Controversy seems to follow Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine wherever he goes. Though the band's latest album, the hard-hitting Super Collider, is sitting atop the charts, critics have taken aim. One reviewer said it was "mired in mid-tempo drudgery." Mustaine, for his part, doesn't take the criticism to heart. He continues to be an icon in the heavy metal world. He recently phoned in from his Northern California home to discuss the eighth installment of Gigantour, the festival he founded in 2005. Much to his publicist's chagrin, he also discussed the controversy that continues to follow him.
Talk about Gigantour. What was the original concept for the tour and how has that changed?
The very first time we did Gigantour, the impetus for the festival was the injury to my arm. I couldn't play anymore. I thought it would be cool while I was healing to put together a festival and take out a bunch of guitar player bands. It was scary; you go from a virtuoso to a guy with one operating hand and another one in a cast for 17 months. The first time was in 2005, and we went out with Dream Theatre and Symphony X and a bunch of other bands. Some years, it was cool modern bands. Some years, it had older, more established bands. This year, it's the most aggressive of any of the line-ups.
Do you think that says something about the way the music scene has shifted?
No. Not so much the way music shifted. These guys have been around for a while. It's just the way the planets line up this year. These bands are five or 10 years old. Eight years ago when Gigantour started, they weren't available. [Black Label Society guitarist] Zakk [Wylde] was still with Ozzy. With [Newsted singer-bassist] Jason [Newsted], I don't think he was ready to do something like this. He was still experimenting with Voivoid. It's a matter of all the planets aligning.
Has it been difficult to sustain?
I think the hardest thing about all of this is the ego of the concert promoter and arranger. If the guy making the concert is hung up on the size of the venues and if you aren't willing to move the goalposts, you're going to lose money and people are going to say, "Stay away from that." With Gigantour, it's not about me and it's not about Megadeth. It's not about making money. It's about taking bands to the streets. Heavy metal has a much different relationship with its fans. We care. Believe it or not, it's a lot like NASCAR and the country music scene. Unlike pop music, which is all about "I'm so bitchin' and you're not," we're all cut from the same cloth. We're all salt of the earth.
Talk about what was it like re-relearning to play guitar?
It happened twice. The first time was in 2002. I was sitting in a chair wrong and my arm fell asleep. The second time, I was going to a chiropractor and the guy had just gone through a divorce and he cracked my back and he hurt me. I told him, "You hurt me." He told me to take ibuprofen. I didn't pursue it but then two fingers on my hand went numb when I was on the Mayhem Festival. I had to finish the tour playing with two fingers. Anyone who knows Megadeth's music, knows you can't do that. I went in for emergency surgery and they found a bone spur the size of a rose thorn in my spinal chord. They took it out and I'm all better. I gotta tell you that living with pain [was tough]. That's what the song "Kingmaker" is all about.
Did you have a newfound appreciation for being able to play?
It's like surviving a shipwreck. You look out at the sea and you have a newfound respect for it. I don't think I've ever taken my playing ability for granted. I don't think it's something I did because I'm self taught. Like I say in the song "When," I've been through stuff most people would die just watching. Having my career taken from me twice gave me time to pause and really focus on why I'm doing this. Is it about me? Is it about making money? Is it about what I'm saying in the song? Am I doing something wrong? It gave me a lot of time for introspection.
I was surprised to read so many negative reviews of Super Collider.
I don't know what you're talking about because it's the No. 6 record and those guys are probably sheep. There are a lot of pond scum out there who follow me wherever I go, and they just say stuff because they don't like me and they don't like what I stand for. I love our country and I'm a pretty conservative guy but I'm not a Republican. I didn't endorse [Rick] Santorum and I didn't endorse Mitt Romney. Nobody knows who the hell I voted for. That shouldn't matter. That's like, "Do you like cheese on your hamburger or not?" Who gives a crap? I don't care. For people to target me and take everything I say and turn it into some conundrum and some topic for discussion. It's like, "C'mon. Do you think I take myself that seriously?" I've had a lot of my friends come up and say, "Do you know what this site says? They sure have it out for you." I laugh because I know I own those bitches because they can't go a day without talking about me. If I don't own you, stop talking about me. The most important thing is that I know who my enemies are. I try to be kind to them. That makes me feel better and it pisses them off.
Do you think you ever deserved the controversy that has followed you for your entire career?
Can you imagine saying that to Johnny Rotten? If we were going to ask Johnny, "Do you care about what you say? You sang, 'God save the queen/she ain't no human being.'" Dude. Metal is punk rock with long hair. Look at the lyrics. There's a band called Havoc out there. Their lyrics could have been my lyrics when I was in my twenties. There are bands all over the industry that say the same exact things I used to say. But I'm Dave Mustaine and I used to be in Metallica and Metallica followers want to carry a grudge. But [the bands] don't even have a problem any more. People are still carrying that cross. They need to give it a rest and not pick on me for something that's 30 years old.
Isn't it frustrating?
That's okay. One of my favorite movies is Scarface and one of my favorite lines is "I can take bullets." Half of these cats wouldn't even say this stuff to my face. They'd be stupid to. You never know if you're going to catch me in the wrong mood. I've been known to act violently when I'm in the wrong headspace. But it's like you have to ask why the attacks are personal. I don't care. I'm not a victim. I'm totally comfortable with myself.
Megadeth was essentially a forerunner in the thrash metal scene. Do you think there will ever be another spark like the one that existed in the early '80s?
Nope. With digital audio works stations and everyone having recording studios in their laptops, everybody is a musician. When MySpace came out, there were 8 million bands on it five or six years ago. You don't have enough lifetimes to listen to 8 million bands. The thing with thrash metal and speed metal was that we capitalized on teenage angst because we all lived it. We were all street kids. A lot of these new bands, their dads are doctors and lawyers. What do they know about living in a van? Nothing. What do they know about panhandling for food? Nothing. So how do they identify with the guys who have to work everyday and have two jobs? They don't. These kids are doctors' kids. What do they know? Being homeless really made me grateful. My mom was a maid and I grew up in the California welfare system with food stamps. I hated being a poor kid. But would I mind going back there? No. I can still eat Top Ramen and macaroni and cheese.