He's still the leader of one of the hardest, most revered thrash-metal bands of all time, but Dave Mustaine has otherwise turned into quite a softie. That was pretty clear Monday as the Megadeth frontman avoided controversy and stuck to the positive in a phone interview from Connecticut. Not only was he performing that night with fellow thrash vets Slayer and Testament (a tour coming Saturday to Roy Wilkins Auditorium), but he also had just finished a book-signing gig (he's doing one here Saturday at Borders in Rosedale).
"Mustaine: a Heavy Metal Memoir" debuted at No. 15 on the New York Times bestseller list last week. In it, the 48-year-old native Californian discusses his much-ballyhooed firing from a pre-fame Metallica, his struggles with sobriety, his recovery from a nerve injury that threatened his guitar-playing abilities and his prodigal-son conversion to Christianity. Not discussed in the book are his recent reunion with Megadeth bassist/co-founder Dave Ellefson, nor the short tour that Mustaine & Co. recently pulled off in Europe with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax, aka the Big Four.
Q Any memories stand out from playing the Twin Cities so many times over the years?
A David Ellefson is from Jackson, Minn., so we've always had fun coming back there and playing. Usually when you go to a city that has family there, it feels a little bit like a homecoming, and I think the audience feels that, too.
Q You're on the charts again, but instead of Billboard it's the New York Times bestseller list. How does that compare?
A It's a totally different kind of satisfaction. My book, I had no intention of being on the list. Basically, I wanted it to be a story about my life and about personal victory and encouragement for people. It's just me sitting around the campfire telling my story, leaving something behind worth telling. It's pretty much the whole story, except a lot has happened in the past eight or nine months since the book was finished: Dave Ellefson coming back and the Big Four stuff. So much great stuff.
Q The book sets a different tone on your firing from Metallica. You didn't come off so hot in the movie "Some Kind of Monster." Nobody did, really. Was it your intention to set the record straight?
A No, no, no, that wasn't the intention. We're totally friends now, have been for years. There's no animosity. It's the press who keeps that feud going. People still look at it based on how it used to be, but we were kids back then. There's nothing there anymore.
Q But there's clearly still tension in the movie. Was that not a factor in writing the book?
A Basically, I just wanted to tell that story without hurting anybody and without saving my own skin at other people's expenses. I wanted to keep it, you know, really godly in the way I was handling myself. I think that's why this Big Four thing was able to happen. James [Hetfield] and I have talked about the past. I apologized to him for some stuff, and he apologized to me. We had a wonderful time on this Big Four adventure.
Q Rumor has it the Big Four might be a U.S. tour next year.
A Who'd you hear that from [laughs]? I'm not exactly sure. That's nothing that could be verified from my camp. If they come and ask us, I'm sure we'd agree to it.
Q Is there still a healthy rivalry between the Big Four or you, Slayer and Testament?
A I really don't want to talk about rivalries. There are so many more positive things to talk about.
Q OK, let's talk about this current tour. How hard was it to get it back on track after postponing the dates?
A Tom [Araya, of Slayer] had an injury that probably stemmed from playing, a neck injury. He had one procedure done and then another. He seems to be feeling good now. He's sounding good. It's been fun playing with those guys. I'm encouraged about our friendship redeveloping.
Q Who made the decision for you and Slayer to each play one whole album on this tour ["Rust in Peace" and "Seasons in the Abyss," respectively]?
A It was the 20th anniversary of both those records, so it was a pretty simple decision. It's been fun. A lot of the naysayers said we couldn't play like that anymore. I wrote that album, so why would I not be able to play it? It's not just like running a race. It's mental. It's dexterity. And it's finesse.
When my arm got injured, I had to learn how to play again, which was scary. That was the reason I broke Megadeth up. It wasn't because I didn't want to play. The doctors told me I was never going to play again. Luckily for me, they were wrong.
Q You also healed your relations with Dave Ellefson. How did that happen?
A When my arm got hurt, I did a lot of soul-searching. I wasn't happy with other things in my career. I had people working for me who wouldn't listen to me, so I [fired] all of them. It was very liberating, and the result was I thought of other people I've worked with.
There aren't a lot of things I regret doing to get where I am in my career, but I do wish I had a couple mulligans on the way I treated some people. One of them is [original drummer] Gar Samuelson, who I wish I had hung out with more before he died. Another is Dave Ellefson, who I'm back with now.
Q Your book openly addresses the role Christianity plays in your life now. Any worries of that ruining your reputation as a thrash-metal kingpin?
A Nope. I've been talking about God ever since the first record. There was "Looking Down the Cross" on that first record. The second record, the first line is, "What do you mean I don't believe in God? I talk to him every day." People just kind of [glossed] over that stuff and didn't think about it.
There's a danger when you're singing heavy-metal lyrics of not really knowing what you're singing about, like black magic. That stuff is totally for real. We have a song I just won't play anymore, "The Conjuring," because when I was a kid I got into that stuff and put a hex on somebody and thought it would be cool to write a song about it. I wish I hadn't.
With songs like that, people accuse me of being a hypocrite. Well, who needed a life-changing experience more than somebody like me? I definitely welcomed the change [to Christianity], and it has clearly improved me. I still have rough days. Being on the road is very difficult, but I still try to do good every day and feel really, really lucky to still be doing this.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658