By Ara Ajizian
Dave Mustaine has been beating the odds his whole career. One would imagine he relishes the role of underdog. After being booted from Metallica in 1983, he formed his own band, Megadeth, that would go on to be legendary in its own right. Through personal ups and downs with drugs and alcohol, he has battled back to create some of his best work and become the husband and father he wanted to be. Through lineup changes and enough backstabbing for a two-hour episode of "Behind the Music," he has enjoyed continued success at the helm of Megadeth. In 2002, an arm injury sidelined Mustaine and he was forced to break up the band. Though told by doctors that he'd never play guitar again, Mustaine again fought the odds and was able to rehabilitate himself back to the level of playing he built his career on. With an all-new Megadeth lineup—guitarist Glen Drover, bassist James MacDonough, and drummer Shawn Drover—and farewell album, The System Has Failed, Mustaine is ready to take over the metal world once again before moving on to a solo career. Musician's Friend spoke with him about his music, family, gear, and . . . Starbucks?
Musician's Friend: Dave, you've said that The System Has Failed was set to be your first solo album, but due to contractual obligations, it ended up as the final Megadeth record. Would there have been any difference, as far as song choices or the lineup you used, had this actually been your first solo album?
Dave Mustaine: No. I was already recording and it was completely written before I found out. It wasn't the record company that was giving me a problem about the contract, it was the publishing company. And they weren't even really giving me a problem, they just said that I owed them another Megadeth record. So because I've had a pretty healthy relationship with my publishing company over the years, I had no problem changing the name back to Megadeth from the Dave Mustaine solo record.
MF: In retrospect, are you glad that this ended up as a Megadeth record, so you can send the band off with one final tour, or had you already moved on and were looking forward to doing the solo thing?
DM: I'd have to say honestly, yes to both questions. I had moved on and I was pretty much over the mourning period, you know? "Hey, I'm not going to be in Megadeth anymore." Then when I found that out, it was kinda like, "Oh my god, I'm gonna have so much resistance from people that think, you know, Megadeth is more than my voice and my songwriting. And yeah, there have been other people who have played (in Megadeth), there's been some other great players. I've been really blessed over the years. But to me The System Has Failed sounds like one of the classic Megadeth records. There was a period where there was a lot of internal struggle with the band, and management, and the label, where Megadeth kind of lost its way. And you take out all those components—a label, a manager, and other band members—that want Megadeth to be something other than a metal band, then it changes things.
MF: I read that you've been writing songs, which I'm guessing will turn up on your actual first solo record. Do you plan to keep the same lineup that you're currently using with Megadeth, or are there other musicians you plan on working with?
DM: I can tell you right now that I'm really satisfied with the players I'm with right now. Although they're relatively unknown, so was I. When I first started off there was the lore, you know, "Who's the guy that was too dangerous for Metallica?" I mean, a lot of that was really funny to me . . . just the whole facade of how dangerous Metallica was at the time. We were just young kids that were drinking underage.
The other thing too, getting with these new guys—seeing their desire to play, instead of to be paid to play—is refreshing. You know, the music business has changed. It's gone from being the music business having one meaning to the music business having two very succinct and different meanings, which is we do the music and the suits do the business. A lot of people on the business side of the music industry now don't have a musical bone in their body, let alone their entire ****ing family tree. And it's all about fiscal returns and so on and so forth. Right now there's a very complicated formula that I'm aware of with a lot of record companies where they just get the money back that they laid out on the recording and then they stop marketing it and let the record just kind of coast off into oblivion, which I think is asinine.
I loved the day, back when people would take risks, and they would do stuff to promote and build bands. The music industry is really toxic right now. There's a lot of groups out there that have one great song, and the rest of their album is just filler rubbish. People will go to see them in concert and they'll have to stand there for 45 minutes until they play that one song they know. Meanwhile, they're looking at a band of posers that just stare at their feet and are humped over, you know? They look like they've got their head duct taped to their shoes. That's not entertaining to me. Entertainment is Jimmy Page and Robert Plant onstage doing the Led Zeppelin stuff. Entertainment to me is Bonn Scott and Angus Young. Entertainment to me was Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. That was concerts galore, ya know? And I look at some of the young bands out there, and yeah, their music is really powerful and stuff like that, but for the most part it seems kind of like you're getting a peek into the day room at some kind of epileptic ward. There's no musicality to it, and the timing of their moves with the music is not dramatic at all.
MF: After you injured your arm in 2002, you disbanded the group and noted at the time that you wanted to work on being a better dad and husband. How has that gone, and has that changed anything regarding touring?
DM: Well, I needed to get the benefaction of my family in order to do this so that I wasn't a tormented musician out there. There are a lot of people that go on tour, and they just plain don't care about what's going on back home. They'll leave it to a caretaker or to another friend or a family member just to watch their Wandering Jews or their fuchsias or their plants or whatever.
The bottom line is, when you have a family, you have a choice to make. Either you are in a family or you're not. And for the longest time, I had the family, but I wasn't in it. And I started to watch my son suffer, and he was going through the same exact experiences that I went through, and I thought, "I can't do this to him." I don't want him to have to go through the same stuff that I went through. Plus it was a struggle for my wife, and my daughter was starting to have problems too. It's all a dynamic that happens when there's no father in the house.
Part of the biggest reason America's in such a mess right now is the dads. It has nothing really to do with the kids. You have **** dads, you have **** kids. If the dad isn't gonna set an example and he's not gonna be a good dad, if he's not gonna be a role model, if he's not gonna be a loving father and a loving husband, how can you blame his wife or his kids for acting out? So I had a lot of ground I had to make up.
MF: ESP recently released the Mustaine signature Axxion (action) guitar, in addition to the DV8 models that you've designed with them. Tell me about the process of designing a guitar from the ground up, and what you feel are the most essential elements in creating an axe worthy of the Mustaine signature.
DM: Well, honestly, there's two main points: it's gotta play like butter, and it's gotta look badass! The Axxion, I designed that guitar many many years ago, and I showed it to Jackson, but the guy that was working at Jackson at the time just was not really a very sincere person, and kinda just slipped it under the mat and forgot about it. When I left Jackson, I basically told the guys over at ESP, "Here's a guitar shape that I really love. I designed it quite a while ago—is this something you'd be interested in?" Matt Masciandaro said, "It's doable." So we put it in, and it came back absolutely perfect, except the headstock was not the headstock that I'd drawn. So I have one with the prototype headstock that's inaccurate and then I have the real, final, real-deal #1 first one, which I'm so jazzed about, because to me, it's a cutting edge new shape that could be an alternative guitar player's guitar, it could be a metal guy's guitar, it could be a nu-metal guy's guitar. It's not too pointy with the Flying V kinda shape, but it's not too boring, like one of those soloist shapes, and it's not one of those five zillion knockoffs of a Les Paul. To me, it looks like it's got a bunch of different elements from a bunch of classic guitars over the years. The one thing I like the most is the access where the heel goes, you can get way up to the 24th fret with no problem.
MF: You've also been endorsing the Tascam CD Trainer. Have you incorporated it into your own practice routine?
DM: Oh, I never use that thing. (Awkward silence) Just kidding! (laughs) We actually have three of those out on the road. We have one for Glen, one for myself, and one for James—the black one is for the bass player—go figure, the guitar players get the red ones and the bass players get the cool colors! I'm gonna have to talk to them (Tascam) about painting mine black!
When I first got it, I kinda thought, "You know, yeah . . . whatever." And then I plugged it in, because Marsh Gooch had been the person who helped me get my endorsement with ESP, and I've always been a believer in TEAC and TASCAM products, but I didn't really know how you could put a CD in a deck and listen along to it and how it's going to help you. The cool thing was, the more I toyed around with it, the more it helped me.
When we had tracks from the record and we took them apart, we would just put the ProTools track of just the solo, and I went back and I learned solos off of Peace Sells that I'd been playing wrong for years. And it wasn't that I was off by much, but it was off! And this neat little component helped me play better. And the reviews of our concerts on this last tour were people going like, "****, these guys are rad now, man!" And even some of the journalists said that they weren't really looking forward to coming and seeing us play again, but that they were really impressed with this concert. I directly attribute that to being able to study the tracks and play them right. I know for me, Glen, and James, we wouldn't have been able to pick the parts up as cleanly if we didn't have this piece of gear.
You know, I don't endorse a lot of stuff, because I just don't want to be an endorsement whore. I'm sure I could get everything under the sun if I wanted it, but when something comes along that really works, I'm more than happy to stand by it. I didn't expect to get anything from Tascam, I just wanted to use it, but when the relationship developed, I was like, "Are you kidding? I love you guys!" I've been using their DA-88 and their DA-38 machines for years, and I've got a bunch of their personal audio stuff too, so it's the icing on the cake now to have something that helps me have a relationship with them.
MF: What was the impetus for the recent remixing and remastering of the Megadeth catalog?
DM: There was a label called Loud that was owned by Sony, that owned the rights to Killing is My Business . . . and Business is Good that wanted to remaster and re-release that record, and I said, "No, I don't want you to do this because they've remastered it so many times that it doesn't need to be remastered, it needs to be remixed." So, they said "Will you remix it?" and I said, "Yeah, but I want to know how many copies have been sold, and I want my gold record." I know that records gold. I've signed 500,000 copies of those records! So, they did an accounting, and they said, "Well, it's only sold 460,000 copies, which, even if that is accurate, to me, I find that really surprising. But they said that they would ship 40,000 copies of it, meaning that it would be gold if I mixed it. I figured, you know what, I'd like to mix this anyway, just for the sheer fact that it would sound better. But because we were so close to it being gold, and their commitment to mix it, I said, "Hell, I'll do it for free." So I went into the studio and remixed it and I felt that the record turned out really well, it sounded a lot better. Sadly, Gar Samuelson wasn't alive to share the difference. [Former drummer Gar Samuelson passed away in 1999.] But I found one thing was for sure after doing that project—when it comes down to remixing, I think that I work better on my own. Because when I went back in and did all of the Capitol stuff, it sounds light-years different than Killing is My Business. I had to kind of force myself in a lot of different areas. You know, make the vocals louder, make the drums and bass sound more concise, give the guitars more room to breathe, make sure the solos are really in your face. And strip away a lot of the over-produced elements.
MF: I saw that you let the fans vote for the songs that will appear on the upcoming Megadeth's Greatest Hits: Back to the Start album, and I really think that's awesome, as well as your participation on the website. I know a lot of bands today are using that technology to do things themselves, and maybe take some of the power away from the labels. Do you have any plans like that for your solo material?
DM: If you're suggesting that I would do like Prince and leave my record label and just put stuff out on the net, no. There is a certain savoir-faire, if you will, of being on a label. When we were with Capitol, there were many, many good years there. As things changed with the music industry, music labels had to change too. Now, some have changed, they've been able to follow the learning curve, and some are still in the stone age. Again, going back to what I was talking about having these inane, asinine formulas where they will just throttle a band after they've gotten their money back. I see a lot of bands right now that are using their websites and stuff like this and it's encouraging to me to see how they've taken advantage of the net. I was one of the first guys to ever have a website, back in 1994, for a band. If you remember there was a website called Megadeth Arizona. We had all these bands like KISS and so on and so forth saying, "I want my website like Dave's site," because we had chatrooms, we had bulletin boards, we had, you know, everything you could possibly imagine. And as soon as the new technology came out, we had it. Or we invented it. It was really something that's amazing.
MF: Are either of your children musically inclined? If so, are there any desires to follow in dad's footsteps as a rock star?
DM: My son (Justis) plays guitar in the band at the school he goes to. He goes to a Christian Academy and he plays in the worship band there. Which, go figure, Dave Mustaine's kid's playing worship songs! Which I'm very thrilled about, because when he was born, all I wanted was him to be able to know God's word, and be a black belt in the martial arts style that I've been training in, so he could take care of himself and if he's meant to die that he would go to Heaven. Pretty much everything I've wanted out of this kid, he's done. He gets great grades, he's beautiful like his mom, and he actually can play! When we were in Germany he was soundchecking, and we found some peckerhead out there with a video camera taping him. I'm like, "You ain't getting the exclusive on this kid, guy!" We nabbed the camera. The drummer, Sean Grover's son, his name is Ryan, was playing drums and Justis was up there jamming on guitar.
Now, Elektra, my daughter, plays piano, and she's got a really good voice, but she's still seven, so a lot of that is just seven-year-old, childlike, angelic singing. Most really young children, when they sing, sound angelic and as soon as they cross that little imaginary line of puberty their voice starts to sound like two cats having sex in an alley!
MF: Did you start working with them from a young age? How did you foster their abilities?
DM: I don't do anything with them honestly. Justis was asking me again today about teaching him, and I just told him, "I'm not a good teacher. I can show you some stuff but don't expect me to teach it to you, because I don't even know what it is." I can show him just to go dadaladaladalum, you know, but I don't know what scale that is, and I certainly don't know what the notes are! I told him, "J, I'm self-taught. What that means is, I just kinda make it up as I go along."
MF: I totally understand. I'm very ear-oriented in my playing.
DM: Yeah, that's how I am too. I'm just totally lost. What I did, back in the stone age, I used to use a turntable and a record, and just keep moving the needle back over just to get the lick that I wanted.
MF: I read on the website that you're a big Neil Finn fan. What else is in your CD collection that might surprise the average Megadeth fan?
DM: Well, I was actually driving my car today by myself, and I had AC/DC's Let There Be Rock and Maroon 5's new record, which is quite a dichotomy. Some of the last records I listened to were Stevie Wonder's Innervisions, a guy named Trevor Davis, Cat Stevens' Greatest Hits, and probably a Diamondhead CD.
MF: That's a pretty diverse list. Are there musical avenues you wish to explore once you're free from the Megadeth name, or are you just a metal player at heart?
DM: I think I'm a metal player at heart, but I certainly hope those other influences will hold the key to a new creative level that I haven't been to yet. With the music that was coming out on Sanctuary, The World Needs a Hero and The System Has Failed, those are two very different records. One's really raw and one's really produced. I think that The System Has Failed is a better record, and if you look at the record prior to The World Needs a Hero, Risk, it was another very produced record and is very experimental. I was really angry about the "playing it safe" side that we took with Risk and doing all these experiments with stuff that made the record company feel good, because it certainly didn't make me feel good. So when I did The World Needs a Hero I wanted to go back to being dangerous. I tried to kinda capture that a little bit, but you know, it's kinda hard to capture danger on tape or what have you. With The System Has Failed, I believe that record really captures where I was in my life, and the emotional turmoil I was dealing with—you know, questioning my spirituality, and looking at everybody I've been in business with for however many years I've been in this business, and just wondering, "Are you a true enemy or a false friend?" Pretty much like "Sweating Bullets." And a lot of times in this business, you can have the greatest relationship with somebody, and they're gone. You come in, "What happened?"
"Well, you know, they got asked to leave," or "He quit and went somewhere else." Well, that sucks! Now I'm stuck here without him!
MF: Back in December, we were all stunned by the senseless loss of Dimebag Darrell. From the statements you've made since, it's apparent that you were not only touched by his passing, but by the life he led as well, and it encouraged you to extend an olive branch to some people that you haven't had the best relationships with. I was wondering if anyone has taken you up on that offer?
DM: No. That whole thing, those difficulties, they go both ways. It wasn't necessarily that either one of the parties had a problem with the other—it was pretty much mutual. So, a lot of it could be, people are busy. I'm sure I'm not the center of their universe, where they want to read what I post. They may not even know that I'm desirous of clearing the air. But the bottom line for me is my side of the street's clean now.
MF: Have there been any changes on this tour as far as security goes as a result of what happened to Dime?
DM: Not really. You know, we still have standard protocol for what we do when we play and how the fans are treated. I think if you treat your fans really well, you stand less of a chance of any kind of backlash. I don't really know what motivated that psychotic killer to take Darrell's life, other than the scuttlebutt we've all heard—blaming Darrell for breaking up Pantera. See the thing is, there's always going to be somebody somewhere that loves you, and you don't know about it. There is always somebody somewhere that wants you to die, and you don't know about it. And the beauty is, when you live your life like Darrell was living, and the way I'm trying to live mine now, you come across the paths of more people that love you than ones that want you to die. Even if you do cross paths with someone that wants you to die, if you're living your life in a way where you treat others the way they want to be treated, sometimes they may change their mind about wanting you to die and just maybe wanting you to get beat up really bad (laughs).
MF: Are there any surprises in store for the final Megadeth tour?
DM: We're going back over to Europe for the month of June, then we're going to tour the United States from July 15th through the end of August. The tour's supposed to start up in the Northwest. When Megadeth headlined we played a place that I think had a 2,000-seat capacity in Seattle and sold it out. Yet, the initial offer we got for the (planned) festival was only a 3,000-seat venue. I just don't see how you add four other bands and a second stage, and you only go up 1,000 seats in size. We may be skipping Seattle—which would be sad because I like that city—and starting in Portland, and working our way whichever way we go. Or, who knows, we may start on the east coast, We're at some point talking about coupling together with a bunch of other groups that are going to be out on the road and combining the tours for a super extravaganza!
[Since we spoke with Dave, the planned "super extravaganza" he spoke of was finalized as the Gigantour Summer Festival. For complete and current information on the tour, visit www.gigantour.com!]
MF: What are some of your other passions aside from music? I know you love horses, but what else makes Dave Mustaine tick?
DM: Yeah, horses, my family, martial arts, surfing. I love hockey, but the NHL doesn't love hockey right now. They love money. As far as anything else, I love nitro funny cars, I think those are the coolest thing in the world. I used to skydive a lot, but I haven't done it since my son was born. But I still love those adrenaline-kinds of sports. I like staying healthy; you know, eating right, exercising, so on and so forth. My favorite food is sushi, and kind of a toss-up between Mexican and German food. And there's my liquid staple, which is Starbucks.
MF: Hey, mine too!
DM: That's my office away from the office.
MF: Do you have any advice for young guitar players or bands that are trying to get noticed?
DM: Well, there's musical advice and legal advice. Which would you prefer?
MF: Let's stick with the musical advice.
DM: Well, what I would say is pick your influences very well. Whatever it is that you learn how to play, learn how to play it slowly first because then your motor skills will grasp it. And be very careful who you get into a band with, because you never know when they'll sue you! You know, bands do this. They stick together, and they fall apart, and you never know who you're in bed with so be very careful.
As far as writing stuff, I'd been told a long time ago that a good song comes down to basically this: beat, melody, and 10 simple words. I mean, not that many people can recite all the lyrics to "Stairway to Heaven," but more people than not know what the first two or three lines are.
MF: Well Dave, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.
DM: No problem bud.
MF: It was really great talking to you.
DM: You too. I really had a great time about six or seven years ago—I signed a bunch of guitars for Musician's Friend, and you guys have always been a strong supporter of me and I thank you for that.
Back to Musician's Friend Exclusive Artist Spotlights.