Dave Mustaine: Countdown to Extinction
GUITAR WORLD Since you restarted Megadeth in 2004, it seems that each album comes closer to what many people consider to be the band’s classic sound. In that respect, Endgame sounds more focused than its predecessors.
DAVE MUSTAINE I don’t think focus was ever a problem, but let’s put it this way: things have become less distracted. The System Has Failed was a heavy record, and in that respect it was a return to form. But we weren’t 100 percent there as a band. That’s because System was basically recorded as a session album. I had left Megadeth; I hurt my arm, and as far as I was concerned, I was done playing guitar. When I got better and came out of retirement, it was with the understanding that I was doing a solo record. But while I was in the studio recording System I got a call from [then record label] EMI. They said, Oh, sorry, we forgot to tell you—you owe us another Megadeth record. So you can go do your little solo project, but until you give us that album, we own you for the rest of your life. Long story short, I changed what was supposed to have been a solo record back to a Megadeth record and put together a band. That’s when I met the Drover brothers. Having those guys in the band got me really excited again, and that’s when I decided I was going to do more than one record. So we did United Abominations, which was even more of a return to form. We just needed to settle in and get comfortable, get back in the saddle. Now, with Shawn, James and Chris on guitar, I feel we’re there.
GW As with almost every album since The System Has Failed, you wrote the majority of Endgame entirely on your own. What’s your process as a songwriter?
MUSTAINE I can give you any number of answers to that question, and they’d all be correct. Because there really is no set formula for me. I just let the music tell me where it wants to go. For example—and this is a touchy subject for me right now—I wrote the Endgame song “The Hardest Part of Letting Go…Sealed with a Kiss,” after my wife said to me, “We’ve been married 17 years and you’ve never written a song for me.” So I did. And…she doesn’t like it. [laughs] Because the second half of the song talks about me bricking somebody up in a wall. And she’s like, “You better not brick me up in a wall!” So I told her, “Honey, this is no more about you than ‘In My Darkest Hour’ is about [late Metallica bassist] Cliff Burton.” People have always thought that that song is about Cliff because I’ve said that I wrote the music when he died. And the music is about him, but the lyrics are about [Mustaine’s former girlfriend] Diana. It’s a similar thing with “The Hardest Part of Letting Go.” I wrote the music for my wife, but the lyrics were inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe story, because I thought the song called for an interesting twist.
GW I assume that’s the first and last song you’re going to write for her.
MUSTAINE At least for a while. But the thing is, music is totally for the listener to interpret. It’s understandable that I would write a song and expect her to get it, because she’s a musician’s wife. But as far as my expecting her to like it…well, she’s exercising her rights. She knows she’s safe with me, so she can say she doesn’t like the lyrics, and if she ever sees me with a trowel she’s going to kill me! [laughs]
GW When it comes to songwriting, in general you’re not a particularly collaborative guy.
MUSTAINE I don’t mind writing with other people. The trick is in figuring out what each person is putting in: Is it like bacon and eggs, where the chicken made a contribution and the pig’s ass is on the plate? Or is it 50/50 and you’re both giving your all? What I’ve experienced over my career is that it can go any number of ways. There have been songs I’ve written with my guys where we’d all contribute. Then there are other songs where the band didn’t really contribute that much, but unfortunately when the credits go down on paper it says “Written by Dave Mustaine and so and so.” So there’s the problem. But would I mind collaborating with other people? No.
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