Interview: Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine Talks Gigantour, Laments The Stupidity Of Some In Metal Community

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Dave Mustaine’s reputation precedes him. He is perhaps the greatest guitarist of his generation; if not, certainly of the musical movement he helped inspire. The man whose outsize talent fueled two of thrash metal’s greatest groups and whose confrontational attitude got him booted from the biggest metal band of all time. His ensuing rise from the ashes with Megadeth and their artistic and commercial triumphs testify to his immense musical gifts and his steely determination to succeed. He is imposing in person but his answers are thoughtful and deliberate. We caught up with Mustaine when he was in the middle of the latest installment of his Gigantour Tour, which he has been personally putting together since 2005 to showcase a diverse away of heavy metal bands with an emphasis on musicianship in general and great guitar playing in particular. Megadeth have a busy touring schedule this year and will soon be on the road with Iron Maiden in support of their latest album Super Collider, their first album for Universal Music Group.

Tuner: Megadeth have been around for almost 30 years. Your material goes from the thrash metal of the early days through more straight forward material like the Countdown to Extinction album. Your latest single “Super Collider” sounds to me like great, traditional American hard rock. How do you put together a set for a tour that touches on all the different stylistic changes in Megadeth’s career?

Dave Mustaine: Choosing songs for the set kind of depends on who we’re playing with. We know what songs are necessary to play that are crowd favorites and then we have a handful of songs that are interchangeable depending on the show. We were joking around the other day that with the variation in tempos and the colors of the song, some are kind of dark in nature, some are more uplifting, that we can play with just about anybody. For example we’re going out with Iron Maiden this year and at the end of the year with Black Sabbath. We can totally dirge it out and make the songs heavy to go out to play to the Sabbath crowd or ramp it up and make it fast and riffy for Iron Maiden which is really cool.

You’ve said Gigantour is about exposing bands with great guitar players. You’re one of the foremost guitarists of your generation. Who was the first guitarist who made you want to be a great guitarist?

That would be Jimmy Page. I think he really explored the boundaries of guitar playing. That really influenced my songwriting but not so much my guitar playing. Once I started to really realize heavy metal was calling me, and I was brought up on Motown and The Beatles too, so that’s where a lot of the beat and the melody comes from in Megadeth songs. We’re one of the few heavy metal bands that really have melody in their songs. Looking at some of the other guitar players that really crafted my playing and the aggressiveness I play with would have been getting into AC/DC at a very, very early age and watching Angus turn the guitar playing world on its ear. And bands like Diamond Head, Judas Priest, old U.F.O., stuff that was really pushing the boundaries of guitar playing.

Those bands though are very straight forward as compared to Megadeth, especially the early stuff, which is so rhythmically complex. Where did that musical impulse come from?

I think a lot of that comes from really loving punk rock and jazz music and being able to listen to those things and come up with some kind of a hybrid. I also like classical music a lot too. And then going back to what I was saying with The Beatles and Motown. Motown has this amazing beat and rhythm to it and the bass does a lot of counterpoint stuff that we try to do. You know, the funny things is, name five famous bass players. Most people can’t do it. We didn’t want to lose that position so we really focused on it and take the approach that the bass is a lead bass and the drums are lead drums. The drums are an atonal kind of an instrument, they’re more percussive, but if you play it like you would a guitar riff, following up and down, you can really play a lot of the rhythms. I think when you look at the songs as a whole and they have a lot of great pieces, that’s when you have those types of songs. But then we also have very simple songs that are more straight forward like “Symphony of Destruction,” “A Tout le Monde” or “Super Collider.”

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When people talk about the important music of the 1980s they’re not talking about the bands who sold the most records. They’re not talking about Wham or Bon Jovi. They’re talking about hardcore punk bands like Black Flag or Megadeth and the thrash bands and rappers like Public Enemy. Angry bands that had something to say. What do you think their legacy is? 

I think if you boil it down to its lowest common denominator its respect for the people who are listening to your music and having something important to say. “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”(laughter)…I can see where that’s like a dance thing for people who aren’t really paying attention to the moment and are just celebrating but if you feed your audience pabulum like that you basically think that they’re musical babies and I know that our fan-base is pretty different for any other fan-base for any other band. There are a lot of bands that are similar to Megadeth in nature but our fans are so different from age groups to nationalities to what they do for a living. The majority of our fans are salt of the Earth, working class folks but I remember meeting a guy in El Paso that was a heart doctor that goes into pregnant women and operates on the child while it’s still in the uterus and I was thinking “I sure hope you’re not listening to “Black Friday” while you’re doing that stuff.” (laughter)

Why do you think metal continually doesn’t get the respect it deserves?

You’ve got to look at a lot the participants in it. To their own demise, a lot of heavy metal performers act stupid. You know, “Hey bro, duh.” It doesn’t further our cause any. If you want to be treated intelligently, then act intelligent. I remember a lot of the opportunities that I’ve had to do coverage for different shows or stuff, with the whole political process. People forget that. You don’t have to be like “Hey F You dude,” this kind of stuff to be cool. I think that rock n’roll and heavy metal is about rebellion and if everyone thinks you’re stupid then rebel, be smart.

A lot of the bands that were thrash and speed metal bands were anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment bands but there were also a lot that played heavy metal that were singing about mythology and taking it to the extreme with death and black metal bands. I have nothing against it. I just kind of think that’s where it started to spider web into all these different fragments of metal. Think about it, there are dozens and dozens of types of metal. To me, it’s all metal. It’s basically how you sing. The majority of these black and death metal bands have great players but people won’t take them seriously because of their lyrical content. I think if you want to appeal to the masses you have to talk about what’s happening in the real world or you have to address things that are happening emotionally with people that’s going on inside their own personal world. If not it’s like in Purple Rain when the guy looks at Prince and said “The only person who understands your music is yourself.” That’s one of my favorite lines in any musical movie because you can very easily lose the plot.

What are some current bands that you think Megadeth have influenced?

Influenced? I’m not going to say that. Last time I said that I got into a lot of trouble (laughter).

But do you still listen to new, modern metal bands?

There are some new bands I like but you know, they’ve got either great music or great singing. It’s pretty few and far between where you’re finding a new band that’s like a new Guns N’ Roses or new Nirvana. There’s nothing that’s really shaken up the music world where it’s like “You’ve got to hear these guys.” We’re overdue for a new band that’s going to really knock the music world on its butt again. It’s been a long time. Every once in awhile you get somebody good but then they can’t handle the pressure and they fall apart. The last big band that changed anything would probably be the Foo Fighters.

One of the things that always set Megadeth apart was the band’s high level of musicianship. Could you speak a little about the importance of musicianship.

Going back to all the digital stuff and all the plug-ins, it’s made it real easy for people who aren’t musicians to be perceived as musicians. And It’s no fault with Pro Tools or Cakewalk or whatever any of those other Garage Band kind of programs are. I think it’s really great to get people involved in music. But I think the onus falls on the people in the record companies where they find a band that’s got one really great song and they sign them and then there becomes a bottleneck of untalented pubes out there jamming up the runway for people like us for whom this is our calling. We were made to make music. And I think that you see how the live audiences have been dwindling because people spend their good hard earned money to watch a show but they’re not going to go there to watch one song. And I think that’s one of the things that happened in the ’90s and the first decade of the new millennium here with people going to see live shows. They don’t want to tolerate this crap anymore they want to see a show.

Growing up in the ‘80s and listening to the thrash metal and hardcore bands, when one of those bands got any sort of acknowledgment from the greater, more commercial, music world, it was such a big deal because those bands mattered so much to the fans. I don’t see that as much today. Do new bands still matter like the way they did back then?

I think the whole thing is there isn’t that culture of community. It’s not just the metal community. It’s people in general. People in general have a sense of entitlement right now like people owe them something. We’ve been on tour and had several incidents where there’s been bands that were nobodies and acted like they should be headlining over us, and it’s like, bless your heart, that’s a great attitude to take but you know, don’t shit the bed. It’s kind of weird sometimes how people, because of the digital audio work stations and how easy you can make a song on a computer, lose sight of that fact that that doesn’t make you a musician. It means you know how to cut and paste. And if you can write a song and you’re a great musician, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got a great band. You can have 3 or 4 guys that play music and a musician and you can go and do stuff like these celebrities that have acting careers but are playing in a band with some schmoes. When you get into a band where there’s a bunch of musicians and a star, that’s when things start to happen. And if the surrounding members become stars themselves it forces the leader to become more than that which is where you get into the elevation to superstar or legendary status. And the problems is everybody is so living in the moment with Instagram and Tweeting and Facebook and everybody knows everything about everybody else. We’re profiling so much and it’s about our outsides. Because we compare our outsides to other people’s insides. And our insides to other people’s outsides. We’ll see somebody and think they’ve got it all going on but we don’t know what’s going on with them. You see some of these bands that think they’re entitled to this stuff, they want to be just like us. Well, you got to work for it. It’s called paying your dues. If you pay your dues and you deserve it people treat you with respect.

As a musician what are you most proud of, your guitar playing, your songwriting or your singing?

Definitely not my singing (laughter). That’s not my strong part. I love the guitar playing part because every once in awhile you can do something and really blow people’s minds. But I think the thing I’m probably the most proud of is just pushing the boundaries of songwriting in heavy metal. You know, people all have their opinions and people will listen to a song and say I suck and it’s like, I don’t suck. There’s no way I suck. And trying to say something like that, like it’s going to make me de-focus off of what my primary purpose in life is, like “Oh God, I’m going to quit now because you said I sucked”? Ain’t going to happen. I love playing guitar but being able to put some riffs together and make them work and then when you’re playing, especially when you’re in a foreign country, and you see people whose mother tongue is not English, to watch them singing your lyrics, you’ve made a big difference in the world. And one of the greatest things out of all this is when someone comes up to you and says “Your song helped me get through a very dark period of my life.” When we’re alone and we’re struggling and we’re going through that pain, that we all go through, whatever the cause is, to know that, sharing that victory over whatever you go through is going to help somebody else, man, that’s a righteous feeling.

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