Music Interviews

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interview by Joy Williams
published in Thrash Metal, Los Angeles and Rock City, Moscow

Megadeth - Thrash Metal

“Once we hit bottom and found ourselves lying face down in the gutter, still looking down on other people, we fuckin’ turned to each other and said, ‘You know, if we don't get out of this, one of us is going to go to the other's funeral.’”

--Dave Ellefson

Although Dave Mustaine has supposedly been obsessed with the idea of proving that Megadeth is as good as Metallica, the band that fired him years ago (whether because of his attitude or theirs depends on who you talk to), he just wasn't pulling it off. You've probably heard rumors about how f**ked up Megadeth were—on drugs, in personality, in their overall functioning. And in truth, they eventually became so out of control and basically useless, that Megadeth got dropped a couple of years ago by their big-time manager, Doc McGhee (Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Scorpions).

When I heard that, I figured that was the end of them. After all, you only get so many chances in life. But Megadeth got lucky. Core members Dave Mustaine and Dave "Junior" Ellefson found themselves a new manager and some new band members while they got down to the business of sorting out their lives, both personally and professionally.

Now, a couple of years later, they're hanging at the big metal convention, Foundations Forum '90, in L.A. doing their publicity chores in support of their "comeback" LP, Rust in Peace. Though clean and sober now, and much calmer these days, the music is still brutal Megadeth assault-class metal. Lyrics are as outspoke as ever, but less political (though politics are not ignored (witness "Rest in Peace" and "Hanger 18"), and dealing more now with personalities and the differences between people. So, maybe we should look at what is going on with these these particular people. Dave Ellefson and new drummer Nick Menza served to enlighten.

Dave Ellefson & Dave Mustaine/Megadeth c Rich Likong/Artist Publications

Dave Ellefson & Dave Mustaine
photo © Rich Likong/Artist Publications

Q: I've been hearing that you've been through a lot of head changes. Often musicians try to tell me that doesn't make any difference in what they produce, but I've observe that it does...

DAVE: It does mean a lot, yeah. But I think the will to even change that [abandoning their drug-induced state] was scary, because the first thing I thought was, "Well, if I change how I am, then I'm not gonna want to play music, I'm gonna want to be a monk." But I found out, when I did make a lot of changes from how I used to be... I'm not just talkin' about myself, Dave [Mustaine] changed, too. And now here we are today; we're not a different band, we're a lot better band.

Q: You really thought that if you gave up drugs your life as a musician would come to an end? But then you found that it actually gets better...?

Dave Mustaine & Dave Ellefson/Megadeth c Ruby Michael/Artist Publications

Dave Mustaine & Dave Ellefson
photo © Ruby Michael/Artist Publications

DAVE: Mmm-hmm. It does. I mean, it sure did for me. And you know what? Not only have things gotten better, but things have gotten a lot easier—it simplified things a lot. And it's a lot of fun. Everything isn't such a pain in the ass and it's not such a drag. It was a pain in the ass to fuckin' get up and do interviews, it was a pain in the ass to fuckin' get up on that stage. I'd look at the set list and I'd think, "Fuck, I can't wait until this is over." And that's a shitty attitude to have. I'm just being honest. And I think a lot of people feel that way and they don't [cop to it]. "Oh, everything's great, everything's fine." But everything wasn't great. In fact, after a while things sucked really bad for me.

Q: I've found that when I'm upset it really interferes with being creative. You get so wrapped up in your problems, you can't even see what's happening to you anymore. You just know things aren't OK.

DAVE: Totally. Very much so. There's a saying that I heard: "Don't procrastinate, create." And it's true, because when you're bitching and complaining, you can't... To a certain extent, you can vent your frustrations through your music, but... I think right now in Megadeth there's a whole new attitude—and it's not a fuckin' goody-goody, love-your-mother, everything's great type attitude—because I don't think that's realistic. But just as far as the inner group works, with the four of us, because we all get along now, instead of just fuckin' me and Dave. I think a lot of people for a while perceived of Megadeth as the Mega-Daves, or Mega-Dave.

Q: You must have changed a lot, because the feeling I get from you now is that you're very calm and very happy. Not like what I heard about you before.

Dave Mustaine/Megadeth c Jay Janini/Artist Publications

Dave Mustaine
photo © Jay Janini/Artist Publications

DAVE: Actually, you know what? I kind of think that over the years I've deprived myself of a lot of things because I was kind of like the fuckin' glue that held the wood together. I was always keeping Dave... he and I were always partners in slime and crime and everything and he and I would always team together. Plus, I would always be reaching over here and trying to hold the other fuckin' band members together. And a lot of it was like a fuckin' tug of war, and I was the rope in the middle being stretched. And finally, I just fuckin' snapped. I'm kind of a diplomatic person and I want to see things work, but I found that that's not always the right way to deal with it. Right now, I don't have to worry about what he [Nick] does, I don't have to worry about what Marty [Friedman, the new guitarist] does, I don't have to worry about what Dave [Mustaine] does, because everybody just does their thing now. And now I can do my thing and I don't have to fuckin' worry about holding everything together anymore.

Q: OK, so you knew what a diplomat you were being inside the band, but from the outside you were being tarred with the same brush...

DAVE: Yeah, and I'm not always a nice guy. I try to be friendly to people but after a while I just went "Fuck everybody, man!" Now I can fuckin' be me and not worry about everybody.

Dave Ellefson/Megadeth c Jay Janini/Artist Publications

Dave Ellefson
photo © Jay Janini/Artist Publications

Q: You know, one thing I've found out about life is that you can't make somebody else strong, you can't make up for their weakness, you can't accept responsibility for their actions for them. Ultimately, what they do is drain you and whatever else they're involved in.

DAVE: Right. And everybody suffers because of it. You can influence them, but you have no control over what other people do.

NICK: You know, I don't think Dave's ever wanted to confide in anyone else and see what they had to offer, in the past. And now he definitely does, he definitely gives us our input. For that, I have respect for him.

DAVE: You know what? Dave and I, like I said, have been partners in crime for a long time, for years, and it's like... At the same time as we saw each other going downhill and downhill, just in our own personal lives, it was like we kind of hit bottom... not kind of, once we hit bottom and found ourselves lying face down in the gutter, still looking down on other people, we fuckin' turned to each other and said, "You know, if we don't get out of this, one of us is going to go to the other's funeral." In a band you're dealing with egos, you're dealing with money, you're dealing with people, you're dealing with a lot of assholes on the outside, and that totally fucks with the inner workings of the band. Now, we don't allow any fuckin' alcohol or even cigarettes onstage. And backstage, in our dressing room, we don't want people getting wasted, because in the end we find we turn around to grab our bags to leave and somebody's stolen our clothes. I mean, that's the kind of shit that happens. And then all of a sudden, your fuckin' life is disappearing right in front of you and you don't even realize it.

Q: How can you possibly think your life's fucked up but your artistic creativity is fine? How could it be?

DAVE: That's what I was saying in the beginning. It's kind of like being afraid of that change, because if you're going to change, maybe I won't want to be creative, maybe I won't want to play music anymore.

Dave Mustaine/Megadeth c Ruby Michael/Artist Pubications

Dave Mustaine
photo © Ruby Michael/Artist Publications

NICK: You don't know how you're going to feel when you're totally sober, you don't know if you're going to like to play this type of music again, or be out on tour. You're fucked up for so long, it's definitely an enlightening experience to not be high and to go and enjoy a show. Granted, the whole audience is high, every kid out there is a raving maniac. I'm not saying they should all be straight, still, it's just fun, if not more fun, because you can remember it.

DAVE: Yeah, you can actually experience the whole thing. You know, I think every musician, at some point, drinks or smokes some pot—if they don't they're square. Pretty much every musician because, you know what? It comes with the territory. But I don't want to keep going on and on about the drug thing. That's something that happened in our personal lives. It's just something that happened in the past. I'm not out now preaching that I'm clean and free of drugs and alcohol. I am, and I'm proud of it for me. But that's not about the band. That's not my goal, because Megadeth is about music. We're a fuckin' rock band.

Q: Right. But all this—whether you're drugged out or not—has an effect on the band. So let's look at what's happening now with Megadeth, and what it's meant to you as a musician.

Dave Mustain/Megadeth c Ruby Michael/Artist Publications

Dave Mustaine
photo © Ruby Michael/Artist Publications

DAVE: Well, you know what? It's amazing, because we—Rick, Dave and myself, before Nick was in the band—rehearsed these new songs, almost all the material that's on the new record. We'd left these songs dangling for about a year and a half, and all of a sudden, once we got cleaned up, in two months we just whipped these songs together like that [snaps his fingers]. It was amazing. We were just going "Holy shit!" Next thing you know, Marty's in the band, next thing you know, we're in the studio recording. I mean, things just snapped in line. You're more tuned in, you're more on top of your equipment, you're more on top of tones and sound... The whole thing comes together. The way I look at it, I learned how to play music and play the bass when I was 11 years old and I wasn't fuckin' stoned, man, and I loved it then. All the drugs and alcohol came into my life later. Now, I'm 25 and I feel like I'm fuckin' 15 years old again. The excitement is back, and I'm like, "God, this is great. This is cool." It really is a lot of fun, you know?

NICK: I came in during the hard times. I'd been trying to get into the band for about three years. I was a fan of the band. I'd been looking for some situation like that, that was a very demanding drumming gig. Neil Schaeffer, their soundman on the last tour, had told them about me. They were having trouble with their last drummer, so I came into the picture, started hanging out with these guys a little bit. One thing led to another, and after that tour was over they cut the strings with him, and I came in and did the "No More Mr. Nice Guys" single for the movie "Shocker." That was kind of like my audition, going in the studio and seeing if these guys could pull it off.

Q: But isn't it scary coming into a band that's in such bad shape?

NICK: Mmmm, yeah, it's scary. But I knew they were going to get it together very soon. Plus, their manager, Ron Lafitte, he had a lot to do with keeping me around and keeping those guys psyched. It was hard for me at first. There were times when I just thought, "I can't deal with this. I can't do it." But that's just all behind us. But the fact remains, we're here now. The prof is in the pudding. It's just, everybody's clean and sober today. It's basically what it is. It's amazing, where we've come to now. And we're just forging ahead.


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