Megadeth: Back on the Edge
In an exclusive interview, American thrash metal veterans Megadeth’s frontman Dave Mustaine talks about new band members, old memories, returning to India for the fourth time and their next album
First impressions are important. Especially when you’re out to impress a straight shooter like Dave Mustaine. The vocalist-guitarist and founder member of thrash metal band Megadeth still remembers his first visit to India in 2008, where they played at the annual festival series Rock ‘N India in Bengaluru. Says Mustaine over the phone from his home in Franklin, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, “We saw the elephants painted in those vibrant colors. We saw the military people who were in traditional costume and per forming all these ceremonies with weapons to welcome us. To go back to the surf punk I was growing up on, it was bitchin’.”
When they visited again four years later for the Delhi NCR leg of NH7 Weekender in 2012, Mustaine felt he was more than just a visitor. “It became very familiar. I understood a lot more.” Megadeth headlined Weekender in Delhi like no metal band had done before — getting mosh pits going and Mustaine closing with his signature line, “You’ve been great, we’ve been Megadeth.” Incidentally, the band returned to Delhi NCR in 2014, as part of extreme sports and music festival MTV Xtreme. By then, Mustaine says he was already catching up with the local news and finally got to visit Taj Mahal. The frontman adds, “We went to the surrounding neighborhoods and met people and saw how they live and stuff. It really piqued my curiosity, you know? A lot of times when you’re traveling, you get to see a place but you don’t get to learn much about it because you’re in and you’re out. For us, for me, specifically, I’ve always been really interested in the Orient, with the martial arts, the symbology that goes on, especially with the weapons and stuff.”
Next month, Megadeth are heading out to China, Japan and Australia before making their way to India for a fourth time, overtaking the likes of British heavy metal band Iron Maiden to become the biggest heavy metal band to play regularly in India. Megadeth will perform at the NH7 Weekender edition of Shillong on October 24th, followed by a set at bike and music festival Harley Rock Riders Season VI in Mumbai on October 30th and closing off at the Kolkata leg of Weekender on November 1st. A gig in Bengaluru is also in the worksSays Mustaine, “People have said, ‘You know there’s other cities you should play here’ and we obviously know that..So this to me, is going to be our most triumphant return to India playing four different cities.”
The world tour that kicks off in early October is just the beginning of one memorable year coming up for Mustaine, who just turned 54. After disagreements within the band, long-standing members, drummer Shawn Drover and guitarist Chris Broderick left Megadeth last year, and the band brought in American metallers Lamb of God’s drummer Chris Adler [a self-confessed Megadeth fanboy who jumped at the opportunity] and guitarist Kiko Loureiro [from Brazilian metal band Angra] earlier this year. While Loureiro’s place is permanent, Adler is only helping Megadeth record their upcoming 15th studio album, due early next year, and play when he’s available.
In an exclusive inter v iew with ROLLING STONE India, Mustaine opens up about working with the new lineup on new material, why he moved out of San Diego and why he doesn’t take shit from anyone.
You celebrated your birthday yesterday – how did it go?
Yeah, it was pretty fun. Sometimes birthdays are big milestones for people, sometimes they’re just birthdays. We just kinda hung low here and had some close friends over and Justis [Mustaine’s oldest son] and I were in the backyard with a bunch of guys shooting guns and targets, stuff like that. We had a big bonfire and stuff. They were saying it was the best birthday they had with me so far. [laughs] – I said, ‘Obviously ruling out the ones we had before you were born, sure.’
This is going to be your fourth visit to India. Has Megadeth been more interested in coming back regularly or the promoters in India wanted you back here?
I think if you know me at all, friend, then you know that my integrity is tantamount in my life. I don’t do things for money; I do it because I love what I do. I wouldn’t play anywhere that I didn’t want to be. We’re going to be in your nation for ten days. So that’s going to give us a very enriching experience with Indian culture.
There were talks of bringing your headline tour series Gigantour to India – is that still something you want to do?
At this point right now, we’re still trying to work out some things with our scheduling and touring as it is. We haven’t selected a permanent drummer yet — Chris Adler’s been helping us with double duty. Once we do make a decision on a permanent drummer, it’s going to be a lot easier for us to book a tour like Gigantour. In order to do something like that, you have to do a lot of planning.
With the regular lineup changes over three decades, what is it like being on the road with so many different people?
Well, 30 years is a long time, and if you look at it that way, it’s been a pretty long time with each person. Now, sometimes people quit, sometimes people left. People change and I think that the most important thing for me was the music. When you’re playing music with somebody, you can have fun playing a song with somebody you’ve played with for 10 years, you can have fun playing a song with somebody you’ve just met. For me, a lot of it was who I was playing with but much more importantly, it was the song I was playing and who we were playing to.
There’s been some really enjoyable people playing with us. Sometimes it was difficult, there was a lot of stuff that I made hard on people and there was a lot of stuff that people made hard on themselves.
What is touring with Chris Adler and Kiko like?
We’ve only been together for one show so far — the one in Quebec City in Canada. It was… talk about baptism in fire. I’ve played in front of hundreds of thousands of people and it doesn’t bother me. In fact, the more people, the more energized I get. But for Kiko and Chris, their first show with Megadeth is 80,000 people waiting to watch them play their first song [laughs]. We had a blast and if you look at the clips from that show, you see even though this was our first time playing together, there was a lot of happiness. I was happy, [bassist David] Ellefson was happy. Chris and Kiko were happy. Everyone was smiling and when the show was over, we all got to celebrate, having this one in the books.
I don’t know how many more there’ll be with Chris being able to play with us… There’s tons of rumors going around about who we’re looking at, and I have to tell you right now, I haven’t honestly looked at anyone but Chris.
You recently relocated to Nashville. What prompted the move?
It was Electra [Mustaine’s daughter and country singer]. The reason we moved out here was because I’ve made four records out here and all those times I was recording, I did live here. It really was comfortable to be here. The last time we were here, Electra was only two years old. We didn’t know that she had the gift and once she started singing — I heard her sing one time and I was really convinced. I don’t profess to be a singer first and foremost — I’m a guitar player that sings more than a singer who plays guitar. But with her, she really is. That’s her strong point. For her, this is music city. It’s all about country. It’s where she’s flourishing.
I could do my job from anywhere — Megadeth is that successful. I can do stuff on the net from a desert island if I wanted to. But I think for her, to be here right now and work with other songwriters builds her name. She just goes in and meets people and doesn’t tell them who her dad is [laughs].
Do you meet any country singers around town?
Well, through her, yeah. It’s interesting to me, because I’d have never thought that I’d have country singers who were Megadeth fans. If you think about it, all the great guitar players that are in country bands are metal guys, believe it or not. It’s funny, if you go to a restaurant here and somebody who serves you food is probably as good at guitar as you are. They just haven’t had that break. There are so many talented people out here, it’s mind-blowing.
The country music scene is so different from metal. Like Steven Tyler moved out here and he had done a songwriting session with somebody and did it the way that we do it. He has the same background that I do — a rock background. When you write songs, you keep writing. Out here in the country thing, you have a three-hour session. You sit down with some guy and another guy and usually there’s three people – one does the music, one does lyrics and another does melody. And in three hours, they’ve got a song. I’m thinking, ‘Fuck me!’ If I could write a song in three hours, my life would be so easy [laughs].
But we’ll never see Dave Mustaine do country?
Well, no you won’t see that, but I do think if I was that good where I could put together a song that’s exceptional in a matter of three hours, it would certainly change my life a lot. For me, it’s kinda weird. Songs aren’t ever done until they’re done. Sometimes they’re quick, sometimes they’re slow.
Speaking of which, how’s the new album coming along? Have you got a name for it or a working title? Is it still going to be out by this year?
It will be released next year. It’s done. It’s just that we’re doing the packaging and the set-up on it right now. It’s all mastered, it’s mixed, sequenced — everything’s done on it right now. We’re doing all the preparation work.
And because it got finished at a time when it’s so close to the Holidays… if you release a record here in America during the holidays — any time between Thanksgiving and after New Year’s — the radio stations are shut down. The record stores are putting up old Sinatra and Bing Crosby Christmas crap. You don’t have a chance. I mean, before the digital age, it wouldn’t have a strong enough effect when you wanted to release your record during the holidays here. So we’re waiting until after New Year’s.
We’ve chosen a name, the artwork is almost complete and we’re going to be announcing all that real soon. We’re releasing a song later this month, I think. It’s called “Fatal Illusion.” That song is very similar to [1986 album] Peace Sells kinda material. It could’ve come off that record.
What is the rest of the album like?
It’s definitely a lot more old-school. You know, when you come from a metal background and you’re playing really aggressive stuff, you learn about how to write stuff that’s melodic. That’s something to be looked at as an accomplishment, not something to be ashamed of… I think that back in the Nineties when Def Leppard and Nirvana became super successful, Megadeth and pretty much every other band was told ‘You need to change or you’re done’. Look at the radio in the States — there’s hardly any rock radio left and not even any playing metal.
Take me back to starting out in Los Angeles in 1983 – what kind of journey were you ready for back then?
Honestly, if young Dave was talking to old Dave right now… well, older Dave, the older Dave would probably say, ‘We did it.’ And younger Dave would say, ‘I can’t believe it’.
This is something that, when the whole thrash/speed metal scene started in America, there were only a few of us and we were a very tight-knit community. It started to spider-web out and become tentacular with different metal cultures — power metal, black metal, goth metal. It really went back to that whole heavy metal edge that started out over in California, which I was fortunate to be a part of.
And now, from making a record that I feel has gone back to the feeling — not necessarily the music — you had when you were playing your guitar the way other people can’t, or they watch you play and get excited about it, because it’s either really exotic or really aggressive. That makes me feel great.
Lastly, everyone thinks that you have a reputation of being really outspoken and you take a lot of shit for that, but still, what’s the nicest thing or the best praise you’ve heard about yourself?
Well first off, I don’t take shit from anybody. They may try and send it my way, but I duck. Or I send it back.
And as far as being outspoken, I think that there’s a lot of us who are educated and know what’s going on and that used to talk about things, ten years ago… If you say something that’s not popular — I don’t care. If it’s the truth, I’m going to say it. I don’t care if you like me or don’t like me.
At this point in my career, I’m very excited about getting out and playing again. It’s been a long time. We had a long dry spell when the last tour ended and now people quitting and family members going missing [Mustaine’s mother-in-law was found dead after going missing for over a month in 2014] – crazy shit like that. The road really helps heal a lot of my wounds or issues and stuff. That’s a place I’m very familiar with and comfortable.
Megadeth India Tour:
NH7 Weekender Shillong: October 24th
CounterCulture, Bengaluru: October 28th
Harley Rock Riders VI, Mumbai: October 30th
NH7 Weekender Kolkata: November 1st
This article appeared in Rolling Stone India Issue 0092: October 2015.