MEGADETH – Love It To Death
Metal Forces, Issue 12 (1985)
Ever since he parted company with Metallica and put together Megadeth, Dave Mustaine has become a much acclaimed figure on the underground metal scene. Indeed, the first Megadeth demo was voted number one in our end of year reader’s poll for 1984. However, for many people, including myself, the initial reaction to Megadeth’s debut vinyl offering, Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good!, was one of disappointment; lacking the punch, production-wise, of many recent metal releases. But more on the album later.
Now, a Megadeth feature has been somewhat long in coming in Metal Forces, but it hasn’t been for not trying. Indeed, the last attempt very nearly fell through too. You see, Dave Mustaine had apparently locked himself out of his California hotel room unable to reach my initial call, and having failed to respond to numerous messages left with the receptionist I was just about prepared to forget the whole thing. But, thanks to the efforts of Linda at Music For Nations, the interview eventually took place a few days later.
As it’s the first time we’ve spoken to Dave I decided to begin by asking him about the split with Metallica? “It was more or less an attitude problem, not ability. We’ve tried to patch things up but there’s still certain vibes there. It’s not something I really want to go into as I still like the guys and I don’t want to hurt their success by putting them down or try and make myself look better. Basically, when they told me to leave, I packed in about 20 seconds and I was gone.”
Upset? “Oh no, I wasn’t upset at all as I wanted to start a solo project during the middle of Metallica anyway. In the past, we had tried to kick both Lars (Ulrich) and James (Hetfield) out of the band. Lars started to cry because he didn’t want to leave and we gave James a second chance because he wasn’t singing too well at the time. But I really care about the guys a lot. They’re doing really well and I’m getting money out of this, so why should I put them down and hurt my bank roll?”
So what did you do immediately after you left Metallica? “Well, at first I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to stay the same style as Metallica, play harder stuff or just join another band that was bigger than Metallica at the time; maybe a major label band?”
When you formed Megadeth didn’t you have difficulty in finding a line-up? “Yeah, we had a real hard time. I found the bass player Dave Ellefson immediately; he’s a fucking raging bass player who will definitely start getting in all the polls as soon as people can spell his name right! We went through about 15 drummers, because we wanted someone who could comprehend the changes in the music, as I wanted the music to gradually climax. I wanted every song to build up to a high point. But we just couldn’t find a drummer who could mix up a beat. They could do the same beat slower or faster, but they couldn’t do a different beat. So, it took us almost a year to find Gar Samuelson, and he used to be a jazz drummer. He’s still coming around as far as speed and everything, but the breaks and mixing it up – as you can hear on the album – he plays real different.
“We didn’t really get a chance of getting a good guitar player in the beginning because we wanted to go out and play right away, so we had Kerry King from Slayer stand in while we kept looking for someone, but we couldn’t find anything. We tried it out as a three-piece while we were breaking in the new drummer. Then we found Chris Poland, who did session work with us and of course he is the guitarist on the album. But we’ve now got a permanent guitar player called Mike Albert. He’s been playing the guitar for over 16 years and used to play with Captain Beefheart. He plays a little like Steve Vai from Alcatrazz and is really good. By the way, Mike Albert is the guy that got Eddie Van Halen to use a wang bar, and that’s the honest truth. You see, Mike and Eddie used to live real close and used to go to gigs together, and one day he told Eddie to get rid of his black Les Paul and get himself a Strat and put a fucking tremolo arm on it. He did, and now he’s a millionaire!”
What made you become the band’s vocalist? “Well, we couldn’t find a singer, so I decided about a year and a half ago to do the singing myself because at least we could get going until we found someone.”
The vocals on the album are quite impressive. Did you ever contemplate singing in Metallica? “Yeah, Lars asked me that one day when we were driving to rehearsals. I was singing along to one of our tapes and Lars said, ‘Man, fuck you’d be a great frontman, have you ever thought about singing?’ and this kinda shit. I said, ‘Yeah, maybe’. But that’s about as far as it went, because I kept thinking that this was trying to be too starstruck. I mean, I didn’t want to be a big lead guitar player, frontman, singer, this, that and everything under the sun.”
You mentioned Kerry King earlier. Isn’t it true you wanted Kerry to become a permanent member of the band? “A long time ago we did, but the members of Megadeth like to get close to our fans. They buy us a drink, we buy them a drink. We smoke a little pot together or do a little whatever together. But Kerry doesn’t get high at all, and we’d have promo photos with the three of us crawling, stumbling around with pints of ale in our hands and Kerry would be sitting there with a bottle of coke or something! It would just mismatch the whole image of the band a little bit. Also, we play a lot of advanced stuff, and Kerry… well, he can play the fuck out of a guitar but I think he likes playing the Slayer stuff better.”
How much gigging has Megadeth done? “We started about two years ago and we’ve played in San Francisco, a couple of times in New York and a place called San Diego in Southern California. All the shows went pretty well until we tried to do it as a three-piece and that wasn’t really what we wanted, because when it went into the lead breaks and stuff the bottom kind of dropped out. We also had management problems at the time, and he convinced us we didn’t need a great wall of cabinets and another guitar player. Anyway, we quickly got rid of him and went back to our original format of being a four piece.”
How did the album deal with Combat Records come about? “I looked at a bunch of labels – Megaforce, Neat, Shrapnel etc – but they didn’t really thrill me too much. They’d say what they’d do and I’d ask about tour support and what their budget was, and really everything was a pittance compared to what we needed to come up with an album that was expected to be as good as Metallica – not necessarily the same, but as good – and we needed the budget to compete with that. As it was, we fired the producer of the album half way through the recording because it wasn’t turning out right, and we wrapped up the rest of the album on $4,000. So I definitely think our next album will be far better than this one.”
So you’re not happy with the album? “Oh, we’re happy with it for what we put into it. With the producer we had, we started the album up and it just wasn’t metal, it wasn’t sounding right, and the problems we had I got fed up with the guy. With the budget we had left we just took over and produced the album ourselves.”
As I said earlier, I found Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good! a little disappointing, but once you’ve got used to the somewhat weak production and accepted that the album wasn’t another total thrash ’n’ bash, Kill ’Em All or whatever, then you’ll find some rather intricate material, proving that Megadeth are far from a one man band. Each member gels to produce a fusion of thrash, jazz, power metal and… anyway, how would Dave describe Megadeth’s music? “We’re trying to play something that’s really working the fuck up out of a guitar; something that you can headbang to and that could also be used as a real nerve-wracking soundtrack where you can picture what’s going on. I try to portray a whole painting behind the lyrics.”
Have you consciously kept away from the black metal / Satanic image? “Yeah. Well for one thing, someone who’s into Satan doesn’t go professing it about and start bragging and trying to explain it. That’s one of the secrets about being a magician; you don’t go telling everyone your secrets. I do know a lot about the black side of the shit. It interests me and I like reading about it, but I don’t really want to practice it. It takes years to get good, and once you’re good, you’re hooked and in trouble. I mean, it’s great to thrash and pound, cut yourself up, scream and have fun, but you don’t have to take out a Pagan attitude. Why support the Devil? He’s already there. I’d rather just fucking thrash and be a metalist and listen to whatever I want to than be forced to listen to one style of music.”
What do you listen to? “I listen to everything; black metal, speed metal, I even listen to fucking violinists and stuff. Paganini is a violinist – I think he’s from the 17th century – who smokes over any band or instrumentalist alive right now. They can’t even find anyone to play his music; that’s how good he was. And that’s the sort of stuff I’d rather promote instead of sitting there trying to be real tough.”
Going back to the album; what made you include ‘Mechanix’ (an early Metallica song that was reworked and included on Kill ’Em All under the title of ‘The Four Horsemen’)? “That was just to straighten Metallica up. They’re saying I’m a drunk and I can’t play. It’s real funny how Kirk Hammett ripped off every lead break I’d played on that No Life ‘Til Leather tape and got voted number one guitarist in your magazine. It’s also funny how they play their second album and they’ve still got a reel-to-reel of all my riffs and stuff. God knows when they’re gonna stop writing the songs that I originally wrote.
“I think that when Metallica have got all their gold and platinum records, they should have the decency to say: ‘Here, send one to Dave too, ’cos he wrote all the shit and Kirk played every one of his solos’. On Ride The Lightning Dave Marsh, who used to be Lars’ drum roadie, told me they had Kirk going over old practice tapes and Cliff (Burton) was even writing lead solos. How can people vote this guy number one guitar player when he’s ripped me off? If anyone should have been voted number one it should have been me. Not that I’m jealous. I mean, I’m glad they’re doing well as I’m getting paid for it… well, one of these days!”
How about the inclusion of ‘These Boots’ (the Nancy Sinatra hit) on the album. That was rather a strange choice for a cover song? “Well, everyone’s doing copies, but instead of going back five years or even 15 years, why not dig back 25 years to the 60s when things were really corny with horn sections and take something like that and re-construct the lyrics so they’re a little nastier. We really done it so bands out there know that you can pull this shit off. It’s also easier for the young metalist to have their parents accept something. Like, ‘Hey Mom! Hey Dad! Look, they’ve even got one of your songs on here!’ And they’re gonna go, ‘No, I can’t believe it.’ Of course, they’ll hate it once they read the lyrics!”
What about your own material. Have you got any new songs for the next album yet? “Yeah, we have two new tunes, ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Bad Omen’, that are a total blur – much faster than ‘Rattlehead’.”
Of course, the next Megadeth album is still some way off, but the band’s immediate plans include some extensive touring. As I speak, the band are on a US / Canadian tour with Exciter and should be coming over to Europe in August.
Despite the guy’s reputation of being abusive and difficult to interview (many statements of which have been totally unfounded), I must say I found Dave Mustaine pretty much down to earth and a pleasure to talk to.
I’ll leave you with Dave’s message to all our readers: “Yeah, I just want to thank the readers of Metal Forces for voting us the best new demo and I hope they all enjoyed the album.”
Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 12 (1985)
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