While the Megadeth of old was plagued with infighting, controversy and substance abuse, all while in the shadow of frontman Dave Mustaine’s former band, the metal juggernaut Metallica, today the new-look four-piece stands as a united front – and from all accounts, the making of 15th studio albumDystopiawas something of a family affair.
“I live in Nashville so we recorded the album there,” Mustaine begins, sounding relaxed and happy after a New Year spent with friends and family. “Chris [Adler, drummer and Lamb Of God member] was in Virginia, which is really close, so he came out first and stayed at the band house.
“Then our other new guy Kiko [Loureiro, guitar, also of Angra] came to stay at my house with his wife and daughter, and Chris’ family joined him. Then they split, and Junior [founding bassist David Ellefson] came to town, and we were all in the studio together for a little while. It all happened really fast, but the person who took the longest time, and was the slowest in the studio, was yours truly.”
By now it’s no secret that the new album was well worth the wait. The fresh blood of Adler and Loureiro injected a tangible energy into Ellefson’s already loaded arsenal – and with Mustaine at the helm behind the production desk, Megadeth’s Dystopia became a reality.
“It was really fun, although at first we had intended to go with someone else but the shoe just didn’t fit,” Mustaine says. “Like with Johnny K, the guy who produced our last two records. Great guy, I love him – but he’s not a heavy metal producer. Those last two records [2011’s Thirteen and 2013’s Super Collider] were not really what I wanted, or what anybody wanted, but that’s just how they turned out.”
Determined not to let anyone compromise his vision, Mustaine knew he had to take over production responsibilities. “I had a crazy little voice inside my head that told me to go for it. So I decided I was going to do it myself, and this record, I think, is exactly what everyone was looking for, especially me – and when I make music for myself, everybody is happy.”
However, Mustaine is quick to point out that Dystopia is the result of four individuals working together for a common goal. “We’re definitely united,” he says. “We all knew what we wanted to do with this record. From the beginning, we were determined to be open to the whole process, and it just blossomed into something really great.”
Mustaine’s powerful vocal delivery and signature lyrical style are abundant throughout Dystopia. His attacks on government, and society as a whole, are razor sharp from the opening song ‘The Threat Is Real’, carrying on into the title track and coming to a head in the ominously titled ‘Post-American World’. Never one to be silenced on an issue he feels strongly about, Mustaine says: “I’m just going to write for myself and if people like it, fine – if they don’t, at least I like it.”
There’s no denying the world has changed since the inception of Megadeth in 1983 on the back of Mustaine’s dismissal from Metallica, and the music industry has changed right along with it. The Californian rockers have released over 100 recordings (if you count singles, EPs and video albums) in the last 30 years, and since their debut, 1985’s Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good!, Megadeth have been heard on millions of cassettes, CDs, VHS tapes and iPods around the world.
But despite numerous advances in audio technology, Mustaine remains a fan of the format he grew up with: vinyl. “People have gone from physically buying a record and holding it in their hands, to where they download stuff – and because they don’t have to make the same investment in the album, songs don’t mean as much. Therefore, you don’t have as many people really experiencing bands the same way as you or I do as a music fan, as a real lover of a band.
“The cool thing is that vinyl’s making a comeback, but I don’t know if it will ever be like it was when I was growing up. I don’t see kids ever going back in evolution to the point where they slow down enough. Because right now, with our Dancing With The Stars, American Idol, tweet and retweet kind of mentality, people live in real time – it’s not like it used to be, where we’d wait. I’d put a letter in the mail, a few days later I’d get an answer. Now it’s like, ‘Dammit! I just sent a message and he’s not texting me back,’” he laughs.
In conversation, Mustaine is engaging and surprisingly funny. When asked about his appearance on the UK quiz show Never Mind The Buzzcocks, and the short-lived US TV program Rock & Roll Jeopardy! (where he won in a landslide against George Clinton and Moon Zappa), he jokes: “I would host a quiz show if it was fun – but not if they made me cut my hair! If I was going to do something outside of music, I’d do it the best I possibly can. That’s just the way I’m wired. I’d want it to be the best game show in the world. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist. I’m a Virgo, I can’t help it!”
For Megadeth fans, Dystopia and the current lineup may be as close to perfection as possible. “We’re all great friends,” says Mustaine. “We’ve grown really close and we’re really proud of this project.”
Dystopiaby Megadeth is out now through Universal.