Wed, 04 Nov 2009 09:24:22
Megadeth's Endgame is quite the statement.
With a combination of intricate and symphonic guitar artistry and intelligent, insightful lyrics, Endgame stands out as a masterpiece in Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine's storied catalog. "This Day We Fight!" lets out a deafening, distorted battle cry, while "The Hardest Part of Letting Go…Sealed with a Kiss" is a poignantly deadly love song. Mustaine is on fire during "Head Crusher," which proudly stands along side Megadeth's most bludgeoning brain bashers. His fleet-fingered virtuosity is enough to keep another generation of guitarists inspired to woodshed constantly, and Endgame is easily one of the best metal records of 2009.
In order to get closer to Dave Mustaine's latest declaration, ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino sat down with the enigmatic frontman for an in-depth, exclusive interview about Endgame. Mustaine delved into his literary influences, writing a song for his wife and why he's got a big smile on his face right now.
Endgame feels like your most literary record. Were you reading a lot while writing?
I thank you for that compliment! I've always been a pretty voracious reader. When I got separated from my wife awhile back, I moved into this apartment. I've been married for years, and it's been up and down. However, I've been happily married for a lot longer than I've had any problems. At one point when I was separated, I'd moved out and somebody came to visit me. This person looked in my closer for some reason and saw all of these books in there. My friend said, "That really says a lot about your character. You're separated, you move out and you take what you desperately need and nothing more, and you take all your books!" I looked at this person and thought, "Well, why not? They're books!" I think the problem is, we're bringing up a couple generations of kids that don't think reading is very glamorous. Unfortunately, our nation, if you look at the polls, is dropping down as far as having academic achievers.
It's sad to think about that considering that reading is the most enlightening activity that there is.
Yeah, we wouldn't be talking if it wasn't for the fact that somebody's going to be reading this [Laughs].
Were you reading anything in particular while writing lyrics for Endgame?
Nothing any different from the usual, you know? My life changed back in 2002 when I had that really terrible arm injury. My whole life was destroyed because of it. I never realized how much I identified who I am with what I did. You usually ask people, "Hey, what do you do?" The answer is "Well, I'm a…" That's how everybody answers that question. "Well, I'm a gas station attendant. Well, I'm a pub jockey. Well, I'm a restaurant owner. Well, I'm a waitress. Well, I'm a cook." No, that's not what you are. That's what you do! What do you do? Well, I sing and play guitar for Megadeth. "What am I?" Wow, that's so much deeper. When I got to that point when my arm got destroyed, I was searching for anything. I thought this was a gift that was taken away from me. It just happened while I was sleeping.
Did you really come to know yourself during the injury?
During that period when I could no longer play, the doctor said, "You will never play again, and you only have 80 percent use of your arm." I thought, "I'm done." So I walked up onto this hill and I saw this cross. I looked at the cross and said, "Man, I was baptized as a Lutheran, brought up as a Jehovah's Witness, I got into witchcraft, I got into black magic and I got into Satanism and all of those things. However, none of them gave me what I wanted—nothing." I looked at that cross, and I thought, "What have I got to lose? I've never tried this." I looked at the cross and said, "What have I got to lose?" Six simple words—and my life has totally changed. There have been some really bad days. Some of my friends have called me names since I became Christian, but if I were to say that I became a Catholic, people would say, "Oh yeah, cool. What's next? What's for lunch?" Because I said I was a Christian, and Christians have gotten such a bad name, a lot of people thought that it was the end for Dave Mustaine. I listen to Endgame, and I think, "There's that record!" I read a lot of stuff during the course of the day. Some of it is for me to be a better person. As much as I'm satisfied with my career, I still want to be a better dad. I still want to be better husband and friend to people. I don't think there's anything wrong with striving for that. I have a lot of books like that, and then I have a lot of financial books that I read because the music business is so disillusioning.
It's a completely different game. You've weathered every trend and mutation that this industry has undergone, and Megadeth is still here.
Yeah, it's pretty interesting! My bio's coming out next year, and that's going to help a lot of people that don't know all of this stuff and don't want to read 10 million pages on the internet about me. There's a lot of information in the book about things like why I left Capitol and why I wanted to leave Capitol. I left Capitol because they had six presidents while I was there. Every time they got a new president, we were kind of shuffled into a corner like—no pun intended—a redheaded stepchild [Laughs]. When I got to the very end, it was unbearable. Every time we made a record, it had to get slower and more melodic. There's nothing wrong with being melodic, but the pressure to conform the band to whatever the record label was doing at the time was half the battle. Talk about weathering that stuff, yeah it's been tough!
One of the album's standouts is "The Hardest Part of Letting Go…Sealed with a Kiss." What's the story behind that one?
That's an interesting pick! My wife said, "You've never written a song for me." I was like, "Yeah, I did." She responded, "No you didn't!" I told her, "I did. You just don't like Megadeth, so you don't know [Laughs]." She likes listening to country music and more of the toned-down kind of stuff. I said, "Okay, I'll do a new one." I wrote this song for her. The second half is different. It's like any other Megadeth song that has two halves. There's a "…" in the middle of that song for a reason. It's like "Holy Wars…The Punishment Due." Everyone calls that song, "Holy Wars," but it's really "Holy Wars…The Punishment Due." It's funny when people just scream, "Holy Wars!" [For] the second part of "The Hardest Part of Letting Go…Sealed with a Kiss"—this may fuel the fire of your question about my literacy—I was reading Edgar Allan Poe's collection of short stories. I like Poe. I think that he's got some really incredible climaxes in his stories. One of my favorite writers growing up was Aesop because at the end of every story, no matter how scary it was, there was a moral. Some of those stories are really scary when you're just a little kid! That saying—What's the moral to the story—came up because of that. What's the punch line? I loved the way that Aesop did that, so much so, that I did that at the very end of a song called "Bad Omen." The song was really intense but, at the end, it turned around. It said that if you participate in this Satanic orgy going on, you're mind will be helpless and no one will be able to save you. There are a lot of different things that I write about, and "Sealed with a Kiss" is the part from the Poe story.
What did your wife think?
I loved that song so much. When I heard it, I was so happy that I'd finally written a song like this. I was like, "Oh my God, how did I do this?" I'd been trying so hard to write an emotional song like this, and the closest I ever came to it was "In My Darkest Hour" or "A Tout Le Monde." Those two are really good songs, but they're nothing like this one. When I would listen to it, I was just so content! Then I played it for my wife, and I knew she didn't like it. I've been with her forever, and I knew she didn't like it. She didn't like the part where I said I was going to bury the person in the wall. That was a little bit of a misstep on my part [Laughs]. I told her, "That part's not about you; the first half is about you!" It's like any of the other songs that I've written that have two parts. We could go back to "Holy Wars…The Punishment Due." The first part of it is about my antics—I got myself into trouble over in Antrim in Northern Island. The second half is about The Punisher comic book; I loved The Punisher! I've been reading The Punisher for years and years. One of the first songs that I'd written on the first record, Killing Is My Business…and Business is Good, is about The Punisher. There are a lot of interesting things that inspire me to write, but I would say the most interesting thing that's been inspiring me right now is my own challenge to be a better person.
That's a good path to take…
I've seen people post stuff on my web site, "God Dave, quit being such a butt-kisser," about stuff like when we were getting this tour off the ground with Slayer. People said it would never happen. This is going to be the third time we're going to have toured with Slayer off of this opportunity for us to hook up with them in Canada. The first Canadian run was really fun. It showed us that we could do it. We went down to Australia. The bands started to become close down there. When we got to Japan, before I went on, Dave Lombardo came into my dressing room and said a couple things to me. After the show, he was in there hanging out, and Kerry was too. Our room was the place to be that night after the concert. We had one of those magic nights out there. I got a chance to take Kerry outside and say, "Hey Kerry, I just want to ask you. What is it that I did that has pissed you off so bad?" We were just about ready to talk about it, and then some guy came up and started talking to me about Endgame [Laughs]. I was like, "Thank you!" It was so important for me to find out what I did so I could make it right. If I'm wrong, then obviously I want to make it right. If I'm not wrong, I want to find out what I did to hurt someone's feelings. I don't have any enemies in the world that I know of, but there are a lot of people that like to take potshots. That's cool. If it's legit, and you've got a reason to say or do something like that, that's okay. If it's not real, I just think, why are people doing that? We're all working for the same cause, and we're having a great time right now! What people say doesn't really hurt me, but it hurts them because they're going to miss out. I'm getting a little bit older, and I'm not going to be playing much longer. If my back is done, I'm done. When it's time, it's going to be time. I blew it missing Led Zeppelin. People talked me out of going to see Led Zeppelin, and I didn't do my own thinking for me; I wish I never would've done that. This is one of the greatest periods for me in my career. I've got a great lineup of players in my band, a great touring schedule that's about 18 months worldwide, my radio station, the book coming and so much more. What have I got to complain about? Nothing…
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