Three days. Sixty fans. One luxury Californian estate owned by Dave Mustaine. Welcome to Megadeth Boot Camp: a metal house party for the ages.
It’s never been easier to connect with your favourite band. Social media provides direct lines of communication, VIP packages offer backstage meet-and-greet opportunities, and destination events such as guitar retreats and cruises allow the chance to vacation alongside your musical heroes. The Megadeth Boot Camp, however, takes the VIP experience and turns it up to 11. For three days, Dave Mustaine welcomed a group of diehards to his 9.5-acre California estate, where they attended clinics in a poolhouse- turned-recording-studio, drank plentiful bottles of À Tout Le Monde beer and watched the band play a rare acoustic set. One couple even tied the knot in a ceremony administered by bassist and ordained minister David Ellefson. We crashed the second day to experience the madness first-hand…
10:30 We arrive at Casa Mustaine, an idyllic, pastoral property with lush landscaping, a picturesque pond and – at least for this weekend – 10 tents occupying the front lawn. While most Boot Camp attendees are staying at a nearby resort, a brave and deep-pocketed few have splurged for the opportunity to sleep on site. Mustaine usually lives in Tennessee, and this estate is currently on the market.
10.40 After checking in at the makeshift production office that’s set up in the guest quarters atop a three-car garage, we venture toward catering, where a handful of fans chat over vegan breakfast burritos. Another dozen or so campers hang out by the saltwater pool, where a merchandise stand doubling as a general store offers everything from hats and hoodies to toothbrushes and mosquito spray. We spot Mustaine, Ellefson and drummer Dirk Verbeuren mingling with fans as if they’re old friends. Security is surprisingly minimal – only a handful of guards are posted around the property – and perhaps even more surprisingly, the band seem to be genuinely enjoying
11:00 We enter the poolhouse studio, which is decorated with vintage G.I. Joe action figures and two giant coats-of-arms, for a workshop on Symphony Of Destruction. Wearing a flannel shirt, jeans and flip-flops, Mustaine holds up a whiteboard, where he’s scribbled a tablature of the song’s iconic riff. Soon, however, the session turns into an impromptu Megadeth history lesson. Mustaine tells how throwing a flower pot at a neighbour’s air conditioner led him to first meet Ellefson, how a former manager-slash-heroin dealer who was “crazier than a shit-house rat” died in a fight over a bologna sandwich, and how numerous drum techs would eventually graduate to official bandmember status.
12:00 We explore the property before our lunch of grilled chicken and potato salad. Down the hill from several porta-potties are the camp’s “jamming grounds”, where attendees can trade licks while sitting atop bales of hay. A guard keeping watch over the tents lets us peek inside one, and instead of a sleeping bag, we see a full-size mattress, end tables with lanterns, lounge chairs and even a faux fur rug. Camp, schmamp!
12:35 For research purposes only (ahem), we sample an À Tout Le Monde.
12:45 We speak with Adolfo, a battle-vest-clad fan from Southern California who won the chance to attend. “You know how most people win stuff on the radio and don’t deserve it, or they’re not really fans? This time, an actual fan won!” he enthuses. “I’m beside myself – this is amazing. Dave’s literally allowed us into his home. I don’t know what other band would do that.”
12:55 By the pool, we interrupt an impromptu jam session between Lara, a Los Angeles piano teacher, and Luke, a firefighter originally from Chicago who’s excited to attend the camp’s clinics. “To have an opportunity to get this kind of personalised instruction from the best musicians in the world of metal is invaluable,” he says.
13:25 We’re introduced to Jesse and Anna, the couple from Washington, D.C., who will walk down the aisle tomorrow. “We were trying to figure out how to get married, and then I saw this advertised,” Jesse says. “I knew David Ellefson was a minister and there was a church service on Sunday, so I’m like, ’Maybe they’ll marry us there?’ We’ve been freaking out ever since.” Anna says that while no friends or family from back home will attend the ceremony, they don’t mind. “We were hoping that we were going to meet a ton of likeminded, cool individuals who will be really great to be around,” she says.
13:45 Campers learn that the winery tour, where Mustaine was to dole out samples of the four varieties of wine he bottles under the Mustaine Vineyards name, has been postponed until tomorrow. We drown our sorrows with a second bottle of À Tout Le Monde. For research.
14:00 Mustaine buys everyone a beer. Perhaps we shouldn’t have researched the previous two quite so quickly.
14:15 We head back to the poolhouse for a songwriting workshop/pep talk. Mustaine proves to be a charming, likable storyteller who manages to make a discussion of personal pronouns interesting, and it’s rather endearing to watch him erase his notes (“Who am I singing to? What’s the song for?”) from the whiteboard as he goes along.
14:58 We are escorted into Mustaine’s palatial living room, where a TV is tuned to a right-wing political news channel, to speak with Ellefson. “It’s about creating a headquarters for our tribe,” he says of Boot Camp, adding that the itinerary was specifically designed to appeal to fans regardless of whether they played a musical instrument. “We really tried to create a camp that was all-inclusive, so that anybody who speaks any language, from any part of the world and of any historical Megadeth background would feel like they’re a part of this.”
16:30 Back to the pool house again, this time for Verbeuren’s clinic. As the band’s newest member, he says it’s important to treat the work of his predecessors with the proper respect, and admits that while Megadeth drum parts aren’t as technical as those of Soilwork, they’re still “tricky”, because “there’s really an art to what not to do”. After inviting fans to circle around behind his kit to get a better view, he plays Reckoning Day and Holy Wars.
16:53 We politely duck out to see what everyone else is doing, and in the most surreal moment of the day, find Ellefson and Mustaine playing boules on the front lawn.
17:22 Soon after we wolf down a freshly made pizza, the sun starts to set, and we notice that the soundtrack has changed from heavy metal to a chorus of croaking frogs.
17:28 We share a quick chat with guitarist Kiko Loureiro on Mustaine’s front porch. “It’s really good to have this experience with the diehard fans – to be able to relate to them, to learn what they like,” he says. “It’s much easier for me to play when you know the people you’re playing to and why they relate to those songs.”
18:01 We speak with Shawn, a fan who was in the crowd during the Wake Up Dead video shoot in 1986. He says hearing Megadeth for the first time was a life-changing experience. “Something that affects you that way, that’s the true meaning of art,” he beams.
18:17 The final poolhouse session of the day is led by Ellefson. Although it’s fun to watch him demonstrate the similarities in the bass lines of Symphony… and Post American World, it’s sad to hear him reveal that this very room was where he saw the late Nick Menza for the final time. In December of 2014, we’re told, Ellefson and Mustaine jammed here with Menza as they briefly considered the possibility of a Rust In Peace-era reunion. “We just felt like it wasn’t coming together – that it was a great part of our past, but didn’t seem to be a great part of our future,” Ellefson explains.
18:59 Milan, a London lawyer (and longtime Hammer subscriber!), tells us Boot Camp is a fan’s dream come true. “It feels like we’re backstage at a festival,” he says. “I’m immensely grateful to be on this property, to be part of this experience.”
20:10 Fans are ushered toward the camp’s main event: an acoustic performance and “campfire stories” under a full moon. Two rows of hay bales provide the seating, and fans roast gigantic marshmallows in two fire pits in front of the patio/stage.
20:24 After admitting that he’s “tired as hell”, Mustaine – still sporting flip-flops despite the evening’s cool temperature – says that while Megadeth don’t often play acoustically, he always enjoys the opportunity to do so. “If you hear a song on acoustic, you can tell if it’s a good melody because nothing is hiding it,” he tells campers.
20:57 Upon concluding a six-song performance with Symphony…, Mustaine takes a few questions. When asked to relay a road story that makes him giggle, he scoffs at the person’s word choice. “Nitrous [oxide] makes me giggle,” he says. He does, however, reveal that during the band’s tour with Dio in 1987-88, the tour’s snake handler put syringes that were supposed to be used for animal feeding to more creative applications. Later, when asked whether he’d consider doing a duet with someone like Lzzy Hale, he admits he doesn’t know who she is – or even if she’s a she. (“Hey, Lizzy Borden’s a dude,” he says.)
21:10 After a group picture, most campers head back toward the bar, where À Tout Le Monde flows freely. Curious to learn if it tastes any different after nightfall, we research one final serving.
21:54 The band’s mascot, Vic Rattlehead, arrives on the scene and takes pictures with fans and bandmembers alike. We say our goodbyes, congratulate the soon-to-be-married couple and try to put the day in context. It remains to be seen whether events like this will become the new norm, and while it’s unfortunate that the high cost (prices started at $999) limited Boot Camp access to a select few, we heard no complaints from anyone who chose to attend. For his part, Ellefson hopes campers will leave as even bigger fans. “We’ve always been very transparent with our fans, and Boot Camp is just an extension of what we’ve already been doing,” he says. “Whether it was discussing an addiction or even religious or spiritual things, we’ve gone there, no-holds-barred. I think that’s one reason we’ve survived, not only as humans, but also with our fans. I think they appreciate it, because they see, ’Wow, I’m like them; they’re like me, they understand me, and now I understand their music better.’”
Megadeth’s Dystopia is out now via Universal. They headline Bloodstock on Sunday August 13
Life’s a pitch
Dave Mustaine explains why he opened his casa to the masses, and what’s next for the thrash legends
It’s one thing to be active on social media, but something else to let fans crash in your yard!
Dave: “My career has been an open book. I’ve tried to always be real open with our fans and let them know more about me than most other musicians let people know about themselves. I’ve been really open about my lifestyle – whether it was squatting at someone’s house or living in a car. Having fans come into my home, it’s pretty much second nature for me.”
So it didn’t feel like you were hosting a big slumber party for a bunch of strangers?
“They probably think I’m strange, ha ha! The majority were working, professional people on vacation. I enjoy getting to know our fans and getting to see who they are, and have them tell me a little bit about their lives.”
Before Boot Camp, you said you hoped attendees would see that you’re “good people.” Why was that important to you?
“Probably the most important part is sitting down and having a meal with them. When you’re sitting at a bar, you’re kind of profiling, you’re looking around. When you’re eating, you’re eating – you talk with somebody.”
Is it true you’re considering holding a second Boot Camp in Tennessee, where you live?
“We’re already thinking about what we’re going to do! A chicken-plucking contest… cute, fun things that, if you come from Europe to Dave Mustaine’s farm out in Tennessee, what would you do? For my birthday party, we had a Slip ’N’ Slide race. There’s a hunting range across the street. We’re going to see if we can get a piglet, butter him up and chase him and catch him…”
Have you started on Dystopia’s follow-up yet?
“I’m excited to still be touring Dystopia – we’re halfway into our second year. That doesn’t mean we haven’t entertained the thought of when are we going to start writing the next record. When it comes time to do lyrics, I usually start thinking of what kind of books I like to read.”
What have you read lately?
“Several interesting books! One was on electromagnetic pulse bombs. Another was on [Sex Pistols guitarist] Steve Jones. Just little teeny things like that to encourage my thought process and to look into some of my heroes. Is there something in the Steve Jones book that will encourage me to write a touring song? I don’t know, but the electromagnetic pulse bomb story certainly gave me ideas.”
Megadeth will be playing Chicago Open Air, which takes place July 14-16, where we’ll be celebrating 30 Years of Metal Hammer. Get your tickets now.