We spoke on election day, and Mustaine recounted some of those stories on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Megadeth’s Countdown To Extinction. An anniversary edition has just been released that includes a remastered version of the original album along with a 1992 concert.
Chad Bowar: I understand you’ve been having some issues with your throat recently.
Dave Mustaine: I went to one of the best guys in Beverly Hills, and he stuck a camera through my nose down my throat and showed me what’s going on. I have a cyst on my vocal cords. He said there is some diet stuff I can fix. He asked me if I drink a lot of coffee. Yeah. Carbonated soft drinks? Yes. Tomatoes, pizza, spaghetti? Yeah. Citrus juice? Yeah, I have that every morning. What about chocolate? I said every night I have a big glass of Ovaltine before I go to bed. It’s my nightcap since I stopped being a drunk.
He asked me how late I ate before I go to bed. I said I drink that glass of chocolate milk right before I go to sleep. He said everything I was doing was causing my vocal cords to be eroded from acid. So I have been taking medication and watching my diet. He called me back after a week and said I sounded totally better. I feel better, too. I’ve lost a bunch of weight. That Ovaline will make you fat!
As you look back on the 20th anniversary of Countdown To Extinction, what’s your most vivid memory of the recording process of that album?
There were a lot of ups and downs. We had the Rodney King riots at the time, and there was a curfew in place. I joke around because David Ellefson and Nick Menza, who were anemic looking rock stars at the time, were driving around with handguns in their glove compartments. I told them, “Do you know what’s going to happen if anybody pulls you over and finds a gun in your car? They are going to kick your ass and shoot you with your own gun."
When the curfew was enacted, we had to leave the studio every night at six o’clock. There’s nothing worse than getting a creative moment and you have to leave. It was like a school bell ringing. Those were some of the hardships, but we also had a lot of fun. Max Norman made the record with me, and we had a great relationship. I have a pretty strong vocabulary, and Max, being an Englishman, had a pretty good grasp of the king’s English, too.
We had a guy named Eddie Kramer that was in a room next to us when we were recording. He made records with Jimi Hendrix and others. For some reason, he kept walking in our room in the middle of a session. He wouldn’t knock, just walk right in like we were supposed to be impressed with who he is. We ended up putting this sign on the door: “In session, do not enter.” He kept walking in.
So me and Max came up with another sign: “No obsequious bozophobics.” That didn’t work, either. So we printed it again, and put on the bottom, “Eddie Kramer, this means you!” So, we had a lot of fun. There was some other stuff that was great in my personal life. I had just become a dad. Justus was born. I remember doing a couple of television things, like a day in the life with me and my martial art love. They came to my house and took pictures of me with Justus when he was a newborn. Just a couple days ago I saw a picture of me changing Justus, and he was bare naked on the table and I showed it to him. He was mad!
At least you didn’t post it on Facebook.
I don’t do that kind of stuff. Facebook is so bizarre. I think just the climate of America right now is so crazy with the things that people say and do about stuff. You really have to watch what you say and what you post and what you don’t post. I went to church last weekend and the pastor was saying that the number one dating site had a list of the top 10 deal-breakers. Number one was political party, political persuasion. I was like, “Are you kidding me?” It’s really a crazy time. I went and voted today, and I’m just glad this is all over.
Back in 1992 when you were recording Countdown To Extinction, there was an incumbent president (George Bush) trying to win re-election in the midst of a bad economy and other problems, and 20 years later it’s a similar situation, except the president this time is a Democrat.
Yep. But, you know, I have no political affiliation. I voted Democrat when Clinton was in, I voted Republican in other periods of my life. I try to vote the lesser of two evils. A couple of days ago I was on YouTube. I was looking up an old song of ours. Somebody commented and said, “Yeah, he’s very talented, but he’s not very smart because he’s voting for Mitt Romney.” First off, I am very smart, you a--hole. And second, what makes you think I’m voting for Romney? I may not be voting for Obama, but I could be voting for Roseanne Barr!
And that whole thing that came down when people said I endorsed Rick Santorum. I never said I endorsed Rick Santorum. They asked me what I thought about that stuff, and I said I thought he was a decent guy because he left the campaign trail because his daughter was sick. Being a dad, if my kids were sick, I would leave the tour to go home. I think that’s one of the problems in America right now with our society and the way people act is so unscrupulous and mean-spirited toward each other. The family dynamic has broken down. Anybody can father a kid, but it takes a real man to be a dad. That saying is so true. And frankly, I wasn’t going to vote for Rick Santorum, but I really did like what Ron Paul was saying.
Paul definitely struck a chord with a lot of voters.
A lot of young people, too. I may be old on the outside, but on the inside I’m pretty young.
You were very involved in putting together the 20th anniversary edition of Countdown. What was the process in deciding on which concert to include and the other extras?
A lot of it has to do with listening to the performances for continuity. You can have two or three really great songs in a concert and four or five really bad ones that will ruin the concert. Or you can have four or five great ones and a few bad ones. It’s easier to make use of a concert like that, because with the advent of ProTools and my ability in the studio, it’s made it easier for me to be able to make lemonade out of lemons.
With the concert that is included in the anniversary package, we tried to keep it as consistent and with as much integrity as possible. So there’s some squeaking and squawking, a little bit of flat singing and some sharpness there. I didn’t want to tune all my vocals. You listen to some people now, and if you’re making a new record and can’t sing very well, people are going to tune it. There are times when we have stuff tuned, but to have a song by a guy that not one note is real and everything is tuned, I think is fake.
That’s part of why I think MySpace lost its luster. There were so many bands up there that weren’t even bands. It was just kids who got some software and started making songs and they couldn’t really play. I think that also is why there are so many mediocre bands in the music business right now.
So the only thing that’s different in the live tracks in the package and the live tracks if you listened to a bootleg or something like that, is just a teeny bit of the monologue on stage.
For being a 20 year recording, it sounds really crisp and clear.
Thanks. We have always really been proud of how we play. A lot of people will say I’m a slave driver and stuff like that. I’m not. I expect the best out of myself, and that includes who I hire. If I expect myself to hire the best people I can, then you’re going to hear that when they play.
I remember one time, and I’m not going to mention the guy’s name because I care about him and don’t want to hurt his feelings, we hired a guy who was a drug dealer. This isn’t a very glamorous story. We were loaded at the time, and there was a guy who was a pretty good guitar player and we wanted him to play with us. He was also our dealer, and I said, why not just hire him and cut out the middle man. (laughs) So we got him in the studio and it was time for him to play. He said, “I’m going to have my guitar teacher come down and play and show me the parts.”
So we had to ask him to leave, no matter how convenient it was. It wasn’t right for us. At the end of the day, no matter what our personal behavior was, we still knew that our fans and our music was more important than any of the things we were imbibing in.
You’re playing Countdown To Extinction in its entirety on this upcoming U.S. tour. You also played it earlier this summer in South America, right?
We did, and we just got back from playing it in Dubai and India. India was really awesome. There are so many people there, and sadly, so much poverty. This time we were able to look around and check out the country. I remember last time we went, it was shortly after I came out of retirement. I said I wanted to be particular about the bands we played with. I think that’s my right after playing this long, to pick the bands and make them quality and make it a good experience for the fans.
One of the things I said to the agent was that I didn’t want any bands that were homophobic, I don’t want any bands that are misogynistic, I don’t want any bands that are Satanic, I don’t want any bands that have a bunch of drug addict junkies in them that are going to have problems getting up on stage. Everything was pretty much adhered to, but we had this one show in Israel, I look on the bill, and there’s this band, full-on Satanic guy saying that Satan’s my master and you’re my mortal enemy Dave Mustaine and I’ll be waiting for you. I’m thinking, fine, I have three black belts. I’ll be waiting for you!
Then I do a little research, because I think I’m going to get busy with this guy, then I find out he’s killed two people. I thought, that kind of changes the odds a little bit. Long story short, when we got to India, there were some signs out in the audience, people talking about some of the bands that I said I didn’t really want to play with. I thought, that’s pretty tacky.
But this time when we went back there, it was great. Those people had gone the way of the great white buffalo and it was strictly our fans who were there. We had a great performance. And then Dubai, what a killer place that is. I can see why people would be mad at them because of the lifestyle they have there. They are so incredibly wealthy, they have antennas there where they manipulate the weather, if you can believe that.
Turning to new music, I know you’re in the midst of making the next Megadeth album. How far along in that process are you?
Johnny K. is the co-producer with me. He’s come out here a few times. This is his third trip. He usually comes out for between four and seven days. He has the opportunity periodically to sneak out here and work with me on this. We’ve got seven songs already laid out. Chris (Broderick) came up yesterday and started doing some guitar layering on it. Shawn (Drover) is actually here right now putting down drums.
We’re trying to keep it really fresh. One of my favorite bands growing up was Led Zeppelin, and they had this art form in the way they would do their music. They would do a couple songs at a time. I wasn’t there obviously, and learned about them after the fact. But I don’t recall them ever going into the studio and doing a record from front to back like most of us have had to do. What I heard was that they would do a couple of songs then they would break, then they would do a couple more songs someplace else, then would break, and so on.
That’s probably why there was such an interesting perspective in between each song. Every song had its own unique color and character and flavor to it. So that’s one of the things we’ve been doing. We were working on some of the more difficult stuff, which is writing outside the common Megadeth theme; the straight-ahead thrash metal, heavy metal head banging kind of stuff. The harder stuff is to write the more melodic stuff that’s going to be a little bit of a departure from what we normally do. We’ve been working on fast stuff and slow stuff right now. There are a couple songs that are a little bit of a departure for us.
We’re going to our record company when we get back from this tour. We’re going to present them with a bevy of tracks and say, “okay, you guys pick now,” and give them the luxury of going to a Megadeth smorgasbord.
So we can expect the new album next year?
We’re definitely going to have a 2013 release.
The autobiography you wrote a couple years ago was very well received. Has there been any talk of turning it into a movie?
It’s funny you say that, because when the book came out, being a best-seller, obviously everyone was talking about how to take it to the next level. I have a couple of other book ideas up my sleeve. The story continues to develop over time, and there are also different ways to look through the viewfinder. Not only about my life, but how about my career? What’s my songwriting process? Stuff like that.
We did talk a little bit about that, and it just didn’t feel like the time was right. I did say if I was going to have somebody play me, I thought Val Kilmer was killer in Tombstone, and he pulled off looking pretty sick when he played Doc Holliday, so I’m sure he could do those sickly drug years. He could pull that look off pretty good.