Dave Mustaine: “I suck at a lot of things, like walking across a tightrope, but I definitely don’t suck at guitar!”

(Image credit: Santiago Bluguermann/LatinContent/Getty Images)

It’s the morning after the night before.

24 hours earlier, ahead of his performance at Chattanooga’s Tivoli Theatre as part of the 2019 Experience Hendrix tour, Dave Mustaine uploaded a video on his social channels informing fans that he would be using a wah-wah pedal live on stage for the first time in his career.

“I’ve been really apprehensive of using one for obvious reasons and people overusing them,” grinned the Megadeth leader.

If I went back in time to congratulate my 23 year-old self on 35 years of Megadeth, he probably would have said, ‘Who the f**k are you?!

It didn’t take much guesswork to figure out who he was referring to, though all things considered, the reasoning behind it all was perfectly valid and genuine.

Beyond its clichéd, even pedestrian, usage by certain other thrash rivals, the gooey and wet-sounding sweep of an envelope filter is a sound that simply hadn’t appealed to him personally.

At least until now...

“I’m going to give it a try; I don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” pondered Mustaine, talking to his 779k followers from the venue’s catering hall backstage. “But I’m really excited about it and if you’re a guitar player, I strongly encourage you to get outside of your comfort zone, too.”

Wise words indeed. MusicRadar catches up with the thrash mastermind in the aftermath to find out what, beyond delving through the Hendrix repertoire, made him decide to put his foot down - as well as get some reflections on Megadeth’s new anniversary-themed Warheads On Foreheads best-of.

“If I went back in time to congratulate my 23 year-old self on 35 years of Megadeth, he probably would have said, ‘Who the fuck are you?!’” laughs Mustaine while pondering the young NWOBHM obsessive at the very start of the journey.

All jokes aside, it’s easy to sense the significance behind the 35 tracks remastered for this year’s milestone, especially for a musician so dependably honest about his trials and tribulations on that often-treacherous road to triumph.

“Sure there have been times where I had my doubts,” he admits, recalling those moments where any sort of future anniversary for his band seemed like a stretch of the imagination.

“I’ve had times when the press found me out of favour. But that didn’t change my dedication to my fanbase. I can take a beating… I know they’re just words. When people say bad stuff about my playing, it’s a bit of joke to me. I suck at a lot of things, like walking across a tightrope, but I definitely don’t suck at guitar…”

Agreed! How did it go last night, Dave?

At first, my adrenaline was going at a zillion miles an hour and I was hoping my ankle would stay smooth, otherwise I might sound real Kirky jerky!

“I’m not too sure, haha! I think it came out okay. This is going to sound funny, but I don’t know if I’m more comfortable using my left foot or right foot! I’ve gotten really close to Zakk Wylde, I love that guy… he’s such an imposing figure but once you get to know him, he’s such a nice guy. We were joking around about using wah-wahs; some other people don’t use them properly or overuse it, so I wanted to make sure I hit the right spots and subtly.  

“I asked him which foot he preferred and he said [thick New Jersey accent], ‘Ah, Father Dave, it doesn’t fuckin’ matter!’ I tried to remember that during the show and apply that sense of ease to how I used the wah. At first, my adrenaline was going at a zillion miles an hour and I was hoping my ankle would stay smooth, otherwise I might sound real Kirky jerky!”

Which wah pedal did you end up using?

“I don’t actually know; some of the other guys helped take care of that. I haven’t ever told anyone this story yet - Dweezil Zappa said he’d like to help with my tone. I knew he was an amazing guitarist and we had some connection because I had befriended his sister back when we were on Rock & Roll Jeopardy!

“Dweezil started helping with my tone because, let’s face it, it’s light years away from what Hendrix sounded like. One day I had to stay at home and tend to some appointments, I couldn’t make soundcheck, so he ended up working on my rig and I was really grateful.

I found out Eric Johnson had been playing my guitar and helping with my tone, too. He came up to me one night, taking out his phone and showed me a picture of him playing my guitar

“Then I found out Eric Johnson had been playing my guitar and helping with my tone, too. He came up to me one night, taking out his phone and showed me a picture of him playing my guitar. I went, ‘Oh my God!’ I was really looking forward to meeting him and, honestly, this has been one of the greatest experiences for me ever - not only having this legend wanting to play my guitar but also helping it respond better live. They’re both gearheads and watched me play enough to know how I wanted to interpret these songs, in a more metal style.”

We’ve seen footage of some palm-muted chugs that definitely weren’t on those famous original recordings...

“I just added Purple Haze to the set. I haven’t really found a place for palm muting in that, but I’m keeping it as metal as I can, generally speaking! Being able to move around again during these songs has been so liberating. It reminded me of when I was in Metallica, those years where I didn’t have to sing and I just got to play. When I play in Megadeth, I stand up and play on my feet in front of the mic stand like a fuckin’ hammer!

“I tend to partition my brain. So as well as playing guitar, looking at people in the audience and keeping track of all the mistakes made during the show that I’d like to correct next time, I also had to add in the wah-wah. My guitar is my best friend. I want to be able to play it any way I can, in my style of course. For example, there are certain ways people use vibrato on violin, and I got really engrossed in learning how to play my guitar like that at points.”

Along with Dweezil Zappa, Eric Johnson and Zakk Wylde, you’re also sharing the stage with guitar hero Joe Satriani and Band Of Gypsys-era bassist Billy Cox. That’s quite a line-up!

“Can I be really frank with you? With all of our metal ilk and metal family, I try not to act like I’m better than anyone else. I’m really shy and I’ve got really bad vision, and I tend to get moved from one place really fast to the next. That doesn’t mean I think I’m better than anyone. I also don’t put any of our family above me, either. I want us all to be equal. But out here, I’ve been experiencing a lot of fanboy moments. Last night I was talking to Joe Satriani and told him how much I’d learned from him...”

And what exactly did you learn?

“Just being around him has made me relax. I’m a creature of habit and do the same thing every performance. I always think people want to hear the song; they don’t want to hear me improvise. So I was really tense when I first started this tour, then watching his interpretations and fluidity made me relax a lot more.

Watching Joe Satriani has really changed me. Other than Zakk, he’s the closest thing to metal out here

“Watching him has really changed me. Other than Zakk, he’s the closest thing to metal out here. And though Eric Johnson isn’t particularly metal, Cliffs Of Dover is one of the most beautiful guitar songs I’ve heard in my life. This is going to sound so lame, but when I took a ferry around those cliffs, I made sure to listen to that song… and I get it. I know why he called it that, and it’s such an amazing thing to see.”

Of course, there’s never been any shortage of guitar talent in Megadeth, either…

“I was just thinking that the other day. Of course, the fans all have their own favourite guitar players in the band besides me. Some are very vocal, some even spiteful in the things they say… quite often their favourite will be whoever was in the band when they got into Megadeth.  

“I wouldn’t ever deny anyone of that - if someone prefers Marty [Friedman], we did several albums together, that’s totally fine. I don’t need our fans to like every single thing I’ve done for me to respect them. You can like only one thing of mine and hate everything else; I’ll still be grateful for that.”

While choosing the 35 tracks for Warheads On Forehead, which did you feel was the most underrated gem in your back catalogue?

“I’d say Wanderlust is one of the best songs I’ve ever written. It’s such a stretch from what we were doing before, with its usage of different instrumentation. I was visualising something different in my mind’s eye and had this end result, which I feel we nailed. I wished it would have been one of those songs serviced to those bad boys of country like Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr - someone who had that metal vibe in country rock...

“There’s a real story behind guitar players being gunslingers, using a lot of metaphors from one of my favourite movies, Tombstone. In my age bracket, as an American boy growing up, if you didn’t see those movies or shows you can’t have been watching TV. They were situational stories based on cowboy families, The High Chaparral, The Lone Ranger, all the Roy Rogers stuff. I’ve seen every Clint Eastwood movie. John Wayne was also one of my favourites, that’s where I got a lot of bravado as a kid.”

Come to think of it, you’d make a pretty decent cowboy in a spaghetti western flick...

“You would see these cowboys fighting for what’s right, drinking whisky and getting on a horse to ride off into the sunset. If somebody challenges them, it’s like, ‘Draw, motherfucker!’ So yeah, I guess that’s kinda how I’ve lived my life, haha! Although, riding off into the sunset on a horse might not work...”

Why would you say that?

“I’d rather be in the back of the wagon. I can’t ride a horse for shit. I did my back in playing polo in Argentina - my wife wanted us to do it and I thought, ‘Happy wife, happy life’. So I got on this horse and of course I got hurt and ended up needing an X-ray. When the doctor asked what I had been doing I literally said, ‘I don’t know! We own horses, but I don’t ride them.’”

You’ve previously admitting you wouldn’t be able to play songs like Wake Up Dead without employing the ‘spider technique’. How did you first start playing powerchords with your middle finger and pinkie?

“It’s hard to say. I don’t know anyone else that really does it, besides Metallica, so I still don’t know if it was that groundbreaking, but it sure was fun to do. Basically, I found it too noisy jumping around on strings.

I know I’m not as technically good as any of my players - that’s why I hire great guitarists; they help clean up my sloppiness!

“There’s an extra intensity to my job - I have to be a frontman and sing as well as play rhythms. If my right hand is going fast, I don’t want my left hand to miss. I know I’m not as technically good as any of my players - that’s why I hire great guitarists; they help clean up my sloppiness!

“That spider thing came from not wanting to lift my hand off and holding a chord then slamming down other fingers, which can bring out this extra harmonic. Also, the string resonates to the last very second - it’s not like chord, lift, fret, pick - it felt like the cleanest and quickest way of doing it. I wish I could tell you where it came from other than just being lazy and not wanting to do things the hard way!”

Finally, how is Megadeth’s 16th record coming along?

“Whenever I’ve been home, I’ve been working on new music from 10 in the morning to seven at night. My co-producer Chris Rakestraw from the Dystopia team has been helping with pre-production on songs. I have about eight songs and there’s one which is just unanimously everyone’s favourite, which is great... I’m not saying there’s only one good song so far though, haha! Let’s just say whenever I have that first song everyone gets excited about, I know I’m on my way to another great record...

“We’re going to do 12 or 13 tracks this time. My contract says I’m only supposed to do eight songs a record and I just can’t do that - it feels like cheating. When I grew up listening to vinyl, it was a lot easier to buy a record and be happy with 45 minutes of music. When the digital world came, the paradigm changed - a musical offering needs a lot more. People aren’t satisfied and hit fast-forward a lot. So right now, we know we’re off to a good start; this new material is only going to get better and better…”

Warheads On Foreheads is out on 22 March via UMe Recordings, and available to preorder now.