Published Sep 09, 2010Guitarist/vocalist Dave Mustaine is a heavy metal icon. Revered as the bulwark behind thrash metal progenitors Megadeth and its indelible impact on the world of music, the past 30 years of Mustaine's life have been an onslaught of music's most appealingly depraved aspects: sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. From a heavy hand in establishing the formative ― and some would argue best ― roster/songs of fellow luminaries Metallica through creating his own definitive albums, stepping into elongated war of words with other bold personalities and a debaucherous personal lifestyle that would give members of infamous party outfit Mötley Crüe some serious heebie-jeebies, Mustaine has been around a block or two.
When one amasses Mustaine's list of accomplishments, embarrassments, feuds, fornication, addictions and amazing albums, it's one hell of a tale. Such is exactly the point behind his latest endeavour: putting pen to paper in an effort to recount the good, bad and ugly. The resulting affair dubbed Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir (It Books) is an engaging, honest and occasionally surprising look at three decades in the platinized spotlight. Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir documents every aspect of Mustaine's life with sincerity and realism, severity and sarcasm. Discussing the motivation behind an autobiographical tome, Mustaine further enlightens Exclaim! on the realities of committing one's life to the written word, the state of modern music, media's responsibility in propelling the infamous Megadeth/Metallica feud and his own future post-novel.
What inspired writing your memoirs at this point?
Just having an interesting life, I guess.
How heavy of an undertaking is it to hunker down as a prose writer when you're revered as a musician first and foremost?
To go from writing music to books is different. It's a lot easier to get away with saying, "baby, baby" in a song than it is putting together an eloquent paragraph. It's very difficult, so there was lot of painstaking editing once the whole story was down so that everything was accurate first off, and read right second. There were a lot of other things legally we had to look at because there were a lot of people in my life that, if I tell the story, they're going to jail.
Or getting pissed off?
It's not about getting pissed off. They're going to jail. Nowadays when you tell a story... say there was a dude I had an encounter with [but] we don't know each other anymore. I [relate] the story and all of a sudden, someone goes sniffing into that person's life. It's an invasion of privacy so there's that and there's the fact that there are ambulance chasers everywhere. We live in a very litigious system in America. It's terrible and it's even worse in the UK. That's why the UK book is even different from the American book. It's the same but just a little bit different as to how things are worded.
Just wanting to talk about your own life, you end up opening all these cans of worms. You really had to be careful to dot each i and cross every t, huh?
Yeah. It's very bizarre ― for lack of a better word ― trying to figure out how to tell a story two different ways and keep it the same story. When you see somebody who's an attorney working somebody in the witness chair, they need to ask the right questions to get the right information out. That's basically what happened. We had to word it in a way that the information got out but still told the same story. Legally, the same thing being said one way is totally malicious another way. That's something I had to learn.
I can appreciate that. Misquoting can breed some pretty nasty feedback.
More journalists should be more responsible for what they do. Going back to writing's lowest common denominator, they would give scribes information to document or hypothecate about fantasy and stuff like that. There really never was somebody who just disseminated filth and lies when real journalism was at is most romantic. Now, you can go anywhere and read anything that's just as disgusting and offensive as you can possibly imagine but people get away with saying it. When you go into character assassination with people, well, I was just over in Europe with Lars [Ulrich, Metallica], Kerry [King, Slayer] and Scott [Ian, Anthrax] doing a roundtable at the Big Four [concerts]. Lars said, "It's your guys' fault this feud keeps going on because there's the relationship we have and the relationship you guys think we have and tell everybody we have... but we don't have." We haven't fought for years, haven't argued for years and have been friends since we first met. You can be friends with people and still have disagreements or arguments. I think the exclamation point behind the sentence, "There is no fucking feud!" came from when we played the Big Four dates overseas.
So it was journalists feeding the sensationalism of the Megadeth/Metallica war?
Yes but it's ok. I'm forgiving. I can forgive and it's cool but it's time for it to stop. It's been resolved for a long time.
Getting back to the book, you were very honest even when it shone a bad light on yourself. How was that experience?
Telling the truth is hard for anybody. The only uncomfortable thing about this was putting the stuff in there that made me look bad, but I had to in order for it to be the truth. I could have written a book that was all about, "Oh, I love me. I'm so beautiful and wonderful," but that wouldn't be true. I don't think I'm that great and the beauty of the book is that I am fallible. Who would laugh at comedy if it didn't have people making mistakes? The root of comedy is people doing stupid stuff. Some people laugh at different stuff though. I remember reading the book and at the part where the girl is tossed into the grass and all the vodka bottles are pitched around her head. I laughed at that 'cause I remember the day. She was so wasted and we had to leave so we drove her to her apartment and hoofed her on the lawn. She was like a lawn troll out there.
Ah, funny shit is funny shit.
Yeah, you can't be too hard on yourself.
You've always been a straight shooter, though. It's kind of expected that your book should be the same way.
That's a good thing. If I had to do some sort of tell-all book, I don't know if I'd have enjoyed it versus what it is. I remember going to England way back in the '80s, I was just talking the way I normally do about what I was doing. People were losing their minds because you weren't supposed to say that kind of stuff in this polite, proper colonial area. There are some teensy similarities between Canada and England that someone from the States picks up on. I was like, "What do you mean you don't say this stuff?" If you're talking about who you really are... but they wanted mystique and hiding things from everyone. I'd just say, "Fuck this, fuck that, I like this, I don't like that." It rocked their world. Nowadays it's hard to get a good interview out of someone, 'cause the stuff they talk about, what does it matter? What does it mean? I was just talking to a friend about how much things have changed from when we started to now. A band starting these days is basically giving an album away for free. When we made records, they were records. The good thing about downloading and the music company getting this terrible thing happening, it's basically going back to like in the '50s. A band puts out a single and tours; Elvis would put out a single and tour for two weeks. In a very homogenized way, it's almost gone back to music in its purest form. I feel good for some new bands but there are no new ones that really rock my world. I remember hearing ― and I was new on the scene when it came out ― Guns 'N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction record. I thought, "Wow, this is gonna be really big." When's the last time you heard a record and thought that? A long time ago, huh?
Yep. I always think young bands have to treat their new albums like business cards: Throw 'em around to get people interested.
Exactly. It's a calling card.
Like you say though, that rudimentary state of selling people on a single is the new way. Then they can make a collection out of the singles.
"Record collection?" Not anymore.
Again, back to the book: What did you learn from the process of writing a memoir before you're 50?
It was really cathartic. When you're putting your life down into a book, you wonder what you're gonna leave behind you. I want to leave a legacy of achievement but one that says you can overcome anything. I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I had to work my ass off to get what I have and I love what I have. I'm very grateful for it and I don't take it lightly. My friends are a part of my family. It's funny being an elder statesman of the scene. Things seem to be coming full-circle and people are interested in what I'm doing and how I do it but not in the, "God, did you hear what he said?" way. That gets so old and people don't even tell the stories properly. I went to elementary school. I know the telephone game when you tell somebody something and it goes around until it gets back to you and it's nothing like what you said. When Shawn [Drover, drummer] joined the band, I was pretty much going out as myself with a support group to do this last record and then go on into a solo career. But Megadeth was me going solo from Metallica. If I went solo from Megadeth, what would it sound like? Would it be heavier? More melodic? Megadeth is about as heavy as I can get. If I did something solo, it would probably a cross between Killing Is My Business... to Risk, 'cause that's how I write. I'd have to see. It's funny about music these days because people detune their guitars so much, you can't tell there's a melody with the riff. It's just super-detuned, affected stuff. You hear a rhythm but there's not a melody there. Basically, you could have 30 or 40 metal bands playing the same song. Withhold the lyrics and nobody knows what it is. The songs have no melody anymore, is what I'm saying.
Yep. Carcass has more melody than a lot of current bands.
You know who I saw the other day in Finland? Cannibal Corpse. I was really blown away with how heavy those guys were. They were really great. I never thought I'd like a death metal band 'cause I thought the singing was... it's still not my style but the music that band had was so intense, man. I really enjoyed watching that.
What do you think your own future spells at this point?
I don't know how much longer my career's gonna be. I've got the same thing going on as Tom [Araya, Slayer] and a couple of other people in the metal scene to a different extent. We have the same injury. So, looking at how much longer my career's gonna be, is it gonna be one more record? Well at least one 'cause I owe that to Roadrunner. After that, I'm gonna be 50. Do I wanna keep doing this? I don't know. I've got some great opportunities with management and so on. I've always thought that if I'm not playing in a band, I'd like to stay in the music industry somehow. That's why I created Gigantour, which we'll do next year. Otherwise though, would I be an attorney? Ah, I don't know. I'm not really good at being a liar. Being a manager? That seems like fun. Having a label? I talked to Lars about that when we were overseas and he said he hated it. I listened and thought there's some wisdom there so I scratched it off my bucket list.
Will you need to amend the book then since it ended and there are already some changes in your/the Megadeth saga?
With the way the book ended, it didn't have [original bassist] Dave Ellefson coming back or the Big Four thing and many other things. When the paperback comes out, I hope to add some stuff in the end. At this point now, I love who we are and it's amazing to be still playing music almost 30 years after I started. It's an accomplishment and looking back, there are some things I'd change. I honestly never wanted to hurt anyone's feelings but it happened and that's probably the only thing I'd change: some of the pain I caused other people. As far as the pain I caused myself, I wouldn't change it. It's all part of making me who I am. I certainly would have spent more time with loved ones. With Gar [Samuelson, original Megadeth drummer] passing away, I miss him. I wish I'd have spent more time with him. Sometimes you take things for granted. That's probably the only thing I regret: not spending more time with people we know and love that have passed away, especially with so many people passing in the past few years. So, I'm hanging onto my life and really enjoying being who I am. I don't see anything stopping me right now.