STEVE DIGIORGIO Says DAVE MUSTAINE Was 'Awesome' To Work With On MEGADETH's 'The Sick, The Dying... And The Dead!' Album
April 10, 2023
During an appearance on the "Into The Combine" podcast, veteran metal bassist Steve DiGiorgio spoke about his work on MEGADETH's latest album, "The Sick, The Dying... And The Dead!"
The longtime TESTAMENT bassist temporarily stepped in to record the bass tracks on MEGADETH's follow-up to 2016's "Dystopia" in the summer of 2021, shortly after the exit of David Ellefson. With the kick-off of MEGADETH's tour a couple of months later, MEGADETH alumnus James LoMenzo rejoined the MEGADETH family as permanent bass player.
Regarding how he approached his playing on "The Sick, The Dying... And The Dead!", Steve said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Riff-wise, you know the riff style, so it wasn't an over-the-top, brutal, technical death metal band that doesn't ever repeat any line. The riff information was in my wheelhouse, obviously, but what I realized is… From my background and my road that took me there, I wasn't equipped all the way to be in an arena that big. The pressure was huge. And maybe a lot of that was self-imposed, but that kept me on my best behavior. And I put my nose to the grindstone, and I wanted to leave a good mark. I wanted Dave [Mustaine, MEGADETH leader] to be proud of his decision. He picked me, and he told me on the phone he didn't really have a list [of other bass players that he could reach out to]. He's, like, 'If you can't, I don't have the two and three written down.' He goes, 'I've gotta kind of start over.' And so I when I got off the phone, [I went], 'Holy shit. That's huge. I'm it.' So I tried to stop saying 'Why me?' and say, 'Okay. It's me. Let's go. Let's do this the right way.'"
Steve continued: "It was brutal. But the cool thing was [Dave] treated me awesomely. He gave me absolutely all the room to learn the stuff. I can't say I didn't hear the songs before I got [to the studio], because he did send me a folder and I could listen to the songs. Even just asking me to do it, they were already at that point, so it wasn't, like, 'Yeah, four months later we'll…' No. It was, like, 'As soon as you say 'Yeah', get here.' So I didn't have any time to sit down and work out anything. And I didn't really want to anyway. I mean, it's MEGADETH, so you weren't gonna get [DEATH's] 'Individual Thought Patterns' [-style playing] on that album. I'm not that naïve. I'm, like, 'I'm going in to do MEGADETH. I know more or less what he wants. He wants MEGADETH bass.' But he did choose me. So I'm, like, 'Let's see what he wants. So let me just go into this completely unprepared and see what he wants.' And he was fucking great.
"A lot of people — and I've heard it, and you probably have heard it; Dave [Mustaine] stories are out there and everything," DiGiorgio added. "My experience, I can't validate any of that, because I was in the studio for, like, 13 days and gone. And for every single day I was there, he was an awesome human being. We got along great. We played great. He pushed me and he pulled me, but when it was done, he let me know it was done. It was a big high five and a hug, and we had a celebratory meal. I wanted to cook for him, but when you're there doing bass, it's, like, you've gotta do bass. So one night I managed to… they were working on something else and I cooked something, so we had a nice DiGiorgio feast.
"But it went very well," Steve reiterated. "[Dave] was very generous, very gracious. He gave me space to do stuff. And I told him flat out: 'Look, I want to use a pick. I know I need to use a pick.' I said, 'But I'm not super proficient with it. It's not my strong point.' I'm not a predominantly pick player. I break one out on a TESTAMENT song here and there. It's more like a novelty. Well… there's a sonic benefit to it. There's a [TESTAMENT] song called 'Electric Crown'; it's just got this steady rock kind of thing. I [use a] pick on that one, and there's a couple of others here and there. So one percent of the time I use a pick. I use a pick for one song for just the effect of it, but very little. And I told [Dave] that. I said, 'Hopefully we don't have this big hole in the road or whatever.' And he said, 'However it comes out of you, that's what we need.' And so I did a little mixture. A lot of the speed stuff, I could get that thing going and then nail it down, and that was the majority of it… And he didn't stare at me or nothing, so sometimes I'd put the pick down and I'd play it, and I'd see that nod, like, 'Okay, that sounds good.' So there's a few parts on there where I got to do my thing like that. But that's how he was, like, 'Whatever works for you.' And so that whole, 'Was he a tyrant in the studio? Did he force you…? Did he make you…?' No, he was fucking great to work with. So it turned out to be cool. It was a fucking amazing experience. I had to pinch myself when I drove away from that studio, like, 'Holy crap. I did it. I made it out alive.' But that was self-imposed. I don't mean 'I made it out alive…' They made sure I stayed alive. They took great care of me. The management team, Dave, his engineer Chris and his assistant Brian there, everyone was awesome. And I've got nothing but good [things] to say about that session. It was, like I said, two weeks — in and out. But it went great."
When Mustaine first confirmed that DiGiorgio laid down the bass tracks on "The Sick, The Dying... And The Dead!" in March 2022, he told SiriusXM Liquid Metal: "We obviously had that weird little… Well, it wasn't little, but we had something happen that we needed to make a decision on, and it kind of set us back a little bit timing-wise, because we needed to recalibrate and find someone to perform the bass parts. And we found someone that I thought was the perfect fit for us while I was trying to decide what to do."
He continued: "It was a good choice. I didn't think about anybody else at the time. I was thinking about 'who's the hottest guy out there that can play these new songs?' Because [Mustaine's son] Justis told me one of the fastest songs we've ever written is on this record. And I don't care what anybody says — bass may be less strings than a guitar, but it's difficult to play. If you're like me, I have a real hard time playing the bass. I can play it, and I wrote the riff for 'Peace Sells… But Who's Buying?', for Pete's sake, but, you know, having to jam some of those parts that fast, it just kills your fingers.
"It took a little bit of some getting to know each other," Mustaine added. "We hung out and had some meals. And he and Dirk [Verbeuren, MEGADETH drummer] and Kiko [Loureiro, MEGADETH guitarist] and [engineer] Chris Rakestraw got along really well. We had talked about what he was doing with TESTAMENT and stuff like that, and we just all kind of realized that it was perfect the way that it was, and now's time for me to find someone who's gonna join MEGADETH, and I'm not gonna hurt another band in the process."
There has been speculation about DiGiorgio's involvement in the new MEGADETH LP since July 2021, based on a Cameo video Mustaine recorded in which he offered the first glimpse of the bassist that re-recorded David Ellefson's bass tracks on the much-anticipated MEGADETH effort. In the clip, the MEGADETH guitarist/vocalist could be seen walking around a studio where he showed Rakestraw sitting behind the studio console as well as the mystery bassist "hiding behind the chair on the floor." Although it was impossible to tell who the bassist was based on the video, the musician appeared to be using the same brand of Ibanez bass played by DiGiorgio.
DiGiorgio is widely renowned as a pioneer on the fretless bass in heavy metal music, having played with TESTAMENT, DEATH and SADUS, among others. Within his genre, Steve is respected for his playing skills, versatility and incredible technique. He has more than 40 studio album recordings and over 20 years of touring the world.
Ellefson laid down his bass tracks on MEGADETH's sixteenth LP in May 2020 at a studio in Nashville, Tennessee. A short time later, he raved about his performance on the record, telling the 96.7 KCAL-FM radio program "Wired In The Empire" that his musical chemistry with Verbeuren was comparable to the interplay between Geddy Lee and Neil Peart on classic RUSH albums. "I feel like on the new MEGADETH record, me and Dirk have those same moments," he said. "It's MEGADETH — it's not RUSH, obviously — but in the field of what we do, there were these moments that I was just going, 'Oh, my God.' This is me as a kid going, 'This is my Geddy/Neil moment right here.'"
In June 2021, Mustaine announced during an episode of his Gimme Radio program "The Dave Mustaine Show" that Ellefson's bass tracks would not be used on the new MEGADETH LP.
Ellefson was in MEGADETH from the band's inception in 1983 to 2002, and again from 2010 until his latest departure.
Last September, TESTAMENT's Chuck Billy said that he didn't think DiGiorgio "would have lasted" very long as a member of MEGADETH had he been asked to join the band. Billy discussed DiGiorgio's involvement with the new MEGADETH album during an appearance on SiriusXM's "Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk". Asked if he was concerned that TESTAMENT might lose its bass player to MEGADETH, Chuck said: "Well, of course. We're definitely always concerned that… We've had so many lineup changes, it wouldn't faze us. But Steve's an important part of the band; he was a great addition when he came back. And we went through a lot together personally. So, of course, when you get the opportunity to play on it, and I'm sure they were courting him to join the band. I'm glad he made the decision to stay with us."
Billy continued: "I think his intentions always were just, 'I'll go record the record,' 'cause that's what Steve does — he plays on a lot of people's albums. So we kind of took it as that at first. And I thought, 'That's what he does.' 'Go for it, Steve. Just don't leave.' [Laughs] And I'm sure they asked him to join the band. And he decided, 'You know, I've been with my bros here for a long time. I'm gonna stick with my bros.'"
According to Chuck, Verbeuren "had a lot of influence getting Steve" the MEGADETH recording gig because Dirk is "really good friends with Steve and they've done a lot of projects together." However, Billy added that he doesn't "personally think Steve would have lasted in the band. I know Steve very well, and I know Dave [Mustaine, MEGADETH leader] very well, and I'm sure the two worlds would have collided," Chuck said with a laugh.
In August 2022, Mustaine discussed his decision to hire DiGiorgio to lay down the bass tracks on "The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!" during an appearance on Full Metal Jackie's nationally syndicated radio show. Asked what he appreciates most about DiGiorgio and LoMenzo musically and as people, Mustaine said: "I think that both of them are really fun people to be around. Although I didn't know Steve DiGiorgio as much as I know James LoMenzo, I found him to be just as enjoyable to be around as James was."
Referencing the fact that Ellefson was fired from the band in May 2021, just days after sexually tinged messages and explicit video footage involving the bassist were posted on Twitter, Mustaine said: "I think the band and everybody that's associated with us, that period that we went through was a little touchy. So we wanted to do the right thing. And trying to find the replacement for anybody, I think, wasn't the right thing to do at the time because nobody really knew all the facts and I certainly didn't want to poach anybody. Not from TESTAMENT — they're my friends — and I don't think from anybody."
Mustaine, who was a member of METALLICA for 11 months before being fired in 1983, continued: "As great as Steve is, I remember what it felt like when we [METALLICA] went up and poached Cliff [Burton] from TRAUMA. I mean, granted, the band TRAUMA wasn't that good, but there are still guys in the band and their lives were changed when that happened.
"I tend to believe that… You've gotta ask yourself, 'Did he jump or was he pushed?' And I like to make sure, if I was gonna hire somebody, that I wasn't stealing him from anybody."
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