Dave Mustaine talks addiction, religion and having a personal relationship with God
Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine first conceived of Gigantour as a platform to showcase acts whose music featured virtuosic guitar playing. In addition to his own band, the festival's inaugural roster, in 2005, included prog-rock vets Dream Theater, extreme-metal unit Nevermore and skronky math-core heroes the Dillinger Escape Plan.
More recently, the traveling festival has evolved into something more diverse. This year's iteration still packs plenty of guitar wallop with the perennial headliners, plus Black Label Society (led by Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde), Device (featuring Disturbed singer David Draiman), Hellyeah, Death Division and Newsted (led by former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted).
Operating the tour and headlining each night are just two more tasks in what has already been a busy year for Mustaine. At the beginning of 2013, Megadeth parted ways with its label, Roadrunner, and jumped ship to Universal, where Mustaine also developed his own imprint, Tradecraft.
The first release under the Tradecraft banner is Super Collider, Megadeth's fourteenth studio album. And while the album still features a handful of moments that recall the thrash-metal sound that Mustaine helped pioneer more than three decades ago, it also finds Mustaine and company trying out other styles, from the anthemic modern rock of the title track to the Southern-tinged, slide-guitar-flavored "Blackest Crow."
Indeed, after more than a quarter-century of making music, the singer is still moving forward and seems to enjoy keeping busy. "I've been totally overpaid and underworked my whole career," he says. "Although there are certain times where it's been tough, I have a pretty easy life."
During a recent tour stop, Mustaine spoke with us about Gigantour and Super Collider, and also talked candidly about his religious views, the recent death of Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman, and how he balances his fans' expectations with the need to follow his own artistic desires.
Westword: How has Gigantour been going so far?
Dave Mustaine: It's been going really well. Gigantour, in the past, has always been loaded with talent, but I think this one might be the most aggressive package, with Newsted and Zakk and us. I think it also has a little more diversity, too, with Death Division and Device.
Prior to the tour, there was talk that you and Jason Newsted, two Metallica vets, would pair up to jam on one of the tunes that you had a hand in writing during your time with the band. But it has yet to happen.
We talked about it numerous times. And I've talked to my band about it, and they're all cool with it. I've told them all the songs I feel comfortable playing, and also said to Jason, "If you want to play bass, that's fine. If you want to sing, that's fine, too." So it's up to him. But also, he got sick. He has walking pneumonia right now, and his band is sitting out the Canadian dates. But if he comes back and wants to do it? Man, I'm game. I know those songs [laughs].
One person you've brought on stage at some shows is David Draiman, to help out on the Super Collider song "Dance in the Rain."
We've become friends over the years. And he contributed some songwriting and melodies to our new record. And he added such a great element. We worked on four songs together but only used two of the ideas we came up with. He helped me with the melodies and the chorus for "Dance in the Rain" and with some other stuff in "Forget to Remember."
Then later on, my wife and I went out to Austin and had dinner with him and his wife. We went to his house and he played the Device record for me. Then he played the new Trivium thing he did. [Draiman produced the band's upcoming album.] And I'm sitting there listening to the Trivium record, and I completely tuned out. I respect them a lot, but I'm not really too familiar with them.
I liked what I heard, but I started to become overwhelmed with this other idea. I said, "Hey man, what do you think about singing on the end of 'Dance in the Rain'?" And he said [in a stern, Draiman-esque voice], "It would be an honor and a privilege." So we sent him the song, and two days later it was done. And when he comes out on stage to sing his part, it brings a really cool element. It works because he's such an impressive personality.
Additionally, you and David are two musicians who are fairly outspoken about your religious beliefs. That's pretty rare in rock and roll, in particular heavy metal. What motivates you to share that part of your life?
I think it's just a matter of courage. You have to look at the old adage, All men of faith have courage and all men of courage have faith. Every war, every big game, every fight, it's those guys who always say a prayer before they go in to do battle. It's like the whole Pascal's Wager thing that I sang about in "Dread and the Fugitive Mind": It's better to live your life like there's a God and to find out there isn't, than to live like there's no God and find out there is.
But honestly, to boil it down, religion, it sucks. For me it's really all about having a personal relationship [with God], and people don't want to do that because they don't want to be held accountable. It's kind of like when you're in AA: You have a sponsor and the sponsor helps you get through the day without drinking. I needed that accountability to help me get off heroin.
And my drug past is very well chronicled. But the funny thing is, so many of the guys I got loaded with, nobody knew they were doing it, too, until it came out later. And it's like, you couldn't tell? We were sitting next to each other, we both looked completely high, and you think I'm the only one? But after walking through all that stuff, you realize, you know what? There's no shame in any of it.
On the subject of addictions, this past May, Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman died of alcohol-related liver cirrhosis. He had also been battling necrotizing fasciitis as the result of a spider bite on his right arm, which ultimately left him unable to play guitar. As someone who has dealt with substance-abuse issues and also once suffered an arm injury that threatened to end your career, did you ever have a chance to speak with him about anything he was going through?
No. Unfortunately, Jeff and I were never really close. We toured together a lot over the years, but our two camps were pretty separate. The bands were kind of acquaintances in the beginning, though that was more so me and Kerry [Slayer guitarist Kerry King, who played in an early lineup of Megadeth]. Jeff was always a little more aloof. It would just be kind of, "Hey man, what's up?" when we saw each other.
Also, for the greater period of the time I knew him, I was starting to go the route of getting away from my addictions, and I was unable to hang around with people who were partying. And people know about Jeff's drinking, and that's unfortunately what led to his death. It was liver failure.
And you know, getting bitten by a spider, that's just random. But I think because Jeff was kind of unaware of what was going on and wore long sleeves all the time, no one else really saw his arm, and so no one said, "Dude, you've got a fucking problem going on here."
The sad thing is, we've lost a good guy and a mighty guitar player. But now what we need to ask is: What can be learned from this? How can we honor Jeff's life? And how can we use his unfortunate passing to help young people not go the same route? So the whole thing saddens me, but I also can't act like we were best friends, because we weren't. It was a similar thing with Dime [Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, who was murdered on stage in 2004], where it seemed like everybody jumped on his bandwagon after his death. I don't want to do that.
But in Dime's case, your relationship with him actually stretched back further than that of most of your peers in the music community.
It did. I had asked him to join Megadeth before Pantera broke through. And I was actually the one that hosted his memorial for MTV because everybody else was ruined at the time. And I know he had a lot of friends around the world, but there were also people who were selling products and other things and preying on his name after his death. I don't agree with that. But I loved him, and he was a fabulous guitar player.
And it's great to be on the road with Vinnie [Paul, Hellyeah drummer and Dime's brother], because I think he still struggles with what happened. I hope we get a chance to become closer, though everybody really tends to stay in their little circles and not mix and match too much. That's why we have a big dinner the first night of the tour. It's to say, "Let's not be isolated. Let's circle the wagons and have a big campfire and have everybody hang out together."
We've also been doing an all-star jam on stage where we play [Thin Lizzy's] "Cold Sweat," and Vinnie comes out and plays drums, Zakk plays guitar, and David sings. We've had Sean [De La Tour] from Death Division and Chad [Gray] from Hellyeah come out, too, and Jason [Newsted] has played bass. When we did it in Dallas, Slash was also on the bill, so he came out. That was a blast. He's a smoking guitar player. There's some video of that online.
Speaking of videos, I recently watched the promotional clip for "Super Collider" and found it somewhat amusing to see you portraying a character that is something of a disapproving dad. It would seem that what the kids are doing is pretty tame compared to what you were probably up to at that age.
[Laughs] Right? I mean, science projects? I was more into chemistry projects.
The song itself is also pretty far from the thrash-metal sound Megadeth is known for.
It's a simple song, a feel-good song. I wrote it years ago, and it got mothballed and I forgot about it. Then I was listening through some stuff, and it came back up, and I played it for everybody and they loved it. And it was also a great opportunity for us to have a song that would appeal to a lot of the mainstream outlets.
Because the thing is, we don't get played on the radio because of the band name. No one seems to get that through their heads. They think, "Well, Megadeth doesn't get on the radio because their songs aren't radio songs." But that has nothing to do with anything.
I remember back when we did a cover of Alice Cooper's "No More Mr. Nice Guy," it was played on KLOS [in Los Angeles], and afterward, the DJ goes, "And that was a cover of an old Alice Cooper song. Next up is the news." And I was like, "You didn't even say 'Megadeth,' you puss!"
As far as reaction to new material like "Super Collider," some fans love it and others seem to only want to hear music that sounds like Megadeth circa 1986.
And I understand that. But that's why there are other songs on the record, like "Kingmaker" and "Don't Turn Your Back..." and "Built for War." But, look, I'm a musician, I'm an artist. Michelangelo didn't ask permission to sculpt the David; he just did it. And when they asked him how he did it, he said he just knocked away the excess marble.
That's me when I go into the studio. The songs pretty much write themselves. But have I been listening to our back catalogue? Yeah. Have I determined what it is that the fans like about Megadeth? Yeah, it's the uptempo stuff. Has there been a lot of mid-tempo stuff? Over the years. But you have to remember, when Countdown to Extinction came out, who was on the radio? Nirvana and Def Leppard. Then when Risk came out, it was Bush. Sponge.
All those bands were totally dominating everything. And we were not going to go underground again. We were going to slog it out and fight no matter what. So it would be nice if maybe every single album came with a little sidebar note or something that explained what the forces were at that time that dictated what we did in order to stay competitive. It probably would explain a lot. But you don't get that chance to give that sort of in-depth explanation to the listener.
At the end of the day, you have to follow your own heart, not the fans'.
I know what they want. And I like playing the heavy stuff. But sometimes a song has a certain purpose. With "Super Collider," the lyrics would have sounded really stupid if they had been put to faster music. And "Forget to Remember," which is about somebody dying from Alzheimer's, would not have had the same impact if it was just a metal track.
If I was sensitive, I'd just say to people, "Give me a fucking break, and have some respect, and listen to the songs, and quit judging me." But you know what? It's music. It's art. And it's for sale. People buy it if they like it, and they don't if they don't. And that's all there is to it.
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