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Interview By Bob Nalbandian
02 July 2002
Interview By Bob Nalbandian

MEGADETH

David Ellefson & Marty Friedman Interview

By Bob Nalbandian




Birthed in the spring of 1983 by founding members Dave Mustaine (vocals, guitar) and David Ellefson (bass), Megadeth emerged as one of the pioneers of American thrash-metal. Now, 15 years later, with the release of their eighth CD Cryptic Writings (Capitol Records), Megadeth continues to enjoy the success and longevity that very few rock bands have been able to possess. Recorded in Nashville, Cryptic Writings features 12 tracks that explore diverse musical boundaries foreign to most metal bands of this genre. From melodic, accessible (would you even believe radio friendly?) songs such as "Trust" and "Almost Honest" to the balls-out thrashers "The Disintegrators" and "FFF", Cryptic Writings is packed with enough melody, speed and power to satisfy Mega-fans, both old and new.



During the midst of their U.S. tour, I pinned down bassist David Ellefson and guitarist Marty Friedman to chat about the production of their latest effort, their brutal touring schedule, solo careers, and the changing times of the music industry. Here's what they had to say...



SHOCKWAVES: The musical direction of Cryptic Writings is quite different from Megadeth's previous releases. What was the band's musical goal when writing this record?
MARTY FRIEDMAN: The main difference was that each song was treated as a separate entity, rather than looking at it as an album, so to speak. Every song is completely different. We spent much more time on this record giving the songs more personality, in an effort to really separate each song from the other.




SW: As opposed to working with renowned rock/metal producer Max Norman (who produced the last three Megadeth records), the band recruited Dann Huff, who is known more as a country/rock session player...what inspired you to use Dann Huff?
DAVE ELLEFSON: For the period of time that Max worked with us, I think it was perfect...we needed a good, heavy rock producer to come in and really mold our songs. And when it comes to heavy rock music, Max is the real deal. But so much has happened between Youthanasia and Cryptic Writings in the music world...everything is different; the fashion, the haircut, the sound of the music. In one way it's kind of scary, and in the other way it gives us more freedom to do whatever we want...we don't have to be tied to a certain sound.




SW: Dann was a member of the AOR band Giant, and hadn't he also worked with renowned producer Mutt Lange?
MF: Yeah...he had worked with Mutt Lange on production, and that's what pretty much turned us on to him. Giant was pretty much just a side project he was involved with. He is a very popular session cat in Nashville and one of the most respected in country/rock. He comes from a totally different place than Megadeth; we have the heavy, aggressive rock down, but he was able to offer us a whole different perspective on things.

DE: We all really liked the sound of the Giant record and Dave (Mustaine) was really into Dann's guitar playing. We also hired on new management just before we started writing this record, and as it turned out, Bud Prager used to manage Dann, and that's how that came about.




SW: I noticed on the CD sleeve Bud Prager is also credited as your A&R director, which I thought was kind of unusual...
DE: We actually have two managers; Mike Renault handles the logistics...the touring, scheduling etc., and Bud Prager handles the creative end; he is more hands on. So we're getting the job of two people from a single commission (laughs). Bud worked really closely with us on the writing of this CD from the very beginning. When it comes to writing the Megadeth songs, we know what we're doing, and we wanted Cryptic Writings to have a fair share of Megadeth songs. We also wanted Cryptic Writings to move forward, into new uncharted territory for us, and that was specifically where Bud gave us a lot of direction. And once we hit the studio, Dann Huff came into the loop as producer and things unfolded naturally. I think having new management and a new producer really helped us, we went into it with more of an open mind. We didn't look at it as, "This is what we've always done in the past, so we must maintain this certain style." It seems as though a lot of other metal bands are doing that these days...and, as you know, there's not many heavy metal bands around anymore.




SW: The scene certainly has changed over the last few years...
DE: We definitely noticed that going in to record Countdown To Extinction; we came off the Clash Of The Titans Tour (with Slayer and Anthrax) in 1991, and we had the same awareness as we did on this record, but it's much more developed now. But even on Countdown..., our mind-set was, "We are capable of so much more than just playing what our audience expects out of us, so let's give them a lot more than what they expect." And that attitude helped us to produce songs like "Symphony Of Destruction," "Foreclosure Of A Dream"...songs like that, which were pretty forward-thinking songs for our genre of music at that time.




SW: Hugh Syme's (who did the artwork on this CD, as well as Megadeth's previous CDs) illustrations of Vic the Rattlehead had become almost as synonymous with Megadeth as Derek Riggs' artwork of "Eddy" was for Iron Maiden. But for Cryptic Writings, the artwork has been totally simplified...it's not nearly as conceptual as your previous records.
DE: It's interesting...we were actually considering if we should keep Hugh Syme on board. We had changed managers, producers...so many things were different. But, we knew that Hugh's artwork was phenomenal and we really liked him as a person. The record was originally going to be titled Needles and Pins, but the album artwork Hugh did for that just wasn't right, it wasn't as ominous as we were hoping. So we started from scratch, and Dave re-titled the album Cryptic Writings...which was a line from "Use The Man." Hugh came back with new artwork, it was real quick and real simple. I think the artwork is great, and seeing how all his other works were so elaborate, this was so simple in comparison. But, I think it was really in context to where the band was headed; simple yet thought-provoking. I know how a lot of us metal heads are...we're always looking for the hidden message in everything. I mean, I remember looking for all the hidden shit in Ozzy Osbourne's Diary Of A Madman when it first came out (laughs).




SW: There is a lot of variety on this record...it has the fast 'n' furious thrashers, the slow, melodic tunes, and even some songs with a full string orchestra...It's definitely not your stereotypical heavy metal record!
DE: During the three year period between Youthanasia and Cryptic Writings, an entire genre of music pretty much came and went, like grunge, which now is pretty much dead...and, of course, alternative music. And I like some of the new alternative music out there; to me, a lot of it is pretty much straight ahead rock music. And it's really no wonder why alternative music took off the way it did. A lot of people say, "Oh man, heavy metal is dying"...well, who's to blame for that? Look at a lot of the bands out there who were trying to play heavy metal music! They regressed...they didn't move forward. And that's the only way I see it for heavy metal to get back into the forefront of modern music. Good music is good music, and it doesn't really matter what category you fit into. I'm hoping that there will be a whole new movement of heavier bands that will have some musical and songwriting ability. That's what made the bands like Iron Maiden, Ozzy, and Judas Priest so classic...they could actually write songs!




SW: Megadeth also kept moving forward album after album...you've avoided to repeat yourselves.
DE: And I'm really glad about that. During the time we were heading into the Countdown... era (1992), it was like the crossroads for heavy metal bands, and we saw a lot of other bands that, perhaps, didn't have the guidance or the forethought. It just seemed like heavy metal as a whole regressed, everyone wanted to be harder and faster than the next, with the singer barking like a dog (laughs).




SW: I totally agree...And I think that really attributed to the decline of heavy metal music. It got split into two extremes...one of which you described - all the hardcore death/thrash metal bands trying to outdo each other, and the other extreme were the "hair" bands who weren't even metal to begin with!
DE: We're a very musical group, and our primary love of music is definitely hard-rock and heavy metal, it's what we enjoy listening to and it's what we enjoy playing. But, in order to keep metal alive, you gotta keep thinking forward and moving ahead. And that's what I'm personally very happy about with Cryptic Writings...we've maintained our genuine sound, yet we're able to move forward into new directions without turning our back to what we're known for. And I think our fans really respect us for that. Even back when Dave (Mustaine) first laid down the vocal tracks on Killing Is My Business..., I was impressed with the fact that the music was so heavy, but the vocals were memorable and had catchy melodies.




SW: Dave Mustaine's lyrics seem a lot more personal on this CD - particularly the track "Use The Man." Is that song about Dave's past heroin addiction?
DE: Actually, that song was written about someone we knew at a drug addiction facility who shot up some dope and died. When we did the demos, we only had a handful of lyrics written; Dave actually wrote a lot of the lyrics while we were in the studio. But, yeah...I think the lyrics are more personal on this record. I remember the first time I read Dave's lyrics, like a week or two after I met him, and I thought, "Damn these are really good lyrics." He wasn't just some guy who played guitar and tried to put words together. And seeing his lyrics develop...I think anyone, of any age group, and who listens to any style of music, can relate to the lyrics on Cryptic Writings.




SW: I think Megadeth has always written very thought-provoking lyrics; especially the title track to Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? That song was brilliant!
DE: I remember the day it was written. Dave and I were picking up Gar (their old drummer - Ed.) on our way to rehearsal...you remember that old van we used to have? (laughs) Anyway, Dave asked me, "What do you think about 'Peace Sells...But Who's Buying' for a song idea?" We then went to our rehearsal studio and he wrote the chorus, we rehearsed it a couple of times and - BAM! Within a couple hours the song was pretty much done...it was one of those magical moments.




SW: That song - especially the video for that song - was totally groundbreaking. A lot of the scenes in that video, such as the footage from political riots and the flashing "$" symbol, were used long before bands like Rage Against The Machine, Ministry, and even Guns & Roses used that type of "political message" in their videos...it really took music videos to the next level...
DE: It's funny...we used Robert Longo to direct that video, and he wasn't even a director, he was an artist. So, coming from a conceptual point of view, he had a much cooler idea than these guys who were professional video directors!




SW: I understand your first single from this CD, "Trust", was actually a #1 song on Rock radio throughout the U.S., yet radio in L.A. still refuses to play Megadeth!
MF: Yeah, it was the #1 Active Rock track in America. Los Angeles is really a separate entity...it doesn't really blend in with the Chicagos, the Phoenixs, and the Clevelands, which is pretty much what real America is all about. What you hear on the radio in L.A. is not representative of the what's really going on in America. But L.A. has always been a good market for us to play live, and we have a lot of great fans in Los Angeles, and I really do feel bad for them since they can't hear any good heavy rock bands on the radio.

DE: Here's the thing...we've had songs played on the radio before, like "Angry Again" and "Symphony Of Destruction"...never to the extent of the airplay we've received on Cryptic Writings, but we've had moderate radio exposure. Radio has really saved the day for us; both the songs "Trust" and "Almost Honest" were the #1 most added songs for Rock radio. And the cool thing is, if Megadeth could be played back to back with alternative bands and other mainstream bands, I think that is good, not just for Megadeth, but for heavy metal as a whole.




SW: Megadeth headlined the ROCKSTOCK '97 festival in Chicago late last summer. Opening the show were about twelve or so mostly alternative bands, such as Cracker, Veruca Salt, Silverchair, Days Of The New, and The Nixons. It's pretty ironic that the media continuously claims that heavy rock/metal is dead, and here we have some of the "hippest" new bands from around the world supporting Megadeth!
MF: Chicago has always been a great town for us. There were close to 30,000 kids at that show, and a lot of those kids maybe did come to see those alternative bands, but a lot of them came to see us. Despite this "metal is dead" attitude from a lot of people, the fact is, it's always been there, and it'll always be there; it just goes through phases of popularity. Fans of heavy metal and aggressive rock are true to their cause; I don't think they're all of the sudden gonna turn into "techno freaks" or "disco freaks" just because it may be popular or trendy. Fans of heavy metal love and enjoy the music, even if it's considered "uncool," or if certain people think metal fans are idiots...that's just all part of the whole stigma. But, once the populace decides that metal is once again "cool," then the metal kids and bands will be right back on top. The kids and metal music never go away, it's the fashions that come and go.




SW: I know that Megadeth is very active on the Internet; in fact your website MEGADETH ARIZONA (hollywoodandvine.com/megadeth) has been voted as one of the best rock 'n' roll websites on the Internet by several multi-media magazines. Seeing the lack of media support for heavy rock bands, particularly on MTV, do you see the Internet playing an important role in the promotion of your latest effort, as well as future Megadeth albums?
MF: Without the MTV support, it's good to see there are other means of getting the band out to the people, like through the Internet. Of course, we would like to see MTV come to the party a little more, like they did on Countdown To Extinction, and maybe they will eventually...which obviously would be great, but seeing that we are not a band that was made by MTV, we can't really be broken by MTV. Our fans have stuck with us when metal was really trendy and when it hasn't been trendy, so it really hasn't affected us one way or another. It's definitely not the end of the world if MTV doesn't jump on us.




SW: Do you think there is potential for a band like Megadeth to still attract a young audience...seeing that most kids today are attracted to what they see on MTV and the like?
MF: There's tons of young kids who come to our shows...some as young as six years old! And it's really great to see that. Our shows attract a very wide demographic group; everyone from kids, to parents, to grandparents. There was a lady at one of our shows who was 75 years old, and she was totally into metal music...she was totally hip! Talking to her was just like talking to a 15 year old metal fan.




SW: Cryptic Writings has received positive reaction from not just rock/metal critics, but critics from major music publications, which is pretty surprising since most critics have taken pride in bashing metal bands these days...
MF: I think those reviewers picked up on the fact that we write good songs, regardless if they are played in a heavy metal context, a rock'n'roll context, a pop context, or whatever...it's beyond just the sound of metal. And, of course, we love the sound of heavy metal, but if you're planning on making a long career out of it, you got to really put some substance of songwriting to go along with that "metal" sound.




SW: Although some critics still consider Megadeth as the stereotypical thrash-metal band, the fact is, you're all brilliant musicians and songwriters. Marty, as a virtuoso guitarist, you've recorded several diverse solo records, covering many exotic musical soundscapes, including a record with New Age guru Kitaro...do you feel Megadeth will branch out even more so on future records, musically speaking?
MF: I think as we grow as a band, our music gets more and more diverse. I mean, we wanna be like a Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin...a band that is not known for just one sound, but many, many sounds, with their own personal stamp on each one of those sounds. And I think Cryptic Writings is our first step toward that.




SW: Let's talk about Marty Friedman's career prior to joining Megadeth...back in 1981 you recorded an independent EP with the group VIXEN; shortly after, you formed the band HAWAII and released two albums and one EP, and then you formed CACOPHONY with Jason Becker and released two albums for Shrapnel Records. And thus far, you have released four solo records, three of which were released while you were in Megadeth...what was it like during the early stages of your recording career?
MF: Fortunately, I've always wound up playing the music that I ultimately wanted to play. When I first started playing in bands, I wanted to get into the most ass-kickin' band that I could get into. I didn't want to be playing Fleetwood Mac covers and stuff like that...and, as much as I like Fleetwood Mac, that wasn't the type of music I wanted to make a living playing. A lot of times when you get into a career of playing music, you wind up playing just for bread and butter, and it's usually music you either hate, or not exactly the music you started off playing. I started playing guitar after I saw a KISS concert, because it was so exciting, wild, loud and aggressive. And the fact that I wound up playing in such an aggressive band, and making a living at it and really enjoying it...I consider myself very lucky as a working musician.




SW: Marty has recorded solo records, and Dave Mustaine recorded a side project with Lee Ving (of Fear)...I seem to remember that you, David, were also working on a solo record a few years back...did anything ever transpire with that?
DE: That was back around the time we were doing Countdown..., and in between legs of that tour I was writing some songs with a friend of mine from L.A., but I never did anything with it. It's an odd situation doing side projects, it can really take the focus away from the band. My side project was, I wrote a book called Making Music Your Business, which came out last May. It's basically a general overview of various aspects of the music business, written from my point of view as a professional musician. I geared it to other young musicians who are looking to get into this business.




SW: I think that's great; it seems that 90% of the books about the music business are written by either an attorney or a record company executive...or perhaps from a former musician from the 60s or 70s. There aren't any current books about the music industry today, written from an active musician's point of view...
DE: I agree. What I did was, I interviewed other musicians like Slash, Joey Ramone, Crissie Hynde, Tori Amos, Will Lee from David Letterman's band...I really wanted it to be a book by the musician, for the musician. I didn't want it to be a heavy metal book, a Megadeth "tell all" book, or anything like that. I wanted it to be for today's musician, no matter what type of music they play, so I interviewed musicians from all aspects of the business. Will Lee gave me insight on being a musician for television, as well as being a session musician, and I also included female artists to get their perspective.




SW: In the late 60s/early 70s you had metal guitar greats such as Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, Michael Schenker, Uli Roth, Joe Perry, Ace Frehley and Ted Nugent who were worshipped by young aspiring musicians and fans alike. Then in the late '70s, "guitar gods" such as Eddie Van Halen emerged, and the '80s brought to light new innovators such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and, of course, Marty Friedman! You have truly earned the title "Guitar Hero," Marty. Do you think it is still possible in the '90s, and beyond, for new "Guitar Heroes" to emerge?
MF: I think it's tough to become very popular out of musicianship alone. The way to attract the masses is by doing something that a lot of people think is "cool," and what people perceive as "cool" doesn't necessarily mean advanced, technical musicianship. It's just gotta be something that people can enjoy, and I think those people who can do that will become the musical "heroes" to the masses. It really doesn't matter too much if you're able to play "Flight Of The Bumblebee" on guitar, which is a difficult thing to do, but most people don't care; they just wanna hear something they can enjoy. And I understand that, so that's pretty much all I've tried to do over the years...play something that I enjoy and that other people can hopefully get into as well.




SW: Regarding touring...It's not uncommon for Megadeth to be on the road for 13 months straight, without a break!
DE: Yeah, in the old days...the Peace Sells and Rust In Piece tours...we would get what we called "post-tour depression," which is when you get off from a long tour. You're out on the road having a great time, living it up, partying every night...then, all of the sudden, the tour ends, and all that stops. And you really miss it...you almost go into mourning.




SW: Megadeth has a huge international following. You've played just about everywhere - Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland...all over the world!
MF: And we're doing it all again! We seem to go over really well in the Eastern European countries, and they deserve to get good music in their country just like everywhere else.




SW: What were some of the most exotic countries where Megadeth has performed?
MF: Israel, Portugal, Greece, South America, Hungary, Japan...we've pretty much played everywhere, except for Africa.




SW: So, is Africa next on your agenda?
MF: You never know (laughs)...there are a lot of rock fans in Africa, believe it or not. And we always pride ourselves on taking our music to our fans, so it just might happen one of these days...




SW: David, seeing that you've been with Megadeth since day one, is there anything you've ever regretted?
DE: I really don't regret anything this band has done in the early days, because it was always a stepping stone for what we did next. Sometimes you'll look back and say, "Maybe that was a little foolish," but at least we were sincere in what we did. I remember when we used to go see bands at the Country Club (in Reseda) years ago. All the bands had the hair, the clothes, the management, and the right instruments and amps...they had everything...except they had no songs, and no spirit. It was all very calculated...and I found that boring. When I look back on Megadeth's career...even though we've made some mistakes along the way and, admittedly, we were naive in the beginning...but, at least we had spirit! It wasn't calculated. We weren't sitting around thinking about how we were gonna make it work, we were just fuckin' going for it! And when you look back at it in that light, you realize, "Maybe it wasn't so foolish after all."




SW: So what does the future hold for Megadeth?
MF: A lot of touring! Much of the next record is already written, but we see a pretty long life in Cryptic Writings, so it could be a really long tour. Hopefully, there'll be a lot more singles from this record, since radio has been so supportive thus far. We're just gonna ride it out for as long as we can.

DE: We've learned to take it one day at a time. It's really hard to say because music changes so quickly, the industry changes so quickly, and the public's listening tastes change so quickly these days...so it's really hard for us to calculate what we're gonna be doing next summer, let alone what will happen five years from now. We're very happy just to even be here.




Taken from: HardRadio.com



 
 
 
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