May 11th, 2012 | Published in Interviews
By Pete Roche
It’s only been two years since Dave Mustaine issued Endgame, but the Megadeth cofounder was eager to return to his private studio in San Marcos after a series of historic shows with heavy metal’s “Big 4” (a bill shared with Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax), and the publication of his memoirs (which we reviewed here http://www.theclevelandsound.com/?p=8714). The former Metallica guitarist shows no signs of slowing down, even into his 50s.
Megadeth’s 2012 summer tour includes a May 20th stop in Columbus, Ohio, for this year’s Rock on the Range, where they’ll top an all-star lineup with Anthrax, Mastodon, Marilyn Manson, and Rob Zombie on the last night of the weekend-long festival. Slash, Incubus, and Shinedown play May 19th. The festival—held annually at Crew Stadium since 2007—is a multi-stage metal blowout that attracts over 50,000 fans each year. 2012 sponsors include FYE, Jagermeister, and Monster Energy Drink.
Megadeth’s thirteenth studio effort, the aptly-named Th1rt3en, marks the return of prodigal bassist Dave “Junior” Ellefson, who appears on record with Mustaine for the first time in nearly a decade. That’s a good omen, despite the album title—which owes more to Mustaine’s birth date and age at which he picked up the guitar than anything else.
Mustaine’s also had ample time to break in new guitarist Chris Broderick (ex-Jag Panzer, Nevermore), who joined Megadeth in time for Endgame. It’s a match made in heaven—or hell, as the case may be. Broderick is easily Mustaine’s best co-shredder since Marty Friedman, and Th1rt3en is all about staccato riffs and wicked fast licks. One need listen no further than instrumental opener “Sudden Death” for a sample of their dynamic, tag-team virtuosity, whose exotic scalar foundations recall the more spine-tingling moments from Rust in Peace. Returning for a third go-round as Megadeth’s resident timekeeper, Shawn Drover lurches, surges, and throttles behind the kit.
Where “Sudden Death” celebrates the glistening, musical “murder machine” that is Megadeth, lead-off single “Public Enemy No. 1” taps the mythos of Al Capone while trading on the bandleader’s own longstanding (but recently retooled) bad boy image in the press: I’m invincible…you might say despicable. I’m unbeatable…my mind untreatable.
A video for new single “Whose Life Is It Anways?” was posted on www.megadeth.com last week. The song is a rugged-rhythm condemnation of cliques and conformity; a serrated smack-down on those who prejudge others based on superficial criteria. “Have you looked in the mirror?” Mustaine asks.
“We the People” is ready made for these topsy-turvy days of economic upheaval and Occupy-oriented protest. A male radio announcer recites the preamble to the Declaration of Independence as droning guitars swell up against “big bureaucracy,” wherein the “devil’s henchmen wear suits and ties.” String trills and pull-offs anoint Mustaine’s charge against crooked politicians and their stranglehold on civil liberties as drummer Drover batters his kick-bass pedal. “New World Order” and “Millennium of the Blind” further examine themes of governmental greed, dystopian disorder, and life in a land where apathy is encouraged and everyone goes “down with the ship.”
“Guns, Drugs & Money” finds our narrator drinking “cold cerveza in a boiling hot saloon” just prior to a Mexican standoff. It’s a story ripped from the pages of No Country for Old Men, where any gringo with a briefcase of money will invariably wind up in a world of hurt. Only now the Ennio Morricone-inspired soundtrack packs a heavy metal crunch.
Drover’s military snare drum ushers in the chuck-a-chuck rhythm of “Never Dead” (a song penned originally for a PS3 videogame by Konami), but the tempo quickly swirls into a buzzing blitzkrieg where pick-slides carve a “crooked path” to the “evil in the dark.” Mustaine and Broderick juxtapose artificial harmonics and bluesy bends on the equally heavy “Fast Lane,” a supersonic ode to rapid transport. Predating the Academy Award-winning Natalie Portman film by several years, “Black Swan” has Mustaine dodging churchyard shadows in search of opportunity and redemption. “Wrecker” depicts the toxic behavior of femme fatale who poisons would-be paramours with a venomous demeanor. It’s another fine example of Mustaine and Broderick blending blues riffs with neoclassical figures for maximum effect.
Th1rt3en harkens to Megadeth’s glory days (Peace Sells, Rust in Peace) on many levels, but the disc—produced by Johnny K (Sevendust, Mushroomhead, Staind)—also boasts a modern-rock sheen. So old-schoolers will be delighted and newcomers will discover what they’ve been missing. The guitar riffs, bass pulse, and karate drumming on Th1rt3en are as ferocious as anything previously put to tape by Mustaine and his Mega-minions—and are sure to come off great in a live context.
The Cleveland Sound spoke with Shawn Drover—who just turned 46—by phone last week to talk about his time with the legendary band. The percussionist was chilling at a downtown Richmond hotel hours before yet another marathon Megadeth performance.
THE CLEVELAND SOUND: First off, happy belated birthday! You celebrated the day in Birmingham on Cinco de Mayo, huh?
SHAWN DROVER: Yeah, thanks! I turned twenty-three [laughs]. So thanks!
TCS: You’re just starting the U.S. Tour—but it seems like you guys have been on the road forever. Megadeth’s always busy, huh?
DROVER: We’re in support of this album since the end of last year, but yeah, this current U.S. tour we’re doing now is in the second week. We have a day off tomorrow, then we start the tour with Rob Zombie on Thursday. Gonna be great!
TCS: You’re no stranger to festivals, having played the Big 4 and a bunch of European package gigs. Rock on the Range will team Megadeth up with some other big names in metal, like Manson, Anthrax, and Mastodon. What’s your favorite part about playing fests?
DROVER: Just seeing all these cool bands, you know? I saw Marilyn Manson once, and that was years ago at Ozzfest. So I haven’t seen that band in a while. I’ll definitely be checking that out. Just the whole vibe of festivals is cool, and it’s always different, depending on what country you go to. We do a lot of festivals in Europe, as I’m sure you’re aware. But now we’re starting to see more and more festivals kick up in America, which I think ultimately is a great thing. We’re playing more festivals on this U.S. run right now than probably we’ve ever done in America. We’ve done two or three of them now. We’re doing your festival [Rock on the Range], and Rocklahoma as well, and I believe a couple other ones. It’s a good thing for America to have this rock metal festivals, so I’m glad to be a part of it.
TCS: What was it like playing those Big 4 shows with Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer?
DROVER: Oh, it was great. Finally, after so many years, the Big 4 of thrash finally played several shows together. And topping it off was that last one we did, at Yankee Stadium. So what a great way to end a series of shows with the Big 4 than by ending up at a significant venue. It was a real special thing for me, playing Yankee Stadium. But all the shows were important. That first show we did with them—the Big 4—was in Warsaw, Poland. They were all great shows.
TCS: Apart from being a very bright feather in one’s cap, that’s a huge gig for a metal musician.
DROVER: Of course. What a great thing to have on your resume.
TCS: You’ve been with Megadeth almost eight years now, having joined with your brother in 2005. I understand you were integral in finding your brother’s replacement, Chris Broderick, when Glen decided to step away.
DROVER: Eight years, yep. Myself and Glen, yeah. He’d informed me he was going to leave, and he did it in proper fashion. And I said we’ve got to have suggestions for a replacement. We had a real short list of people who could actually pull the gig off. It’s a real demanding gig for any musician to play in this band. So within twenty-four hours of Glen leaving, management was on the phone with Chris. We had a significant break there, I think nine or ten weeks, so he could kind of get familiar with the tunes—and familiar with us. So it worked out well.
TCS: And in 2010 original bassist Dave Ellefson returned to the fold. That must have felt really cool playing with Megadeth’s two founding fathers, reunited.
DROVER: I was responsible for that, too, yeah. It’s great. Every record I’ve done with the band has had a different cast member, so all the experiences were different—but they were all equally great, you know? I enjoy being in the studio, being creative. For me it’s always fun, and this was no different. Having David back in the lineup, we had a real positive vibe doing Thirteen, and I think the results speak for themselves. I believe it’s a really strong record, so I’m glad about it.
TCS: One of Megadeth’s last tours included full performances of Rust in Peace, to celebrate that album’s twentieth anniversary. I’ve read that the energy from those shows rolled into sessions for your new album. So it’s kind of a full-circle thing.
DROVER: I don’t know if that’s 100% accurate. My opinion is, we just kind of went in the studio like we always do, to try and write the best music we can and perform the songs to the best of our capabilities. We didn’t really take any one record and say, “Let’s try to feed off the vibe of that.” That’s not how it went down from my perspective. We were writing music on the road…maybe we were subconsciously inspired by the Rust in Peace tour. I don’t know. But I didn’t really feel much of a different from doing this record and United Abominations or Endgame. Like I said, we just wrote the best we could, performed as best we could, to make the best record we could. That approach wasn’t altered too much.
TCS: And now the set lists have returned to a “Best Of” format, with you guys playing a slice of new material with a hefting helping of Megadeth classics.
DROVER: That’s pretty much what it is. You have to cater to the masses. They want to hear the songs they know. But what’s equally important, from our perspective, is that you have to represent the new record. Depending on the time slot, we’ll always play two or three cuts from the new record. That leaves a real small window of space where you can kind of juggle some tunes in and out of the set. Which is actually quite difficult to do and still make everybody happy. But every day we refine the set list to make it the best show we can.
TCS: So fans can expect new things like “Sudden Death” alongside old cuts like “Wake Up Dead,” “Hangar 18,” “Holy Wars,” and such?
DROVER: “Wake Up Dead” is kind of a classic that we almost always play. Sometimes we drop it—but it’s not often that we won’t play that song. It’s one of those tunes that is pretty much a live staple for Megadeth at this point. A lot of people really love that song. I certainly consider it one of the classics. So 95% of the time, yeah, that song is in the set.
TCS: As a drummer, are there Megadeth songs that you like playing live the most, or that pose technical challenges you’ve got to really work at?
DROVER: “Wake Up Dead” is certainly one of my favorite tunes. It’s one of the most fun to play. “Holy Wars.” I have a lot of fun playing “Symphony of Destruction,” believe it or not. A musician might think, “Oh, that’s quite a simplistic song.” But I get as much a joy out of playing something that’s just real four-on-the-floor, and just keep a great groove to it, as much as all that technical stuff. For me all the flashy stuff has it’s place, but I wouldn’t want to do that all night long. I think we have a nice balance of songs that are more complex and songs that are straightforward. We’re one of those bands that can kind of get away with it. So it’s fun to be a part of that.
TCS: You’re an open-handed drummer, meaning you’re a southpaw drummer. Does that pose any difficulties for you?
DROVER: No. I’m just a left-handed guy playing a right-handed drum set. The only difference is that my ride cymbal is on the left side instead of right. There’s really nothing different about it. Any right-handed drummer could come up and play my kit. They would just switch the position of the ride cymbal. But it’s pretty much the same.
TCS: You also play guitar, like your brother Glen. Are you a lefty guitarist, too?
DROVER: No, I learned guitar right-handed, because both my brothers and my father were right-handed. So you just kind of picked up the guitar that was there. For me to be left-handed and have to get another guitar…in the beginning that was just more of a fun thing. When I actually started learning right-handed, that’s when you start to learn the riffs and all that kind of stuff. I just adapted. Same as golf or baseball. You just learn. I got my golf clubs from my father and my brothers, so they were right-handed clubs. I could easily have learned left, but I figured in the long run it might be easier to go right-handed.
TCS: You’re Canadian—and a big Rush fan. Was [Rush drummer] Neil Peart a big influence on you as a youngster?
DROVER: Oh yeah—and not just Neil. Rush is the reason I became a musician. I clearly remember when my brother came home with a record called All the World’s a Stage, which was the first live record—from the 2112 tour. I was like, “Jesus! Who is this? Who are these guys?” I became mesmerized by the quality of their musicianship. I just didn’t think a human being could play drums like that back then. When you’re ten years old…I’d just never heard anything like that up to that point. So that’s when we both started wanting to pursue that. Plus, my father and older brother were players as well. So it kind of filtered from there. But Rush was the main catalyst for me wanting to be a drummer, absolutely.
TCS: And, like Megadeth and a few other bands, Rush are still around. Still touring and recording new material. Always changing and moving forward.
DROVER: Yeah, they’ve got a new record coming out, and they’re as viable today as they ever were, if not more so. Still selling out ampitheaters across America and Canada. It’s one of those bands that have stood the test of time, and you’ve got to respect that. It’s something I’ve admired for years; they did it their way, and not many bands can say that.
TCS: It really says something about a band, when a group of musicians has stayed together that long and done their thing, enduring trends. Megadeth is coming up on thirty years….
DROVER: And we’re really humbled by that. To be in this position twenty-eight years into Megadeth’s career, it’s just a testament to how great a fan base we have. And we continue to grow, getting new—and younger—fans all the time. So that’s a really cool thing.
Megadeth plays Rock on the Range at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, on May 20th. Day passes ($59.50) are still available at the website below.