Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine says there's nothing unlucky about his band's new album, "Th1rt3en," arriving Nov. 1 on Roadrunner. "Thirteen is not a bad number," says Mustaine, who founded the iconic thrash metal band after being kicked out of Metallica in 1983. "The whole unlucky part came about with the Templar Knights. Friday the 13th is associated with them."
After 28 years, Megadeth's primary associations, on the other hand, are of genre-defining metal and big business. With worldwide sales of more than 30 million, according to the label, and a seat at the top of the headbanging pantheon alongside Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax as a key member of the scene's Big Four, Megadeth is a force. "Th1rt3en" is, fittingly, the band's 13th studio album and comes on the heels of the Big Four Tour, a series of epic concerts including a sold-out seven-hour show at New York's Yankee Stadium. The new album was recorded at the band's own Vic's Garage studio in California with original bassist Dave Ellefson (his first studio appearance with the band in a decade) and marks the first time the band has worked with producer Johnny K ( Disturbed, 3 Doors Down, Sevendust).
It's not an accident that the new album is titled "Th1rt3en," is it?
Thirteen is all over the place. Obviously it's the 13th record. Then a little less obvious, I was born on the 13th [of September in 1961]. I started playing when I was 13. Jesus and his disciples are 13. When I look at a dollar, there's 13 stars and 13 arrows and 13 leaves . . . Even going down to the insanity of a super-committee, which has six members on each side and then the president.
Did you have any particular vision or creative mission for the album?
Well, we had such a limited time to do this record. When we came home from touring, we had two months off and my manager [Mark Adelman] basically laid it out that it was in my best interests to consider doing a record in that two-month period, even though it was almost impossible. But what made it a little bit easier was [Roadrunner] was working with us on this. "Sudden Death" was a song we did for "Guitar Hero" that they allowed to be on the record. Then we got an offer to do [the title song for the videogame] "NeverDead." So we went from needing 13 to having to come up with 11 new songs, which took some pressure off even though we still had to do it in about seven weeks.
What impact did Johnny K have?
Andy Sneap wasn't available, and David Ellefson had recommended him. I didn't know if he was going to work. I like the bands he's produced, but they're not necessarily my genre, not thrash metal. So I didn't know if he was going to pull it off. But when we first started the record, he said, "I know we're under a time crunch. If you need my help with anything, just let me know." We ended up working together great, even on the songwriting. I came out with a really great friend in Johnny.
What did it mean to have Dave Ellefson back in the studio with you again?
That was fun, too. Dave's a really great player. We had our differences and all that stuff, and went our separate ways. I'm the last person on Earth who would've thought he'd be back in Megadeth, and I think Dave was the second-to-last person. When we got back together again, he was a much better bass player and a better man, too. He had done a lot of growth. When the opportunity came to play again, it was not as far-fetched as one would think.
This is your last album for Roadrunner, and you've been critical of the label in the past. But it sounds like it was better for you this time around.
We have had kind of an up and down time with Roadrunner, but right now everything is good. This album signified the era of, hopefully, a new regime. They were very helpful, and we helped things by putting down some firm boundaries and standing our ground and saying "we can't do that" when we had to. So I'm very excited, very optimistic about the future.
What has the Big Four experience meant to you?
It's been wonderful. It certainly makes me take a hard sideways look at what I missed out on because of the differences that we had in the past. When we were kids, we were like brothers together. We would share food. So I'm stoked we're all getting along again, and I think it's really good for the fans, too. It's a great time now, and I hope it keeps going.