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Al Pitrelli's replacement of Marty Friedman in Megadeth was only one element of a total restructuring. The overhaul included new members, a new label, new management and a new direction. After the sourly received 'Risk', metal veteran Pitrelli (ex-Savatage, ex-Widowmaker, etc.) joined the fold, and a new, heavier record 'The World Needs a Hero' was unleashed. For many fans, however, that record fell short of the complete return to the 'Rust In Peace' era sound they were expecting. Now, as Megadeth embarks on a U.S. tour where fans can select setlists which include many long-forgotten Megadeth classics, Pitrelli checked in with the Metal Update to give us a clue about what to expect from Megadeth on this tour and beyond.

METAL UPDATE: Before talking Megadeth, let's get a little bit of information on your prior background in the music business. How did you get started?

AL PITRELLI: I was going to college in Boston at Berkeley Colelge of Music. I think it was 1982-83 - ish. I met a lot of great players and met some good friends, but I didn't like the curriculum. I didn't like the way things were going, so I left. I came back to New York, hit the clubs, hit the pavement and landed playing guitar with Michael Bolton in 1985 or 86.

MU: Were you at Berkely with the Dream Theater guys?


AP: Just before them. Actually, when I was at Berkeley, Derek Sherinian from Dream Theater was there with me, as well as Will Calhoun from Living Color. That's about it from the guys who moved on. The three of us used to play together quite often. I think a couple of years after us, Petrucci and company went there.

MU: You played guitar for Michael Bolton?

AP: This was when Michael Bolton was still trying to be Sammy Hagar and not Engelbert Humperdinck. He had the long hair, "Fools Game" was a big hit for him. So he had a band he put together, and we started doing that. That tour lasted about four shows. That was the first real, major label gig I had. From there it was playing with anybody and everybody that I could to make a living. It turned into a pretty good run up until I met the guys in Megadeth, and I stepped up on the stage for the first time that night in Vancouver a couple of years ago.

MU: You're a full member of the band?

AP: Yep.


MU: And you recorded with them for the latest record?

AP: The last two records, actually. I did two songs that were released on 'Capitol Punishment'. And then, obviously, 'The World Needs A Hero'.

MU: Did you participate in the songwriting?

AP: I had joined the band in the eleventh hour of the writing process. Let me define that a bit - the way the band writes music. After the first or second show, soundchecks are a complete waste of times, 'cause we have one of the greatest crews in the world. There's no reason for them to check our stuff, the stuff works. So we decide to use that time to kinda put riffs together and record them on DAT tape at the front of the house. The band was cataloguing riffs and ideas which would later become songs during the entire 'Risk' tour. I joined up pretty much at the end of the world tour for 'Risk', so they had most of their material together by then. I'm hoping that I collaborate with Dave on the next record. I look at it this way: if I can make a good song better, so be it. If not, well then, it doesn't belong there anyway.

MU: You must have heard the 'Risk' record before you joined Megadeth.

AP: Certainly.

MU: What did you think of it?

AP: I thought it was a great record. I knew what the guys were trying to do. They had had great success with Dann Huff alongside Dave in the captain's chair on 'Cryptic Writings'. They had one number one single and three top five singles. Now my math might be off, but, you know, great, great commercial success. And they wanted to continue with the formula on 'Risk'. I thought it was a great album. I know it attracted a lot of new fans at radio, and I know it probably pissed a lot of fans off.

MU: You say it was a great record, but it certainly was not a great record for hardcore, old-school Megadeth fans.

AP: I will not disagree with you at all.

MU: So was it a conscious effort to return to form with 'The World Needs a Hero'?

The World Needs A Hero

AP: It wasn't that much of a conscious effort. Think about what had been going on with the band from 'Countdown' to today. You have commercial success. You have a record company that is constantly changing with the times. You have management which is constantly changing regimes over those years. Then all of a sudden it comes down to the wire where one of the four guys on stage decides he doesn't want to do this anymore. He wants to pursue music that's more commercial. Step in me, who just loves playing guitar - the faster, the louder, the heavier the better. And then you have a record company that now, the option's come up, and the band and the record company together say, "Well, let's part company, best of luck." Then management goes, and the accountant goes, and then the road crew goes. So there was a clean wipe across the slate. When the smoke cleared, the dust settled or whatever other analogy you want to use, what's left? Four guys in a room who are pretty angry and just want to play aggressive music. Now you're not thinking about pre-ordaining what kind of music it's going to be. Now you're just saying, "You know what? We're playing aggressive 'cause we're pissed off again."

MU: So how do you think 'The World Needs a Hero' came out?

AP: I think it's definite a step in the right direction on a journey to where the band should be. Are we back to where the band's going to be? No. Are we on the way back, absolutely. The next record will be that much heavier.

MU: You have to choose: are you going to be sick ass, crazy riffing, double-bass drum, 'Rust in Peace' style Megadeth? Or are you going to be 'Risk' / "Promises" style Megadeth?

AP: Keep in mind that song was written while the band was still signed to Capitol. The record was done in two sets of sessions, one of which was done while the band was still signed to Capitol, and the second half of the record were from a different session, and they came out heavier. Now we're on Sanctuary, and they've sort of sanctioned, no pun intended, the heavier stuff. So we're going right back to that. The only four people on the planet we have to please are the four of us. We're the biggest Megadeth fans in the world anyway.

MU: So you want to hear guitar solos. . .

AP: Hell yeah!

MU: . . . and technical riffs?

AP: Be it technical or be it heartfelt. Be it whatever it is, I just want to enjoy it.

MU: Why do bands simplify their sound and dumb it down, and then call it a more mature approach? Metallica's black album is a good example.

AP: I don't know. I can't speak for anyone else, I can only speak for what goes on in this camp.

MU: Is the idea then "in this camp" to get a little more intense and to go in a more metal direction?

AP: I guess what happened was - and I'll take credit for only a small part of it. . . But one of the conversations that went on was that Marty wanted to leave because he was watching MTV and, like, "Nobody's playing guitar solos anymore." And I said, "I don't listen to the radio and I don't watch MTV. This is Megadeth. THE Megadeth. I was teaching your songs to kids in 1985 when I was teaching guitar for a living. And it was the most vicious, coolest stuff I had ever heard." It encapsulated all that was good in all genres of music thrown into one band played ferociously through a Marshall. So, you know what? There's nothing wrong with that. And it's like you said, maybe it's time not to be mature. Just be a guitar player. Be a punk in a band.

MU: I understand the value in the fact that a band called Megadeth can achieve radio success, but at the same time, you guys know what your fans want to hear! They want to hear crazy, aggressive, ferociously adventurous material from Megadeth. I have to admit I'm encouraged by the fact that your wesite is letting the fans choose the songs from a list that includes stuff like "Devil's Island" and "The Conjuring".

AP: Those are the songs that I wanted to play. There's a lot of reasons why certain songs never got played. First of all, you have radio success. Then you have, "I don't want to play this song that was on this album and I didn't do the solos on it." You know what? I didn't care who did the solo. I love playing the music. Today, I was just brushing up on "Ashes in Your Mouth". You want to talk about an ass-kicker of a song? We're doing "Tornado of Souls" and "The Conjuring". Dave said we'd never play that song again and we broke it out last New Year's Eve.

MU: That's great. I've seen Megadeth lots of times. I don't need to see the same set of Megadeth's safest radio hits with a Sex Pistols cover as an encore over and over again.

AP: All I can tell you is that since all of these changes have been made, the band's focus has been crystal clear: be ferocious, be the most dangerous band in the world again.

Devin Townsend

MU: The theory is that the addition of Al Pitrelli might be a contributing element to that renewed focus.

AP: I'll take some credit! Thank you very much!

MU: What is the next record going to sound like?

AP: The only way I can compare it is that the difference between 'Risk' and 'The World Needs a Hero' will be the difference between 'The World Needs a Hero' and the next record.

MU: Will it stay that way or is it still evolving?

AP: I don't think enough of it is written to really judge it yet because we'll probably continue writing until the last possible minute. After the record's mastered Dave will probably come in and say, "Wait! I've got one more idea we should go record." The process never ceases. All I can tell you is we listened to 'Rust' and 'Countdown', and we listened to the earlier records, and tried to figure out what the hell Dave was thinking during those periods. And Dave himself comes up to me and says, "What the hell was I thinking?" (laughs)

MU: Do you already know all 30 of the songs on the list presented to fans?

AP: I think there's closer to 34 or 35 now. The only thing we've never played live so far is "Ashes". We've even worked up a version of "Looking Down the Cross". Nine and a half weeks and 37 countries across the world, was just a really long dress rehearsal to come kill America. And I'm telling you, everybody says their band is on fire, but check it out: this band is on fire. You just come down and check it out. Two hours, and we do not let up. Hopefully, you come out of there battered and bruised and sweaty from the mosh pit. 'Cause it is traditional heavy metal. It doesn't matter how old you are, how young you are, where you come from, what you do, when you get in the venue with us, it's all the same, and everybody is fair game.

MU: What's next after this tour for Megadeth?

AP: I don't know, 'cause I don't think there's an "after this tour" on the horizon yet. Days off have become a thing of the past. We had a day off in Chicago and a day off in New York, but of those have been filled with multiple shows. Now there's a second Chicago date and a second New York date. Then they just added on the website a show in Allentown, PA. Rumor has it they're just gonna keep on adding shows because there's a feeding frenzy going on. Shows are selling out. Tickets are flying out the door. It's like the hot ticket in town now - Megadeth playing 1500 seats, 2000 seats, 2500 seats. And with all of the changes in the band and all of the rehearsal the band has had traveling the planet twice this year alone, everybody's coming out in droves. What happens when this tour finally winds down? I don't know, wish everybody Merry Christmas and then go back out on the road? (laughs)

MU: You guys are playing smaller venues this time around like Irving Plaza in New York. You don't expect to see Megadeth playing at a venue like that.

AP: But it's great for me, 'cause it's 42 blocks from my apartment. We just spent all summer playing festivals and big stages, but the front row is 75 feet away. There's something pretty cool about playing clubs and theaters.

MU: What are some of those festivals you did in Europe?

AP: We did a bunch of festivals in the U.K. and Europe with AC/DC, and we also did a bunch of other festivals as headliners and co-headliners with Judas Priest on a lot of them.

MU: What did you think of the latest Savatage record?

AP: I think the new Savatage is great.

MU: What did you think of Jon Oliva doing all of the vocals?

AP: Jon's a great signer. Unfortunately, it took a couple of changes in that lineup to make them also scratch their heads and refocus and regroup. I think Jon singing is a great idea. I think the new singer that they have does what he does great - a lot of Zack's tunes and "Hall of the Mountain King" stuff and all that. . . and I think, more importantly, Chris Caffery got a chance to play and he's hitting home runs every time a I get a chance to see the band play. We did half a dozen shows with them and I watched them every night, and I'm proud of them. Just because I'm not working with them anymore doesn't mean I'm not friends with them anymore. I think that, given the opportunity to be Savatage again, they're touring constantly and that's what they need to do.

MU: Are you still involved with Trans Siberian Orchestra?

AP: The only reason I'm still involved with TSO is because the TSO records are some of my favorite work I've ever done. Every Christmas you're going to hear me on a Christian station or a CHR station playing that "12/24" tune. So, I keep in touch with Paul O'Neil and David Krebs and Adam Lind.

MU: Did you play in Widowmaker with Dee Snider?

AP: Yes I did.

MU: Did you see the Twisted Sister 'Behind the Music'?

AP: My wife and I watched it the other night and thought it was hysterical. I'm Dee's biggest fan. He was a great influence on me, personally and professionally. My tenure with him on two Widowmaker records and three years of hellacious touring. . . driving a Dodge Caravan from Texas to Vancouver, you get to know a person quite well. I think it is great that Twisted is being given their time now. We saw Dee in Europe. He looked in great shape. He sounded great. He performed great. The band was really good. It was great to see him and spend some time with him. I mean, I had to travel to Brussels to see the guy, but so be it.

MU: What are the three most technically difficult Megadeth songs to pay on guitar?

AP: "Tornado of Souls" is an ass-kicker.

MU: Are you talking lead or riffs?

AP: Oh god. Marty's brilliant. He's a brilliant, brilliant guitar player, and I have the unpleasant task of trying to figure out every half bend that that guy would play.

MU: Is that how it works? Someone just gives you a stack of Megadeth CD's and you need to just figure it out?

AP: Yeah, pretty much. We'll all be sitting in the dressing room, and Dave will say, "Play that solo." Dave's microscope is relentless. His scrutiny knows no boundaries whatsoever. He'll tell me, "You're not bending the note. He played it one fret below that and bent up to it." He's helped my ear get in pretty good shape, and it was pretty good to begin with. Anyway, "Tornado". . . "Ashes" is a pretty intense tune. "Hangar 18" is probably one of the greatest guitar duel recordings I've ever run across. The solos are ferocious and the rythym guitar parts underneath the solos are equally as ferocious.


review of Megadeth 'The World Needs a Hero'





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