By Keith CarmanAs sad as it may seem, goofball hippies the Grateful Dead were onto something when they wrote that line, "What a long, strange trip it's been." It applies particularly well to Megadeth's Dave Mustaine. Over the past quarter-century, the singer/guitarist and speed metal founder has been through more than nine lives. From battling drug addiction to well-publicized feuds with other musicians, line-up changes, best-selling albums and break-ups, it's a wonder he's managed to keep it all together. Yet here he ― or they, rather, seeing as the band is completed by guitarist Chris Broderick, drummer Shawn Drover and bassist James LoMenzo ― are, set to release highly anticipated 12th effort Endgame (Roadrunner), an amalgamation of perfect timing, personal clarity and crushing riffs. Mustaine spoke to Exclaim! about life in the Megadeth camp today.
So here you are with album number 12 set to go and people chomping at the bit to hear it. How does the process of making a Megadeth album change after so many years? Dave Mustaine: It was getting easier. Then it started to get really harder. Now it's on autopilot because now I'm doing what I want, not what I think the music industry wants. There was a period where we had to do what the music industry told us to do or we were not going to eat. It had to do with record sales going down and our popularity being affected because radio station after radio station was changing. At one point, Los Angeles had two hours of metal playing in the whole week. Two hours? Are you kidding?
That seems strange because so many people look to L.A. for instruction as to what's current. People look to Hollywood but not as much to L.A. L.A. proper is a melting pot of people. Most people think of L.A. and record industry people as being tanned and wearing gold chains, playing tennis and shit. They're not thinking about the people in the trenches living the lifestyle of the music they love.
I never knew you were under such pressure at one point. It always seemed as if you've only ever done what you wanted. No, no way. That would've been real easy but in 1992 when Countdown... came out, the label was so enchanted with it, they wanted us to do it again. I was like, "What do you mean, 'Do it again?' If I could just 'do it again,' I would. I can try but the reason you either do it again or don't is because it's difficult to make a great record. I could sit there and put out mediocre songs but I don't wanna do that. I wanna write great songs. I wanna make sure they're all thought out; there's no filler. So far with Endgame, all of the reviews we've gotten have been stellar, all of the interviewers have been very excited for me. It's such a great feeling to know that people are happy for me. There was a period where I felt like a stepchild; I'd never be able to shake that feeling but it's gone now.
It must be rewarding to know people are finally on side; not attacking you constantly. I don't know if they've been attacking me forever. We've just had a rough go of things. Some of the stuff I brought on myself, some of the stuff was imaginary, some of it wasn't real at all and it's kind of a bummer when you're working with people and they don't believe you.
Well, you nailed it with this record. How much of that comes from having your own recording studio now? Does that offer more freedom of time and resources? I'm not sure. I think a lot of it comes from that the band is really getting along right now. The chemistry is really working.
Is that something you feel could last infinitely or is there potential for that to be sort of transient: sometimes the relationship is great, sometimes not? The chemistry started working when Shawn joined the band. Glen [Drover, guitarist] was a temporary member that did us a real solid. He brought in Shawn and he recommended Chris. Where he was 25 years ago when I started the band, I don't know. Ah, he would've been about ten back then.
I recall you being proud that when you had the Drover brothers in the band, Megadeth was half-Canadian. This'll blow your mind then: I was talking to my sister and she emailed me because she was doing genealogy on my dad's side and they lived in Canada for a while. I told Shawn and he goes, "See, I knew you were cool for a reason, eh?" It was funny but for me, telling the story the 300th time, it's not as funny. But others enjoy it. I knew my dad was French-Irish and I guess he came in through the French part of Canada. It's interesting to know because if I ever kicked out of America, I'm moving north.
Well, we are pretty laid-back up here. Yeah, but I'd probably live out on the West coast though...for horticultural reasons.
I see you've got some assistance in writing this time around, which hasn't happened much in the past decade. It's not that I didn't have anyone doing it. They just weren't doing it. The World Needs A Hero was an album that had Degrasso and Pitrelli come in and I gave them songwriting credits just to shut them up. The record after that, The System Has Failed, was a solo record. I wrote that all by myself. With United Abominations, we had a bit of songwriting [from others] on that. People don't always see the publishing stuff that goes down.
That part sounds like a nightmare. It destroys bands all the time. Here's an example: I was in Tokyo and Nick Menza was still in the band at the time. The four band guys go for a walk and Nick goes, "Man, I want a collaboration fee." I was like, "What is that?" "It's what Kenny G does. He pays them a collaboration fee 'cause they're all there when he writes his music and he couldn't do his music without them being there so he pays them a collaboration fee." I'm thinking, "Good for fuckin' Kenny G, ok? That ain't ok for me, 'cause if I'm writing music and you're in the same hotel room, you think I'm gonna give you some credit off that just 'cause you're sitting there?" That's not how it works. That was the beginning of the end with Nick. Then there was the weird stuff like the pictures he was putting up and the bullshit about getting cancer. It just ended everything. I wish him well though. I don't think he's doing very well 'cause he fell into that whole crystal meth thing. When I went to go see him last time, he was really out of it. We tried getting him back. We had him in the band for a little while but he just couldn't do it. It's a bummer.
Well, at least you're still plugging forth. I've got a better line-up now; the best I've ever had.
At that, this album harkens back to the other Megadeth eras. Why is that? We all do a lot of different stuff so I think we're figuring it out. Bands have to go through all kinds of metamorphoses as you grow together. You start off as a collective and then one person starts to shine so things gravitate towards that person who's put into a position of leadership. With our group, we work well together. I wouldn't change a thing. This is the Megadeth line-up of the moment but I'm going to be able to remove any doubt that this is the Megadeth line-up and everything else was just warm-up.