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With Cryptic Writings, Megadeth stand poised to be the new kings of heavy metal.
01 January 2000
By Jon Wiederhorn. Taken from Guitar World Magazine.

This is an edited version of the cover story of the current Maximum Guitar. Run, don't walk to your favorite neighborhood newsstand to read the rest--as well as interviews with Limp Bizkit's Wes Borland, Richie Sambora, Mark Knopfler, Stabbing Westward, Swervedriver and Morbid Angel, plus product reviews including Paul Reed Smith and Hamer hollowbody guitars, the Squier Musicmaster guitar and bass, and the Digitech RP7 Valve/Preamp Effects Processor. Transcriptions include: Rage Against the Machine - "Ghost of Tom Joad," Megadeth - "Use the Man," Jonny Lang - "Missing Your Love," Cornershop - "Brimful of Asha," Steely Dan - "Do It Again."

Ever since he was booted from Metallica in 1983, Dave Mustaine has been struggling to recapture the throne of heavy-metal supremacy. As the leader and figurehead of Megadeth, Mustaine has led his chops-heavy attack over and over again in fan-filled arenas, from which his group has earned massive popularity. But for all the gold albums and the exhaustive touring, Megadeth has been conspicuously absent from rock radio playlists, which have instead shown their allegiance to another arena-packing act-namely, Metallica.

Bull-headed tenacity, however, is one of Mustaine's trademarks, and as he continues to plug his band's latest offering, Cryptic Writings, the tune is starting to change. In a musical climate that shuns heavy metal, Megadeth has defied the odds and infiltrated the mainstream. Cryptic Writings has already gone gold and is headed for platinum, and the band's concerts have been sold out from coast to coast. The record's first single, "Trust," was the most requested Active Rock track of the year according to Album Network, a record-industry trade publication, and has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Metal Performance. Another track, "Almost Honest," cracked the Top 10 on Active Rock for 10 weeks straight, and a hardcore-techno remix of the song was featured in the Mortal Kombat Annihilation soundtrack. Proving that good things come in threes, the band's latest single, "Use the Man," was aired by 88 stations in its first week of release and, as of this writing, continues to gain momentum.

Yet for all the blessings he has been showered with, Mustaine is surprisingly defensive. To be fair, Mustaine has the right to be a bit cantankerous. Despite the popularity of Cryptic Writings, he's still dealing with a fair amount of criticism, from headbangers who accuse Megadeth of selling out and from a listening public that still equates heavy metal with big hair, groupies and aural (and perhaps oral) overindulgence. Every time he turns around, Mustaine is still pelted with questions about his former years as a drug addict, his reputation for being an egomaniac and his acrimonious age-old split with his former bandmates in Metallica.

What's a band to do? We found out recently when we rapped with the loquacious Mustaine and the group's more subdued second guitarist, Marty Friedman, about artistic integrity, family values, and Mustaine's thoughts on a Metallica reunion.

MAXIMUM GUITAR: You've always been very much in tune with your fans, to the point where you've added songs to your live sets based on their e-mail requests. Do you believe in giving the people what they want?

DAVE MUSTAINE: I would say so. The fans tell us what they want, and we keep them happy. We have a relationship that's much deeper than the dollar sign. If we were so stuck up and conceited and beyond reproach or any kind of learning curve, I think that would be signing our death certificate. Some people say that the real sell-outs are the guys that listen to the fans and don't do it their own way. I totally disagree. If the fans want heavy stuff, we'll give you heavy stuff. If you want melodic, we'll give you melodic. And if you want stuff that's in between, we'll do that too.

MARTY FRIEDMAN: I totally agree. If I was in it strictly for myself, I'd just play in my home studio in my bedroom and record a whole bunch of obscure, weird shit. Of course, my own self-satisfaction is a large part of my playing, but at the end of the day, I want to reach as many people as possible while still being honest to the music I hear in my head. Any talk about selling out is complete bullshit.

MAX: Dave, It seems like your ex-bandmates in Metallica have taken a completely opposite approach from you. With Load and Reload, they seem to be ignoring the demands of the fans and doing exactly what they want.

MUSTAINE: Yes, and they've suffered the consequences of experimentation. Lars [Ulrich] himself has baited me by saying he wishes I would be more experimental. Now, does he mean experimental as in kissing and frenching my lead guitar player or my drummer? Is he talking about painting my nails, wearing makeup and cutting off all my hair? I don't know, and if he'd like to see me get more experimental, I welcome his ideas. Maybe the two of us should play together again.

MAX: Would you want to do that?

MUSTAINE: Of course I would. I think it would be wonderful if it were to happen, but I don't know if it will. And actually, I would rather play with James [Hetfield] than Lars.

MAX: Do you think there will ever be a full Metallica reunion?

MUSTAINE: There can't be, because Cliff [Burton] is dead. But one thing that I think would be really fabulous is if me and David Ellefson went over with Lars and James and put a record out. I think the world would be knocked on its butt.

MAX: Do you think you could get far enough past all the bad blood to make that happen.

MUSTAINE: Lars, to me, is one of the neatest little dudes I ever met. He's a very, very intelligent man. And I think James is one of the greatest rhythm guitar players and singers that have ever graced the planet. I know that if he and I got together again, people would be so blown away they'd probably have to kill themselves. The only thing I'm concerned about is jeopardizing my relationship with Nick Menza and Marty Friedman.

FRIEDMAN: If you wanted to do that, it wouldn't bother me in the least. I think that anybody should do whatever it takes to get them through the day. We're all just here to make great music. We have a great chemistry in Megadeth, and it will always be that way.

MAX: Marty, are you still recording solo stuff on the side?

FRIEDMAN: I released one solo album in 1996, and ever since that came out, I've been so incredibly busy with Megadeth that I haven't had time to think about working on other solo stuff. I like to give 100 percent to something, not 50 percent to two different things. I'd hate to spread myself too thin

MAX: In an era in which heavy metal is as appetizing to most people as tubs of lard, you've had a very successful year. What do you attribute that recent success to?

MUSTAINE: I think it has a lot to do with my previous band doing what they did. People that were sitting on the fence have hopped off on our side, and anybody that was a bonafide, full-fledged Metallica fan is now sitting on the fence.

FRIEDMAN: We've worked really hard, and I think we've developed a whole new audience who are really getting into us. Of course, there are still a lot of loyal fans and they're really insane. But the last couple tours have probably been composed of half new fans.

MAX: What kind of gear are you using these days?

MUSTAINE: I'm still using Jackson guitars, but I don't know how much longer that's going to last. The guitar plays wonderfully, but the public relations department there is going through a change, and I've been approached by three other guitar companies, so I'm going to see what's going to happen. I'm also using Marshall vintage cabinets and Marshall 9200 power amps, Marshall JPM-1 preamps, custom-mount new electronic swtichers, PC electric guitar wizards, a Samson [wireless system] and Marshall power breaks for smaller venues. On this tour I switched over to all Marshalls, and they said they would endorse me. I have two complete mini systems of everything, so if anything goes down they just switch right over to another system. And then I have backup components for everything, so if that does happen, the next day they can repair whatever went down. At the beginning of this tour in Mesa, Arizona, some stuff got busted up, and I said, "That's it, this is never going to happen again."

FRIEDMAN: I've always gone for a direct sound without a lot of bullshit on it. So, for the most part, I plug straight from my guitar into an amp. I like the real straignt-ahead rock guitar sound. I use a Crate Blue Voodoo [amp], which is a lot like a Marshall, but it's a lot more consistent. I've used them around the world in different voltages in different countries and they always sound the same. My guitar gear is Jackson, and I've got my own model, which you can buy in the store off the wall. It's exactly the same as what you'll find in my rack.

MAX: How has your playing evolved over the years?

MUSTAINE: I think in the beginning, my riffs were really circular. There would be a cool riff, and then I would make it a revolving pattern that would go three times, and then the fourth time would be a variation of it. And that would go anywhere from four to eight times, and I would have something inserted to break it up, like a bridge or a middle-eight part. And then there'd be a different riff for the lead solo section, and then the outro of the song would be something similar to the beginning of the song, but just a little more aggressive. I found that I was wasting so many good riffs in the past because I would play them for such a short period of time. For me, if you focus more on a single riff and make sure it's more structurally sound for the song, you don't need to have so many riffs. Any one of those old riffs could have been the core riff of the song if I would have been a little more attentive and perhaps made a little change here or there. For example, in the song "Wake Up Dead," there are probably a dozen riffs there, and a lot of them are really good, but they just fly by so fast that you just miss them all. I think in the beginning that was motivated by a will to succeed and prove to doubters that I was a capable guitarist.

FRIEDMAN: For me, I'm definitely into making the notes count and letting them breathe a lot more than I used to. I'm playing less on the beat and more in-between the beats in order to make my playing like a voice. If you listen to the best singers, they rarely sing right on the downbeats. They're always singing in and around the beats to give the music a human quality.

MAX: As complex as some of your songs have been, you've never resorted to mere sonic masturbation.

MUSTAINE: Yeah, 'cause I hate that shit. I went and saw Allan Holdsworth one time, and everybody was into this Holdsworth-Fripp-Yngwie nonsense. You know what I remember the most about Holdsworth? He had a bottle of Heineken, and the thing was empty, but he picked it up to his mouth four or five times after it was empty. I couldn't remember a damn note he played. All I remembered was that he was a nervous twit, and he kept picking that bottle up and trying to get something out of it. I was thinking, man, if you were Jesus, which you probably think you are, that thing would have refilled itself. You don't have to play stuff like that in order to make an impression. The world is not full of guitar players; the world is full of people.

MAX: Dave, you were a loose cannon early in your career.

MUSTAINE: Yeah, but it was so predictable, the way I was. To go 180 degrees in the opposite direction, that's rock and roll. I still live on the edge; it's just a different edge. You don't know how difficult it is doing Megadeth, going to college, having two kids, being married, having dogs as big as horses shitting all over my backyard.

MAX: What direction do you plan to take with the next record?

MUSTAINE: If you're asking me what the lyrics on the barf bag were, I couldn't tell you. I was half asleep. On the last record, we divided it into thirds. One part of the record was really fast and aggressive, one-third of it was the really melodic, in-between stuff and then the final third was really radio-oriented music like Youthanasia. I think what we're going to do this time is split it in half, and make it half radio-oriented and half really heavy like Peace Sells. . .But Who's Buying? Along with the bands and CDs that management is going to suggest I listen to, I'm going to go back and listen to some of the heavier stuff I used to get into when I was younger-things like Mercyful Fate, Diamond Head and some of the new wave of heavy metal. I want to get back to some of my roots. I don't want to forget what got me here.

This story ? 1997 by Harris Publications, Inc. All rights reserved under International and Pan American Copyright Conventions. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission of the publisher is strictly forbidden.