**This is an interview I did in Oct or Nov of 2012 for the now-defunct Hails & Horns Magazine to promote the reissue of Countdown To Extinction. This is an interview I’m incredibly proud of because of how it turned out, and also because Megadeth are one of my favorite bands of all time. Not to mention the fact that Countdown is one of my favorite Megadeth records, so hearing those stories was an incredible treat.**
MEGADETH are one of the biggest thrash bands in the world. This is partly due to their unique style of attack, and partly because of Dave Mustaine’s incredibly creative riffs and lyrics. Another reason Megadeth stand out among their peers, is due to the incredible basslines of the band’s bassist and co-founder, Dave Ellefson. At the time of this interview, Dave had literally just gotten back from a long first leg of the tour that crossed 24 time zones, and the band are currently gearing up for the American leg of the tour. I wanted to find out more about the making of the album, as well as some details about the 20th anniversary tour and the remaster.
The 20th anniversary Deluxe Edition of Countdown To Extinction is out now on Capitol/EMI.
First off, does it make you feel old knowing that Countdown To Extinction is now 20 years old and almost old enough to buy booze?
You know, it doesn’t. The funny thing about rock n’ roll is that it keeps you young, and twenty years have flown by like we just recorded the album yesterday.
Well, first of all, the songs are the most important thing, and it’s one of those records where the songs on the album, in and of themselves sound timeless. The production quality of the original tracking, dubbing, mixing and mastering of the record, we wanted to try to preserve that, and not move that into some new dimension. But with a remaster, you can accentuate different parts of the sonic spectrum that will better enhance it, because the playback devices are so much more advanced today. You can actually hear the different nuance of sound now that you couldn’t hear because of the playback devices, so that was the goal, to just dig down into the deeper nuances of the recording.
The Cow Palace concert that comes with it sounds absolutely wonderful and has a killer set list. What made you want to use that particular show for the deluxe edition?
Well, there were different shows that we recorded back in the day. Some of these I completely forgot about, and when that came up about the Cow Palace…I remember the show; I remember doing a photo shoot, I remember looking at the empty arena, and I remember being on the stage playing and the arena was full. So there are details about it that I remember explicitly, but it’s funny, I completely forgot that we actually went out in the truck and recorded that night. To me, that’s kind of the fun thing, to go back into the vaults and discover these kind of hidden recordings so to speak, and the band was really on fire and firing on all eight cylinders at that particular time with that lineup. And of course, to have such a stellar performance that night captured on tape with that original lineup who recorded the album was a total godsend
Back in ’92 when Countdown came out, you had just put out the legendary Rust In Peace two years before. Tell me a little about the band’s mindset coming into the recording of Countdown. Did you feel you had anything to prove at that point?
Well, you know, with Rust In Peace, the history and the making of it, the writing of it and everything has been well documented. But, I think for us, a lot was changing in the world at that time. A lot changed in music, certainly a lot was changing in heavy metal. As we came off of the “Clash of the Titans” tour, we really had a sense that this was as big as thrash metal was ever gonna be, and we were right; really up until the 20th anniversary of Rust In Peace, where thrash was again at its pinnacle, and we could go back out and play to arenas full of people. So I think we just followed our hunches, and what our hunches were telling us was that Megadeth is a band that has such diverse musicianship and songwriting abilities, that we can expand on that and not ever lose our thrash roots or the things that make Megadeth who we are. We can expand on those things, and that’s really what Countdown To Extinction was. It was taking the blinders off; it was lifting any of the self-imposed or even genre-imposed limitations, and really just following our gut and going into the writing process of that record and not letting anything stand in our way. As a result, we came out with what I think is one of the best albums we ever recorded.
I definitely agree about that being one of the best records you did, and it seems that musically and lyrically, those songs still have a lot of relevance today. Particularly the lyrics to “Foreclosure Of A Dream”. Why is it, you think, that these songs have stood the test of time so well?
Well, when you write about people, you are writing about something that connects to everybody. When you write only about a particular era, or you write about a specific instance in your life, they can be great stories, but when you write about the thoughts and the feelings that surround those situations, all of a sudden you transcend the situation. I think one of the things that I’ve found over the years is that the world always changes but people never really do.
You know, it’s funny, we wrote the music for Countdown in two different sessions. The first session was the final part of the “Clash of the Titans” tour, and we came home and went into the studio and made demos of those songs so we had them on tape. And we took a one month break; this was in the fall of 1991, and then we went back into a rehearsal studio in North Hollywood, and that’s when we wrote the second half of the record. That produced songs like “Symphony Of Destruction”, “Sweating Bullets”, “This Was My Life” and…basically the next half of the tunes. It’s funny, we’d take a break and go outside with a basketball and shoot some hoops and walk back in, and Dave would pick his guitar up, and out fell the riff to sweating bullets; he called me one day about a month later, and we were working on the final lyrics for the songs, and he goes “hey, check this out”, and he read the lyrics from top to bottom and they were psychotically perfect. Because, as I heard him reading them, it sounded like the inside of a crazed lunatic’s mind, which is exactly what it’s supposed to be. Dave has always been a really good storyteller, and that’s also what makes him such a fascinating lyricist. He’s able to almost leave his body and go grab these stories and bring them back to people, and it’s a quality I’ve always admired in his songwriting from the very first lyrics I ever saw him write, which was a song called “Megadeth”, which eventually became the name of the band, and that song eventually became “Set The World Afire” from the So Far, So Good, So What record. So Dave, when he creates something, he’ll go through a period where he won’t write anything, and then it’ll just pour out of him, and “Sweating Bullets” was one of those songs.
That sounds like a pretty productive second half session.
Yeah, it really was. “Foreclosure Of A Dream” was written in the first session, but “Sweating Bullets” and “Symphony Of Destruction”, two of the big singles from the record, were written in the second half.
What’s your favorite memory from the recording of Countdown?
Probably for me, I would say seeing the final edits of “Symphony Of Destruction” come together. Because, when we originally wrote it we had 3 verses, a Marty solo, a Dave solo, and even a bass solo in it. It was this five and a half minute song, and it always had a great hook and a great chorus, but sometimes it’s what you leave out of a song that makes it great, just as much as what you put into it. In this case, it was the editing and taking pieces out of it that made it this timeless three minute hit, and I remember hearing the final edit of it, and it was just perfect. It was like seasoning something in the kitchen until it becomes this tasteful masterpiece.
If you went back in a time machine to the recording session, is there anything you would do differently?
No not at all. It’s interesting, it was such a point in time where each of us individually were creating such a uniqueness about our own skills, and we did that because we did that together as a band. It’s one thing to create yourself individually, it’s another to create yourself within a band. To me, that’s my favorite thing because I’ve always been a guy who’s been in bands since I first picked the bass up when I was 11 years old. I don’t think I would change anything about Countdown, because part of me will listen back and wish there was a little more bottom end on the bass, or maybe a little more toughness to the part, but I listen to it and it’s the knife cutting through that gives it the character. Sometimes you can go back and remix and remaster things always in an effort to improve it, but you’ll always benchmark it against the original, and while the new remaster is more suited to bring out the dynamics in today’s playback mechanisms, there was a chemistry about what went to tape during the original sessions that you can always go back to. It’s like digitally altering a photo, you know what I mean? Sometimes the old original dusty black and white captured something that, although you can go back in a photo lab and colorize it and digitize it and stick it up on Facebook, there’s something about the original that has an almost mystical quality about it. I think that as recording artists, we always move forward with our eye in the future wanting things to be the best, but you always preserve and leave alone those very things that you created from your past, because they tell the story exactly as the story happened.
What is your favorite song on the album, and are there any that you’re particularly excited to be playing live again?
I don’t have a favorite, because to me, that is one of those records that has a narrative all the way through it. Starting with the brashness of “Skin O’ My Teeth” going through “Symphony Of Destruction”, “Foreclosure Of A Dream”, “This Was My Life”, and finishing with the political bombast of “Ashes In Your Mouth”. So to me, it’s an all encapsulating record that has a narrative that runs through the entire body of work. As far as playing them live, it’s the same thing, when we hit the Countdown portion of the set, it’s like we shift into this whole other mode. It’s a performance within a performance to play that record live. A couple of the ones I’ve been really excited about playing are ones that we’ve never played before; songs like “Architecture Of Aggression” and “Captive Honor”, but then also playing songs that we haven’t played for many, many years like “This Was My Life”, which to me always had a fantastic groove, and a uniqueness about it as well.
Speaking of playing these songs live, how much longer are you planning on doing the Countdown To Extinction tour, like are these US dates in November the last dates of the tour?
Yeah, this will be the end of it, unless some remarkable opportunity arises early next year. But, our plan was to do these dates through the end of the year. We’re starting to work on a new record right now, which will obviously move in to kind of a full on mission for the next few months once the tour ends.
What’s it been like playing those songs live with Chris and Shawn? They killed it on the Rust In Peace tour, how has it been doing Countdown with them?
It’s great, ya know. Shawn, as a drummer has such a remarkable, laid back, behind the beat feel to how he plays, and that makes all of these songs so fun to play live. Because a big part of the Countdown recording was…that was when we really started to produce our records moving a lot of the riffs behind the beat, and that’s what made them feel so big, fat, and heavy. So Shawn really helps us execute that live. And, of course, Chris Broderick is so capable of playing anything that you put in front of him, that, for him to go in and play the parts on the Countdown record, he just executes them to 100% perfection.
Megadeth’s 30th anniversary is next year. Other than the new album, do you have any special plans lined up for it so far?
You know, we don’t have anything planned as of yet, but we have discussed it. It’s come up. I mean, the founding of the band in June 1983 is a big deal, and again, I don’t feel like I’m thirty years older. That’s the beauty of rock n’ roll though, because as fast of a lifestyle as it is, there’s something about rock n’ roll that keeps you young.