I hate to be cliche, but music is kind of like dating. It needs to have pacing. If it starts off too fast, it’s going to end too fast. If it’s too slow, it’ll never get going. Good songs will tell you exactly what they need if you look for the signs.” Those introspective words come courtesy of Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, and if they seem out of place, maybe it’s because you haven’t checked in with him lately. The guy with the huge, jackhammer rhythm lines and the even huger chip on his shoulder is not only talking but also playing with greater nuance and thoughtfulness these days, as evidenced by Megadeth’s current offering, Super Collider [Tradecraft]. Fear not, the razor-sharp riffing and blazing solos are still there, but they share space with banjo, slide guitar, EBow lines, and, well, space. And the Mean Mr. Mustaine who snarled his way through thrash classics like “Peace Sells” and “Skin o’ My Teeth” seems content to take a back seat to the kinder, gentler Dave who heaps praise on his bandmates (past and present), endorsers, opening acts, and fans. If you didn’t know better, you’d almost think that the guy who based a career on having something to prove finally realizes that he doesn’t.
To my ears, this record sounds just like Megadeth, but with a heightened sense of melody and dynamics.
Exactly. That’s what we were going for. The music industry’s changed so much that in order to compete anymore you’ve either got to be a screamo band, which we’re not, or you’ve got to write really good songs, which for me means melodic and dynamic.
What can you say in general about how you will juxtapose different energy levels in individual riffs, songs, and throughout an entire record, so it’s not just an assault from beginning to end?
I think that goes back to what I was weaned on. I have three older sisters and they grew up on Motown, so I had a lot of Motown influences, plus I also loved punk rock and classical music. One of the things I learned from classical was that the song has to take the listener on a journey, where the song can crescendo, hold the tension, and then drop down a little bit. Punk rock gave me the angst and a lot of the vitriol for the lyrics, and of course the weird, sexy kind of lagging, pushing and pulling the beat—that comes from the Motown stuff. In terms of riffs, you can make a riff twice as exciting just by changing the drumbeat— same riff but twice as exciting. That will add different energy to a song. How I combine these various elements will make some of the songs darker and some of the songs a little happier.
What’s the time signature of the verse in “Built for War”? I was trying to count it out and I wasn’t really able to.
[Laughs.] That’s the part [drummer] Shawn Drover wrote so you can ask him. I had the hardest time singing over that section. That was the hardest song I’ve ever sung in my career.
Was it difficult from a rhythm guitar standpoint?
It was totally easy to play on rhythm, because it’s a really cool, chunky, down and dirty kind of a riff, even though it’s in that weird time signature, then it goes into 4/4 at the re-intro, and then it goes back into that crazy algebraic rhythm. But when it came down to singing over the top of it …
Is it going to be a challenge for you to play it and sing it at the same time live?
Hold on there, partner. I don’t think I’ll ever be playing that song live. If I do, I might just sing it and not play guitar, or say, “Hey, this is audience participation time!”
“The Blackest Crow” has a lot going on in it.
That beginning riff reminded me of that Chicago song, “Wishing You Were Here,” a really haunting melody. So I had done that, and then for the chorus there’s that undulating funky riff, which comes from that Motown influence I spoke about. I also played banjo on it—it’s a guitar neck mounted on a banjo body, tuned like a guitar—and I played the slide on that tune. I’m the jack of all trades on this record, but putting it all together came pretty easily.
“Don’t Turn Your Back” has a really sweet, laid-back intro that almost reminds me of an early Scorpions tune. What was your signal chain for that song?
That’s a very flattering reference, the Scorpions—especially when you’re talking about the old Uli days. I used my Dean VMNTs. I used a korina one for the solo and a Silverburst one for the rhythm because it has a little harder finish on it and a little bit more of a cutting sound. Both of them are wired with my Seymour Duncan Signature Live Wires, which are active pickups. I’m using Cleartone strings—a brand new string company—and they’re amazing. I switched from my previous company— who I’d been with for years and years—but not because they weren’t good. They were great and their service was fantastic. I don’t want anybody to think I left because they weren’t great people. But these new strings are mind blowing. My amplifiers were Marshall JVM 410s and the white Randy Rhoads head. I used the Randy Rhoads for one of the solos. We turned everything to 10 and it was smoking. It was driven pretty hard. It’s a phenomenal amplifier and I’m really gratefful for my relationship with Marshall. For pedals, I used my signature Zoom pedal for the flange effect and for the phaser part we used an MXR Phase 90, the one with the Eddie Van Halen paint job on it. I used my signature Marshall cabinet, with Celestion Greenbacks in it.
How would you say your guitar style has evolved? What do you hear when you spin your early records versus the way you’re playing today?
I think in the beginning I was trying to show off a little bit more with the complexity of the songs, because I knew I could play stuff that a lot of other people couldn’t and sing at the same time. Although sadly, on those early records and tours, because the guitar playing was so complex, I wasn’t able to give the singing the attention that it deserved. Now I feel there’s more of a balance between the playing and singing.
You’ve mentioned some interesting influences in the past, like Elliot Easton. Who are some other guitarists that you find inspiring?
I love David Gilmour. I think that Stevie Ray Vaughan is great. Todd Rundgren does some cool stuff. Some of the music, within reason, that Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp did was good, but I don’t think you should need a slide rule to listen to a song. I like watching pyrotechnics on guitar, like Holdsworth, but just for a little bit. There are some other players that are kind of simple, like Ronnie Montrose—may he rest in peace—who had a great rock style. I love Eddie Van Halen, love Randy Rhoads. I like Eric Clapton a lot, too. I never knew he did the solos on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I always thought those were George’s best solos.
Is there anything that you haven’t done with Megadeth that you’d like to do?
There’s the elusive Grammy that continues to evade us. There was a time when I was excited to be nominated, but frankly I’m over it. Musically, I really like reinvesting some of the good fortune we’ve had by giving some of our knowledge and experience back to younger bands. I love doing that through Gigantour because it gives us an opportunity to show these guys a cool way to tour, treat them really well, and let that huge press machine that is Gigantour benefit these bands.
I think the most important thing that I’ve accomplished with Megadeth is being able to provide a good life for my kids, thanks to the support of our fans. If they didn’t believe in this music, there would be no Megadeth, so I thank my fans all the time.
Burning for You Chris Broderick’s Megashred
When asked about the guitar work of his current lead player, Dave Mustaine was unequivocal: “Chris is by far the best guitar player I’ve played with, and that’s not taking anything away from the other guys, because they’re all really great.” Those are bold words given that the “other guys” in question include such monsters as Chris Poland, Marty Friedman, Glen Drover, and Al Pitrelli. But Broderick’s chops, tone, and feel make him more than capable of filling those big metal shoes, as he ably demonstrates on Megadeth’s latest, Super Collider. —MB
I can’t always tell who’s playing what on this record. Take the solo section in “King Maker” and explain what’s going on.
An easy way to tell on “King Maker” is if you hear some tremolo bar work or dive bombs, that’s me. Anything that doesn’t have that is Dave. The way it breaks down is the first little solo is mine. Then in the main solo section, the first half is my solo and when we transpose up from D and do the same rhythm in E, that’s Dave.
The solo you do in “Built for War” is short but really dazzling. Can you describe how you’re playing that?
I come into it with some melodic ideas interlaced with some 7th arpeggios that I kind of sweep in and out of—I think a dominant and a diminished. I slide in between them and then I end with a major 7 tapped arpeggio. I’m playing three notes on a string and skipping every other string.
It kind of has a Jason Becker vibe.
Oh yeah. He’s a huge influence of mine and he still influences me today—how upbeat he is and how he still makes music is just amazing.
What was your rig for this record?
I used pretty much exclusively my signature series Jackson Soloist. I did some acoustic work on my Guild acoustic guitar. The amp for most of it was an EVH 5150 III.
What do you hear when Dave takes a solo?
I hear his influences in his choice of tonality, whether it’s pentatonic or the minor scale or sometimes a harmonic minor scale. I get a Michael Schenker influence, especially with his pentatonic stuff. What I mostly hear, though, is a lot of aggression. I think he always approaches the instrument to conquer and dominate it.