James LoMenzo is not just a man with an impressive resumè (he’s written and performed with the likes of Ozzy, Slash and Zakk Wylde, White Lion, just to name a few,) he’s also a man with impressive enough chops to make Mustaine himself lament during the tryout which LoMenzo nailed right out of the gate “I should have hired you sooner!”
Mid-recording of “Endgame” (his second credit with Big Four Metal legends Megadeth ) Jlo took a few moments out of his hectic schedule with this “fellow East Coast friend” (he’s also a graphic artist and a member of the band Hideous Sun Demons) to help promote this much anticipated release…and the end of the world…
The interview started out with me apologizing to James for not being able to work my micro-recorder during our first scheduled conference call. He commiserates by telling me that he got his Palm to work better by tossing it against a wall (“Not that I’m one of those temperamental rock stars…”) I suggest that my cell phone might consider launching itself into a toilet, as we begin our talk about nearly everything... Well, James, you’ve now joined the ranks of some very prolific players who have worked alongside Dave Mustaine. Did you feel pressured at first toward bringing you’re A-Game; even more so than you did for your previous projects, or about the same?
No, no, no, never! You know what; I’ve played with so many of these icons throughout my career, prior to Megadeth, that intimidation, that fear; it’s kind of a weird concept to me - I’ve never had it. I was always either too stupid to think about it, or doing too much to worry about it. The one concern I did have coming in here was that, stylistically, I didn’t really think that the thrash metal style was something I had really explored before,. The other projects I’ve been involved in, I’ve always played like half tempo blues. I told Dave when I first joined the project that I didn’t know if I was really the best guy for the band, that I was kind of a blues basher. He assured me that Megadeth’s music was the blues, only a lot faster, which was kind of him. So, I just plowed ahead. I was actually really dumb for agreeing to it, in a way. I mean, I was just excited to be a part of Megadeth! I was well aware of their history and their music, but to learn twenty-eight songs in three weeks was really tough. Whoa, that’s challenging!
Yeah! I mean, Dave said we had to do Dubai in a month, which meant that I had about two weeks to learn the songs and another week and a half to practice with the band. I just cavalierly said “Sure,” as I’ve often done before, but then the music wasn’t quite as elaborate as Megadeth’s music. Saying “Sure” cavalierly could get you into no end of hot water, but that would be a different interview…
Without a doubt! Yeah, so I just plunged forth with cheat sheets up upon the drum riser, like I do from time to time - just little reminders and stuff like that - but I came through it relatively unscathed, and here we are, four years later, almost. Yeah, and second album coming out!
“Endgame.” I was waiting for the reviewers’ holiday with that, but they’ve disappointed me so far, because they all seem to like it. You were hoping they’d hate it?
Well, when you name something “Endgame,” you kind of wince and go “Well, this is bold, let’s see if people are gonna take it on its merit” and so far, so great. It’s a really good Megadeth record. It’s got elements of everything that’s been going on in this band from Day One, from inception to now. I’m proud to be part of it at this point, because it’s such a cohesive way to look at the band, you know? To have one album that says it all, stylistically – which is the way I perceive it and what people have been told me so far was initial their reaction to it is really gratifying. It’s like “Great, we’re going to go out touring for the next batch of years with this!” I wonder if anyone looked at the title “Endgame” and figured this is, you know, the last shot.
Well, it’s funny, because Dave likes to play wordplay with everything; in some of his interviews, he injects a bit of that, too. This actually has more to do with the governmental, societal control over the world – that would lead to the endgame, which we’ve been afraid of since the fifties, although I think it’s a different entity now. Apparently, we only have three years left, so…better make them good!
God! Well, this tour should take about two years, and then I’m going to go on vacation. (laughs) Well, since you’re busy being so well-rounded, has Dave called upon your graphic arts skills at all so far?
I’ve done a few things for him, but I leave the actual artwork to the professionals. John Lorenzi is the guy - Dave ran into him awhile back through a contest – he’s been doing stellar artwork. I’m more of a designer; I’ve done some professional advertising. I’m good at putting elements together, and I’m good on the computer. I can create things, but I’m by no means a seasoned artist. I understand all the disciplines and I’m relatively good at it, but I love playing bass guitar – that’s where all of my energy goes. Years ago when my daughter was born, I actually left the business for a batch of years and took up graphic design work. I freelanced for Disney and some high-end companies that do covers for magazines. A lot of my stuff went by on billboards for really crummy t.v. shows and stuff like that. It was fun; it helped me get my head together and realize how much I truly love making music rather than staring at a blank computer screen. Is it jarring, having gone from a beer-drinking machine of a frontman to one who has gone completely straightedge?
Apparently not as much of a machine as we’d hoped – my best wishes are with him (James is referring to Zakk Wylde’s recent blood clot scare.) You know what? It’s very sedate around the Megadeth camp, which seems really weird. I know you’d imagine it being all “Bah Megadeth!” horns in the air, getting nuts and all that. It’s all built into the intensity of the music, I totally get that. This is really run like a well-oiled machine; Dave’s a very delineating individual. People ask me “Does Dave ride you pretty hard?” Actually, no – he’s like the King of Quality Control, and I admire that, it’s a great thing. Is this all code for what torture devices you don’t want me to know that he has back there?
There is the “Headcrusher” device (we both laugh.) See, here’s the thing: people tell me “Oh, you’re going to play with So-And-So, he’s a tough one” but I always get along great with these people. I mean, yeah, they’re demanding, but they make great music, you know? You couldn’t be in a better place, James, and you are a great contributor to the band. Do you have any interesting tales from Dubai, other being mauled-by-teenage-girls?
It was my first trip to the Mideast, and I thought it was a really strange place. Basically, we remained sequestered in a hotel room out in the middle of nowhere, yet the hotel was quite nice and opulent. We were about twenty miles away from the city that everybody’s seen, and they were still building the place; construction everywhere. You’d see workers just walking down the road, and there were no bus stops! We met a lot of Americans citizens who were working there; “I’m a photographer,” “I’m a newsperson” and I was like “Really, you can survive doing that here?”
It reminded me of a summer camp that I went to. This teacher from my school had partnered with another teacher, and they decided to buy this dilapidated old summer camp and make it into a camp for musicians from all over the world. It was great, but they never thought about putting any rules into it. They split the camp in half – boys on one side, girls on the other, as if there was some kind of magical barrier in between. I remember that from when I went to camp, yeah.
Yeah, it was a delightful but reckless time; they hadn’t quite figured it all out – there’s something really fun and beautiful about that. That was kind of my perspective on Dubai, four years ago; they hadn’t quite figured out what they wanted to be yet – they were just building it. It was pretty loose as far as rules went, even though they had told us while getting off the plane to watch our language and all that. Oh, I’m sure everybody really paid attention to that rule.
Well, there was that band, I forget who it was, they play “Lipstick and Leather” I think? (Saxon - “Denim and Leather.”) They were supposed to be out there, too, but somebody read their lyric sheet and said “No, no, no we can’t have this here.” It’s obviously a capitalist society. We rode camels and went up sand dunes. And it was strange, because it was the first time we’d spent any time together as a band. Getting up there and playing “Holy Wars” for the first time live in front of people who are sitting in the middle of one was definitely an eye opener – it made a weird kind of ironic sense to me. They were probably like “Well I must’ve come to the right place then.” Since your gigs generally come by way of firing, is there anyone in particular whose shoes you’d love to fill for a day?
That’s really dark! Unless they lose their jobs…I wanna see Paul McCartney fired! I’d like to go and play his songs live. There isn’t still a Beatles though, there’s still a Who without Entwhistle though.
That’s one, now, see, in a perfect world…one of my favorite bass players, Pino Palladino, has been playing with them ever since John passed away. I actually saw them in Germany last year and I said to him “You know, you play with everybody, why don’t you get off the stage and let some other guys have a chance” (we both laugh.) In 2002, I started working with Ashtown Amplifier (who John also used.) The guy who had brought me into the company had said “Hey, they’re playing the Hollywood Bowl, and you’re invited, to stand on the side of the stage with me.” I was like a little kid in Candyland, I mean, they are one of my heroes .…and then he had the bad taste to die on me. Yeah, that is probably the only band I would actually really love to sit in with for a night. I wonder if Pete and Roger are reading this right now; let’s make sure they find out.
Yeah, get them on the horn! I’m going to make a few phone calls…Roger Daltrey answered a letter I wrote him when I was twelve and that was my prized possession until my mother accidentally threw it out. So, can you believe how much New York has changed since we came up in the eighties? How about how much metal has changed since then?
I’m fine with that – I think it’s exactly as it should be. There’d be nothing special about it if it didn’t have a time and a place, if it just kept going and going, you know? It’s kind of like how disco got interesting for a while, and now all of a sudden, dance music is still around. Whether you like it or you don’t like it, it’s a genre that created itself; same thing with metal.
When I joined Black Label Society, I hadn’t really tuned into metal for awhile, and then there we were, playing Oz Fest and I was like “Okay, what does new metal look and smell like these days?” It was really sanitized, but not in a clean and fresh way, if you know what I mean. It still had edge to it, but I thought it was ultimately way too heavy-sounding. All the low tuning and monster voices – they went comically too far, because there was a point where you couldn’t go “Yeah, these guys are pissed.” I had always thought that was the best thing about metal; the aggression was exactly where it should be. Also, that slight tinge of fascism: “Let’s all go in this direction – you with me?” That was great.
I had trouble following it and then, in time, just as it does – I’ve been out of Black Label for four years – the good bands have risen to where they’re supposed to be and all the other five thousand have dissipated and gone to The Dark Lord like they wanted to (we both giggle.) They’ve evaporated in a puff of smoke…
Leaving behind a green globule. I’ve actually enjoyed it, because it’s another generational movement and it’s based on the same music that I love. You just have to discern some of it. Metal has a tendency to get itself into loops. Even when The Lion was King, it sort of became a parody of itself.
Are we talking about a Disney movie? No, we are not, we’re just making it sound that way
This is something that comes up every now and again. My daughter’s a teenager now, so we’ll have her friends over and every once in a while, they’ll have some “Eighties!” commercial. We’ll be sitting on the couch and they’ll go “Hey, that’s you! You don’t look the same way, but that’s you.” I’ll go “David Coverdale - the guy from Deep Purple, that’s him. He put on the crime-fighting outfits and had the French Revolution hair just like me.” My teenage son pines for the eighties like you would not believe. He would do anything to go back to it, just like there were some of us who wanted to go back to the sixties.
Oh, without a doubt, I was one of those. I totally wanted to play in any one of those bands, except for Sha Na Na and Joan Baez. Oh come on, you could’ve brought something interesting to their sets!
Seeing those bands, that was where my head blew up, I was like “Wow!” I couldn’t really put it into words, I didn’t really understand what the music was about, but I was like “All these people love this music, and I love this music.” I’m not sure they understood it either, because just like us, most of them were wasted. They came up with their own interpretation of reality then.
Well, I can tell you this: Jimi Hendrix is largely responsible for me becoming a bass player. I was playing guitar at eleven or twelve, and I would see all these clips of him and my cousin would play me his records all the time, and I just couldn’t get what he was doing. He intimidated the greatest guitar players in the world at that time.
Yeah, so I just like “Well, I’ll just put the guitar aside; what’s easier to play so that I can just be a singer?” Little did I know that I was a crappy singer, so I just had to become a better bass player (we both laugh.)You know, you’re taking a lot of shots at yourself, but you really are a highly respected musician, and rightfully so – you’ve been at it for decades, you’ve worked with, arguably, some of the best talents in the business.
And I’ve argued with some of them (laughs). I’m sure you’ve argued with all of them! Do you think it there will be a time when you want to put out a solo album time?
I’ve got probably about thirty songs sitting on my little hard drive right now, and I can’t decide whether they’re for a solo bass record, or one with vocals, or maybe just a band thing, I don’t know. Yeah, I’m always dying to do that, but Megadeth is such an all-encompassing unit that it doesn’t really leave me a lot of time to do that sort of thing. When I get home, at this stage of my life, I really want to spend more quality time with my family rather than sitting in front of a computer screen (which is the way we make music now.) Yeah, but that dream’s still there, I have an inkling toward showing them what I’ve got in my own little freak heart, whether or not they care. I’d love to think that there’s an audience for it, but I’m one, and I’d listen to it (both laugh.) An audience of one! Does your daughter maybe have a musical inkling?
She loves a lot of the stuff that I love, and only because she would listen to a lot of music with us as she was growing up, and it just got under her skin. She likes the new bands, and I’ll listen, too; it keeps me honest. It keeps me knowing what’s going on, seeing what kids are listening to these days. What do you make of the current vinyl craze; isn’t it weird? For me, it is.
I totally get it. My favorite activity when I visit Japan is going to this little bar. It’s about twenty feet long by fifteen feet deep. The bar itself takes up the whole length of the place, from the front to the back. You hand them about twenty bucks and they give you little sandwiches and drinks. All it is is a wall full of vinyl – every record you’ve ever heard in your life, pretty much. You can tell them “Hey, let me hear Jeff Beck” and they’ll whip it out, hand you the cover, and it’s like this great basement party like we used to have when we were kids. Yeah, that’s undoubtedly cool if you’re holding onto a Peter Frampton record, but new bands?
There’s something about analog that’s just so enticing, I mean, digital is just a bunch of slices coming at you in a row, whereas vinyl is this nice-shaped, rolling S, up and down modulation. I think, as human beings, our electrical systems can hear that more as music than the slices. We’ve spent the last twenty or thirty years trying to improve the quality of digital to make it sound more like what we were used to. That’s one side of it. The other side of it is: a lot of my friends cry about this all the time, that they hate the cd covers. I get that, too, because when I was a kid, I used to love to tear apart that big vinyl cover and look at the artwork – take it in as the whole experience of listening to the music. Yeah, but aren’t they impractical? Isn’t that why we tried to improve upon it?
Terribly impractical! You know what else was more practical, but just horrific? Eight-tracks and cassettes. I’ll give you that the cassettes had a short shelf life, but there was something about the ability to record the album and just kinda pass that around.
Right, right, right, and that’s where we’re at right now – that’s why the record companies are folding. They didn’t fold then – we were all doing that!
I know, well, to a point you’re right, but to another point: you couldn’t really get the fidelity of the actual sound of the thing on the cassette, really. That was the part that kept everyone buying the actual cds along with making copies for your really poor friends in Brooklyn. I remember having a group and one dude would have a copy of “High Voltage” and he would make like seven cassettes for everybody he knew.
Well, there are others thing that I actually like about vinyl that I don’t like about cds: the two sides. The commitment to listening to it; having to get up off your ass. The other thing is as a musician, trying to get your music lined up on the cd so people will actually hear what you want them to hear. If you had an album, with the two sides, you had at least a fifty-fifty shot at them hearing the whole album quickly, digesting some of it and picking out what they really loved about it. You think people are doing more skipping with cds?
I think people throw them on their car, then get where they’re going, shut the car off and never get to the back of the album. You could have a point there.
Record companies have been insisting, because of the money that they could make, that we give them thirteen or fourteen songs, whereas some of the greatest albums only had eight to ten. You could really wrap your head around the eight to ten songs because you’d listen to five of them at a time, then flip it over and listen to the next four. You’d kind of go “My favorite side this week is Side B; I’m gonna amp out on all those songs.” You would savor it, too, because there were only a couple of times a year you’d be able to go and pick up a record.
I get the impracticality of it: “Let’s take another chunk out of the earth to make some more vinyl.” I know! Aren’t we in enough of a crisis already? I mean, we were trying to eliminate Styrofoam cups!
I was talking to my father-in-law, and he was debunking global warming again. It brought to mind George Carlin and his wonderful little bit about the planet: “The planet has been through a lot worse than us. The planet isn’t going anywhere, we are!” It couldn’t make plastic for itself, so it had us make it for it. Now that it has plastic, it’s going to shake us off like a bad case of fleas.
It’s us who are in peril! What do you think the future of music is looking like – the next generation?
I think people are gravitating toward a simpler form of guitar-oriented sound, sort of a stripped-down AC/DC type sound. I think people are getting tired of the digital production world, which has made everything perfect ad nauseum. I think people just want to rock, they just want to bang their heads.
Are you quoting Gene Simmons?
If I am, I’m sure I owe him some money. He’ll come find you, too!
I think that’s what people are looking for – what the record companies are looking for. If that’s an indication of what’s to come, if we’re going to get more eclectic music like that, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I think there’s room for you guys in there. I’m really excited about the record, really excited about the new tour.
It’s going to be a stellar piece of Megadeth’s history. This band is kind of stripped away from all the distractions of drugs, or this, that and the other thing. We’re basically do this for and in its purest form. It’s all based on Dave’s interest of succeeding with Megadeth, and he’s totally stoked about this. I think with the band as it is now, we’re moving in a great direction, and in the very least, there are bound to be some great shows up ahead and at them most, hopefully, people will see this as one of the best records.