There’s an air of tranquillity emanating down the phone line as the iconic and often controversial Megadeth figurehead Dave Mustaine speaks from his San Diego property. I catch him as he’s tending to his horses, strolling across hillsides throughout our interview. It’s a stark contrast to both his band’s hard-hitting canon and their hedonistic tales of yore, but it’s an indication of Mustaine’s recent renouncement of his party-hard ways. As such, the present day Megadeth’s live performance is a far more stable one than you might have expected in the heady years past.
“Before, when we were playing, live performances were a crapshoot,” Mustaine says. “Playing live could have ended up like anything, the way that we played, the way that we partied, the way that we approached our job. Now everyday when we go to play it’s so much more different because we’re so much more serious about what we’re doing as a band. The whole game of playing, and why you do it and how you do it, is so much more serious now. I think that our shows have really stepped up in quality a lot.”
The band is at a point in time where its landmark albums are clocking up their respective 20th birthdays – most recently Countdown To Extinction, which saw a commemorative tour last year and live album package this year. As for celebrating the milestones in the future, Mustaine hasn’t quite figured out concrete plans for Youthanasia’s impending 20th anniversary. “It’s kind of hard to say. We’ll definitely do something around the anniversary point. Is there going to be a release around it? I don’t know. That’s up to the label and how things are at the time. We still don’t know what the condition of the industry is going to be like in two years from now. Who knows what’s going to happen?”
Ever since Mustaine started Megadeth after being fired from Metallica in the early ’80s, he has maintained a fiercely competitive mindset when it comes to performing music. While not quite as volatile as it once was, the thirst for competition remains strong. “Especially with some of the stuff that’s happened in my personal life,” he says. “It’s kind of a bummer, my personal life has been made so public that I don’t really have a lot of privacy in what I do. But a lot of the things that motivate you to make records are the things that happen in private. I think a lot of people, when they write, they tell the same story over and over again. There are reasons that we do what we do – people think you might be too old and you don’t have the fire anymore. I remember hearing stuff like that about many of the bands I looked up to, thinking that’s such a horrible thing to say about somebody. They say it about everybody. They say it about me now, about Van Halen, about the Stones. It’s a privilege to be successful enough to hear that. Most of the bands are here today, gone later today. Especially with the hundreds of thousands of bands there are on these social websites.”
Maintaining mental and physical fitness has become a priority for Mustaine, and for Megadeth’s survival. “I try and read a lot, I try to eat healthy. When you’re in a band you need to get rest when you can, you don’t know when you’re going to be travelling across time zones. You’ve got to be able to travel at the drop of a hat. A lot of times for us there has been a show that’s popped up on the other side of the world and it’s hard to keep your eyes open. That’s where it gets tough, the travelling part.”
As a guitarist, Mustaine is still exploring the possibilities of the instrument, which will see him enjoy some extracurricular, orchestral activity next year. “Last year we were speaking to someone from the San Diego Opera. I was speaking [about] music with a friend of mine, who’s a UFC fighter, and his mum ran the opera and his dad ran the orchestra. So I said I always wanted to do something like ‘Dave Mustaine does the classics’, like ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’, just lots of badass stuff. So he arranged a meeting, and now I’m in. So April next year I’m doing a thing called Symphony Interrupted, where it’s me and the San Diego Symphony jamming some songs together. I’ve always said that Megadeth were hugely influenced by classical music, as well as punk and jazz.”
This year’s Soundwave saw Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax grace the bill, with Megadeth hitting Australia in 2014 for the festival. While we missed out by 12 months on experiencing metal’s Big Four in one sitting, Mustaine isn’t entirely averse to the prospect. “I don’t know of any talk about the Big Four down in Australia. It would be cool; I think Australia deserves the same kind of concerts that anywhere in the world does. I say Australia, the Big Four, why not?”
Megadeth’s recently released fourteenth studio album, Super Collider, experienced a somewhat mixed response from fans and critics. Taking on board the reaction, Mustaine is optimistic in terms of the band’s next studio effort. “We’ve been taking a lot of the information from fan feedback of the last record – [at] listening parties, watched their reaction, checked out comments. If you love playing music, you’re gonna answer the question of how you make your music better. Some bands don’t give a shit about things like that. But we do. We love trying to make our music better.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK
Megadeth play Soundwave Festival 2014 with Green Day, Avenged Sevenfold, Alice In Chains, Placebo, AFI, Korn, Newsted and more at Sydney Olympic Park on Sunday February 23. Super Collider out now through Tradecraft/Universal.