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Dave Mustaine - In Search of Dave Mustaine

Issue #42

The fact Mustaine is regurgitating blood because of the brutal and uncompromising way he sings is no real surprise. The thrash metal musician has knocked down anything - and anyone - who ever stood in the way of his success since before joining Metallica.
Steven Rosen

Backstage at the Hollywood Palladium, carefully choreographed chaos is going on. Huge roadies the size of grizzly bears - only with walkie talkies - wheel in massive cases carrying guitars, drums, cables and all the other parts and pieces necessary to stage a big time Rock show. Techs barely pass each other as they move down narrow hallways. Lanyards drip from tattooed necks and tool belts clank and rattle with dangling flashlights, screwdrivers and hammers. Onstage, various colors of day-glo duct tape cover exposed cables so that when Megadeth finally takes the stage in about three or four hour’s time, no one trips or falls once the lights go down. Red tape means caution and green tape with arrows means, “Go this way.” 

Outside, there is even more madness going on. It is the night of the Academy Awards and every street for miles is cordoned off. Police and security patrol every corner. Limo after limo pulls up to the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard up the block as movie stars in tuxedos and ball gowns are disgorged from the massive, black cars. They walk the red carpet in the lightning glare of paparazzi flash. There is movement everywhere but one person not moving at all is Dave Mustaine.

Mustaine is not feeling well and wants to cancel the interview. His handlers tell Guitar Interactive he might do an audio interview but doesn’t want to be filmed. Certainly it is the guitarist’s choice. There is nothing to do but wait and see so we hang out in Megadeth’s practice room. They have a small room up a flight of stairs fitted out with mini Marshall stacks for Mustaine and newest guitarist Kiko Loureiro - the Brazilian who joined the band in April 2015 and just appeared on the recently-released Dystopia album - a small bass rig for Dave Ellefson and a kit of electronic pads for Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler (he also appears on the Dystopia album and has been a temporary fill-in on drums for this current tour).


Eventually, Dave’s road manager tells us he will do a sit-down in front of cameras and we breathe a collective sigh of relief. The guitarist enters the practice room a few minutes later and before I can even introduce myself, he blurts out, “I’ve been spitting up blood, dude.” My first inclination is to think that this is part of the show- maybe Megadeth is trying to incorporate Kiss-like visuals in the set? - and then instantly realize he is serious.

“Spitting up blood? Is that from singing?” Dave looks at me for a long second like I’m some kind of profoundly stupid lump of flesh sitting in front of him and says, “No. It’s from gargling with razor blades.” A nasty laugh follows the comment and at this point, I don’t know what the hell to believe. Hesitant to say anything, I remain mute. He finally admits, “Yes, it’s from singing.” Apparently he has torn or ruptured something in his throat and has been literally coughing up blood (time he read Jaime Vendera's GI  columns - Ed).

The fact Mustaine is regurgitating blood because of the brutal and uncompromising way he sings is no real surprise. The thrash metal musician has knocked down anything - and anyone - who ever stood in the way of his success since before joining Metallica. That same take-no-prisoners attitude ultimately led him to forming Megadeth in 1984 and never looking back. There were bodies littering the roadside on that triumphant march to celebrity and he almost became one of his own casualties. But he did survive and is now widely recognized as one of the most important guitar players in the thrash metal genre.

Mustaine began honing those chops in an early band called Panic. Playing a B.C. Rich Bich 10-string at the time (four of the strings had been removed), Mustaine was already burning down solos and writing original songs including classics such as “Jump In the Fire” and “Mechanics.” In other words, even at this early stage in his career, Dave was calling the shots. “I was an arrogant asshole and playing everything,” the future guitar legend says. “But I devoted much more of my time to playing rhythm. I still feel to this day that a good band can be measured by its rhythm. You’ve got all-guitar hero bands and the solos are excellent but try and hum one of those songs outside of maybe a quick flash lick. There’s nothing very memorable about it unless you’re extremely loaded or you’re out of your mind on speed or coke or something. In a band like Megadeth where rhythm is one of the main ingredients, the solos become so much more important because it’s not just self-indulgent pig guitar playing all through the whole song.”

Still rocking the B.C. Rich when he joined Metallica in 1981, Mustaine brought all of his rhythmic chops to the fore in creating the dual-guitar assault with James Hetfield. Dave was dysfunctional at the time - and he will tell you as much - but during his short stint with the future megastars, he left his guitar mark. “The weirdest thing about it is when I was in the band, James didn’t do any talking in between songs,” he recalls. “If you put the two of us together side-by-side, split a TV monitor in half, and had us both hopping around onstage, there’s a lot of similarities. The way he acts and moves with his guitar and stuff like that. I think James is one of the best rhythm guitar players in the world. As far as rhythm guitar players are concerned, there’s James, there’s me, there’s Malcolm Young and there’s Rudolph Schenker.  There’s no one else that touches the four of us. We’re the fantastic four.”

Indeed, that quartet and what they brought to the rhythm guitar has been critical in the development of Hard Rock and Metal. Mustaine brought his guitar playing to the next level when he formed Megadeth in 1984. Since that time, the band has released 15 albums including the most recent Dystopia album, which finds the guitarist marrying his brutal riffs to a not-so-rose-colored-glasses look at the world around him. Loureiro brings an Eastern edge to the music and even classical elements including fingerpicked nylon guitars. Mustaine has nothing but the utmost praise for the newest member and his insane talents as a soloist but it is still all about the song. “Solos come last,” he explains. “I always make the other guitar players I’ve played with over the years read the lyrics so they know what I’m saying. Because I’ve got to tell you something as a guitar player- when you’re aware of what the words of a song are and you understand better, it changes the solo.”

Dave has weathered multiple band lineups and withering criticism from both fans and fellow musicians. He has never been one to internalize his thoughts or feelings and on any given day, you can find the Megadeth musician featured in some headline on some Heavy Metal news site stirring up new controversy. But none of that has prevented Mustaine from sticking to his guns and constructing a career very few other metal guitar players have ever experienced. Another thing that has never changed is his dedication to Dean guitars. He began playing them in 2006 and announced his first Signature model at the 2007 Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA. Since that inauguration, he has been involved in over 30 Signature instruments mainly modeled around the Zero (Explorer-influenced shape) and the VMNT (V-shaped guitar).

Recently, Dean released the USA Dave Mustaine VMNT Holy Grail, a limited edition run of 33 instruments (commemorating 33 years of Megadeth history). Covered in hand-applied 24-karat gold leaf filigree over a blood red finish, each guitar is unique in design. The guitar was inspired by Mustaine’s trip to Jerusalem.

Cameras running, lights illuminated and not a drop of blood in sight, Dave talks about the Holy Grail and how it has developed and most importantly - what it means to be Dave Mustaine.

Full screen...volume up loud.

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