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Gnarly Charlie’s exclusive interview with Megadeth Bassist, James LoMenzo

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Tuesday, May 16, 2006 @ 8:12 PM


“Oh shit, I gotta commit all t

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Revered as one of the "big four" in American thrash metal along with Anthrax, Metallica and Slayer, Megadeth has sustained its razor sharp edge since its inception some 24 years ago. Despite many changes in personnel and the band’s innumerable setbacks, Megadeth is alive and well, staying true to its founding father, singer, and guitarist extraordinaire Dave Mustaine’s uncompromising musical vision.

Taking a long and circuitous route to travel on Megadeth’s killing road, bassist James LoMenzo is the newest member of the band, who brings a wealth of experience to the table from his previous works in such notable bands as Rondinelli, White Lion, David Lee Roth, Slash’s Snakepit and Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society.

Currently James is in the studio with Megadeth laying down tracks for the forthcoming album.

KNAC.COM: J-Lo!

LOMENZO: Hey, man, it could actually happen!

KNAC.COM: Yeah, I got you on the phone, with the recorder and everything.

LOMENZO: At long last!

KNAC.COM: How was your first Megadeth gig in Dubai?

LOMENZO: It was great, man. It was obscenely great, from beginning to end. Looking at all the bands up there –Testament, Three Doors Down …I mean, I thought it was kind of weird, starting out, but the Dubai crowd or these people that go to the Desert Fest …they’re made up of people from all over the world. They kind of all go there to vacation or they’re doing business there and stuff like that. It was an interesting mix that really worked better than I could have ever anticipated. Playing the gig with Megadeth was priceless, obviously, kind of my first one with the guys. It was really exciting. A bit like heads-up football, you know, a lot of stuff coming on all at once. But, hey –pulled through it –don’t think I hit any bad notes, as far as I can recall.

KNAC.COM: Weird line-up, I thought, for that show, but the guys in Testament are partners in crime, yes?

LOMENZO: Without a doubt, man! They were great! They were really as good as ever. That was a real treat to see them. Alex Skolnick’s still playing his ass off. It’s great to see him up there with the guys. It was great from beginning to end. It exceeded my expectations.

KNAC.COM: How much time did you have ramping up with Megadeth? The practice schedule must have been pretty intense, huh?

LOMENZO: It was about a month. I had done stuff like this before. I remember I had two and a half weeks to get together a –close to 30-song set for Slash’s Snakepit. It was one of those things where Mike Inez couldn’t make it and Brian Tichy called me up, who had played with Pride and Glory, and asked me if I could handle a last minute thing, and I said "Yeah, lead the way, man!" That took a bit of thinking because the record was pretty new –I hadn’t heard much of it. I think the way I handled was that I learned it as best as I could, and Slash was very benevolent about the whole thing and appreciative that I could get in there at the last minute. I just played out some copious notes on the drum riser for the first few gigs, just to kinda remind myself "Alright, this B-minor section is shorter than you think." Things like that. Um …the Megadeth stuff, now, I guess I was a bit cavalier when I met Dave and said "Oh, sure, man. I’ve done this sort of thing before … no problem. What do we have, a month?" That’s what we basically had to prepare … in a month. I had only heard, probably really heard three of their songs in my life. The other stuff was always peripheral in the background over at rock clubs in Brooklyn. So I was kind of familiar with their stuff. I’d seen the band live once in ’95 when I went on tour with them with Snakepit. We were in Japan and I was side-stage for the whole thing, and that was the first time I ever really stood up and took notice of them. I said "Shit, this is an amazing band!" And, so I kinda carried that with me. A couple days into it …I’m about a week into it, just getting songs left and right and listening to them and said "These things are 6-minute opuses". (laughs) I used to play French horn in high school and I got a scholarship in college doing it, so I used to do this sort of stuff, and this is actually symphony music if you break it down to its essence. There are different movements in every song, and they all kind of go back to a theme and they all play off of these familiar parts and rhythmic changes and different feelings and things like that. So I approached it that way, but …what freaked my shit was when I started thinking in terms of "Oh shit, I gotta commit all this stuff to memory", and that was the amazing part. It’s almost like …I saw Isaac Perlman –an amazing violinist on the Grammy’s a bunch of weeks back, and he’s sitting up there playing three of the Grammy nominated songs, which have very easy to latch onto melodies, and he’s got a music stand in front of him! (laughs) I was thinking this guy has it easier than me. So a friend of mine called up and said "How ya doing with this Megadeth music –it’s pretty intense, huh?" I said "I’m doing good. It feels good. I gotta tell you though, man, it’s getting tight. I’m wondering if I can remember all this stuff". So three days later he calls me up and goes "How ya doing?" I said "Well, here’s the good news, man: I know all this stuff pretty good right now, and I still got another week and a half to go, but apparently it takes two and a half weeks to learn 20 new songs!" (laughs) That’s kind of where I ended up and I started to feel more and more comfortable with it as it went on. It’s just a real slow, tedious learning process. The last band out it was pretty much -- crack open a beer and jam. It was a big departure from what I was used to in the past couple of years.

KNAC.COM: You’re talking about Black Label Society?

LOMENZO: Yeah.

KNAC.COM: So you were there with BLS that night that Iron Maiden got the eggs at San Bernardino?

LOMENZO: I was, actually …those guys have suspicions, but I was outta there by the time all that had happened …

KNAC.COM: Oh? (laughs)

LOMENZO: I was! (laughs) I very rarely have my wife and daughter there, and I did that night, and somebody from one of the camps tried to give me a heads up and said to not be anywhere by the stage when Maiden gets on and I didn’t ask any questions. So, yeah, I heard about it al the next day just like everybody else did, you know? Not surprised it happened, but definitely not diggin’ that it did happen, because I think it was really unfair to all the people in San Bernardino. My God, that place was packed that day. I gotta think if you were a real Iron Maiden fan, it’d really piss you off.

KNAC.COM: Yes.

LOMENZO: I found out something interesting yesterday. Dave [Mustaine] gives me a call –he’s down at the studio working on some stuff –and he goes "Hey J-Lo! I was just thinking, you got a name so heavy it’s got "omen" built into it!" Now how the hell did I live all these years and not figure that one out yet? (laughs)

KNAC.COM: You’re threatening, man. But it was Dave who pointed that out?

LOMENZO: Yeah. I’m kind of pissed off myself for never getting that.

KNAC.COM: What a revelation.

LOMENZO: I know. He’s the king of anagrams, I guess.

KNAC.COM: Where to next on the "Killing Road?"

LOMENZO: Actually …uh, I’m going to pay a bill right now. That’s kind of killing me (laughs). But no, other than that … right now it’s just a big open space …the whole thing is when Dave asked me to join on he said that we were going to do the Dubais thing and then after that we’d see about Gigantour, because that’s coming, and then in between there he wanted to work on a record, so I think we’re in the working on a record stage right now.

KNAC.COM: As a musician, do you find that playing with Megadeth is a bit tighter, more percussive, musically, than the projects you’ve been involved with in the past?

LOMENZO: Yeah, for the most part …let me put that into a thought or two. Dave was doing a lot of esoteric things –David Lee Roth. He was pulling out all kinds of things. We were doing Jango Rhinehart –I was playing upright bass, you know, for all his different projects …video projects, the radio things we did. So, I think that’s the closest I got to this accuracy in playing. In David Lee Roth’s band –when we were doing Van Halen stuff, actually, that was loud and wide, just like it’s supposed to be. But I think in this case, oddly enough, when I was playing with Dave, Ray Luzier, who played drums, and Toshi Hiketa played guitar –he was the second guitar player in Dave’s band, as well –we put together a little three-piece rock fusion thing called The Hideous Sun Demons. And that was extraordinarily like what goes on in the Megadeth stuff, maybe a little lighter and a little more rock and roll than metal …and you know how there are no accidents in life, you kind of roll through things and you go "Oh, that’s strange, why is that happening?" I gotta tell ya, man, looking back at the Sun Demons, I think a good portion of that was to kind of mentally prepare me for Megadeth right now. If you look at things that way (laughs). I do.

KNAC.COM: I have to, man. Otherwise life becomes boring and you look at a long line of mistakes. Here’s the million dollar question …

LOMENZO: Drum roll, please! Wait, wait, I’m having a clairvoyant moment! It’s all coming to me now, Charlie. Don’t get too gnarly on my ass. You’re going to ask me how did I ever get connected …who connected me …perhaps who out there might’ve connected me with Dave Mustaine to play in Megadeth? Am I right (laughs)?

KNAC.COM: That’s the one, yeah! Give me the crescendo, here.

LOMENZO: (laughs) The crescendo is as such …okay …so, after I finished up with Black Label Society I put myself on the market as I do so many times. I’m in a weird position as a bass player. I talked to a lot to the techs, who work for bands and they would always tell me the same thing. They’d say "We got it a lot easer than you, J-Lo." We have a situation where we got a bunch of friends in the network and there’s always somebody coming and going. You on the other hand have got to have a specific place to go. And not just musically, style-wise, but just a certain level at which you’re at now, you’ve gotta have that kind of opening". I always think of that and I think what a tragic way to go, because you start thinking about my age, my demographic, what I’ve been involved in and it turns out to be things like …somebody has to be fired, die, beat up …it has to be a tragic event in order for me to find a gig in my idiom. (laughs) I don’t wish that on anybody, but it’s a dichotomy –I’m sitting here thinking "How the hell am I gonna get a job?" So what I do is I call everybody I know and I say "Hey, J-Lo’s back in town, he’s hanging around, plays bass and he’s looking for a gig of that stature." And then they do the shampoo commercial and they tell two friends, who tell two friends and this kinda worked for me pretty well for the past batch of years. Sure enough, after a longer while then I would have hoped, a friend of mine, who I met 5 or 6 years ago, Allen Steelgrave, gives me a call …now, Allen used to represent the Ashdown company, that’s when I first met him. I moved over to Ashdown Amplifiers and since then he and I became friends and we’d stay in touch. Now he’s landed over at ESP Guitars. So anyway Allen gives me a call and he goes "J-Lo, what are you doing?" I said, "I’m sitting around. You want to get lunch?" He goes "No, I got something else for you. I got a band and I think you know them. They’re big. You’d be perfect …I already told the singer, guitar player that you’re the guy, you’re the only guy for the band". And I said, "I appreciate that. You can’t even give me a hint." He goes "Well, big 80’s metal". I asked him what he wanted me to do and he said to put together a package of some of my music. So I put together a little package and a few days later Dave Mustaine called me up and said "Hey, Allen Steelgrave told me you’d be the guy for the band!" So we had a bunch of conversation and Dave apparently really liked what he heard with the music I put together and it was what he was looking for at this juncture with Megadeth.

KNAC.COM: How was it working with David Lee Roth? Would you say that he was a taskmaster and pretty astringent?

LOMENZO: You know what? I would say he’s a benevolent dictator. That’s actually a compliment. Most people think he’s a tyrant. He’s nothing like that at all—as a matter of fact he’s a cheerleader more than anything else. David Lee Roth is not as much of a perfectionist as you think. The only think that Dave ever asked from me and other people that were working with me, with him –was that they were prepared, they know what they’re doing and that’s basically what you should do in any band. So, yeah …I would say benevolent dictator is a good way to put it. I gotta tell you man, those years I was with him, 4 or 5 years, I couldn’t have had more fun, laughed harder or had a better time –none of that stuff people talk about out there. He’s a great guy, man.

KNAC.COM: How about working with Dave Mustaine? What’s he like?

LOMENZO: Dave Mustaine is not dissimilar from David Lee Roth. I haven’t known him forever, okay, but again –the same thing, man. Megadeth is Dave. He’s written so much of that music. I know a lot of people contribute to it, but if you look at the bulk of it, it’s Dave Mustaine. You have to respect that. That stuff doesn’t come along by accident, ever. There’s something that drives these people … and again, Dave’s not dissimilar from David Lee Roth in that he’s a benevolent dictator, as far as I can tell. He’s made every opportunity to contribute in every way possible; he’s made me very comfortable being part of his band –a part of Megadeth –and he just rolled that red carpet for me. I can’t argue with that and I can’t say anything negative about a person like that. It seems like their success is based on their willingness to be cooperative with other people and it seems like he has a lot of that.

KNAC.COM: You’re from New York, right?

LOMENZO: Brooklyn, New York.

KNAC.COM: Is that where you met Mike Tramp and White Lion?

LOMENZO: Oddly enough …yeah, kind of, sort of. It’s a funny, kind of long range trip around, but …okay, so I’m playing with Bobby Rondinelli and Ray Gillen in the Bobby Rondinelli band, but before Ray Gillen came along we were looking for a singer and someone submitted a letter with a picture and it was Mike Tramp. It was this weird kind of thing he had. He had this picture with a blindfold and an arrow in his mouth and that big, puffy hair he used to have. He had mislabeled the envelope—he sent it to the wrong person. I hadn’t met him, we didn’t call him. In between all that time I was still in Brooklyn, so I’d go down to Lamour’s rock club. Iron Maiden used to go there, all the great metal bands of the 80’s used to make their way through there, which was kind of cool because we got to see what was going on as well. I think when the Rondinelli band finally played there and the guys who owned the club had seen me up there and they said "You know what? You would be perfect for the White Lion band". I said "What is this White Lion band?" They told me to go see them and I remember thinking that they looked just like Van Halen and that would never work (laughs). So I basically passed. Not too long after that I had moved to California just to see what was shakin’ and I was hanging out, and I was a motorcycle messenger, driving packages around and stuff like that. I dug it, at night I was jamming with bands, to see what I could get going out here. I got in to a minor bike wreck, but my bike got smashed up pretty good, so I couldn’t work …so it was kind of hitting the hard times, hitting the skids. I heard again from a friend of mine that White Lion was still looking for a bass player and told me that they would probably fly me back to Brooklyn to audition me. So I thought that I didn’t know if I really want to join the band, but it’d be nice to get back to my folks, to a refrigerator full of food. So I said "Let me just go" – so I called them up and they said they’d love to audition me and told me that they’d get a ticket ready for me. So I kind of went there not really with the best of intentions, but I went down and we jammed together and I kind of liked the band. That was when I first met Mike and I first met Vito [Bratta]. They liked the fact that I could sing and come up with ideas, so we just kind of gelled from there. I stayed on and we went to Germany, did the demo, kicked back, played a bunch of clubs and we got signed to Atlantic Records within 6 months.

KNAC.COM: Good story, man.

LOMENZO: Terrifying, because it’s true…and now look (laughs)! I could have just joined Megadeth.

KNAC.COM: No accidents!

LOMENZO: No, there are no accidents

KNAC.COM: Now, what about Ray Gillen? Ray Gillen is one of my favorite vocalists. Did you have a good relationship with him?

LOMENZO: I had a great relationship with Ray after I met him. He was one of those big, open, affable guys, but we were also starting out in a kind of schleppy band that we put together. We didn’t really have any big ideals at that point. I’d go to his house in Jersey and sleep on his floor and get up for rehearsal and stuff …it was great. We used to go running everyday, we shared a room up at Bobby Rondinelli’s parents’ house. But, with Ray …it reminds me of those old stories you hear about when Led Zeppelin got together. And not to aggrandize it too much, but it seemed that in retrospect and even back then as I can recall, we were going through auditions and there were people coming in –one guy comes in and goes "Well, I coulda done better, but I had too much cheese this afternoon". (laughs) It was kind of like American Idol where the guys are just cracking up and trying not to laugh. So this went on for quite some time, but we were just desperate to really get this band going. Before I was there, Felix Papalardi was playing bass and he had been shot, as you recall, by his wife, so Bobby and his brother kind of picked up the pieces and that’s when they brought me on. But this was all before Ray came out to audition. I just wanted to mention that, because I actually got to play that violin-shaped bass he played at Woodstock. So anyway, we were that serious about having the great Led Zeppelinesque kind of band. Somebody sent Ray Gillen down to us and we were rehearsing in this kind of loft thing out in Long Island. The roof was pitched on either side, so you had to crane your neck one way or another, so we all sat in the middle. But anyway, Ray comes in and we looked at him and we go all thought "Man, he looks good!" Not in an effeminate way –he looks good, you know? So that’s a bonus, because he’s going to be out in front, singing. He opens his pipes, man, and it’s just like a Led Zeppelin concert –the guy is just riffing off the drum parts, grabbing on to the guitar parts and just singing words that he’s just making up on the spot. Our jaws dropped, man. We were just like "Wow, how can this be happening?" This is beyond the guy we were looking for. We thought we had to train somebody to do it. So yeah, we just picked it up and started that thing right then and there. It didn’t go too far, you know, I guess we hit it for less than a year. We did some demo work, we did a little bit of road work and then everybody just dispersed and started doing other things. I think at one point Bobby went off to play with the Scorpions for a while, so we were kind of all over the map. Ray finally got that opportunity, and I was actually there, to sing with Black Sabbath. All brain cells working, Charlie.

KNAC.COM: (laughs) Well, if there’s a rock and roll heaven; you know they got a hell of a band.

LOMENZO: I tell ya …the thing is that, you know, Dimebag’s up there now. By the time we get up there –there’s not going to be a thing left to drink (laughs).

KNAC.COM: (laughs) Yeah, the well’s going to be dry. But they say it flows freely up there and the streets are paved with gold, right?

LOMENZO: I’m all about it, man. I would say I can’t wait, but I’ll wait (laughs).

KNAC.COM: No, milk this Megadeth thing for a while. This is great.

LOMENZO: No, I ain’t milkin’ it man. I’m here as long as they want to have me. That’s the only way I can approach any band. I don’t go in for a little while anymore. Getting too old and it’s one of those things, where, if you can’t make a commitment up front, you can’t love what you’re doing, then why bother? Just do something else. So yeah, no milking involved, just straight ahead.


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