By “Metal” Tim Henderson
“I’m borrowing from the end of my life,” begins MEGADETH‘s Dave Mustaine when I ask where his never-ending energy supply is coming from these days. A wealth of consistent new music spewing out from Vic’s Garage, and countless tours in support of his mission, the most recent being much-heralded opening slots on IRON MAIDEN’s handful of exclusive US dates and BLACK SABBATH’s recent trip to South America.
“I gotta tell ya, I’ve lived a lot longer than I thought I was going to,” Mustaine laughs. “It’s not like I’m fantasizing dying or anything like that, but when you are young and you are homeless, you kinda wonder if you are going to make it through the night. You know enough about the past and the way me and Dave Ellefson (bassist) lived, when I turned 50 I thought, ‘God, I’m old.’ And I look in the mirror and I don’t look 50 and I get up on stage and I don’t feel 50. Is 50 like the new 30? And I’m watching TV and I’m seeing all these people I watched growing up dying, and it’s like, ‘shit, death is inevitable, make the best that you can, while you can,’ and that’s why I’ve tried to appreciate things more.”
And to keep life far from monotonous, maybe that’s why their latest album Super Collider is another little curve ball from Megadeth, a record that emphasizes more the harmonious side of the band rather than their pugilistic past.
“It didn’t start off that way honestly,” Mustaine continues. “It started off with ‘Kingmaker’ and Shawn (Drover; drums) and Chris (Broderick; guitar) had ‘Built For War’ and ‘Beginning Of Sorrows’ up their sleeves, so we knew it was going to have a lot of heaviness to it. But there are also songs like ‘Don’t Turn Your Back’, ‘House Divided’, ‘All I Want’ and stuff like that that didn’t make the record which were heavy too. When you have 14 songs and you give it to the record label and you trust ‘em, you just kind of go with it. And with our jump from Capitol into the independent market (Mustaine’s own Tradecraft), it was like jumping into a pot of boiling water and it was a reality check. We never had to work so hard to try and get our ideas out and really feeling like you are alone. It wasn’t really that the labels were doing it, it’s that they were incapable of doing what we needed at a major label level. So we went back to Universal and they gave us control to do whatever we wanted. We turned the record in, they liked it and it’s been a great experience.”
While Mustaine may have disconnected with a portion of his thrashing fan-base, his Cyber Army (the name of Megadeth’s official fan club) marches merrily-along. But there’s no question that the band’s latest mental collision is very groovy, very rhythmic and very song-oriented. It’s not an album to beat your head against the wall. Despite the fact that mature may be the best way to describe Super Collider, some fans might be saying ‘should we revoke his Big 4 membership card?
“(Laughs) Yeah, but that’s a handful of trolls Tim, you know that. Our real fan-base respect what we do, they know that Megadeth isn’t limited to just thrash nomenclature. We’ve never fit within those parameters, and anybody that has ever asked us what our music is like I’ve always said we’re just Megadeth. Like a jazz, classical, punk-influenced band that plays all different kinds of songs. We’re the guys that wrote ‘Black Friday’, but were different. We’re not like AC/DC, we’re not like MOTÖRHEAD, our songs aren’t really similar, straight-forward rock songs. It’s straight-forward metal. Some people like ‘em, some people don’t, but I think with the internet, you can have a guy with a hundred email accounts talking smack on these bottom-feeder websites. People read that and think ‘this guy is real’ and he’s not real, there’s two or three people that their whole campaign is to talk shit about everybody. Not just Dave Mustaine, not just Megadeth, they hate everything. Half these little farts wouldn’t say this to my face cuz they’d piss their pants if they stood in front of me.”
But Megadeth seem to be on their own ‘Devil’s Island’ of sorts! Puns aside, you ask anybody in radio, a successful tune will make you swing, tap your toe, snap your fingers and maybe even snap your neck! And that’s the feeling with Super Collider.
“That’s the hard thing too,” Mustaine agrees with the sentiment. “If I kept doing the same record over and over, I would never feel fulfilled. You got to think about it… Like a dog eats the same thing every day, unless he gets a hold of the trash. You know why they get excited about that … no more kibble! It’s just like me, I would feel very unfulfilled if I didn’t try to do something and merging metal with melody has been really hard. Because again, you have the metal purists, and all they want to hear is real whiny screaming vocals, growling shit and no singing anymore. Some of the people that we most respect in our genre are the people that sing. Like Bruce (Dickinson; IRON MAIDEN) sings, James (Hetfield; METALLICA) sings, I sing. And Rob sings in (JUDAS) PRIEST. And we kind of lost the sight in it. I really admire Phil Anselmo (PANTERA, DOWN); I know he’s really had his struggles, but I’ve always been a fan of him, even when we had our disagreements, but I respected what they did. I always told him that one of my favourite songs was ‘Cemetery Gates’, and he hates that song, because he sings in it. I said, ‘Phil, you got a great voice’ and I remember one time as a gift at the end of a tour they played it for me and I was so thrilled. I’m still a big Pantera fan. I think we’re in phase with metal music right now and it’s coming back to singing. A lot of the new bands … I can’t name a bunch of them, but my son is always playing new bands for me. And one time he came up to me and said, ‘you got to check this new band called HAVOK, they are like a young Megadeth.’ I said ‘really, you think so?’ When you hear somebody else say that something sounds like you it’s kind of like when someone says this guy looks like you and you look at the photo, and you say ‘you must be blind!’”
Super Collider was virtually in-house; your own studio, your own label. Are you a control freak, perfectionist or was it just the right thing to do?
“No. Tim, the label thing was a gift, it was a complete surprise. When we signed there I thought we are signing direct to Universal and then they said ‘hey you want your own label’ and ‘I was like are you kidding?’ It was like going up to young bachelor and saying, ‘hey do you want this bus full of Hawaiian Tropic Bikini models?’ And put it in perspective, I was like a kid in a candy store, although I’m not able to sign anybody right now because were still working on this campaign and developing the label. At some point we will, and I think it’s really cool because I know how to treat a band because I’m in one. Being a label head now, is a little different. You tend to know what it takes and what you need to do. Sometimes you give advice to bands, they’ll listen and once you walk out the door they’ll say, ‘what an asshole, he thinks he knows everything.’ I made a lot of mistakes in my career, but I’ve always gotten through it and been victorious and I’ve never given up and never let adversity hold me down. Who would you rather have telling telling you how to get up off the floor, somebody who’s never been knocked out or somebody that’s being knocked down and has to find that intestinal fortitude to stand back up. I remember when I got my blue belt, I had to fight two guys for two hours and after I passed that test; all the black belts lined up and either punched me or kicked me in the stomach. And this one guy kicked me so hard he put me on the ground and I could not get up. But I kept saying, ‘get up Dave, you got to get up,’ and I stood up and I was ready to puke and my Sensei said that he was gonna take that instructors black belt and bring it back down to a brown belt again because it was unnecessary. I was standing there, I wasn’t going to block it, I was just taking it. And that was part of the initiation. Some were trying to fake me out trying to see if I would flinch and I didn’t. Some of them would just tap me and some of them would give me a bruise. I was pretty beat up after the two hours, because getting assaulted for two hours by two guys is a long, long time. An old Dave went down and a new Dave stood up, and I think that is the secret to life. You fall down seven times, you get up eight.”
Not giving up the fight, the creative juices are flowing and the fans are loving this ‘album every other year’ routine. Many bands have never been so active since the ’80s. There was a stretch in the ’90s where you might see your favourite band release an album every three-four years. It brings us back to the heyday of heavy-metal where ‘album-tour, album-tour, album-tour’ was the norm.
“It’s really weird with the illegal downloads and file transfers,” he adds, “it’s made record sales really nonexistent. It’s gone from selling records to tour, now you tour to sell records. Fortunately we crossed over that precipice of just being a band with a back-line and a backdrop, saying that we’re just gonna be like the heavy metal RAMONES, just slogging it out, to where we have production now. It was a hard thing to do, because you go out and tour with some of these bands and they’ve got inflatable’s, fire, pyro, confetti and water canyons and dancing girls and stuff. How do you compete with that. And that’s the band that’s playing before you (Laughs). ‘Hey clean all this shit off the stage!’”
Let’s talk about a band member that hits close to home for us Canadians, your drummer Shawn. How is life with Mr. Drover these days. He’s been in the band a long time so you must like his company (laughs!).
“Yeah I do,” Mustaine agrees with a stern tone. “There is something enamouring about Canadian people, I have always felt that. I recently found out that my family actually lived in Canada for a while before they migrated down into Ohio. And Shawn had to be a smart-mouth and say that he knew that I was cool for a reason! I punched him. Truth be told, Shawn is one of the reasons why I keep it going out here. David Ellefson is like an ambassador and he’s really great and stuff, but I am not as close with him as I am with Shawn. And Dave and I were best friends and such, but when Shawn and I met there was something that just clicked and there’s been a lot of times he has taken me aside and said ‘check this out’ or ‘we should do this’, ‘the fans kind of want this,’ ‘what do you think of playing this song.’ And I will tell him, ‘it’s not going to be good … we will do it live, but I promise you, when we start the song, by the time we finish the song, the beginning of the song is hitting the back of the building it’s so fast. When you play those really fast songs in a big venue, it eventually starts to sound like mud. If we play ‘Devils Island’ or something like that, and then he’ll say, ‘you’re right it sounded like shit, we should stick to songs that sound good live.’ When you’re in a smaller venue you can play some of those other songs if you want, because in a bigger venue it loses all of the dynamics. And that is my main job, our real fans are going to know the song and sing along to the song, but there’s a lot of new people out there and we want to bring them along on this journey with us and get them interested in the music and what Megadeth is about. A lot of times you lean on the the songs like ‘Sweating Bullets’, or ‘Symphony…’ or ‘Trust’, songs that are real hooky and catchy. And then you hit them in the face with a ‘Peace Sells’, ‘Tornado…’ or a ‘Holy Wars’ and people go wow, these guys can really get it on. The hardest part of my difficult job is trying to pick out of our 200 songs we have. It’s like if you have a whole bunch of kids and you can only put two of them in a life-raft who do you choose?”
For all things Megadeth visit Megadeth.com.