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Interview: Dave Mustaine of Megadeth
Megadeth's core members Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson are back on the road, hitting the European festival circuit with guitarist Al Pirelli and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso to support the new Megadeth album, "The World Needs a Hero."
The album is Megadeth's ninth full-length album since its 1985 debut, "Killing Is My Business ... And Business Is Good," and its first studio effort since "Risk," the band's critically panned 1999 attempt to connect with "alternative" rock radio.
The group has returned to its thrash-metal roots with "The World Needs a Hero" (Sanctuary), and Mustaine spoke with SoundSpike correspondent Don Zulaica about it.
SoundSpike: What is your writing process like? How much direction do you give the other guys in the band?
Dave Mustaine: Inasmuch as there's a lot of standard 4/4, blockheaded arrangements and stuff like that, a lot of the bass and drum parts comprising this record--these guys come up with their own ideas. Unless it's something that's counterpoint, or it's not conducive to the song structure, I'll pretty much just let them roll with their own ideas. I'll show David Ellefson where the progression of a song is, and I'll tell Jimmy DeGrasso pretty much what the beat and tempo are, and unless a fill is just a little too out-there, or any of the syncopated polyrhythms he puts underneath the structures [is too out-there], I pretty much give the guys free reign.
Do you write on guitar always, or do you occasionally use a piano?
I've done a couple of little tiny tidbits on the piano. I am by no means as good on keyboards as Al Pitrelli is, who is an accomplished pianist. ... I've been writing a little bit more on acoustic than I have on electric, and the majority of my writing has been done at soundchecks--live, when I've got the whole band together. Because there is a feeling you get with the whole wall of sound and everybody is fired up, it's like getting these racehorses put into the gates. When the gate opens, they're ready to roll, and when we get on stage, we're ready to roll. Although I hate using horse metaphors, because my wife likes horses and I think they're evil.
How conscious were you of getting back to basics, after what happened with "Risk?"
Well, it's kind of like in the movies--you know, when Forrest Gump broke free of the braces and started running full bore. People were trying to assist us and do the right thing, and I have no regrets for what we did with "Risk" or "Cryptic Writings." I really think we could have done a hell of a lot worse. The thing is that Bud Prager was a legendary manager, and he wanted to try to get us to break through to the alternative marketplace and to some of the other different rock formats. My previous band [Metallica] did it, Soundgarden did it, Tool did it. These are all bands that are both popular at metal and alternative radio.
And using that as the yardstick, we thought we could play that kind of music just as well as they can. ... "They're in our marketplace, we can easily play music to get into their marketplace." ... But the name really, really, really hindered our progress. Alternative markets and alternative [radio station programmers] and stations, they liked some of the songs on the record, but they just didn't hang with the name Megadeth.
Like I've said, I have no apologies for the record. I think it's a great record. It just should not have had the name Megadeth on it, because if anybody else's name was on "Risk," it would have sold, I think, really well. Not only did we hurt the record by putting our name on it, the record hurt our name. People were used to Megadeth being really heavy. And you know, there are certain things that you look back in hindsight and say, "God, I would have done this or that different." Yeah, I would have done a lot of stuff different with "Risk." I probably would have made it a little bit faster. I probably wouldn't have worried so much about what [former guitarist] Marty Friedman was saying, if I'd known he was planning on leaving. But it's one of those things where, when you're stuck in the middle of it, you don't really see what's going on.
How bad was the "Risk" backlash from hardcore fans and writers in the metal community? I've read some stuff that's pretty brutal.
But that's okay. They're entitled to their opinions. If their opinion doesn't matter, then neither does mine. I support them in trying to get mileage with their following by bashing us, because God knows that--what do critics do? They critique. Controversy has surrounded me since the very beginning.
[With "Risk,"] I think a lot of [the critics] needed to save their own credibility with their own following. And by saying that they recognize the record as being a great piece of music but then it had the wrong band name on it, [that] would have probably been a little bit perplexing for some of the people who read their magazines or go to their websites. I'm not taking any kind of shot at the people who read the magazines or websites, but having said that, our music was not in the format that we were the most comfortable in playing.
Some of these people, yeah, they were bitter. [For them, it was] like coming home, and the person you've been living with for so many years tells you that they're leaving. And you're kind of like, "What?" And the problem was, we didn't give them any warning. In their eyes, a lot of people felt we had abandoned them. The sad thing about it is, we're still the same band we always were. And a lot of people who spent all that time venting and being hostile and going around slagging us--a lot of those people are the ones who are evangelizing this new record. So it's kind of like, what goes around, comes around.
And I know a lot of the people who were s--t-talking us. I'm not keeping score. So when they come up and say, "Oh, I love the new record," I'm not going to go, "Yeah, you prick." It's like Wendy O. Williams said, "A pig is a pig and that's that." There are some people who just will always be pigs.
I understand that slagging sells more magazines than actual thought, and some bands are s---, but some so-called journalists are deservedly in the same pile.
And if you consider that a little over four centuries ago, there was no thesaurus or encyclopedia or dictionary, and most people had to just kind of go along with the folklore of the wordsmith. Half of the people who write that are out there right now really don't know the proper use of some of these words that they're using. It's kind of like, "Hello, if you're going to use multi-syllabic words, make sure you know what they mean."
That's one of the things that I've always enjoyed the most with our fans, is being able to give them words that were a little bit challenging for them, that they would look into it a little bit. Or have lyrics that were a little bit deeper than "Talk Dirty To Me" kind of stuff.