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Q&A: The Big 4 Reunite and Talk Metal!


Last weekend in Indo, CA, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax — the four bands who elevated the furious carnage of thrash-metal from the tape-trading underground to the top of the Billboard charts — played their very first show together on American soil. After 30 years of being savaged by the PMRC, suffering legendary bouts of inter-band feuding, and surviving the alternative revolution against all odds, the quartet’s massive concert was a victory lap for heavy metal’s legacy in the states.

Before the show, SPIN caught up with the bands — Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Slayer’s Tom Araya, and Anthrax’s Scott Ian — to find out what’s changed, what hasn’t, and who still pukes before the show.

See our review & photos of the Big 4’s Cali concert >>

SPIN: You’ve all been at this for 30 years. Do you still get nervous for a big show?

Lars Ulrich: I prefer to use the word “anxious.” There’s an anticipatory energy that sits around the whole day. You wanna get up there and do you thing… and on the other side of that, there’s a shower and a glass of wine [laughs]. That’s always good after spending the whole day in the desert.

Scott Ian: Oh, yeah. I definitely have nerves. It’s nervous excitement like when you’re a kid and it’s a week away from Christmas and you can’t sleep.

Dave Mustaine: I guess the clinical term is nervous. My adrenaline starts to rev and I start getting fired up. But I love getting up on stage. On this last tour I had some really weird thing where I had a bunch of kidney stones. I thought I had appendicitis and I was gonna die in Siberia. I’m sweating, jumping up and down in pain, the doctor says I’ve got blood in my pee and a kidney stone. The promoter went out there and said in their native tongue, “Dave is supposed to go to the hospital but is refusing to go. He’s gonna play for you and he’ll be going to the hospital after the concert.” I love playing.

Tom Araya: I always get nervous before I perform. It doesn’t really matter the size of the gig. It could be before 100 people and I’ll get nervous. My heart palpitates and sometimes I get nervous enough that I throw up. It used to happen a lot in my earlier days.

SPIN: Did you throw up at any of the Big 4 shows in Europe?

Araya: No, but those are nerve-wracking because you want to be better than everybody else. Whenever we do a show where we’re opening, we go out with the attitude of like, “Beat this.” It’s a competitive attitude, but it makes you play well.

SPIN: It’s going to be hard to be the best on a formidable bill like this…

Araya: Nah. Not for us [laughs].

SPIN: If you look back at 1986, thrash metal’s golden year, is there an event that makes you say, “I can’t believe I was that person”?

Ian: I don’t even know who that person was in the ’80s. I see pictures of myself from back then and I don’t even recognize myself. Who were those guys?

Araya: In ’86, we opened up for W.A.S.P. [laughs]. And we thought that would be an awesome tour. I had this image of W.A.S.P. being this huge band, and it was a club tour. And that was at the time when they were apparently at the height of their popularity.

Ulrich: In 1986, there were different priorities. The priorities on a daily basis were somewhere between getting drunk, getting laid and playing music. Those were the three priorities that fought for pole position on a daily basis. Now it’s taking care of kids, working out, eating healthy… In 1986, it was a tour bus, a bottle of vodka and a testosterone working overload trying to get its daily release… Things were pretty nutty when you’re 22 years old and you’re thrown in the deep end of the rock ‘n’ roll swimming pool, and everything that has to offer for an only child from Copenhagen, Denmark.

SPIN: Is there anyone from the other three bands that you share a hobby with?

Mustaine: [Anthrax drummer] Charlie Benante had gotten involved with a charity thing my wife and I were doing for an orphanage in Mexico. This orphanage needed drinking water and the well they had was broken. We bought a coffee company [to raise money]. It’s not our desire to sell coffee beans, but it was fun while it lasted.

Ian: Certainly Kirk [Hammett, Metallica guitarist] and I would be the closest. We’ve been friends since ’84. We’re into comics and horror and sci-fi and TV shows — none of that’s changed since we were 20 years old. We turn each other on to things all the time. I got Kirk into Lost and then he became addicted to that. We just saw each other for a couple of days in Hawaii, he turned me on to this smoked ahi spread from this shop in Oahu that blows my mind. He showed up with it in this crappy plastic shopping bag and said, “Hey, bro, I brought this for you.” Oh my God, you rule!

Araya: As far as the other bands, we share family stories. When we had a roundtable before the very first show that we did [in Warsaw, Poland], I spent my time with [Metallica bassist] Robert Trujillo, [Megadeth bassist] Dave Ellefson and [Anthrax bassist] Frankie [Bello]. We spent our time talking about family. Kids. That’s what we share with each other. After all these years, it was comforting that I was able to have normal conversations about life with them.

Ulrich: I think the one thing that we all have in common is that pretty much everybody is parenting. It changes your life, it changes how you hear yourself in relationship to others — which is part of the reason that a bunch of people in the rock community are sick of the goodwill and positive energy and love between these 45-year-old musicians who they preferred when they were 25 and taking stabs at each other.

Mustaine: [I’m excited] to play for my family. My mom’s side of the family are Jehovah’s Witnesses — poor misled things, they think I’m a black sheep. Boy, they got that wrong. But my sister and my family and my kids get to come. We’re all parents now, just about. It’s funny when you think we were 18 playing on the Sunset Strip, struggling our butts off that we’d end up with houses and cars that are paid for. I remember when Dave Ellefson and I first started playing in Megadeth, we would panhandle for booze money and Astro Burgers — they gave you a lot of french fries.

SPIN: Of all the musicians on the tour, who’s your favorite to watch on stage?

Araya: That’s a tough one, but entertaiment-wise, Anthrax is very animated. They move, they run.

Ulrich: I don’t want to play favorites. The complete O.T.T.-ness of what Slayer does blows me away. Anthrax, the unity they have, the balance they have is really, really cool. But the band that’s closest to my own heart musically is definitely Megadeth. My DNA makeup and what gets my dick hard; there’s more stuff I grew up on.

Ian: [Slayer drummer Dave] Lombardo comes to mind first. He’s such a fucking maniac, he’s such an insane drummer. And he just makes it look effortless… Seeing Slayer on the Clash Of The Titans tour back in ’91, there were so many nights where I had my own circle pit of one behind Lombardo’s drum riser. I would just be back there going around in a circle by myself.

Mustaine: I would have to say that Dave is pretty much the most talented drummer out of all of ’em. I think everybody knows that. Scott’s a fun guitar player. And the hit-writing team of Hetfield, Hammett and Ulrich? They’ve taken the guitar style we developed and perfected it. [My favorite] changes from night to night — plus, Slayer has a different guitar player every night because of Jeff [Hanneman]’s unfortunate accident. [Hanneman is currently recovering from a flesh-eating virus that attacked his arm–Ed.]God bless you, Jeff, I hope you get better.

SPIN: Well, it looks like Jeff is on the mend…

Mustaine: I’ve been keeping in touch with Jeff, even though he doesn’t respond to people very verbosely. I’ve been telling him I’ve been praying about him. He’s probably going, “What are you praying for me for? You’re gonna melt if you pray for me.”

SPIN: Now that all the Megadeth/Slayer feuding and Megadeth/Metallica feuding from the ’90s is over, how do you look back at that time?

Araya: It wasn’t really a beef. It was competitiveness. “We’re better” — you know what I mean? And then as you get older [pause] it doesn’t really change [laughs]. It’s mellowed a little bit, but you still have the same attitude. You’re a little older and you handle things in a more mature way. Not like back then when you were young and saying, “I wanna kick his ass.” But deep down inside, people still have egos… I like to think that I’m not one of them.

Ian: It’s just too bad things couldn’t have been squashed at a much earlier date. When you’re younger — duh — you don’t really have the tools to deal with certain things in your life.

Ulrich: Listen, the first word that comes to mind is “exaggerated.” Of course there was competition, of course we were all keeping close tabs on what everybody else was doing, of course when you’re 25 years old you wanna be better than the next guy. But, through it, no matter what the press was writing about Metallica and Megadeth, me and [Mustaine] would hang out. The things we shared were greater than the things we differed on… Underneath all the posturing, there was always a genuine respect and genuine admiration. Maybe a slight jealousy in some cases, which is fine. We’re not talking about Oasis fistfights.

SPIN: Members of all four bands covered Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?” together in Europe…

Mustaine: Yeah, the cool thing about that is that it when we were in the practice room, it was almost like a symbolic passing of the torch. It was like everything’s finally, finally, finally cool with everybody. Fifty or 60 seconds into the song, there’s a part where the whole band stops and there’s a little guitar solo. And Lars stopped and said, “What do you think about having Dave do it?” And at that moment I knew that the world had completely healed. My whole life changed and I’ve been a different man ever since. It’s all just been a great, magical play, hasn’t it?