A conversation with Dave Mustaine
Interview by Adam McKibbin
Previously published in abridged form on Metromix
This spring, the third edition of Dave Mustaine’s Gigantour rumbles across the country, anchored again by Mustaine’s own Megadeth, touring on the strength of their best album in over a decade, last year’s politically charged “United Abominations.”
In his 25 years heading Megadeth, Mustaine has been one of the more colorful, polarizing and successful frontmen in metal. Ages ago, he was kicked out of Metallica for being too wild; now, he’s a family man who takes pride in his role as a mentor to the younger bands on his tour (this year’s lineup includes In Flames, Children of Bodom, Job for a Cowboy and High on Fire).
We spoke with Mustaine about what Gigantour has in common with a medieval band of wandering minstrels—and some of the unexpected questions submitted to his new interactive fan site.
Did you ever get to see any of the questions that fans submitted to AskDaveMustaine.com?
[Laughs] Yeah, I saw some of them. It was meant to be fun and good-spirited, but like anything in our world, there are going to be people who try to find holes in the system. We didn’t think to make any answers about how long my penis is—and that seems to be one of the most popular questions. What’s my sexual orientation? How well am I hung? What am I like in bed? When we go forward and do the next round of questions to keep it fresh, I am going to do a couple things just to address stuff like that in a good-spirited way.
What’s the touring lifestyle like for you these days?
You know, when you take good care of yourself when you’re touring, it’s a lot easier to decompress when you come off a tour. There was a period before where you really looked forward to getting out on tour because of the debauchery. [But] as the music business started to really eat itself, it started to police itself, and a lot of the decadent, Caligula-like behavior went away. So it’s a lot easier to recuperate after a tour. The hardest part is just traveling and getting all the spores—especially now that that Airborne crap is fake.
So the music industry embraced the Caligula behavior? They didn’t try to pull anybody back from the brink?
I think there’s a little bit of perpetuation from the music industry. I don’t see them ever not putting wind in the sails of some of these pirate ships. I remember when I first got signed, you go through all the different stages - “Wow, I got a record deal!” By my standards now, being legendary and having been in this business forever and having as many millions of record sales, looking back in retrospect, having a record deal and having a record doesn’t mean shit. Having a record deal with a record label that’s inept and staffed by people that could be my kids, that really affects things. There have been times I’ve been with labels and it’s been great, and there have been times that it’s been dreadful.
There are bands that operate at a very high level - popular bands that fans think are probably rolling around in money Scrooge McDuck style - but bad deals with labels have really cleaned them out.
That happens, yeah. I think a lot of that is MC Hammer-itis.
As both the headliner and the organizer, do you worry about everyone in all the bands, or are you able to step away from the dirty, day-to-day administrative stuff?
I do get involved in it a lot. One of the things we do the night before we commence with the festival is we have a meet-and-greet with all the bands and crews, so everyone can get to know everybody—so we really become this traveling community. Back in the days of medieval times, troubadours used to travel with their troupe of merry men, so to speak…although nothing comes to mind where you’d have 150 people as part of the troubadour’s troupe. It was probably more like two dudes and a lute. [Laughs]
Since I’ve been grossly overpaid and severely underworked, I would rather take my success and share it with these young bands so they’ll remember the gift that they have playing and be able to purvey that to the audience with as little showbiz bullshit as possible.
How did you put the lineup together? Do you just go after the best bands, or is it important to get bands that aren’t playing the same sort of metal?
The prerequisite really is simple: have new material, have the talent and chops, and have the right attitude. We don’t want people out there acting like they’re owed something; in a concert environment, it’s the fans who [are] owed something. This year, the five bands are pretty different. In Flames has their own brand of music and it’s pretty heavy. The guitar playing in Children of Bodom is out of this world. Job for a Cowboy is very much like a band we took out on a previous Gigantour, Dillinger Escape Plan. And then High on Fire reminds me of old-school dirge-type metal, like if [Motorhead’s] Lemmy was 20 years old again, or like Trouble from Chicago.
A lot of iconic metal acts are renowned for having audiences that are very hard on opening acts. Are Megadeth’s fans more open-minded?
I think our fans are very open-minded. Take into consideration all the bands that have supported us. I took out Stone Temple Pilots when they were relatively unknown. They went on to greatness. Same goes for Alice in Chains—they went out with us on Clash of the Titans. Pantera went out with us, White Zombie went out with us, Korn went out with us [when] they had their first record. The list is endless of the bands that I’ve taken out that have gone on to great success.
There’s been a lot of well-documented turbulence for you and Megadeth over the years, but it sounds like you’re in a really positive place now.
Megadeth has always been like a fighter jet that’s going in and out of the tumultuous goings-on in the music industry, trying to explain the evils of society and politics and war and personal politics. As far as turbulence is concerned—the faster you fly, the more it’s going to seem rocky. I like it when it’s a little bumpy; that means you don’t know what’s going to happen. As far as me being positive, I’ve always been positive. Sometimes I’ve been positively difficult, but I’ve always been positive.
How are you putting set lists together? Are you favoring the new material or the durable favorites?
We kind of decide and play by the seat of our pants. We were in Toronto one time and the temporary bass player we had wasn’t really paying attention and he took things for granted. We all knew the intensity of the music and the degree of the fans and their criticism for stuff being played right - they want to hear their Megadeth the way that it sounds. I remember going into the dressing room and saying, “Okay, tonight we’re playing ‘Sweating Bullets.’” And Glen and the bass player both turned white. I didn’t know that Glen wasn’t prepared. So we were on stage and started playing the song - and he was really mad at me. He thought I was doing that to mess with him and I was like, “No, I wasn’t messing with you - I was messing with him.”
But you gotta have fun like that, Adam...or else you start to get a little too anal retentive and caught up in your own hype. We have a lot of fun. Right before we left Germany and headed to India, it was the end of a year that we’d been out supporting this record. All Chris Broadrick does is practice and exercise - he doesn’t do any drugs and he doesn’t really drink at all. We poured him a glass of champagne and he drank half of it and said [slurring] “I gotta stop drinking this, I’m feeling it.” It’s great to be in a situation right now where everything is clicking. Am I positive right now? Yeah, I’m pretty damn happy.
I’m not a coffee drinker. Where and how should I get started on the path to being a coffee aficionado?
Well, the reason that I did this coffee company thing with my wife is that I like coffee - our whole band likes to drink coffee - and we had met a guy who sold private label stuff and it was really good. He had been donating a portion of it to charity and he bought it from Fair Trade growers. I thought, “Wow, this is a really conscientious company.” Turns out he had to sell it. We bought it, folded it, started a new one with the same premise [Legends]. One of the things we’ve done already - there’s an orphanage down in Mexico called the Door of Faith, it’s just south of the border. Their drinking well with drinking water for the babies had broken, and the children had gone from 400 gallons of drinking water a day to something like 10. It was really catastrophic. With the kindness of the people who buy my coffee, we were able to provide them a new motor for their water well. Even if you don’t like me, you gotta like that. That’s really cool shit right there. And the coffee’s great!
One of these days I’ll come around.
I’ll tell Bill Goldberg, who’s another one of the coffee guys from Legends, that you don’t like coffee. We’ll send him around your house to put you in a figure-four. [Laughs]