Dave Mustaine has steered Megadeth through more than its fair share of lineup changes over the course of its three-decades-plus lifespan. And yet, these last six months have been particularly topsy-turvy in the singer-guitarist's world, even by his band's high standards. In November 2014, drummer Shawn Drover, who had been with Megadeth for a decade and played on its last four studio albums, issued a statement that he was quitting the band. This was followed, just a few hours later, by a similar announcement from lead guitarist Chris Broderick. And like that, Megadeth was back to a duo of Mustaine and stalwart bassist David Ellefson, just as it had been when the two first began playing together in L.A. in 1983. Soon enough, rumors began to fly about who would replace the departed members, with a vocal contingent of fans clamoring — and not for the first time in Megadeth's history — for a reunion of the storied Nineties-era Rust in Peace lineup, which included guitarist Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza.
Mustaine, for his part, kept uncharacteristically silent on the whole ordeal, neither commenting on the members that had left or the possibility of who might succeed them. Finally, the singer-guitarist revealed at the start of this year that Megadeth would be heading into the studio to begin recording an album — their 15th — in March. This was followed by the news that Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler would be assisting the band on the sessions. A new permanent guitarist, Kiko Loureiro of Brazilian metal act Angra, was revealed next. But the news wasn't all positive — a few days after Loureiro was publicly welcomed into the fold, former drummer Menza took to the web to disclose that he and Friedman had, in fact, been approached to rejoin the band, but that the talks had fallen apart. He also blasted Mustaine for offering what he believed to be an "unfair" contract. The Megadeth leader, however, gave no response to the allegations.
Now, in his first extensive interview since the lineup changes, Mustaine is ready to talk. And, being Dave Mustaine, he has plenty to say. The 53-year-old thrash legend recently called from his home in Nashville to update Rolling Stone on all things Megadeth. In a wide-ranging conversation, he discussed the status and sound of the band's new album, what it's been like working with Adler and Loureiro, and how he's doing in his new Music City digs. "We have a lot of property, and right across the street there's a Black Angus cattle farmer," he says, sounding cheerful and relaxed. "There are horses everywhere, railroad tracks, crap like that. Not quite Green Acres, but pretty much."
Mustaine also addressed the Rust in Peace-era lineup reunion efforts, offered his thoughts on a few of Megadeth's other past members and, more generally, commented on his position as one of rock's loudest and, at times, most strident voices. "When I have a guitar in my hand it changes me a little bit," he admits. "Kinda like when you think about Popeye and spinach. It's just one of those things that empowers me. It's a great feeling, but it can also be a double-edged sword."
How far along are you with the new record?
We have 15 tracks — 13 originals and two cover songs. We did "Melt the Ice Away" by Budgie and "Foreign Policy" by Fear. At this point, the drums are all done and Chris [Adler] is back home. Kiko finished all his rhythms and he's now doing solos. He's an amazing musician, very well-rounded. He did a lot of acoustic stuff, both steel-string and nylon-string, and he played a little piano at the end of a song called "Poisonous Shadows." It's a really haunting piece, and the part that he played is very Chopin-meets-Megadeth, if that makes sense.
In addition to "Poisonous Shadows" are there any other song titles you can give us at this point?
There's a song called "The Emperor Has No Clothes," and another called "Tyranocide." Several have working titles but I don't want to say what they are. After we write the lyrics they'll come. You know, when we did our first record out in Nashville [1997's Cryptic Writings] — and granted it was a different time back then, and a lot of stuff was different about who I am as a person — all the songs had working titles and they all had something to do with a genitalia reference and something satanic, like "Beelzebub's Ballbag" and "Devil's Sac," stuff like that. And it was like, "Oh my god, you guys. I can't believe we're calling these songs this crap!"
You're recording this album in Nashville as well.
It's a city called Franklin. It's Nashville, so to speak, if you're throwing a dart at a map, but it's a little bit south. A much more rural area, a little more laidback.
You also recently moved to Nashville with your family.
This is the fourth time we've lived here. We still have our San Diego house but we're planning on selling soon and making this permanent. You know the saying, "Happy wife, happy life"? My wife and daughter are very, very, very happy here. And Justis [Mustaine's son] came out and we went duck hunting. I, of course, froze my ass off and fell asleep with a shotgun between my legs. But we had a blast — I was pretty good at it, but he was amazing.
But when it came time to prepare the duck meat for dinner. . . it's not my cup of tea. I like beef. I like chicken. I'm kind of a boring meat eater. You know how Chris Rock says, "The only meat I don't eat is green meat"? Well, there's a lot of meat I won't eat. But, you know, I'm willing to try. And if I'm going to go hunt, I'm going to eat what I shoot. I'm not one of those guys that's into taxidermy or just killing stuff and throwing the meat away.
It sounds like Nashville suits you well.
It's been great. The people are wonderful here. There's certain things I miss about California. . . and certain people I don't. But it's funny. I was driving to the studio the other day and I was kind of speeding and I see this sheriff. And I'm like, "Oh god, I'm busted." So I do a quick pull-in to the place where I'm going to eat breakfast, I sit down at a table and I start looking out the window. I see the sheriff make a U-turn and pass the restaurant real slow, and then he pulls into the parking lot. He walks in, comes right up to me and I'm thinking, OK, I'm nailed. I start to reach for my wallet. But then he goes, "I just want to tell you I'm a big fan. We all knew you were moving here and we're so excited to have you here. Welcome." I was like, "Get the fuck out!"
Maybe they'll present you with the key to the city next.
Well, I don't know if they're gonna go that far. But we have made a lot of friends here.
Can you talk at all about the sound of the new Megadeth material?
Over the years we've always said, "We're going back to our roots." But the naysayers, they just want Rust in Peace 20 times, which is never gonna happen. Because I've never written the same song twice. Unlike a lot of other rock and metal bands that, you know, they rely on a set formula, I try and make the songs all different. The funny thing, though, was that when Ellefson was doing the bass tracks I was telling him, "This is the 'Tornado' ['Tornado of Souls'] part," "This is the 'Bad Omen' part," "This is the 'Black Friday' part," "This is the 'Holy Wars' part." Because a lot of the things were in that kind of vein. Now, is it going back in time? Hell, I don't know. But I like what I'm hearing.
All that said, after Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover departed, you did make a real attempt to reunite the Rust in Peace-era lineup, with Marty Friedman and Nick Menza.
Yeah. And contrary to all the scuttlebutt that's going around, I wish those guys the best. But their recollections of the events that led up to it and happened after are considerably different from my recollection. But here's the thing — a lot of people, they either love or hate me. If I tell anybody what happened it's not gonna change the way they feel about me. But it'll probably change the way they feel about them. And I don't want to hurt anybody. All I can say I think they're both tremendous musicians and talented guys.
Was this the first time the four of you had actually sat down in a room together since the initial dissolution of that lineup some 15 years ago?
I think so. After my arm was injured in 2001, if you remember at that time, we had Al Pitrelli playing guitar with us, because Marty had had a nervous breakdown and had left the band. Then my arm got hurt and I said, "Look, I'm done." I didn't touch a guitar for 17 months. My arm was so damaged I couldn't even hold a cigarette. But when I decided to come out of retirement I did reach out to David and Marty and Nick and talked to all of them about doing this again. But it just wasn't meant to happen. I think there was so much bitterness because of the people that were managing us at the time. If you poison the well you can't expect there to be an area of clean water anywhere. Everyone gets poisoned. Everyone was upset and they looked to me to blame. And I am responsible for a lot of the decisions that we make.
You're also the guy writing the songs, regardless of who is playing with you on the albums.
To a degree. It's like that old story about stone soup—everybody has their contributions. And everybody who contributes also has their own impression of what metal music is, and that's why I'm very picky about who I play with. Looking at our alumni: there've been some really terrific players and there've been some people who have been kind of a Band-Aid on a situation at the time. That doesn't mean they weren't good; it just means they weren't necessarily someone I would have sought out. Sometimes a person is just in the right place at the right time.
Like with [Malice guitarist] Jay Reynolds [in the late Eighties]. I wanted Jay. I thought he was a great player and had a great look. But we had him come into the studio and he said, "I'm just gonna have my guitar teacher show me the solos." When that whole thing went down we were like, "Oh my god, what are we gonna do?" So that's when we hired Jeff Young [who was Reynolds' guitar teacher, and who appeared on 1988's So Far, So Good. . . So What!], which probably. . . in retrospect it didn't really hurt us, and Jeff's a great talent and I wish him well in everything he does, but I still think Jay would have been a better choice. But that's one of those things. Or when Jimmy DeGrasso came in [in 1998] and covered for Nick Menza — Jimmy was great with MD.45 [Mustaine's 1996 project with Fear's Lee Ving], but he's a utility player. We want guys who are gonna come in here and put down roots and live and breathe it.
How does Chris Adler fit into this equation?
Our hopes were to have a permanent drummer, but the option to do a record with Chris was really exciting to me. So I thought, "Well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. We'll figure out what we're gonna do about live shows, who's gonna take the drum throne." And we've looked at a lot of people. I talked with my friend [ex-Dream Theater drummer] Mike Portnoy, who I think is an amazing talent. I talked to [ex-Slayer drummer] Dave Lombardo. [Current Dream Theater drummer] Mike Mangini's name has come up. But there was just something telling me to pause, saying, "Really think about who you're gonna play with, Mustaine. Make sure you're going to do something that's really going to excite people and that is not predictable." But we do have some live shows coming up and we have a drummer committed to our dates so far this year.
But one of the things that was great about having Chris come in was he's been a fan for 30 years and he was able to say, "Well, this is the stuff I like about my Megadeth." And it was "OK, cool." Because you know, when we started we were a thrash and speed metal outfit, and as we got more successful and got more critical acclaim melody seeped in. I've always had a melodic content to my songs — it's kind of an innate thing from being brought up with three sisters who listened to Motown. But I think that being forced toward the end of our tenure with Capitol to try and become an alternative band, it muddied the water. And we did turn ourselves inside out a lot during the later Nineties and early part of the 2000s.
As for Kiko, about a month ago you tweeted that he is "definitely the best guitarist we've ever had." Which is saying a lot, given his predecessors.
You know, that's something that has been kind of a go-to statement for me whenever I get a new player. I usually say, "Oh, they're great, they're great," right? Because of the enthusiasm and stuff. It's like, you get a new car, you have that new car smell. But there's a difference between a guy that has talent, and a guy that has talent and personality, or a guy that has talent, personality and a sense of humor. And, you know, I wasn't really close to Chris [Broderick]. Going from Chris to Kiko, we have a bond right now where we laugh and we joke and we do stuff together. Just the other day, he was trying to get me to say something in Spanish — he wanted me to say huevos cabrón — and I was like, "I ain't saying that!" I said, "Wait a minute — huevos means eggs, and cabrón means bitch. I'm not gonna say eggs and bitch to our fans." Because, you know, we have a huge contingency of fans in Latin America, especially now in Brazil with Kiko joining the band. And he was telling me, "No, that's not what it means. It's like, 'We got balls!' That kind of thing." And I was like, "Uh huh. . . "
Is there a release date yet for the new album?
We're hoping to get it out sometime in the latter part of the year. An interesting thing management told me is that, now, if you do a release at the end of the year it's not affected by the holidays because of all the digital downloads and stuff. My belief was always that when the holidays come around after Thanksgiving, radio shuts down and you start listening to "White Christmas" and crap like that. People go on vacation, and people like me that live to work have to be put on suicide watch.
But I've been in the business almost 35 years, if you go back to when I started with Metallica, and I've seen a lot of change. David Ellefson just told me recently, "Oh yeah, we only get paid now every six months instead of every three months." I was like, "Huh?" Because I knew that every six months we'd get paid from the record company and every other six months we'd get paid from the publisher. I didn't know it had changed. I said, "That's very interesting. . . "
You mention being in this business almost 35 years. Anything you haven't achieved yet that you're still gunning for?
Well, I'm still looking forward to getting that elusive Grammy. And I hope one day to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Those are two things that are on my bucket list. And there was one musician that I wanted to meet but he made me wait for an hour and a half in Japan and now he can go fuck himself. But as far as any other accomplishments, man, I've been really, really fortunate, I've done a lot of stuff, and at this point right now it's just about being able to give back to the metal community, and take care of the younger bands that are out there and do the right thing. Take them out on tour when we can, like when we do Gigantour. Try to help them out. That brings me the most pleasure.
That sounds like a generous thing to do.
Well, the Internet is full of websites that lie. It's all about character assassination right now and there's so much misinformation about me. Anybody prints something, there's a lot of people out there who are very gullible and think it's true. And the truth of the matter is probably 95 percent of the stuff that's written about me nowadays isn't true. I also think there's a lot of people who really do know who I am and what my character is, and they get equally pissed off when they see some of the stuff that's been said about me. But, you know, I don't really worry about it. A lot of times people are doing it just to get me to engage and say something back. But I figure that dogs with no teeth bark the loudest. I'm not gonna get into a pissing match with somebody who doesn't matter.
As someone who's known to be incredibly outspoken, it's debatable whether the Internet is helpful or hurtful to you.
Yeah. It's kinda like if you look into a drawer of silverware — are those eating utensils or something you'd kill somebody with? Because you can stab them with the knife, you can eat yourself to death with the fork and you can shoot dope with the spoon. It's all in the perspective.
And I look back at some of the things I've said over the years, some of the cussing, and some of the things I've done, and I really regret them. It's in jest, but if you're not there you can't see the smile after I say it. You think, God, this guy's really mean. . . There's also this thing too where I'll say something and then people think that's my belief system. But it's not. You know, me being a Christian, I have certain things I believe, but there's also certain things that Christians believe that I'm not down with. But the nature of Facebook and Twitter, and all the social media rage that goes on for people saying anything that is not absolutely PC. . . Now I'm letting the music tell me what to do. Joe Perry had this song I really like called "Let the Music Do the Talking." And I think that's what should happen. The music should do the talking.