Rock and roll has never experienced a shortage of polarizing characters, those individuals whose music we might adore but who, when you hear them talk, just sound like assholes. Maybe they deliberately pull an Axl Rose and delay going on stage for two hours, leaving fans waiting around like cattle. Or maybe these charismatic rock stars struggle with personal demons like addiction or volatile artistic temperaments. Or maybe they’re Dave Mustaine.
The Megadeth main man with the loose lips hasn’t been short of opinions in the past, and he’s caught a fair amount of stick for it; on a handful of websites, he is openly despised. When we caught up with him prior to his date in Denver, part of the tour for the new Dystopia album, he was in great form, talking freely in his typical fashion. Mustaine has a theory about why he is so roundly hated.
“I think a lot of it goes back to the breakup from Metallica,” he says. “There are people that have picked up that feud, and they don’t even know why they’re choosing sides. I have nothing against Metallica fans. I was in both bands. I like Lars [Ulrich] and I like James [Hetfield] and, contrary to what people say, I do think Kirk [Hammett] is a good guitar player. In the beginning, when I was bitter, yeah, there was shit going back and forth. They were justifying firing me, and I was telling them that they were wrong. That’s just been perpetuated over and over again. It’s been put to bed. I’ve got no beef with those dudes. We’re two totally different bands.”
Maybe he’s right – maybe a lot of the vitriol spouted against Mustaine stems from the initial bitterness he felt toward Metallica after his bandmates unceremoniously booted him out and then went on to make millions. His appearance in the Some Kind of Monster documentary might have been ill-advised, too. He appeared in the doc in order to express his side of things to his former mates, but it did come across a little whiny.
There are more factors at play: Mustaine has publicly stated political opinions that definitely place him in the Republican camp, particularly when it comes to President Obama, nationalized health care and the nation’s borders — although he hasn’t said anything particularly radical. He’s a run-of-the-mill GOP supporter in that regard. You might not agree with everything he says (I certainly don’t), but you don’t have to.
So Mustaine is mouthy, cocky and opinionated — but then, he’s the lead singer in a heavy metal band. What do you want — a recluse?
I have interviewed Mustaine more than once, and he’s always been a gentleman. Talkative, yes, but trust us, in this game that’s a blessing. The only time he's been at a loss for words was when we asked him this time for his opinions on the recent Phil Anselmo scandal, which saw the former Pantera frontman caught zeig-heiling and mouthing “white power” to an audience. Mustaine didn’t really know what to say, and his publicist saved the day by requesting that we focus on the new album.
Fair enough, then, Mr. Mustaine. How do you feel about the new album, Dystopia, and the positive reaction that it’s received from fans and critics? “I am a perfectionist, and that’s kind of a bummer in several different ways,” he says. “I’m the kind of guy that, when I was in college, if the professor would ask us to read chapters 1, 2 and 4, I had to read chapter 3 because I thought I was fucking missing something. I’m super-meticulous about stuff. I think that might drive a lot of people around me crazy. The people that I’ve worked with, after a little bit of time when everybody gets to lick their wounds, it always comes around to, ‘We did have good times, we did learn a lot.’”
Megadeth has gone through more than its fair share of bandmembers. Mustaine is probably not the easiest man in the world to work with or for, but he’s still here 33 years after the band formed, and Megadeth is still putting out stellar material. The new album is, as one would expect, technically dazzling, intense and blessed with some hair-raising tunes.
“You always hope that you’ll stand the test of time,” Mustaine says. “Unless you’re an athlete, you want to be triumphant until you lay down and die. This is a whole different type of battle. Whereas athleticism is a whole physical thing, the music industry is a combination of not only that, but a lot of metal stuff, too. You have to create and make people like stuff that they may not necessarily like. Come up with sound and words. When I first started, it was horrible. It was hard, I hurt my hands, I never thought anybody would like anything I ever did. I’m still surprised people like what I write. That probably sounds like bullshit, but it’s the truth. People tell me that they love the new record, and I get shy.”
For Mustaine, lineup changes are just a part of the process. There are a handful of bands that have been around for three decades or more with the same lineup, but not many. “People quit, people get fired,” he says. “It’s a living organism. You have to make adjustments. Chris [Adler, drums and also of Lamb of God] and Kiko [Loureiro, guitar] have been a breath of fresh air for the band, and it’s great to have Kiko as a bandmember. We’re still kinda in flux with the drum position, but we’re got that whole thing worked out because Chris wants to play with us whenever he can, and he’s recommended someone to sit in for him when he can’t.”
The thing with Mustaine is that he knows his flaws. He knows that he’s not the easiest dude to work with. He knows that his inability to feel satisfied in the studio can cause friction. And he must surely know that some of his political opinions are going to raise hackles. But the thing is, he’s made peace with it all. Meanwhile, Megadeth keeps going. Hell, Mustaine has been known to wish concert crowds an ominous farewell in the past.
“There was a broken piece of bone in my spinal cord,” he says. “I had a chiropractor do something to me and broke a bone in my neck. For years, I was in excruciating pain, and I thought it was just the weight of the guitar on my shoulder, nerves and this and that. I finally had surgery, and the guy said there was a piece of broken bone in my spinal chord. He took it out and I felt better. If you’re in pain, no matter how much you love what you do, you’re still in pain. You have a choice – slog it out through the pain and don’t take any medication, or take pain medication. I tried the first. After I had the surgery, I felt good, I felt like I could play again, and I didn’t really feel like there’s any reason to quit. I’m so grateful to cats like you, but even the fuckers that have been taking the piss out of me, because I know that people hate me.”
There are plenty of people who don’t hate Mustaine and his band in Colorado. They’ve been playing here for years, working up from bars to Red Rocks, and they have a long relationship with the Fillmore. Indeed, the 2005 Greatest Hits album includes a bonus disc featuring a set recorded at the Denver venue.
“It’s like an old rehearsal room to us because we’ve been there so many times,” Mustaine says. “It’s a fun, familiar place to come to. We did, a long time ago, have something really unfortunate happen in Colorado Springs when we played a gig and someone passed away at our concert. That put a bad mark on things for us for a long time, because we always felt like there was something that we owed the people of Colorado Springs. It wasn’t our fault; the kid was sniffing Halloween hairspray paint. But when you have a loss in the community like that, it makes you feel like you’re part of it. It’s like people who survive a shipwreck. I guess I felt like I was part of that community.”
Dave Mustaine, then – still a polarizing figure. But let’s be honest, nobody wants him to change. The world’s just a little more interesting with him in — and with us not knowing what he’s going to say or do next.
Megadeth plays with Suicidal Tendencies, Children of Bodom and Havok on Tuesday, February 23, at the Fillmore; 303-837-0360.