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...
SW: 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?
MF: 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?
DE: 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).
Megadeth Part 2
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