The riffs are heavy enough to crater a parking lot but with just the right amount of math and post-Zeppelin exotica to them. The lyrics address such subjects as tyrannicide and “a post-American world."
Yes, on their 15th studio album, Dystopia, Megadeth remains the thinking-person’s thrash-metal band. Dave Mustaine’s snarling vocals, worldview and guitar-playing remain the straws that stir the band’s sound, with David Ellefson’s pummeling bass in support. Dystopia, out Jan. 22, is the first Megadeth release to feature new guitarist Kiko Loureiro and Lamb of God’s Chris Adler on drums.
On a recent afternoon, Mustaine, who was born in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa and later lived in Los Angeles for about 10 years during the band’s early years, was at his farm in Franklin, Tennessee when connected for this phone interview. Excerpts of our conversation are below.
Dave, have you ever written a riff that was so difficult or fast, even you couldn’t play it?
Uh, yeah, actually there’s stuff that I’ve written that I can obviously play in the studio, but singing and playing at the same time is really hard, like riding a bicycle and sitting on the handlebars. But solely strictly playing, a part that I couldn’t play? There are parts that there’s some finesse to that, because I have more of a snot-nosed kid approach to playing guitar, the other guitar players that I've played with, it sounds better with their fluidity to have them play it.
Which of the riffs on Dystopia are you fondest of?
There’s a couple cool ones on “Bullet to the Brain” and there’s a couple cool ones that are on “Dystopia” that are to me very reminiscent of old Mercyful Fate, kind of King Diamond, dark, demonic-sounding stuff.
Speaking of demonic-sounding stuff, when you reconnected with your faith, how did that affect your music? Were there records you used to listen to that you just couldn’t get into anymore?
Well, it’s like I explained when that first happened for me: It was private, it was nobody’s business but my own and there was certain things that I just didn’t know about and rather than continue to do them and not know what the fuck I’m doing I wanted to just kind of put it on the shelf for a minute and see if I had a new truth with something. And if not I could always pick it back up, right?
You have a new guitarist, Kiko, on this record. What’s a tryout for Megadeth like?
There really wasn’t so much a tryout per se as me just wanting to put my eyeballs on the guy. Because I’ve been doing this long enough where I can watch somebody play on video and listen to them on tape and know if they’ve got the goods. And then at that point, if they’re talented, you just have to see whether or not they’re the kind of person you’re going to be able to get really close to and spend every waking moment of the day for months and months out of your life together. Because there’s so much time that you spend on tour and on tour buses and stuff. And if you have somebody that’s a great player but he’s an asshole, it’s a recipe for disaster. [Laughs.]
Do you have a cool Lemmy-related memory?
There’s tons of them. One of my favorite ones was when we were on a festival, I think we were over in Europe or something, and Lemmy had just picked up some memorabilia from World War II and he wanted so badly for me to see this. I didn’t realize how close I was to him until I realized how important [it was] for me to see this thing. You go, “Son of a bitch, this guy really like me.” We were on the back of the bus looking at this stuff. I saw that young excitement that we all had we were kids when we had something that fucking mattered to us.
Of the four songs you’re credited with co-writes for on Metallica’s 1983 debut album Kill 'Em All, which one is your favorite?
My favorite? Hmmm. Interesting. Good question. You know, I like “Phantom Lord” and “Metal Militia” because they are very interesting songs. But I think if you were going to go for my favorite Metallica song that I wrote it would probably have to be [Ride the Lightning instrumental] “Call of Ktulu.” It stands on itself. And when you have a song that can stand on itself without words that’s a big statement.
Did you really first meet David Ellefson after hearing him play the bass line from Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil” in the Hollywood apartment beneath yours at the time?
I was hungover and it was like bom, bom, bom, bom. “Shut the fuck up!” He stops for a minute and he starts back up again and I threw a flower pot out the window right at his air conditioner and next thing you know he’s knocking on the door and a few minutes later we’re buying beer and friends.
Speaking of bass lines, for years MTV News used Megadeth’s now-classic 1986 song “Peace Sells” as intro music. Did you ever get paid for that and if not, how do you not get paid for it?
I didn’t get paid for it. How I didn’t get paid for it, I don’t know. I think it was because there was some law or something that if you cut it off at a certain spot, then they don’t have to pay you. I think if it was something that I could have got paid for, I probably can blame it to not having good representation ... because if you’re entitled to something and you don’t get it, then that’s your fault.
Over the years that we’ve had kind of our ups and downs with management. That’s one of the one areas where we’ve kind of never been able to get our finger on the pulse. I’m really happy with who we have right now but that’s a huge part of the equation.
Did you play the “Peace Sells” bass line on the recording?
I wrote it but David Ellefson, he played it.
Back in the day, you and Slash used to hang out, catch a buzz and write guitar riffs. At one point you two discussed him joining Megadeth, right?
We did. Actually that was discussed more between David Ellefson and Slash than myself. Dave was the one [who] tells the story about that. I was there but I wasn’t the one who initiated the conversation. Those guys were way, way closer than Slash and I were at the time — we’re all super-close but Dave and Slash were really, really tight.
I’ve always wondered, on the bus ride back from New York to California after parting ways with Metallica in 1983: How did you spend your time on the bus?
I was looking out the window. A lot. And it was excruciatingly painful. ... Because remember, I was living with them, had no job, no income, no money. They’d put me on the bus with no money. So I had no food money. No nothing. And I got on the bus and off I went for a four-day journey with nothing to eat, nothing to drink. So that whole journey was a four-day fucking hell. Learning how to panhandle. How to get people to buy you booze so you could sleep through the night on the bus. [Laughs.]
When you go into the bus station and the bus would stop and wait for another driver and you just pray to God you don’t sleep through the connection and shit like that. Because I’d never done anything like that before in my life. It’s different if you know what to do and where to go. And if you have money. Money’s the key to all your problems. But if you can’t even make a phone call? It’s pretty fucked up.
Which one Megadeth song would you want on your tombstone?
Oh, wow. Probably "À Tout le Monde."
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I saw on your Twitter feed that you got a haircut earlier today. What sort of instructions do you give your hairstylist?
Probably the most important thing is for me is I don’t want to look like an old hippie. “Peace, man.”
Dystopia is out Friday, Jan. 22 on Tradecraft Records. Megadeth will appear at the Hollywood Palladium on Sunday, Feb. 28. More info at dystopia.megadeth.com.