Dave Mustaine Interview: Megadeth Founding Guitarist/Vocalist on the Band's Latest, "Super Collider," and the Perils of Rock Superstardom
Image attributed to Dave Mustaine
Dave Mustaine is best known as the founding guitarist/vocalist of the heavy metal band Megadeth and the original lead guitarist for Metallica. He is widely regarded as the “founding father” of Thrash Metal.
Megadeth has been around for almost three decades, has sold more than 38 million albums worldwide and earned 11 Grammy nominations. Super Collider, the fourteenth studio album, was released in June 2013 and debuted at #6 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart making it their highest debut since their multi-platinum Countdown to Extinction and Youthanasia.
"When you have your neck cut open in surgery and plates stuck in there, you’re gonna, at some point, be taking pain medication. Being an ex-junkie and having that stuff reintroduced into my system was a bummer. I’m glad I’m off of it now, but when I was taking it, I realized that when you’re kind of in that circle again, you find out how much an epidemic these pills are. I never even knew. Back when I would do stuff like you’d get from a dealer, it wasn’t stuff you’d go to a doctor for (laughs). It was too expensive."
Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir, the outspoken and often-controversial entertainer’s autobiography, was released in 2010. Megadeth’s 2013 Gigantour kicked off July 3 in New Hampshire and concluded mid August. The bill included such metal heavyweights as Black Label Society, Device, Hellyeah, Newsted and Death Division.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Dave, thanks for speaking with me today.
Dave Mustaine: Where are you calling from?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Birmingham, Alabama. Can you tell I have a little bit of an accent?
Dave Mustaine: Oh, I think it’s awesome!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thank you. Super Collider, released in June, debuted at #6 on Billboard. Is this the first record released on your own album label after leaving Roadrunner Records last year?
Dave Mustaine: Yes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read that you had decided to steer away from controversy for this one, but is there a theme running throughout the album?
Dave Mustaine: Well, it’s funny when you steer away from something, sometimes you end up coming right back at it (laughs). I didn’t want that to be the identifier for this record because it certainly was not my intent going into it. The purpose or the incentive when we went into making this record was more about getting back in touch with playing music because of that fun you have when you play with people.
There’s a feeling you have when you write a riff, and you hear it, and everyone’s playing it all at the same time, and it feels good. It’s just really cool. When you see these guys, and they’re doing motocross and go over those little speed bumps, if they go too slow, they’re going to have a really rough ride, but when they hit it just right, it’s perfect. That’s how it feels when you write stuff for yourself ‘cause when you’re writing stuff for other people, it’s just kind of fake, you know what I mean?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sure. Some critics’ comments were rather harsh and said that this music was not as “heavy” as previous releases. Do you feel like they had a basis for the criticisms?
Dave Mustaine: They’re totally entitled to their opinions. I don’t know if they were talking about the record as a whole or the song, “Super Collider,” because many people didn’t like that as a first single. It was a radio track, so that’s not really indicative of the record as a whole. But if they said they didn’t like the record, shit, if number six is bad, let’s be bad (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What was the inspiration for the title track, “Super Collider?”
Dave Mustaine: It just kind of came that way. I wasn’t trying to be clever or anything. I had used that title a really long time ago. I’ve always flown more than most people. When you’re stuck on those planes, you get a lot of those Time magazines and junk magazines like that. I remember Nick Menza got the lyrics for “Countdown to Extinction” from Time magazine, and I actually got the words for “Symphony of Destruction” from a Time magazine commercial, I think it was. I just heard it and thought, “That’s pretty interesting.” I wrote the whole song around it.
I didn’t mean to say Time was a junk magazine, so let me sort that out, but it’s those magazines they have on the planes. I remember seeing something about Super Collider years ago and that we spent about $60 billion to build one in Texas. But I didn’t give it another thought, and then we were going through some old riffs and I heard the song. I was like, “Oh my God, there’s that song.” I had actually used that title for the song, “The Disintegrators,” and then when I got to that point, it didn’t make sense to have it about science anymore. It started talking about a gang of people that called themselves the disintegrators, and the lyrics completely changed. So for me, the whole song is like a metaphor for one person showing another person a better way to live and that there will be something rewarding at the end.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Does that come from your faith as a Christian?
Dave Mustaine: No, not really. I think that we’re all brought up with the Golden Rule that says to treat people the way that you want to be treated. Of course, people credit that back to the Sermon on the Mount, but I just think that if more people treated people the way they wanted to be treated, many of the problems we have right now would work their way out.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is the song, “Kingmaker,” autobiographical?
Dave Mustaine: To a degree. When you have your neck cut open in surgery and plates stuck in there, you’re gonna, at some point, be taking pain medication. Being an ex-junkie and having that stuff reintroduced into my system was a bummer. I’m glad I’m off of it now, but when I was taking it, I realized that when you’re kind of in that circle again, you find out how much an epidemic these pills are. I never even knew. Back when I would do stuff like you’d get from a dealer, it wasn’t stuff you’d go to a doctor for (laughs). It was too expensive.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): “Cold Sweat” appears to be the only song not written by you. Why did you choose that one to add to the album?
Dave Mustaine: Thin Lizzy was always a band I’ve liked, and I’ve always thought they really wrote cool lyrics. I liked Phil Lynott. He was a street kid and had a real rough childhood growing up in the streets of Ireland. I may have a teeny bit of Irish in me, but I’m not going to pull that “I’m Irish” thing.
I identified with them from my own time growing up in California and being homeless when I was just starting my career, what it’s like to be in the trenches and fight for your life to make it. There are so many musicians that are better than I am. I know that. But a lot of it is timing. A lot is luck and the rest of it is just pure hard work. I think that’s one of the things that people don’t really see – how much we work.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That reminds me of an interview I did recently with Eric Roberts. He has a stepson in the music business, and Eric commented on how much harder the music business was than show business. What has been your experience during this long career in music?
Dave Mustaine: First off, I respect Eric. I think he’s a great actor, and he’s absolutely right. Having done some acting work and been a musician for as long as I have, the music business is really difficult. Most people can sing, but when they get in front of a camera, they clam up. Anybody can play “Kumbayah” on an acoustic guitar. Just because they can play music doesn’t make them a musician. Just because they are musicians doesn’t make them stars. There are plenty of stars, but how many superstars are there? As many superstars there are, how many legends are there? Not a lot. So I totally agree with Eric.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you like the Digital Age or are you mostly “old school” and long for the days when the radio would debut a song?
Dave Mustaine: I’m a little bit of both. I’m kind of an old minded guy in a new-minded world. I know that digital is an important thing because it’s what the young generation is into right now. It’s their Walkman. It’s the same thing we were doing. You can look at it like, “Oh, you’re stealing from me!” There are people out there who are not cool people who get your album and put it on a server and let the world download it for free which is not cool. But there are other people that will put up a sample of it or a song or help promote it or what we did.
We have a whole bunch of songs on the net because we realize that times have changed, but it’s just like back when they used to have cassettes. There were dudes that would go to swap meets, and they would make tons of cassettes and sell them. People have been screwing people over since the beginning of time (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Bootlegs have been circulating as far back as I can remember.
Dave Mustaine: Right. I think we know what I’m talking about. You can get all caught up in that minutia, or you can realize that the most fun part about listening to music is watching them play it live. You fall in love with the recording, and then you hope to see them live one day. Can they back it up? You go see bands and they can and you’re a fan, or they can’t, and you’re like, “Man, that was a waste of money.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What gives you that thrill or rush to continue performing live night after night?
Dave Mustaine: Seeing people smile. I’m not perfect. I make a lot of mistakes, but it’s cool just to know that people have the capacity to forgive me when I do stupid shit. Being able to stand in front of them and make them smile after all we’ve been through (and we’ve been though a lot in 30 years) is cool. That’s the best thing, just to know you’ve made somebody happy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): A few years ago, you were named the #1 guitar player in the book, The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists. What were your feelings about that, especially being ahead of Kirk Hammett in the rankings?
Dave Mustaine: Well, I respect Kirk as a player. I think that Joel (McIver) is a very knowledgeable journalist, so if that’s how he feels, he must be right (laughs). I’m just kidding. I was really flattered. I looked through that book and started at #100. I got to #50 and was expecting to see myself somewhere in there. I usually get dissed because of the Metallica haters that don’t like me. But I’m flipping the pages and saying, “Any second now,” and going further and asking myself, “Did I not get in this book at all?” I’m pissed now (laughs).
I keep going and got down to #2 and said, “Fuck this guy!” Then I turned the page and said, “Ohhhhhh No!” And I was really flattered. If that wasn’t the highest compliment I’ve ever been given, right after that, Guitar Player, I think it was, said I was the #12 guitar player of all time. I was like, “Are you kidding me?” That’s over all guitar players, not just metal.
I was talking to somebody the other day about listing to Tommy Aldridge back when he was in Black Oak Arkansas, listening to heavy stuff like that when I was a kid and listening to Neil Young and Crazy Horse and Lynyrd Skynyrd and all that southern boogie stuff and people don’t make the connection. They don’t realize how much all that is just pentatonic blues. I’ve taken what I’ve learned and pushed it to the extreme, and the next generation has obviously taken it the next step farther.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Now that you’re older, do you notice any changes in your vocal abilities or stage presence?
Dave Mustaine: (laughs) Yes. Sadly, yes. My voice has changed a little bit. I think part of that has to do with the surgery in my neck because there’s a piece of metal on my neck now. Before it used to resonate and now, there’s a piece of metal in there. But I can always say I’m more “metal” than my friends (laughs). As far as my stage presence, because of the little teeny bit of limited motion, I just don’t move around quite the same as I used to, but I’ve done so much head banging over the years, I don’t think there’s very much land I haven’t head banged over.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you ever been misquoted or misinterpreted, Dave?
Dave Mustaine: Today?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) If someone wanted to make a film on your life, who would you choose (other than yourself) to play you?
Dave Mustaine: It’s funny you ask that because looking back at my life, there’s a lot of stuff that, at certain periods of my life, I identified with when I was in that age group. As I get older, I look at it like layers of an onion. I don’t really look at it like I’m aging day by day by day because I live in the moment. Then all of a sudden, I realize, “Wow. I can’t really touch my toes anymore,” or “Shoot, my sideburns have started to go grey.”
When Sid and Nancy came out in 1986, I thought Gary Oldman would be a great Dave Mustaine. But in order to have someone look like a “young me,” and to look like an “older me,” it would have to be somebody that is kind of in the middle and can look really young and wouldn’t look hokey as me a little bit older. I guess it depends on when my time here is done because if I live to be like William Burroughs or that dude in Amadeus … wow, that was great makeup on that guy! Did you see that movie a long time ago?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Very remarkable.
Dave Mustaine: I just pictured myself like that at the end (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How does the Dave Mustaine of today compare to the one 20 years ago?
Dave Mustaine: I think that I’m a lot happier right now. I still make mistakes. It’s just that it doesn’t take as long for me to admit that I’ve made a mistake. As far as the stuff that I’d like to take back, I’d like to take it all back because I’d like to have a clean record. But I think it’s more desirable wanting to do the right thing than actually doing it than just doing it and not wanting to. It’s hard in our line of work because there are all the difficulties of being away from home and the hardships out on the road you come across that’ll take advantage of you.
It’s when that bus breaks down and it costs $5,000 for a fan belt, somebody does something in the hotel room and the television breaks, the show is cancelled or these guys take taxes out or you had to pay this or that or somebody stole something. Nobody sees any of that. The craziest thing is freight. I remember when we did the tour with AC/DC. We were supposed to have spent $80,000 in freight, and the bill came back at $360,000. I’m not going to say, “Have pity one me,” or anything like that. But that’s the stuff that people don’t see. We’re human too, man. There are people out there who try and take advantage of us and many of them get away with it.
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