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05 June 2003
Taken From: Burrn Magazine (Feb 97) #1

Many of my friends ask me questions about Japan, almost as if I really know alot about it. Whereas I might know a little more than most Americans about the language, music, culture and food, each time I return to Japan I realize just how little I do know. Japan is a complete enigma to me for two main reasons.

The language is amazing. Because of the time it takes for me to make music and tour the world every year, it?s impossible to take a proper college course, or be an ?exchange student? in Japan for a few months. I learn my Japanese in pretty much the same strange way that I write music- in the airplane, on the bus, in the hotel room or even backstage. I learn pretty well on my own, but college students can kick my ass in Kanji!

The Japanese culture is so deep-rooted and intricate that it?s all I can do to keep from making any politeness errors when I?m in Japan. Of course most Japanese don?t expect foreigners to know much or anything at all about the protocol of day-to-day life in Japan, but I find that when I try to follow the local customs, I get a good response from the people and that inspires me to continue.

When I went to Nashville to make ?Needles and Pins?, I had to think of a way to work on my Japanese. I decided to keep a diary of the entire recording process in Japanese. I wrote it completely from my point of view, talking about all of what goes into making a MEGADETH album. It was quite a challenge to describe the frustration, the satisfaction, and the range of emotions that I went through during these sessions, but it was a good way to keep me out of trouble in Nashville! Also it kept me from obsessing about the music that I?m working on. Often after 9 or 10 hours of intense recording, I?m awake all night thinking of ways I could have done this part or that part better. With this diary, I had something to do after a long day of recording that would completely take my mind off of the details of making music and get me into the details of Japanese grammar. The problem was, after writing in the diary every night, I was up all night second-guessing my Japanese grammar! Anyway, it was a cool diversion. There were no video cameras rolling in the studio like there were on ?Youthanasia? so the diary will also serve as a reminder to me of all the things that happened while making the album.

During the course of recording an album, literally thousands of choices are made by each person involved. Every note, phrase, word and chord has been analyzed and thought about and tried many different ways. Each person involved is a specialist. Each of us in Megadeth does something completely different from the other. There were (among many more with smaller tasks) three main engineers. They were Dann Huff, Jeff Balding and Mark Hagen.

Technically, Dann was more of a producer than an engineer, but he did alot of hands-on engineering particularly during the tracking (getting the music on tape) process. Dann has an unlimited musical ?vocabulary? and his job as a producer was to get the best out of each member of Megadeth by looking deep into the musical abilities of the four of us and give us options(musical ideas and concepts that we may have overlooked) that would push us past our limits and make the album as a whole LARGER. Jeff has the amazing ability to hear sound frequencies and judge perfectly where they belong in the musical picture that the musicians(us) are painting. Dann and I would mess with different guitars, amps and pedals until we found something cool that we liked for the part that I was about to record and then Jeff would use his ?golden ears? and adjust the equalizers to make the sound that we were working on stand out and sound it?s best. As soon as that was done, Dann and I would record the part we were working on and Jeff would go back to one of his many other tasks, like putting together drum edits.

Mark did so many different things that it would take 10 pages to list them all. As assistant engineer, he made digital copies of every single thing that was recorded. He made notes of every setting on every piece of equipment for each musical part that was recorded, and importantly, allowed Jeff and Dann to make the main engineering decisions. This is the true sign of a professional. Most assistants, like Mark, are actually engineers in their own right and have a tendency to think they know best and too often add their opinions which even if they are good, usually just make trouble for the main engineer, the producer and the artists. Mark only offered his opinion when he was asked for it, and it was most often a very useful idea.

With so many creative and intense people around and working on the same thing, it is easy to want to kill each other. This is because each person is working his ass off and there is little satisfaction until the record is almost done. For example, the part one person may have worked on for 8 hours on Tuesday may be covered up by a part another guy banged out in 5 minutes on Wednesday. And then maybe one guy envisions the song completely differently from the others and has to fight with the other band members about it. This is when the producer has to be a referee, a psychologist, and above all, one who knows what good MUSIC is. On this album Dann Huff and Dave Mustaine were producers. The two of them probably have the most different musical personalities of any two people who have worked on the same album together. I was glad to just play guitar! I think that I have alot in common musically with both of those guys, and at some times, I felt like a ?musical translator? for the two of them. In Megadeth, we are pretty damn lucky that the four of us pretty much share the same vision of what Megadeth should sound like now and in the future. That?s the only way to survive the make-or-break album making process that I will describe a little at a time each month. Enjoy...

From: #1 Burrn Magazine(Feb 97)