Q&A with Nick Menza and Dave Mustaine in San Antonio, Texas
Sheila Rene': Hello darlin'. Hang on, I've got to adjust the sound here.
Nick Menza: You do have some high volume coming out of that thing.
SR: I think we'll drive all the patrons out of here at this rate of volume.
NM: What do you think of the record? I'm interviewing you now.
SR: I love it, I love it. I'm especially fond of this one.
NM: It was really fun to make. Dann Huff was fabulous to work with. I couldn't play enough for him. There were more self-indulgent drum versions of these songs that didn't get used for obvious reasons. This is not Nick Menza's solo band.
SR: "Trust" opens with one hellava drum groove.
NM: Well, you know it's in my contract (laughing) that one song on each Megadeth record has to start off with drums.
SR: The construction is different here.
NM: It's an epic song, that's for sure.
SR: Dave looked Dann up didn't he? He became familiar with his work in Giant.
NM: Yeah, Dann played in Giant and he's a great guitarist. The guy lives in Nashville. Initially, upon hearing that we would be going there to make our record, I was leery. It's not one of my favorite places to go on the planet. It was actually quite relaxing and probably good to get out of our element and into a fresh environment. We didn't have any distractions there.
SR: Didn't Dave listen to him and make up his mind to work with him.
NM: I think he heard some of his previous projects. Huff does a lot of work with and is a protege' of Robert Mutt Lange. He does a lot of session work in Nashville. I think this is Huff's first production work. People down there were very surprised that he wanted to work with us. Nashville is a real God-fearing town, you know. So as the word leaked out that Megadeth was in town, they were a little bit shocked. We'd get silly questions like 'Is your record going to be Country?' We'd say 'No, it's going to be Western.'
SR: Sounds like fun.
NM: There was no pressure. I was there six days and then I left. I did all my tracks in six days and then said adios, see ya!
SR: That has to be a record time for you.
NM: I love it. I'm the first one in and the first one out. Then I got to come back toward the end with a totally objective opinion. I didn't hear anything as it was being recorded. The past albums we've made I've been there the whole time, just sitting there doing nothing while all the other guys are tracking and playing it over and over. You don't get a real perspective of the tunes because you're so close to it all along.
SR: What's your opinion?
NM: I can say that there are songs on the record that I don't like. I don't want to mention which ones because they're ones that you've mentioned as being your favorites. (laughter abounds) The songs I thought were going to be the hits turned out to be not so good and the ones I didn't like at first, turned out to be the real sleeper tunes that came alive in the final mix. I didn't hear any vocals until I went back. I had no idea what Dave was going to do singing-wise. I heard scratch guitar and bass and my drum tracks only. I was pleased with what I did and that's all I can do is play my best and live with it for the rest of my life.
SR: Youthanasia was three years ago.
NM: No, only two years ago. It was out in '95.
SR: It seems to me as if you were gone longer.
NM: We took a little time off. We toured for a long time on that record. We were out for a year and a half.
SR: What did you do in your time off? Was it a real holiday?
NM: Everything. I slept a lot, ate some and drank some. I worked on other projects and I did a lot of session work in Los Angeles.
SR: Anybody I'd know?
NM: Probably not. I do a lot of obscure stuff. I played on a Gospel record and some R&B stuff as well as a couple of Jazz records. I worked one some Japanese tracks.
SR: When did the actual writing of this album begin?
NM: We started in February of 1996. We had 30 songs in pre-production and then we realized there was no way we could do that many and focus on all of them. Dann helped us to chop it down to half as many. It was a nice idea to think we could do that many songs but it was unrealistic. Even doing 14 songs was difficult since it's so hard to keep your perspective and focus. It's a lot of work, man. The engineer was out of his mind. He'd listen to some songs 300-400 times.
SR: You're kidding.
NM: No, I came in one day and asked him what the number was over the control panel? He explained that it was the number of times he had actually listened to the song. He said he had to be sure that he had removed everything that was abrasive and replaced it with things he liked. Marty did a lot of overdubs harmony-wise. Dave played all the rhythms.
SR: There's some great double-guitar stuff on this album. What is that Beatles-sounding opening on "Use The Man?"
NM: It sounds like them because Mustaine is pretty influenced by them. "Needles & Pins" is a Searchers tune.
SR: Yes, yes. I couldn't figure it out.
NM: I don't know if you know or not. The original album title was going to be Needles & Pins. The cover was supposed to be a girl holding a Cupie doll with a bunch of pins in it...she's stabbing the doll with a syringe in the chest. That didn't fly. (laughter)
SR: I don't see how you could beat the artwork on Youthanasia. You guys have always been known for your great artwork choices.
NM: I know. After Youthanasia it's pointless for us to try and top that. We've probably regressed back to simplicity and we'll take it from here and start building up.
SR: What's the cover like this time?
NM: That's the cover you have on the advanced CD. It's the vava. Dave can give you more details on that.
SR: "I'll Get Even" is going to be the classic Megadeth tune from this album. Everyone can relate to those lyrics.
NM: Yeah, it's pretty cool. Everyone has someone they want to get even with. It's not about anyone in particular. It could be about a girlfriend, a manager, record company, MTV or anyone else. (laughing) We love MTV. They're going to play us this year. We just made a video for "Trust" last week. I have no idea what it's going to look like. We shot it in Los Angeles and for the first time we just stayed out of it.
NM: We didn't have any say so. We're in it but we didn't have any artistic input or influence on the director. We just told them to take their vision and run with it. In the past we've gotten so involved in stuff so much that it's almost hurt us. We think we know what's best for us, but we really don't know. We're musicians. We should just play our instruments and make the music that we like and let the powers that be take it from there. I don't want to make videos for the band and I've thought about. Forget it, I couldn't do it.
SR: Did Mustaine write all the lyrics?
NM: Pretty much. I never saw them. I wasn't even concerned. We've got so many lyrics and so many songs. Everybody writes in this band and we throw it all on the table.
SR: What did you write?
NM: I wrote some of the music on "Sin."
SR: I like "Sin." I belive in sin.
NM: I wrote parts on all of the songs. Dave will tell you himself. He'll say he couldn't have done it without the three of us.
SR: Is that true?
NM: Yes, most definitely. I've heard him say it recently in several interviews. It's true. We've come to a point now where it's not just Dave's band, it's my band too. I'll say it right in front of him.
SR: I'll say it again. Dave is singing on this album. Not so much screaming here. That was the big surprise for me on this album. My favorite Dave voice is the one on "Symphony of Destruction." That just may be my all-time favorite Megadeth song. I love it.
NM: It's pretty timeless.
SR: You guys have so many websites up from your fans. Are you a surfer?
NM: I am into it, but not the musical end of it. I'm involved in other things that aren't illegal but pretty out there. Some of the sites are crap.
SR: I love the anarchy of it all.
NM: Our fan club, The CyberArmy is up and it's growing. I don't go in there as myself much because then I spend too much time trying to convince them that I am really there. Then you get all these stupid questions like 'what kind of shampoo I use? and dumb stuff like that.'
SR: Did you run into any of those Accept guys? They were recording at the same time in Nashville.
NM: I saw Wolf Hoffmann. He came and did an interview with us. (Nick in his best German accent) He said 'you might have heard of my band. I used to play in a band called Accept.' I said 'Dude, you're the king.' I shook his hand and then ran off to get my CD out of my car so he could sign it. Accept is one of my favorite bands. They're huge.
SR: Yeah, I've always loved them too. They've made the last album, at least for now.
NM: Yes, I know. Udo is a bozo.
SR: Udo wants to be king maybe.
NM: Yeah, he's a little midget man cranking out those vocals. He's awesome. I love those guys.
SR: Wolf is working on a solo instrumental album.
NM: Wolf is a killer player. He rocked on our record. He came into the studio and we warped it up for him. He loved it. He said it was progressive and melodic.
SR: Any strange session stories?
NM: While I was there I spent all my time in this cave-like room. It was all slate and stone. I didn't come out until I finished. I was so mentally beat from playing at such volume for so many days. I didn't stick around.
SR: Will there ever be a more perfect set of drums than the ones you use now?
NM: I tell all drummers this story. They're all made out of wood. I could play on any drum kit and it's going to sound the same. These guys who think they have preferences about heads and sizes; it doesn't matter. I had five drum sets in the studio with 100 snares. I had all this crap and finally I just told them to figure out what they thought sounded the best. It all sounded the same to me and I'm pretty meticulous about my tones. We took two days just getting drum sounds. After beating on things for two days your ears are baked. Those guys are listening on little tiny speakers in the control room to where if you're whispering they say 'Hey, can you keep it down?'
SR: You're going to kick this album off on June 13 which is Megadeth Day in Arizona over the radio and website.
NM: Yeah, our first gig is Friday the 13th in a small club. A lovely day. I'm not going to say what club because I don't know. Then we head for Europe to do festivals with Bryan Adams and INXS.
SR: That's curious? Not a fit for me.
NM: Yeah, it'll be huge. (laughter) At this moment the Mustaine man shows up fresh from another phone interview.
SR: Sit right down young man.
DM: Sheila Rene' how are you?
SR: Dave, I came all the way from San Francisco to Austin. Who's one of the first people I meet, a longtime acquaintance of yours, Ursula Coyote. Pretty cool, huh? She's along to get some pics of us.
DM: I'll say so. I know her pretty well too.
SR: You're looking great, Dave.
DM: Thanks, I feel pretty good.
SR: Are you working out these days? You look pretty pumped up. You look beefier. I got some good stuff from this Nick guy and now it's your turn.
DM: It was a fun album to work on.
SR: The most fun ever?
DM: It's hard to look back at a record and say that anything could top the first experience in the studio. The first time is always the best and hard to compare anything to. I'm sure that at some point you just go on auto-pilot. There was an element of comfort in making the record that made it understandably much more fun than some previous ones.
SR: Youthanasia is the one I grab most often, still. "Symphony Of Destruction" is my all-time favorite song, still.
DM: We had a lot of fun doing that album, but there was a lot of personal stuff going on during that one as well as some management problems that showed up a lot in our behavior.
SR: Did Dann Huff pan out to be the producer you thought he'd be?
DM: There's a couple of things he didn't do. (laughter) That's a joke. Musically, he brought some stuff to the table that we haven't had from a producer. Huff is a pop producer and we're a metal band. He gave us an element that we've been trying to get. Having a metal producer try to give a metal band a pop edge doesn't work.
SR: You certainly have a pop edge on this one.
DM: We've always had that kind of musical capabilities.
SR: Dave, you're singing on this album. It's not so much screaming. I love it when you scream Dave.
SR: Did you enjoy your collaboration with Fear's Lee Ving on that MD-45 project?
DM: (clearing his throat) It was fun. It has to be something that's going to be cataclysmic if I'm going to get involved. There's still a couple of things I'd like to do in my career. This band is my priority. I've talked to Nick about this a lot and I've said something to Marty too. When we're doing side projects and solo records as well as guitar solos on tribute records for other people after a while you just become a Hollywood slut. If you play on anything and everything your marketability goes down. You end up cheating yourself. For me it's very rare to do something like that. I played on a Diamond Head record which was a big thing for me. We gave a song to a band which was a suggestion from our management. It was a song that Nick actually wrote a major portion of and I produced a band called Sanctuary a very long time ago and the MD-45 thing. Other than that I've been very self contained within this band. It shows. The loyalty to this band shows.
SR: Dave, "Almost Honest" gave me a laugh. Man, you can't be almost honest.
DM: Yeah, it's like you can't be kind of pregnant. (laughing)
SR: I love the industrial-type samples you use here.
DM: I didn't throw those in there. Those came during the mix. I don't even know where they came from. There's a lot of ear candy on this album, you're right. That's how it has always been on Megadeth records. Every time you listen you hear something new.
SR: I love the "Mastermind" cut.
DM: It's very anti-computer and I'm very computer literate. A lot of it has to do with the deprogramming of people who get in front of their computers and they turn in to imbeciles.
SR: You've definitely tipped your hat to computers with the title alone, "Cryptic Writings." What is this symbol?
DM: It's a voodoo symbol.
SR: Meaning peace, love and understanding?
DM: f**k, no.
SR: Excuse me, excuse me. (Everybody cracks up on this one).
DM: It means that you can enter into a premises that it's safe and there is no poison. It's a warning telling you where you can and can not go. It's also a direction. Most of the hobos were people who practiced voodoo. They would go from building to building whether it was a shanty or it was a shack. They would go in there and they'd find chalk writings on the wall that told them if it was a safe place. It was usually done with a burnt stick. It's called a veve (pronounced vay vay).
NM: I was wrong with my spelling.
SR: That's okay.
DM: I think it's a tilde or apostrophe over one of the e's that gives it that French flair. When I first got the artwork back it was littered with voodoo symbols and all kinds of stuff. I told them that it was too heavy. I didn't want anything on there that would give homage to pagan gods and shit like that. I want it to be about the music. As it is, that symbol right there, we don't really know exactly what the combination of everything is. We know pretty much what the breakdown of each symbol is but it's like crossing different kinds of medications. You take two separate medications and they have a different and combined effect. There might be something where those symbols counter another symbol and turn it into something else.
SR: What is your take on the Internet?
DM: It's not really any of my business you know. I don't really care. My whole thing is that the Internet is a medium of communication and it's also expediting piracy for bands. I found out that a lot of this new record is downloadable. People have sites where they're downloading songs. It's going to kill the music industry and that's sad. One thing you can't download on the Internet is a life touchable feelable concert so we may lose money when it comes down to selling records and stuff. How many people want to sit in front of a 17" screen and watch Dave headbang? There's something lost in the translation here. There's just something about being in a sweaty environment and some guy peeing on the back of your leg that makes a festival really vibe.
SR: After you're home from the European festivals when will you start in the U.S. I'm going to tune in for the live satellite broadcast on June 13 in Phoenix.
DM: After three weeks of European festivals we'll start in Las Vegas on July 22. There is a considerable amount of time that we're off so we've opted not to sit around needing room service, we'll do some small select clubs. Some of them are as small as 600 capacity. That wasn't a difficult decision for us to make because we've always confessed to being there for our fans. I can see that it might be hard for other people who think they're too big to do shit like that. It isn't out of context for us. We'd play at a gas station if we could.
SR: I need to know if you're truly happy, Dave?
DM: Happy with what?
SR: You life, your album, what you're doing?
DM: It's better than having a hot poker up my ass. (laughing)
SR: Dave, thanks for sharing.
DM: Life is okay, I guess. It's so overwhelming the amount of work I have to do right now. I don't see myself going to the nuthouse because of a lot of interviews but I've been on a promotional stretch for two months now and I'd like to go home.
SR: Dave, you guys have to check out and get to the radio station interview. Once again, you've come through with some more great music. Thanks for everything. I'll see ya on the road.
DM: Thank you, Sheila.
NM: Nice talking with ya! Thanks.