Dave Mustaine of Megadeth
by Chris A.
Dave Mustaine’s in a very elite league, as the front man for Megadeth and a real-deal guitar icon, he’s is a true force to be reckoned with in the world of the electric guitar. As a guitarist, his technical prowess, pick speed, and musical ability make him one of, if not “the” finest metal guitar player in the genre. While he’s controversial and certainly seems to have a few chips on his shoulders, he was cordial and seemingly interested in taking a few questions about his band, his music and some of his inspiration.
Hardrock Haven: As Megadeth’s front-man, is the fact that you always keep the band stocked with incredible guitarists designed to give you the opportunity to “step out” a bit with your vocals or does it push you to be a better guitar player?
Dave Mustaine: Well if it’s afforded me the opportunity to step out as a vocalist I haven’t done it yet cause I’m not a very confident with myself as a singer. I wasn’t a singer when I started I just liked, playing the guitar and in fact in my last band that’s all I did was play lead guitar. That’s what my trade is. I remember one night on new years eve, me and Dave Elifson were rehearsing and we had some guy come down and audition for the band and he walked in and had fucking eye liner on. He did have a bunch of beer and me and Dave were living in Dave’s van mooching off chicks at the time, so we drank all of his beer, and let him sing awhile as long as the beer lasted. After it was gone we said “You’re fired.” I mean, I can’t have a guy with eye liner in Megadeth for Pete’s sake! So Dave said “why don’t you sing.’ I tried it but it felt like I had a railroad spike going through my eyeballs because I didn’t know how to breath. When you sing, if you push all that air out of your body singing, no matter how cool you think you might look, you’re doing down because you’re gonna faint. I tried singing, I didn’t like it but ended up doing it because we couldn’t find anyone.
Hardrock Haven: Did you take any vocal lessons?
Dave Mustaine: I took two vocal lessons, but I wont tell you their names. One was a 70 year old woman in Hollywood who stood behind me and stuck her hands down my pants. I thought, you know, this is fucked up. Then there was another one by a guy in Hollywood who asked me to unbutton my pants so he could examine my diaphragm. I said “Dude, my diaphragm is up here. Diaphragms in pants belong in females.” So I’m not sure what my private parts have to do with a vocal lesson but I guess it’s got something to do with breathing. It was really too weird for me, I thought, if this is part of being a vocalist, I’ll be a professional yeller.
Hardrock Haven: From an instrument perspective you’ve played a variety of guitars from many different makers, brand aside, when you’re out looking for an axe are there specific requirements you’re looking for such as neck size, etc?
Dave Mustaine: My first guitar was a copy Les Paul guitar so I found a Gibson sticker and stuck it on the headstock. I actually had a real SG before that but since I didn’t know how to play, it came and went really quick. My first “real” guitar was a BC Rich Bitch but I didn’t like the 10 string setup. There was a lot of weird stuff that happened there. At the time I was there I just didn’t have a good time there so I moved on to Jackson, which I loved. I was with them for 17 years. They were going to sell the company and I tried to buy it a few times. They ended up selling it to Fender. Then Fender said they “lost my contract” and I said “good thing for you I’m not a stupid musician because my contract says…” They hemmed and hawed and finally said “we’re not honoring any of the contracts of the past, you have a Fender contract.” I asked what that was and they said its the same thing we give to Eric Clapton. So I figured, Slow hand’s gotta be smooth, he’s gotta be smart. They went on to say that I get one guitar a year. I said are you out of your mind? I get 11 guitars a year from Jackson and I go through that many by breaking them, giving them away or they are faulty. They just get worn down out on the road. I play the guitars, I don’t tickle them. So I ended up leaving Jackson and going to ESP and I was there for a couple years but that’s really the house the James and Kirk built and I don’t like being second fiddle. No matter how hard people try to say that stuff, it was apparent in that organization that their focus was one sided. They had a lot of good talent and the product was really good but it wasn’t the right place for me. Then Dean came and presented itself to me and now it’s my home and I love it. I love the company, I love the product, I love the owner’s mentality, plus he’s a musician. Elliott’s a great bassist and very forward thinking guy. I think that if you’re a musician and you’re running a company it’s a lot easy to work with musicians because you understand how musicians think. Unless you understand the musicians mind it’s like trying to teach a pig to sing. It won’t work and it annoys the fucking pig. I knew when I went to Dean that it was the right place for me right from the beginning.
Hardrock Haven: What kind of projects or guitars are you working on with Dean?
Dave Mustaine: We’ve had some great moments and every time I think it can’t get better it does. We just introduced a brand new acoustic guitar and I thought if I’m gonna have an acoustic guitar I better be able to play it in a metal band. So I developed this guitar and I use it in several of our songs. It’s actually being delivered to me here tonight, it’s called the “Mako” and is named after the shark. It’s really solid, it’s got very interesting sound-holes, it’s very unorthodox sound-holes and a very sharp single cutaway so it’s very cool.
Hardrock Haven: Do you consider yourself to be a guitar collector?
Dave Mustaine: No, not really, I’ve got a lot of stuff at home but they are nothing, they are just guitars. It’s like me talking about a bunch of fucking hammers, they are tools.
Hardrock Haven: How different is your amp and effects rig on the road, compared to what you use in the studio?
Dave Mustaine: It’s almost the same. What I used in the studio was the Marshall JVM 410H, on-stage we use the EL-34 100/100 mono-blocks for power and we use Digitech DSP but we’re going to switch to Fractal. They have an amazing unit and I’m really, really impressed with it. It’s very complex so for us to use all of the benefits of the machine we weren’t able to employ it in our rigs yet but we did in the studio and it was mind blowing.
Hardrock Haven: Your newest release Endgame is a great metal disc, what was the inspiration behind your song “13:20? Obviously, it’s about drag racing but what prompted to you write the song?
Dave Mustaine: What happened was when i was a kid I used to go to the Orange County International Raceway, I was an entrepreneur. My mom moved out when I was 13 so I had to learn how to live on the streets so I was sort of like Oliver Twist. I was a street urchin. I would go to the racetrack and buy a ticket. On the way to the track I would stop by the drug store and I got a pack of those rainbow pens. I went inside and they stamped my hand, I went back outside into the parking lot and pan-handled tickets all day for all the booze and drugs and cash that I could possibly stuff in my little teenage pockets. Then I would go inside and watch the main event and watch the nitro cars. Ever since I was 13 I’ve been fascinated with racing. I would go to the fairgrounds and watch motor-cross, I love the smell of the motorcycles and the speedway. It’s kind of a bummer now because you’re so close to the track and people are fucking drunk off their butts and they want me to sign shit and take photos and I just wanna see the race. For me, if I go out to do something I’m going out to do something, not sign autographs. That’s why I don’t go out very much because I don’t want people to think that I’m a snob. I don’t want to be rude, I try to be fan friendly because I know who gave me this fabulous lifestyle, the gift came from the lord but I wouldn’t be here without the fan support.
Hardrock Haven: You’ve got an autobiography about to be published. What was it like for you to see the part of your life that your going to make public laid out in paper?
Dave Mustaine: It’s been out there forever, because I’ve been very open about my career since I started. I don’t think there’s any reason to hide shit because people find out. And if you take the wind out of their sails they can’t use it against you. It’s not self-depreciation or anything like that, but for me, I think what it is this righteous transparency that when you people talk to me they know what they are getting. They know that I’m not a bullshitter and they know that I’m fairly intelligent on stuff I’m talking about because if I don’t know about a subject I won’t talk about it.
Hardrock Haven: Was there a time when you had your bicep injury a few years ago that you were concerned that you would be unable to play the guitar?
Dave Mustaine: Well that was really hard because it was a nerve injury. I went to a rehab place in Texas and my arm fell asleep while I had it hanging over the back of a chair. I had compressed the radial ulnar nerve so it had to regrow and it took 17 months of rehab to get back to playing. When I started the physical training I had to start with the lightest weight. You know what color that fucker is? My friends are in the gym watching me lift a pink dumbbell! Pink. In a way it was a fun experience getting in touch with myself.
Hardrock Haven: Did you learn anything about yourself during that period when you were unable to play the guitar?
Dave Mustaine: As guitar player I didn’t realize how much of me identified as being a guitar player. So for your readers, when you have this gift, if you’ve ordained this gift, if it’s been given to you whether you manifested it itself or if you worked really, really, hard to have it and it’s become a gift, if you’ve got that gift and to have it taken away is an earth shattering experience. I used to say “I’m a guitar player” and I didn’t really realize how true that was. Before I had my gift taken away from me I used to say I “played the guitar” but I didn’t realize what life would be like without the ability to even play it. Not that I didn’t want to play, I physically couldn’t play. That would be like having a model with her face cut off. Or being an athlete like Bo Jackson and having his hip disintegrate. It all can be over so quickly you don’t even know its over. Then there is the remorse thinking “God, I’m never going to be on stage again, I was there, and I missed it.” I was always so busy looking forward, trying to be number one at everything I do, trying so hard and not being satisfied where I am that I missed it. So since I got healed. My life has changed considerably. It started with my conversion of my faith becoming a Christian.
Hardrock Haven: Well congratulations on that Dave. How’s that going?
Dave Mustaine: I’m still working on my mouth, my mouth is really dirty.
Hardrock Haven: Well good luck with that Dave! Thanks for your time.
Dave Mustaine: Enjoy the show dude!