Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine is wary of the media these days.
"You can't say what you want to say anymore without people punishing you," Mustaine tells Rolling Stone. "You can't joke around very much anymore without people misinterpreting what you're saying."
This year, Mustaine has gotten plenty of attention for what he's said publicly. In February, he made headlines when he voiced his support for ultraconservative Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. (Mustaine is a born-again Christian.) In August, he sparked controversy when he suggested onstage at a concert in Singapore that President Obama was behind the mass shootings in Aurora and at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
"You know, I probably should've said things differently. I probably should've skipped that altogether," he says about his statements in Singapore. "I learned a valuable lesson from all of this stuff."
On November 6th, Capitol/EMI will release a 20th anniversary edition of Megadeth's best-selling album, Countdown to Extinction. The band is going on tour to support the reissue, starting at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence on November 9th. (While on tour, he's hosting a food drive to help people who've been affected by Hurricane Sandy.)
Though a lot has changed over the years, Mustaine points out that songs like "Symphony of Destruction" and "Foreclosure of a Dream" are still relevant today, what with their dark military and political themes.
Mustaine says the band was inspired to write "Foreclosure of a Dream" – which includes a sample of President George H.W. Bush giving his famous "read my lips" statement – after seeing American farmers struggle because of Ronald Regan's economic policies. Today, he says, the country's farmers are still struggling, this time thanks to powerful multinational corporations like Monsanto and the rise of genetically modified organisms.
"Our bass player's brother got cancer because of the products that he sprays on his crops," he says. (Megadeth's original bassist, David Ellefson, rejoined the band in 2010.)
But some things have changed since the release of Countdown to Extinction. For one, America has seen the rise of the Internet and social media. When Mustaine shared his conspiracy theories onstage in Singapore, someone caught it on tape and posted it to YouTube.
Mustaine says media outlets have taken his statements out of context: He never said he officially "endorsed" Santorum, he just respected the former Senator for leaving the campaign trail when his daughter got sick. As for the Singapore concert, he was repeating the theories of Larry Pratt, a pro-gun activist who runs the organization Gun Owners of America.
"He said something about it and no one went after him. But everyone went crazy on me," he says. "I've been talking about politics my whole career. The second album – my God, it shows the U.N. completely blown up and destroyed. So I don't know why, all of a sudden, now's the time for people to take exception with what I'm saying."
But the controversy has offered an opportunity to reflect. Mustaine says he's looked back at some of the shows he's played and what he's said onstage.
"I noticed that, yeah, I do say some stuff that's kinda – you know, it's a little vulgar," he says. "I need to remember that being a public figure, I have a choice. I can be a really good example for people – which I really desire to do – or not.
"I mean, Marilyn Manson went to the airport with 'Fuck You' written on his forehead," he adds. "That's just not my style."