my whole career, I’ve always tried to over-deliver. I think we’ve got probably our best offer since the Countdown to Extinction era.

Are the songs all recent creations or have some of them been hanging around now for a while?
Dave: Basically when we had started off this record we had a videogame we were doing a song for and that was Guitar Hero and when we had done that song it got nominated for a Grammy and it was a very successful track for us. Roadrunner said to us that we can include it on our next record and we thought that’s great… We have some songs that we started at various times that I had started over my career that just never got out of the blocks for lack of a better term. But it’s not like doing "A Tout Le Monde" again, the whole thing with "A Tout Le Monde" for me was I wanted that song to be a B-side for Japan and just a couple of records ago we did "A Tout Le Monde" which is one of the main breakups between me and Roadrunner.

The president took what I wanted to be a b-side and forced it to be the first lead single off of the domestic release which I thought was a terrible decision and we paid for it dearly. But as far as this record there’s nothing like that. We’ve got some songs from years and years ago that we never recorded even though we did demos for them but they just never saw the light of day. Those are songs that we’ve looked at and rearranged and made them modern and had recorded them. But you know, there’s a lot of brand new stuff, like I said one as new as just from a couple of days ago.

You’re working with Johnny K as a producer as you said there on this new record instead of Andy Sneap who took care of the last two albums. Why did you decide to go with Johnny and what’s it been like working with him?
Dave: Well you know one thing with Megadeth is we’ve always tried to keep it current with our production team you know not getting too attached to any one person although a lot of the guys we’ve worked with have been great and there was no clear reason for having broken up the time other than keeping it fresh. With not working with Andy Sneap, he just wasn’t available.

Andy had some stuff that came up right in the middle of the time that we were available to do our work. Usually when a band is ready to go in the studio they go in and they stay in, they don’t go in and come out and go back in again and I’ve found that to be really difficult for me because I lose stride and it just wasn’t going to happen for us. We weren’t going to get the record done in time because we had this Monsters of Rock Energy Drink Mayhem Tour, whatever it is, it’s the Mayhem Festival this summer and we had to get this done before we leave, you know we have more Big Four dates coming up.

When Johnny’s name came up I didn’t even know who he was and I said something to a couple of the other guys, they were like "oh Johnny K! Oh really! Wow!" And I was like "hmm, ok," kind of like you know when someone says "try this, it tastes like chicken." So he came out here and we talked a little bit. We went an entire month, the entire first month not one disagreement. There were some moments where we were trying to align our thinking and you know I think because we’re two different guys from two different sides of the country and different histories I think there was a necessity for us to get our lingo in order.

But as far as us having a desire to make this project a success, I think that we all have that first and foremost in our heads and that’s what we want to do. So right now Shaun finished all of his tracks, he’s gone, we left the drum kit up there in case we decide that something needs to be fixed or changed or whatever. And I’m doing guitar today and Dave Ellefson and Chris Broderick are coming in Monday to finish up bass and the other guitar and then it’s singing, solos, ear candy and then we’re done.

The most significant recent change within the band has been of course Dave Ellefson rejoining the band last year. What’s it been like having Dave back as not only a bandmate but as a friend?
Dave: Well the thing is I didn’t want what took place to take place, he sued me and that was a bummer but through the whole thing my stance was that the truth would come out and I didn’t want him to get hurt, that I loved him, he was friend and I attest to this day that he had bad direction. And when the lawsuit was dismissed one would think that I was happy about it but I wasn’t, I was relieved that it was over but I wasn’t happy because I had known that he had gotten hurt. I’ve always cared about Dave, when I met him he was a little dude, a skinny little kid, the son of a farmer, he looked like a fish out of water in Hollywood and I took a liking to him and protected him.

I even got into a fistfight with a dude over protecting him and that kind of stuff, you just can’t turn it off when something goes wrong, you don’t just act like they’re dead you know what I mean. If someone makes a grave error people act like they’re dead to them and I have a song called "You’re Dead" and that concept is where I actually learned about that, it was from some of my Latino friends, I had heard a couple of the girls sing that about some of their guy friends, they were like "oh he’s fucking dead to me man," and I was like oh ok… But you see I could never get behind that when it was someone I really cared about.

I knew that the toxicity of my life over the years and holding a grudge or being the cause of one like what took place between me and Metallica; I just didn’t want to go back there. When the lawsuit ended I met with Dave and he apologized and said it was the stupidest thing he’d ever done. And I said that I just want to tell you that I forgive you. And I don’t think he expected to hear that, I don’t think any of the fans expected to hear that either and I think a lot of people cried bullshit and they thought it was just more grandstanding by me. I backed it up by doing the ultimate sacrifice and giving him his job back. So it’s not like you can cry foul, I backed it up.

Now him being back in the band, it’s fun, he’s a great guy, he’s got a great personality, he’s funny. You know being an elder at a church now and being a born again Christian, it helps me a lot in my desire to be a good guy and be a role model. You know I did the whole bad guy thing and I was great at it and as I grew up I watched my kid taking on the bad guy attitude and I was like "you don’t have to be that guy. I did this because I lived on the street and had nobody and nothing. You got it made; the fans have shown so much love and support for your dad that you don’t have to grow up like I did." And that’s something I’m so grateful to the fans for, my kids have a great life because of them. Thank you, thank you, thank you, I can never thank our fans enough.

Also in April you played the first Big 4 show in Indio California. This certainly must have been a special experience for you. Were you pleased with how it went?
Dave: Yeah I thought it was pretty cool. Well you know, the way that this whole thing went down, it started up around an idea of us getting back together and playing a couple of shows over in Europe in the Eastern bloc where nobody goes except to dump off old nuclear warheads and shit. I didn’t think anyone would show up but it was highly populated, the concerts were well turned out and received and the fans loved it and I think the bands all got together really good.

You know something happened when Darrell Abbott had been assassinated and there was a memorial show on Headbanger’s Ball that I hosted and went back to… the guy because no one else and his family or any of his friends could do anything and MTV, I don’t want to say get the scoop on it because that sounds tacky but they just wanted to be current. They asked me if I would fly out there and do it and I did and when I came back I had said I don’t want any of this stuff anymore, I’m extending the olive branch to anybody that I have a problem with, I’m sorry if anyone has a problem with me, I apologize, please let’s just put this behind us. And you know it set the ball in motion and Kerry (King) and I became friends again and the funny thing is we played together just a couple of months ago on stage in Los Angeles and nobody would have imagined that. We played with Metallica over in Europe, nobody would have imagined that.

When the thing came home here to Indio it was such a sweet homecoming because this is what I’ve been waiting for, in a very cathartic way, for a very long time to be able to have everyone that’s a part of this musical family out here, this community, get together and say, it’s not about who’s in what band, it’s the vibe that we all had. It was like one big huge happy family and it was like rotating shifts on a hockey team you know, each band had their own shift so to speak. The goal for us was to leave the fans completely satiated and I think that happened there.

Looking out at the audience and seeing what appeared to be well over the capacity, they said the capacity was under 50, 000 and to me it looked like it was way more than that and I’ve been doing this a long time. But you know, my amplifiers completely crapped out during that show in Indio and it happened that a photographer friend of ours had come behind the amplifiers and stepped on a wire of course, always happens, and unplugged something of mine. And I kept looking over the whole set at my tech who was shaking towards the end of the night and I just kept laughing, I looked at Ellefson and I’m laughing and I’m looking at Chris and Shaun and I’m laughing and they’re saying what’s going on and I said my amp is off and they’re like nooo and I’m like yeah… And I looked at Ellefson and said it figures that it would happened here of all places. I’m mouthing the words out to him on stage and he’s laughing and of course I can hear what I’m saying because my guitar is sputtering out. But the thing is that we were careful enough to make sure a long time ago to set our stage up so that if there was ever a problem like that out on stage you wouldn’t know it in the audience and I forgot that.

So I could have destroyed myself that night by throwing a tantrum and freaking out and going "oh this is the biggest show in the world and my amps blew up and oh noooo" and you know what, because I was having so much fun it didn’t even matter. And the local radio station down here who barely plays Megadeth at all and is pretty much is a Metallica station here, no digs on anybody but she said we stole the show and I thought that was great. And the cool thing is for us to play on stage together, anybody who’s going to say that there’s still some feud going on has had to have had half their brain sucked out, I can’t imagine anybody who would think there’s still any kind of thing going on. We’re playing Yankee Stadium in a couple of months, what’s next Skylab? Where else do we have to play for us to prove to people that that’s over? This would be cool for me, I mean I’ve already said this before and I’ve put it in their ear but I don’t know what they think but I think it would be cool to have a super band of James and Lars and me and Ellefson… that’d be pretty frightening.

Be sure to check out Megadeth when they play HeavyTO

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