Q&A: Dave Mustaine

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The days when Dave Mustaine would happily start a fight in an empty room may now be behind him, but the notion that one might safely turn one’s back on one of the few stars thrash metal ever produced is surely unwise.

Today, in London to promote his band’s new album, Dystopia, the 54-year-old Megadeth frontman is pleasant, in an oddly unsettling way. When he is being sincere, it’s difficult not to assume he’s being sarcastic; when he disagrees with a question, it’s difficult not to assume that his slow speech is for the benefit of a questioner he believes to be an idiot. Whatever the case, an hour in his company screams by.

When you joined Metallica, James Hetfield didn’t play guitar. When you formed Megadeth, you brought in Kerry King as guitarist for six months, after which Slayer’s sound became heavier. Are you the chief architect of American metal?

Well, I appreciate you saying that… I remember when we did the thirtieth-anniversary gig with Metallica in San Francisco and I went and played with them, there were a lot of people who got their faces slapped. They were realising that this is Metallica. I mean no disrespect to Kirk [Hammett], because Kirk is a great player and he’s a nice guy. But the catalyst that started it all was there on stage that night, and it was very dangerous. The playing was so venomous. And that’s probably why it was a good idea for us to part ways. There was too much anger there, and too much dysfunction.

Given how much hurt you were caused by being booted out of Metallica, do you find it ironic that you’ve fired so many musicians from Megadeth?

When you look at the thirty-year span of the band, and of all the different records that we’ve put out, it’s not the constant turnover of people that it might seem to be. And when you look at other people, such as David Bowie – he’s had tons of people play with him. Alice Cooper has had tons of people play with him…

Given how much hurt you were caused by being booted out of Metallica, do you find it ironic that you’ve fired so many musicians from Megadeth?

When you look at the thirty-year span of the band, and of all the different records that we’ve put out, it’s not the constant turnover of people that it might seem to be. And when you look at other people, such as David Bowie – he’s had tons of people play with him. Alice Cooper has had tons of people play with him…

Yes, but they’re solo artists. You trade under the name of a band. People like the idea of it being a band.

Yeah. I intend to look at it this way. In my heart I want to look at us as being a band. But then we’ve had people play with us who were simply along for the ride.

Who would those people be?

I don’t want to get into that. But the ground for all this was prepared as long back as when I left Metallica. It didn’t matter how I left, just that I left. I was the bad guy. So now I’m the guy who fires musicians; I’m the guy who’s difficult to be around. But the reality is that with Metallica and Megadeth you have two great bands to listen to. I don’t think they’re better than us, and I don’t think we’re better than them.

Have you ever been a bad person?

Everyone has the capacity to be bad. I can put it in a better frame, which is that I desire to be good more than I do bad. But sometimes I had to be the bad guy just to get things done. I just got stuck in that position. When it was time to get paid when we played in clubs, I was the guy who had to go in and speak to the club owner to get us paid. The reason for that is because I was the fighter, and I wasn’t going to take any shit from anyone. Because I was a drug dealer, I understood commerce at the sharp end.

Why did you feel the need to publicly castigate your former guitar tech on Periscope recently?

Because he lied to me for three weeks.

But why did you have to be such a hothead about it?

Because he’d fucked up three times in one night. After weeks and weeks of being bullshitted to, that’s a big problem. And so it all came to a head. I’d been drinking – I like to drink wine; I can’t own a vineyard without drinking wine – so I went backstage and said what I said and then it was over. I didn’t say his name – I would never say his name – and then it was done. I will say that I was getting used to Periscope, and some of the language I used might not have been appropriate. But I’ve learned more about that since then.

Do you harbour regrets?

Only a few. I regret that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to [original Megadeth drummer] Gar Samuelson before he passed away [in 1999]. I never had any problems with Gar, so it’s kind of a bummer that we broke up when we did.

But you were young and unstable…

Well, no, he was stealing my gear and selling it for heroin.

In 1992 you covered the Democratic National Convention for MTV. Since then the perception is that you’ve lunged wildly to the right. Is that view correct?

That’s completely false. The thing is that my viewpoint on a lot of things has grown up and evolved. But there’s certain things that haven’t. For example, people say that I’m a born-again Christian and that I’m a Jesus freak. Well, I believe in God and I believe in Jesus, and that’s it. There’s a difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is for people who are afraid to go to hell, and spirituality is for people like me who have been there. I don’t push it on anybody. [Megadeth bassist] David Ellefson is a pastor, why doesn’t anybody grill him? Well it’s because I’m a dick, so there you go.

Are you a dick, or are you just misunderstood?

Wow. Well what a difficult decision. I think it’s easy for people to say someone is a dick if they don’t get what they want… There’s been a lot of people who’ve asked me to do certain things, and if I’ve not done what they want, immediately I get labeled a bad guy or a dick. Am I misunderstood? I don’t think quite as much as people pretend that I might be. I think they understand pretty well exactly where I’m coming from, but if they too don’t get what they want then they too brand me as being someone who just isn’t a nice person.

Classic Rock 220: News & Regulars