Ed Power finds Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine in typically fighting form as he gets ready for an Irish gig and a new album
IT’S a peculiarity of the record industry that the loudest, angriest music is often made by the mildest people. In the (unintentionally) hilarious rockumentary Some Kind Of Monster for instance, headbanger overlords Metallica were presented as California hippies seeking meaning in their empty millionaire lives. Slipknot’s Corey Taylor has appeared in Dr Who. Alice Cooper is a keen golfer. And so on.
Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine is an exception to this rule. He is every bit as straight-talking and intense as you would expect the frontman of one of the world’s most beloved heavy metal institutions to be. He’s feuded with former band mates ( the aforementioned Metallica) and dared to voice conservative political opinions in a business where liberal views often seem de rigueur. Not taking prisoners has been a guiding principle of his 30-year career.
In the flesh, his forcefulness is immediately apparent. Mustaine may be a born-again Christian and father to two who long ago renounced rock’n’roll hedonism. But he does not tread softly, as becomes clear when he is asked about the abrupt changes in the Megadeth line-up that preceded the recording of 15th studio LP Dystopia (drummer Shawn Drover and guitarist Chris Broderick are replaced by Chris Adler and Kiko Loureiro, respectively).
“They are entitled to their opinions,” he says of the departing members. “If people are still in the band it either means they wanted to stay or I wanted them around. If they’re not, it means they didn’t want to stay or I didn’t want them around. It doesn’t mean they’re not good players or that they’re not nice people. Sometimes things run their course — sometimes things are meant to be, and sometimes they’re not.”
If Mustaine can be uncompromising with those around him, he is also, by his telling, capable of extraordinary generosity, once calling up a fan to talk her out of suicide.
“This was back when cellphones were the size of phone books,” he recalls. “She was in Australia and was gonna commit suicide. I got on my phone and talked to her for two hours long distance. I didn’t know who she was. I just knew she was planning on killing herself.
Nowadays I think it would be a lot harder to discern if someone was really going to do that. Back then, it wasn’t as prevalent. It really was a cry for help.”
Megadeth have sold over 50 million records and are regarded as one of the ‘big four’ of thrash metal bands, alongside Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer (‘thrash’ is a high tempo strain of metal, infused with a punk rock sensibility). Mustaine formed the band in 1983 after being asked to leave Metallica. There had been considerable bad blood, with drummer Lars Ulrich and frontman James Hetfield feeling Mustaine was partying too hard (one anecdote has him almost electrocuting Metallica’s bassist by pouring beer into the musician’s pickup) and was musically incompatible.
The friction flared again in 2001 when Mustaine agreed to be interviewed for the Some Kind Of Monster rockumentary. He broke down on camera as he appeared to confess his heartbreak over being booted out of Metallica. But he subsequently asserted that his contribution had been selectively edited and that he had not consented to the clip’s inclusion.
“I had aspirations at one point of becoming friends with James and Lars and doing something again some day in my career, but that door is shut now,” he later told Record Collector magazine. “That was the final betrayal. And if I ever see Lars again it’ll be too soon. I don’t care any more. He told me that this was supposed to be about healing. And it was more furthering his career at my expense. I’m done with Lars Ulrich.”
As frontman of Megadeth, he has had moments of crisis too. The most serious set back was an arm injury sustained in rehab (he fell asleep in an uncomfortable position, cutting off the blood supply to his wrist).
Doctors told him he would have to radically rethink how he presented his music. “I couldn’t hold a guitar for 17 months,” he recalls. “I stopped playing.”
A threatened retirement never came to pass, however, and after a lay-off of two years, Megadeth returned. Typically the line-up changed shortly before the group entered the studio, burnishing Mustaine’s reputation as an uncompromising taskmaster. Does it hurt his feelings when he is described as difficult to work with?
“It’s not what people say about me, it’s what God knows about me brother,” he says. “I don’t care what they say. Megadeth is a living breathing organism. As much as I founded it and it’s my baby, it’s more than just me. The feeling our fans get when they hear a Megadeth song, it’s unique.”
He’s also known for his supreme lack of tact. There was a notorious Belfast show in 1988 at which Mustaine dedicated a song to ‘the cause’ and expressed the view that Ireland should be given “back to the Irish”.
You can imagine how that went down with many in attendance (the ensuing riot inspired the Megadeth favourite ‘Holy Wars ... The Punishment Due’).
In the intervening decade and a half Mustaine, who was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, has become a practicing Christian. That’s not to say he has mellowed, exactly. He’s still a spiky presence and does not believe in taking prisoners.
“It’s like today, someone said to me that I was homophobic. I said, ‘Either you’ve been ill informed, or it’s just plain BS — and by the way, do I make you horny?’ You know I was just kidding around with them. I’ll say stuff and people will say ‘God, he’s being mean’. Now, we’re just having fun, just going back and forth. I think that [criticising Mustaine] shows a lot of intolerance. People should be able to say stuff.”
Mustaine is 54 now. Is there an age limit for hard-charging rockers? He doesn’t believe so.
“Do I think I’ve more gas in the tank? Absolutely. Do I think I can get better? I think anyone can get 1% better no matter what they are doing — if they just try a little every day. “
Megadeth play 3Arena, Dublin on Monday, November 9. The album Dystopia is released in January.
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