‘I’m Over My Metallica Demons,’ Says Dave Mustaine
Come inside for a revealing interview with the Megadeth mainman.
Dave Mustaine formed Megadeth after being fired from Metallica in 1983. Twelve albums later, the fiery guitarist/vocalist remains among metal’s most fascinating characters. Classic Rock meets Mustaine in the aftermath of recent bout of surgery (that’s Mustaine, not us) to talk about Megadeth’s new album, Endgame.
Interview: Dave Ling
Are you feeling better after the recent surgery for a neck injury?
[Nodding]: An eight-inch needle was stuck into my neck to discover what was wrong. I was losing my range of motion [nods head from left to right, then back] and the cause was my being a headbanger. I think it’s important for someone to say: Dude, there are repercussions. You must warm your neck up. I do so; it’s probably the reason I’m not a cripple.
How did it feel to bury some past grievances with Slayer by touring together?
[Smiling faintly]: I didn’t even talk to Kerry [King, guitarist] yet.
But he did watch Megadeth’s show from the side of the stage?
Yeah. I’ve never had anything against Kerry – he started it all. The many things he said about me hurt my feelings, but I’m still open to being friends with him. Maybe we’ll sit down together and have a drink; he’ll have Jagermeister and I’ll have water. I’m a different person now, I’m 47. I’m happy in my life.
But the olive branch came personally from you?
Yeah. I’ve done a lot of that. I did it with Pantera. I did it with [estranged former bassist] David Ellefson. I had dinner recently with Dave and he said that [leaving the band] was the dumbest thing he ever did. I said, that’s okay – I forgive you. As I sit here talking to you now, thinking about the people I have grievances with, there are zero. I’m really happy with my life. And as my career nears its end, it’s finishing at the top.
You’ve stated than the new album, Endgame, is the best thing the band has done since Rust In Peace in 1990 – a bold claim given that 1992’s Countdown To Extinction is generally considered Megadeth’s definitive work.
Oh, this is better than Countdown… But that’s just me. You’re the journalist. The best thing is that this time I’m coherent to participate in it all.
Endgame’s title cut is inspired by legislation passed by the last US president that could consign an average American citizen into a concentration camp-style prison.
He signed that bill without the Senate or House Of Representatives knowing. I heard about it on CNN – something along the lines of: ‘Today President Bush signed a very secretive document’… I was like, ‘What?!’ So I looked into it and couldn’t believe what I discovered.
Do you harbour any type of political ambitions?
No. Never have. I don’t want to be assassinated [laughs].
Is that reticence also based upon the fact that you have less than gleaming baggage from the past?
No. Entertainers have been elected before. In Minnesota a fucking wrestler [Jesse Ventura] became the governor, for Pete’s sake. Al Frankin from Saturday Night Live is now a Senator. Ronald Reagan [former US President] and Arnold Schwarzenegger [Governor of California] were both actors. It just doesn’t appeal to me.
Not for now, at least?
[Nodding]: Were the political process fair it might make me more ambitious. But votes can be bought.
Can you pinpoint why you are in such a good headspace right now?
My faith [in God] is behind why I’m playing as good, and how I got rid of my demons. That I’ve been saved is something I don’t push it on anybody, but it’s helped me. It goes back to what I said about Slayer at the start. I’d said I’d never play with Satanic bands. Though people don’t know this, I also said I’d never play with man-whore bands because I didn’t want to go out there and struggle with staring at chicks in the audience. But when my life changed I put all that stuff on the side. I realised I could play with bands that attract female audiences; after all, guys like to go to gigs where there will be chicks – even chubby ones, ‘cos there are chubby dudes – and I began to lighten up. That’s what this whole thing’s about. Right now I’m happy, joyous, free… I’m your buddy, the guy you’ve known forever. You’ve said mean things about me; you’ve said great things about me. But we’re friends; friendship is about good and bad.
Of course, you’ve also experienced religion’s darker side.
I didn’t want to do that anymore. When I practised witchcraft and put spells on people, they worked. But there were also repercussions for me. I became spiritually oppressed. People think, ‘Dave’s mean’ or ‘Dave’s crazy’, but [it was from] practising witchcraft.
You are in the process of approving an autobiography.
It’s done. All finished.
Should anyone be worried about its contents? What kind of a book is it?
It’s not mean-spirited, but I tried to make it truthful. For example, it talks about Jeff [Young, guitarist 1987-’89] trying to pick up my fiancée, Diana, a girlfriend of six years.
So you’ve vowed to be truthful, no matter how painful?
[Nodding]: Even if I incriminate myself. Another example: I let Jay Reynolds [guitarist, 1987] join the band because he was a drug dealer. [Incredulously]: But when we got into the studio he said, ‘I’m gonna get my guitar teacher to come down and teach me how to play the part’. So in walks Jeff [Young]. His hair’s all perfect and he looks like Farrah Fawcett and he has on these shorts that are so short it looked like his scrotum was hanging out. I thought he was straight out of that Elton John video that was full of effeminate dudes [I’m Still Standing], but when he played… wow. So we decided to cut out the middle man and get Jeff into the band. I handled the thing with Jay very badly – partly because I have unresolved issues with the way I was let go from Metallica. It affected the way I treat other people. And looking back at all of that was very cathartic. The way I let Jay know [of his sacking] was in a phone call. This is what I said: ‘Hey Jay, this is Dave. Listen, dude, I’ve got some bad news for you. Basically, Jeff’s in and you’re out’.
Yes. Ouch. I was a fucker. So at the end of each chapter, I expressed my contrition and restitution at those situations. When I read the last two words of the book I closed it and started weeping. I was so happy. For the first time in my life I felt understood.
How did it feel to be No.1 in Joel McIver’s recent book, The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists?
It was especially sweet when I found out that Joel has written books on Metallica. I looked at my copy of the book – I wasn’t on the cover or the back. I figured I’d be somewhere like No.69. So I thumbed through it; it’s a really comprehensive, good book. I got to No.50 and I thought, ‘Am I in here?’ I’d been told that I was, but not which position. So I got No.16 and I saw Hetfield. I thought, ‘Wow’ because I respect James. I’m a better lead player than he is, but he’s one of the three best rhythm players in the world.
The other two being?
Malcolm Young [of AC/DC] and myself. Malcolm kept it basic but brought a whole new style of rhythm playing to the world. So I got to the Top 10… I still wasn’t in there. Every page I turned, I became more excited. I get to No.5 and it’s Kirk [Hammett], and I thought, ‘Thank you, God’. At that point it didn’t matter [which position I was]. To be better than both of them [Hetfield and Hammett] meant so much – it’s been one of the pet peeves of my career and I’ve never known how to deal with it. I didn’t realise that it has had so much bearing upon my life. Then I got to No.2 and it was John Petrucci [of Dream Theater] and I froze. I was No.1. What made it better still is that the guy wrote: ‘This isn’t about Dave as a person because he’s been a cock’ – [interjects with a bray of laughter] – ‘These four pages are about his guitar playing, which is the best. There are people who are better at one thing that Mustaine does, and others that are better than another, but no-one who’s as good at everything’. All I thought was… I win!
In a way did it represent closure?
That’s it exactly. I’m not addicted [to anything] anymore. And I’m no longer struggling with past demons from another band [Metallica]. That game has ended. Lars [Ulrich] called me up and offered the chance to come to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame thing and not be inducted, to sit in the audience [instead]. ‘It’s only for people who’ve been on the records’ is what I was told. That would have been awkward. So I didn’t go. There are obviously some unresolved issues on Lars’ part. But you know what? If God wants me in the Hall Of Fame, I will be there.
* Megadeth’s Endgame is released on September 15.