Dave Mustaine of Megadeth Reflects on "Countdown to Extinction", Talks "TH1RT3EN", Tour, and More
Wed, 07 Nov 2012 12:28:50
Legendary Megadeth singer and guitarist Dave Mustaine never stops.
"We're actually in the studio right now working on our fourteenth record," he smiles.
After 2011's mind-blowing metal masterpiece, Th1rt3en, he certainly deserves a break, but he's forging ahead nonetheless. Right now, Megadeth are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their seminal Countdown to Extinction. It's a classic on par with the best from Black Sabbath, Anthrax, Slayer, and Metallica and any other metal luminaries you can think of. The band just dropped a two-disc edition featuring a blistering live CD, killer packaging, a poster and more. They'll also be bringing it to life on their fall tour. There's no better time than now to revisit this timeless collection if you haven't already…
Countdown to Extinction changed the game by preserving the band's thrash intensity and impressive technical prowess, while dropping some of the biggest hooks the genre had ever seen. In other words, you need it!
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth reflects on Countdown to Extinction, talks TH1RT3EN, the tour, and more.
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Countdown to Extinction now?
It was very fun [Laughs]. The world was different back then. There were some very peculiar moments like when the curfew happened after the Rodney King riots. Something like that happens once in a person's lifetime, and you have to live through it consistently. Those things are rare.
Did the record come together relatively quickly?
I don't remember it taking a long time. Records were a lot easier to make back then because the pressure wasn't quite as hard.
What books were you reading at the time?
Well, the title track—if that's what you're alluding to—and going from that down the family tree of the record, was a Time Magazine story. Nick Menza read it. He handed it to me and asked me to turn it into a song. I did. For "Foreclosure of a Dream", David Ellefson read a book called Farmer in the Sky. He's from a farming background so it probably piqued his curiosity. For me, a lot of what showed up lyrically was different. To give you an example, I was reading a George Carlin book at the time of "Sweating Bullets", believe it or not. "Symphony of Destruction" didn't come from a book; it came from watching The Manchurian Candidate. I was thinking about "Skin o' My Teeth" on the way home from a very anxious dental appointment. "High Speed Dirt", I was skydiving at the time. I'd done an interview with someone, and the person said that I skydived. I never said that [Laughs]. I said, "I'd like to skydive". I thought, "You know what? I should probably check it out". I went skydiving, and the guys from MTV Headbangers Ball found out about it and we had a huge party. Riki Rachtman came out. He went skydiving with us. It's a fun sport. It's not something I want to do nowadays because I'm older, and I'm a parent. At the time, it was really fun. There's so much pressure right now in society with the way people just attack each other. It's so weird how tense everyone is. I don't know if it's the economy or what.
What's your experience like listening to the record now?
Playing it is one thing. Listening to it is another. When I listen to it, I think, "What was I reading then? What were we going through?" Take the chorus of "Symphony of Destruction". I found a martial arts instructor I liked, and I started training with him. I'd been with him for a while, and one day, I was driving to get lunch. For some reason, I wanted sushi. Maybe I thought I was David Carradine [Laughs]. Who knows? You finish karate and go have sushi, right? I wrote on the back of the receipt from the sushi restaurant, "My head explodes. My brain corrodes". That's where it started. The feeling of this record reminds me of how meticulous we were doing it too. When we had the guitars patched into strobe tuners, we'd bend up until where the tuner would stop dead if we were doing any solos with bends in them. It was crazy stuff like that. We were doing it to tape too.
That organic nature comes through.
I think so. There's the argument of analog versus digital. Digital definitely has a clarity to it, but there's a plasticness in the sound. I love the sound of tape. If tape had the same kind of post-EQ that digital presents, it would sound just as good. There wasn't that big of a difference when you'd listen to a really well-produced record. People just didn't know how to get stuff to sound really great analog-wise because tape is pretty finicky. Tape sticks together. I remember the first time they told me they had to bake the tapes when we wanted to do something with the old tapes. I thought, "How is that not going to melt? How is something disastrous not going to happen?" [Laughs] It's totally real, and they do it all the time though.
Is "13" a special song for you?
There are very few songs that don't feel special to me. The ones that don't feel special are those that I didn't have a lot of songwriting in. When we were with Capitol, we were really happy there. They had so many different lineup changes with the presidents and stuff like that. We ended up going the independent route. By the time we had gotten back to where we felt like we were in control again, it was just this last recording to be honest with you. There had been so much groping in the dark to find our way again. If you're good at doing one thing and all of a sudden people are telling you that you have to do something different, I don't care how hard you try, it becomes evident. For a longtime, I think we were being manipulated by sales, other bands, and the music industry and not writing the way we really wanted to write. Even still, you'll write something and think, "That's not really how I wanted it". When you're in a band, you've got to make compromises. It's not even necessarily compromise but artistic collaboration. When I heard "13" while I was first writing it, it was looking back at my life and saying, "Man, I've done this 13 times already and I'm not going to quit. I'm not going to give up on this". My arm had been destroyed. I had to go through back surgery because of the headbanging and everything. There were all the trips to rehab and the run-ins with the law and lawsuits as well as the bickering with my old band. Everybody knows that thing is over now. When we both came back together and did those Big Four shows, it was like closure of a circle. Until we had some sort of therapeutic closure, it was really weird. It was like a circle that had a piece taken out of it. Now, it's done and beyond us all. The Big Four was great, and we moved on.
Does it reflect on your entire career?
When I was doing Youthanasia, I tried to be a little cheeky when I wrote that song "Victory". The guys in the band had said something, "Why don't you do a song that has all of our song titles in it?" I thought, "That reminds me of those K-tel Records". We started goofing around, doing music, and talking about the titles and how they fit. It seemed clever, but I hadn't done anything like it. When I did "When", that song was so angry. It was specifically at one person. I felt that I really shortchanged myself. I called up Brian Tatler from Diamond Head and said, "Are you cool with me writing this song? It's kind of inspired by 'Am I Evil?'." He said, "Oh yeah sure, man!" We're close friends so it was my way of paying tribute to him. It's not exactly the same, but it's close. I wanted to talk to him about it. That song could've had a great opportunity if it wasn't full of so much vitriol.
Did you listen to grunge at the time of Countdown to Extinction?
Seeing Nirvana was really cool. I saw them twice. One time, Krist Novoselic stood on his guitar cord at the Brendan Brian arena. He threw his bass up at the MTV Video Music Awards, and it came smashing down into his face. I know Dave Grohl a little bit. I saw him at the Led Zeppelin concert back at the O2 Arena a couple of years ago. There's not a big difference between who we are. It's just the sound of our instruments. Nirvana was totally influenced by The Beatles. What's one of my favorite bands? The Beatles! It's weird the way people interpret it. It just comes out differently.
What's next for you?
We're doing a tour of the East Coast. We'll be doing a food drive like we did during Youthanasia. Anybody who donates some canned food will get a bracelet for after the show. When I'm done playing, I'm going to meet people and sign some autographs and thank them for donating to their community.
What's your favorite Megadeth song?