From his early days as a member of Metallica to his award-winning career as the front man and guitarist of the thrash/metal outfit Megadeth, Dave Mustaine has become something of a legend.
Rock Cellar Magazine recently caught up with Mustaine for a spirited chat about his upcoming classical performance, Megadeth, the media, the music business and more – enjoy it all below.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You’re playing a special gig with the San Diego Symphony on April 12. How did that come about?
Dave Mustaine: Basically…Megadeth has a lot of classical influences, I think all great heavy metal bands do. I think it became really obvious how classically influenced metal was. For us, we have a great opportunity to show our fans what ‘classical’ is, and also to show classical fans what ‘metal’ is.
You remember when we were kids, watching movies and stuff. As soon as things start to get scary, what happens? Classical music in the background changes, and it keeps you moving, and feeling, you know?
What I said was, ‘I wanna do the songs that play right when Snow White is about to get poisoned, right when Bambi’s mom is going to get shot.’ It’s always the scary part in the movies.
Rock Cellar Magazine: That’s a good point.
Dave Mustaine: It’s a long answer to a very simple question, but there’s just so much that can be said to the question. You can tell when someone’s gonna die in the movies – when the music changes!
Rock Cellar Magazine: It’s actually an interesting explanation, most people probably wouldn’t think of it that way.
Dave Mustaine: Yeah. And regarding classical music, most of it is without lyrics, so the music has to do the talking. The songs that we’ve chosen – I don’t know how much you’re into the ‘classical’ thing – but we all know many classical songs. But how well do we know them? Do we really ‘know the ones we know’ or are we just familiar with the melodies?
I was listening to a commercial out of one side of my head the other day, a commercial for Visa, and they had an Olympian athlete who said “Oh, when I’m doing this, I’m listening to something or other, but when I’m out doing cross-country, I listen to classical.” And it was the exact song that I’m going to be playing with the symphony. It’s funny the way people identify with classical music: what it means to chill out, rest, get in the zone, or whatever.
Rock Cellar Magazine: For fans of yours that aren’t able to make it to that special event, will there be any plans to either record it to be released later, or is it a one-off?
Dave Mustaine: Well it’s not going to be a one-off. This is the first one…they didn’t really know how it was going to go. I said to them “look, I’ve gotta tell you something – it’s not going to be a typical classic concert, where there’s etiquette and you wait between numbers, and you don’t talk or take pictures.
You need to be prepared, there will be people screaming out song titles in between stuff, taking pictures, having fun, doing all kinds of stuff.” Plus, I doubt the musicians are going to be used to playing things like Beethoven and hearing someone yell out ‘SLAYERRR’! from the crowd.
I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun, I think…the weird thing, too, about classical – they’re all playing instruments that are fret-less. It’s much more challenging to do what they’re doing than what I’m doing. I’m playing with people that are super, super talented, and for most guys in my situation I imagine they’d get pretty intimidated. But I’ve always played with great guitar players – Chris, Glen, and Marty – guys I’ve played with throughout my career.
While it’d be intimidating for most, I’m really excited about doing it.
Rock Cellar Magazine: A few months ago, Megadeth did that Thrashing Through the Snow: A Very Megadeth Christmas skit for Jimmy Kimmel Live. It was hysterical, and your fans seemed to really love it. Did its success give you guys any idea of ever doing some kind of holiday-themed release?
Dave Mustaine: People have asked us to do that over the years, and I think because of what Megadeth stands there’s kind of a…dichotomy, maybe, the way two things are juxtaposed like that. One is about happiness, peace, and goodwill towards men, and the other is like ‘wake up, you have no idea how much the bad guy is taking advantage of you’ – kind of thing.
I think that’s probably one of the hindrances to doing something like that – to not be a fraud. I’ve seen some of these people do some of these tracks, and they sound really good, but I personally thought that what we did in that skit was a lot better than singing about stuff like Silent Night.
Megadeth has a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek flavor that allows us to do things like the Kimmel skit, but I just don’t know that it would be right for us (to release a holiday record).
Rock Cellar Magazine: When you’re not on the clock as ‘Dave Mustaine of Megadeth’, what do you do for fun? Any specific hobbies?
Dave Mustaine: We’ve really been blessed with our business with Megadeth. We’ve got a huge fan club, and with our social networking and site, it’s great.
Believe it or not – I know this is probably gonna be hard to believe, but on October 31, 1994, we opened up ‘Megadeth Arizona’. It was the first band website ever.
I’m not saying I invented the internet like Al Gore does – which is fucking ridiculous – but we were the first band to ever have a website on the internet. In fact, Gene Simmons even said “I want a website just like Dave’s!” and I was pretty flattered about that. Because you know, say what you will about Gene but he’s a very smart businessman.
Plus, looking at where we’re going right now, and with my free time, I’m constantly trying to keep Megadeth on the cutting edge of stuff. Writing is a full-time job, traveling is a full-time job.
And also with the anonymity of the internet now, it seems like it takes a lot of your time figuring out how to handle certain stuff that happens online.
Dave Mustaine: Controversy, people taking everything that you say out of context, and so on. I kind of liked it better when you had to mail things to people. Some guy on the other side of the world couldn’t call you out and make you unable to do anything about it, for example.
I think that’s just kind of the way of the world, but it’s like this: you got this job, you’re a public figure, and you need to know how to deal with it.
It’s like that old saying, you’re gonna please some people some of the time, but not all the people all the time, or something like that.
Rock Cellar Magazine: That’s definitely true, and you certainly see that every day with the Internet.
Dave Mustaine: And being a very outspoken person, and being the kinda polarizing guy that I am, a lot of people take what I say out of context, as if I’m trying to cause problems.
Having a career is a very precious thing, and throwing it away by making a stupid statement would be really stupid. So the things that I’ve said over my career …I wouldn’t say them if they didn’t mean a lot to me.
Recently, some school has released some polio-like disease, it came out on the news. You see, I have a lot of under-the-radar connections, obviously, considering who I am…and I heard about this today, they said 25 kids are paralyzed in California right now with ‘polio-like symptoms’ and they don’t know where it came from. And I’m thinking “Well I know where it came from”. Somebody, somewhere, fucked up.
You see with these movies, they kind of teach people about what’s coming. Our electrical grids in America have been really bad for a long time…we were just doing a press conference over in India, and met some guy who was living in New Zealand. He goes, “Oh, India’s got the strongest broadband connections, and we’re so far ahead with technology and stuff” and I’m thinking to myself – that’s just so insane!
We think America is so far ahead of everybody in so many different columns, and we’re not…you know?
Rock Cellar Magazine: It puts things in perspective.
Dave Mustaine: It does. And when you think about it and you’re a guy like me who sings songs like Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying? – and have been singing songs like that for 25, 30+ years, you have to ask yourself – “What does Dave have to gain by saying something about chem trails? Why would he jeopardize his career and everything he’s worked for to say ‘oh, this thing that’s totally fake and make-believe is real’ and jeopardize his career?”
I wouldn’t do that, you know – I would say “Is this real? Is this something that is happening to us, is it bad? And if they can do it, why wouldn’t they do it with other stuff”, you know?
I’m really close with a lot of the people who are conspiracy theorists – or at least people call them that. As soon as you raise a question about anything…when I was growing up, if you had somebody that you were talking to, and you didn’t agree with something they said, you guys could still be friends and just disagree in that area. Now, if you have a friend and you disagree about something, the friendship could be up for discussion.
Some of the hot-button issues – global warming, pollution, abortion, gay rights, and all this sort of stuff…you know, people hear shit about me and they think that I say this or that – I heard some disc jockey try to make it out like I don’t support gay rights.
You know what? I think everybody has the right to be loved and to be happy in this world.
Did the guy say that I was against gay people? Yeah. Am I against gay people? No. People in my company are gay, and they work with me…it’s just like somebody saying I’m racist. My guitar tech is black. So they try and come up with stuff to make it out like I’m a fucker, so it’s pretty much a full-time job to figure out who you’re gonna answer and who you’re not.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Once you say whatever you say, you can’t control how it’s portrayed, that can definitely be an issue.
Dave Mustaine: It can. I remember I was doing an interview with a young guy, much like yourself, and we were just kind of chatting. He goes, “You know, the last time my magazine did an interview with you they said you said something-or-other…” and he said something that was so horrible…it was me talking about a particular type of person, and in general saying that they don’t have any right or purpose to have kids.
And I was like “You fuckers…how could you say something like that?” And the problem is, the people who read this are gonna go “I wonder if he really said that…” versus the guys that really know me, who will say “Mustaine would never say that! He might get in your face and say ‘fuck you, you’re a punk’ but he’d never tell anybody they don’t have the right to have a child.”
Rock Cellar Magazine: Organizing things like your Gigantour festival must be a lot of work. Are any more of those coming up in the future?
Dave Mustaine: Gigantour is a yearly thing but because we’re a global band we have to break it down into different zones. There’s pretty much six or seven quadrants that we do: America & Canada, Latin America, East & West Europe, Africa, and Asia…and when you look at all those different territories…that’s a lot of playing to do.
Gigantour’s going to happen next year but we won’t be playing in the States much. We’ve got two shows in the spring and then a couple at the end of the year but other than that we’re playing internationally and getting back in the studio.
It’s time for us to start writing.
That’s another thing with the internet – I’ll say we’re getting ready to start writing a new record and then it’ll be on a blog somewhere that “Megadeth back in the studio!” and the next thing you know we’re being asked “when’s your record coming out?”
All I said was that I’m going to start writing some songs! I never said we were going to have a delivery date.
Rock Cellar Magazine: You mean you don’t know what date it’s going to be released yet? First single?
Dave Mustaine: (laughs) And the title of the record, and the artwork done, and can I hum a few bars for you?
Rock Cellar Magazine: You’ve said that AC/DC was a big inspiration for you early on, what does the band mean to you?
Dave Mustaine: The thing I liked about AC/DC was the tone. When I was younger, I would pick up some records in exchange for other items from a friend at the store she worked at – she gave me some AC/DC, Iron Maiden’s Killers record, Budgie’s Impeccable record, a lot of stuff that really sculpted my musical style.
I remember when I talked to Lars Ulrich (of Metallica) when I joined the band, I said that I listened to Budgie and he goes “You listen to fuckinn’ Budgie, man? Oh my god!” and I said “Yeah, Lars…I do, I do.”
Rock Cellar Magazine: Sounds like it was a good connection for you and Lars, at the time.
Dave Mustaine: Yes. So back to AC/DC, I really liked the way it was simple, rock music with a solid rhythm structure. Incredibly, my favorite part about AC/DC isn’t Angus Young’s solos as much as it is Malcom’s rhythm playing.
I used to say this for a long time…and granted, there are so many more great new rhythm guitar players, but at the time I used to say the three best rhythm guitar players in the world were myself, James Hetfield and Malcolm Young. Because you really have to hold the fort down, being an anchor for the rest of the band.
Some bands rely on the bass and drums, and others let the lead guitar carry the weight of the songs and stuff, and then there was the liberation I felt when I listened to AC/DC’s first record, Let There Be Rock. Everybody has those ‘come to Jesus’ moments with the song or band that they’re listening to, and that was just a period in my life that when the needle hit the record, and the album started with Overdose…I was like “Wow…these guys are amazing.”
I had never heard anything like it.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Megadeth finished the full-album tour of Countdown to Extinction recently. What’s the experience like, of playing a beloved album start-to-finish each night? The fans must go nuts.
Dave Mustaine: I think the fans were really excited about it. One of the things I found most enjoyable was playing some of the songs we’ve never played before.
Not everybody is polite in our world, in our business. A lot of the journalists will get a boner out of embarrassing or insulting the talent. If I was a writer, I would not be one of those kind of guys. I’d be one of the guys more interested in investigative journalism, instead of an opinionated gossip columnist.
If you can become friends with a guy in a band, man, they’ll tell you stuff that will sell more magazines for you than any kind of sexual escapade or drug story. You know what? Everybody gets laid, and everybody wants to feel good. Some people use drugs and alcohol, some people don’t.
There’s something really terrible that happens when someone does a story with you and they cross you. It hurts your fan base, it hurts the artist, it makes you skeptical about talking to people.
And when we get out there and play songs, and we hear people saying “Megadeth can’t play this song, they can’t do that one anymore”, it’s like “Dude, you’ve obviously mistaken me for somebody else, because I can play that stuff – AND I can play it better than you can, AND I can sing, AND I can keep track of how badly I’m gonna kick your ass after the show” (laughs).
Rock Cellar Magazine: Lay it all out there on stage and then say “okay, now what?”
Dave Mustaine: And that’s fun. I don’t know which sport you particularly like, but you know when you sink one of those three-pointers in basketball, or you beat somebody on the ice and make ‘em look really bad, or you’re surfing and somebody’s been shoulder-hopping you all day and you get that big one and just make them cry watching you shred it…we all get the opportunity when the sun shines down on us and we have our moment.
It’s like when you have the choice of free will – who you’re going to hang out with, I think that’s when we sell ourselves short. We hang out with people that don’t lift us up, that don’t make us better people.
I particularly like that – I like when we meet our fans, I tell them I love ‘em and I thank them, I go out of my way to do things that most bands wouldn’t. I’ve signed autographs outside in the snow with wet hair.
The other day we were in New Zealand and a fan said “you know, you’ve never played A Tout le Monde – you’ve been playing here for 23 years but have never played that song”. We’d already had our set made up, and I went “…Okay!” so we put A Tout le Monde in and the set ran overboard.
In the middle of the show we had to go and ask Rob Zombie if we could play an extra song, he said it was cool, but we ended up not doing the song for other reasons.
That’s the kind of stuff that I think makes for really good print, you know? Instead of “Oh, Dave was in the hallway with a couple of empty beer bottles by his head”…who cares?