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Megadeth's Dave Mustaine: There's Been a Renaissance With Us

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Megadeth is such a strong act that it needs little introduction. One of the underground metal groups of the '80s who achieved lasting commercial success, the band has sold more than 50 million albums over the course of more than 30 years. The four musicians have a knack for creating tight, technical rhythms and arrangements, with sharp deep dips into thrash. Their lyrics, revolving around war, politics, religion and social issues, pair perfectly with the instrumental style.

The band's 2013 album, Super Collider , debuted at number six on the Billboard 200, making it the band's highest-charting album since 1994s Youthanasia. Up On The Sun talked with Mustaine about how he will impact the music industry by playing with the San Diego Symphony, the classic album he wishes he could've witnessed as a fly on the wall, and the dynamic between the members of Megadeth.

So let's start off with a bit about "Countdown to Extinction: Live." Is there a part of the DVD that you're excited for fans to see? Cool camera angles or interviews? There's....well, when it's a live concert that isn't really a lot of backstage stuff going on. But as far as cool camera angles, that's in the eye of the beholder. It's mostly just watching us play the songs and interact with the audience. Sometimes people make up for the music with overproduction.

On of Dave Ellefson's quotes about you from his memoir [released in October, My Life With Deth] was "Megadeth was never about buddies sitting around jamming. Megadeth is a focused mission, and you [Dave Mustaine] had and have the vision to achieve it." And when Ellefson and I spoke the other day, he kept saying that "all the best things weren't his ideas," in terms of his life. I feel like you two have extremely different viewpoints. You know, David Ellefson is a really unique individual, and I don't know anyone that hasn't met him that hasn't just fallen in love with the guy. He's just a sweetheart. Our problems we had in the past were of such enormous size that if he wasn't such a great unique person there's no way we would've reconciled.

I've always loved him as a brother and we make great music together. The first time we hung out after all those arguments we were testing the waters. And it just felt so right.

Him saying that I'm focused, yes; that's an understatement. When I left Metallica and traveled to LA it was a straight shot, there were no stops along the way. When Dave and I crossed paths and began to work together it stuck. I think it's because we both had these great plans, and he talks all about it in his book. As a young musician he was very focused.

And when it comes to how "the best things weren't his ideas"--that isn't true. That isn't true. No, he's done a lot of really wonderful things in life and I'm gonna be the first to cry fowl about that. He's fathered two wonderful children. He's played some of the most significant poignant bass riffs in metal history. And he's been an ambassador in a genre where most people think we're fucking miscreants...

I mean, I can't think of another guy... maybe John Paul Jones or Geezer Butler, but in that upper tier of those bass players; there ain't a lot of people like him. Those other two people are the only other two that come to mind as far as that humility and begin able to destroy with one note from the bass. [Laughs]

How was the tour you guys just got off with Sabbath? In Latin America, that's one of Megadeth's greatest audiences still, right? Well I think there's been a renaissance around the world with Megadeth lately. Latin America was one of the strongholds where we never really lost any traction. But you know music trends come and they go, especially in a place like the United States. And in South America they like their metal.

So you've said in the press that the death of Jeff Hanneman gave you a sense of mortality, and that Megadeth is already working on a 15th album. Is there anything you can tell me about this upcoming body of work? That sounds really weird, how you piggy-backed those two things together. Can you repeat that? Because I don't think I said that.

In an interview a couple weeks ago, you said after Jeff died it gave you a sense of mortality and made you want to immediately start work on the next album. Ellefson said that you guys have been throwing around some riffs, but hadn't really developed anything to a certain extent-- I think someone might have hyphenated what I said, because I would never have said anything disrespectful about Jeff, in his passing away--to piggy-back a sales pitch on the back of it.

Jeff's passing away did give me a sense of my own mortality, yes. And has it made me a little more focused on my health to take care of myself, and pay attention to the people in my life? Yeah. But so did Darrell's [Abbot, from Pantera and Damageplan].

The thing is that it makes you appreciate your friends. You never know what's going to happen. I mean, this whole thing started from a spider bite. And then Jeff got sicker and sicker. But I chose to celebrate his life--I'm not one of those people that when someone dies I'm all boo-hoo. You know, I tend to think about the great times. You know, we did a lot of touring, Megadeth and Slayer, together.

Now, as far as me getting ready to work on the next record. I got really excited when we were out on Gigantour. That's when I started to really get the fire in my belly. So we did the record for Universal, and you know, there's no secret that there were some weird problems during production with John Kay coming and going. Great guy, um, tremendous respect for him, but kinda like the chain came off the bicycle a couple times during the process.

And I love the record, I think it's great. It's one of those polarizing records, though, where people listen to one song and evaluate the whole record off it; which is kinda dumb. But I like it. There's some great stuff on there from Chris and John too. I know they have more stuff they've written, it's just a matter of when the time is right.

There are certain times you have a great riff but you can't put a song around it, it's really weird, I don't know if you are a musician or not. But at that time you just can't fit it. They've got a ton of stuff. It's kinda like when the Iditarod is starting and you have these massive snow dogs that are ready to just run, and somebody has to keep everybody from running in different directions.

With all that strength and power, somebody needs to know how to keep things going in a forward motion if you want things to be successful. I don't confess to be the one with the breaks on or anything because these guys all know the difference between a good part and a great part, and the cool thing is that they can't help but come up with good parts. It's how we decide between the four of us to see what is good and what is great.

So I'm really excited about the prospect of your performing with the San Diego symphony. Yeah, that is pretty bizarre. When we first started talking about that it was kind of in passing. I was in England, actually, and someone said they would be interested in seeing my interpretation of the classics, because I'm very classically influenced. It's what I like to listen to, but it's not like I played it.

It was tossed around and it went from me being someone who would do a narrative of classical stuff to someone actually playing it.

I was pretty excited, but then they sent over their first two songs that they want me to play, which was some Vivaldi stuff, and as I listened to it I was like, "This is really difficult stuff." When you're playing out of a guitar it's a different mentality, and when you play it on a violin the strings are tuned differently, so it's like going from playing tennis to handball. The same principle still, but a totally different finesse.

And when is that? In April.

Should be interesting. And at least it's a challenge, right? Yeah. And I think that it helps again, like in 1992, when I covered the Democratic National Convention, it really helps our genre. Because people don't really think very highly or widely, for another variable on that, when they think about heavy metal people. They think we're limited on the scope of how we are educated and what we're made up like.

And I think doing this will be really great, because a lot of metal people are gonna see some really cool music, and a lot of stuffy old classical people will see some great guitar playing. I think it will be really weird seeing people in the audience with monacles and tuxedos and some guy will stand up and yell, "Fuck yeah, Dave!" [Laughs]

Hopefully it's one of those guys. [Laughs] And he lights up a joint. All bets are off! I don't know.

If someone had never heard Megadeth, what three albums would you hand over that defines the band? I don't think any one album defines us. There are time periods that define where we were at that point--I think Peace Sells , Countdown... and, uh... you know, shoot. I don't know if there would be a third one that really defined us, because we're always changing and influenced by different stuff.

If you don't keep your eyes open on the way, you're going to get there and say, "Shit, I missed the ride." For us, we listen to all kinds of music and a lot of times we've made adjustments to how we play because it's music, it's art, it's an expression of yourself. If you make the same picture every time it's just like being a printer.

That's something I do appreciate about Megadeth, is that you guys always seem to be evolving. So, if you could be a fly on the wall for the recording of any classic album in history, what would it be? Good question...it would probably have to be really...wow. I don't know; I really love Led Zeppelin, but Let There Be Rock [by AC/DC] is one of my favorite rock records ever, because it's so incredibly crunchy and raw. Either that or something like "Four Sticks."

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