An Interview with Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth

All images courtesy of Dirk Verbeuren/Megadeth Official/Getty Images


By Andrew Daly
andrew@vinylwriter.com

You could say that Dirk Verbeuren’s Megadeth odyssey began back in the 1980s, when as a teenager, the thunderous drummer first discovered the trash originators, ripping open his consciousness, and turning his brain upsidedown.

After years spent in his flagship band, Soilwork, in 2016, Verbeuren received the call of a lifetime from Megadeth frontman, and founder, Dave Mustaine. After a short phone conversation, it was decided that Verbeuren would join Megadeth on the road, filling in on drums for the departed Chris Adler, for the band’s Dystopia World Tour.

It wasn’t long before the innate musical chemistry became apparent, and shortly after his stint began, Mustaine made the decision to retain Verbeuren permanently, making him an official member of the legendary thrash outfit.

Six years later, Verbeuren has earned his stripes. After years on the road perfecting his back catalog chops, Megadeth entered the studio to record its first album in six years, The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! For Dirk Verbeuren, the album represents everything he has worked for in his long and fruitful career. Now finally feeling completely indoctrinated into the Megadeth machine, the forceful sticksman is looking forward to both his and the band’s next chapter.

Having just returned home from a successful European stint on the summer festival circuit, Verbeuren took the time with me to chat via phone. Among other things, we cover his early origins in Megadeth, the chemistry of the current lineup, the recording of The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead!, and a whole lot more.

Andrew:
I wanted to kick off with Megadeth’s ongoing tour. What has the response been like?

Dirk:
It’s been really awesome, man. I mean, I have to say, after this weird period, we’ve all gone through, it’s been so liberating to get back to playing live again, and seeing all these fans and other bands again. And you know, especially getting back to the festivals, which we just came back from in Europe, that was wonderful. It’s been since 2019 that anybody has been able to enjoy that kind of thing, and we could tell it meant a lot to the fans, and it definitely meant a lot to us. It was just really good, and we’re firing on all cylinders. Everybody was so stoked, and it was amazing.

Andrew:
You’ve been Megadeth now for six years, and up until this point, your focus has been the classic tracks. What has been your approach to translating the band’s legacy recordings?

Dirk:
Well, I’ve been playing the drums since I was fifteen years old, so that’s been a good thirty years. I can’t really take away my style at this point, but from the beginning, my approach has always been to think about what I would want to hear as a Megadeth fan, you know? And so I tried to do that by honoring the legacy of the band, the legacy of the drummers that have been in the band, and by studying their parts in great detail, which is also what Dave [Mustaine] had asked me to do and encouraged me to do. From there, it’s really a matter of spending time with the material. Of course, the more times you play the songs live, the more comfortable you’re going to be with them. I think at this point when it comes to all the classic stuff, and all the older material, I think I’ve reached a good place where I can really do that, while also being myself.

Andrew:
When you first entered the band, which tracks were you most excited to play?

Dirk:
I mean, probably the first stuff that I heard, which was Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? I bought that album very early on when I was a teenager, and this was when I had just started listening to metal, and I instantly became addicted to that. So, that holds a particular nostalgic value for me, but you know, I also love the other eras of the band too. Of course, playing a song like “Trust,” or a “Symphony of Destruction,” or anything off Rust in Peace, those songs always have great reactions from people, and they’re fun to play. So really, it’s all about finding a good balance throughout the set, I think. And we work a lot together as a band, and together with Dave to establish different set lists so that we can bring some variations and stuff that maybe we haven’t played for a long time, or even ever. I like how things flow into each other, and create a kind of a story with the fifteen or twenty songs that we play.

All images courtesy of Dirk Verbeuren/Megadeth Official/Getty Images

Andrew:
How did you first enter the Megadeth fold?

Dirk:
I was on tour with my previous band [Soilwork], and I got a call from the Megadeth camp saying, “Dave wants to talk to you about playing with Megadeth.” That was, of course, a very special moment, and kind of unreal. So, we talked on the phone, and when that tour with Soilwork ended, I basically had about ten days to study the Megadeth set, and then went straight to a rehearsal, which was the day before the first show. So, it all went really fast. [Laughs]. I was really only hired to fill in temporarily, but I really did my homework, and I guess things went well. So, it was about maybe a week into the shows when Dave basically said, “You’re my drummer now. You’re staying here.” It was a pretty surreal experience, but I’m fortunate in that I’ve been in that place before. I’ve always jumped in here and there when I could to help people out, so when Dave needed somebody, it wasn’t my first dance in that sense. I’m glad I had all that prior experience to be able to take this on, and just come in and basically make the rest of the guys feel like things were going as they normally would on stage.

Andrew:
In your estimation, what is it about this lineup that allows the four of you to breed such inherent chemistry?

Dirk:
That’s a great question. I think we all just complement each other. You know, in a band, it’s always kind of an interesting dance between people’s personalities and people’s expectations. And when it comes to the musicianship, I think there’s no question that every single one of us in the band is capable of doing this stuff very well. But at the end of the day, it’s all about how you get along on the road, and the interesting thing is that we get along now better than we ever have in the six years that I’ve been in the band. I think we’ve really grown as a band together by listening to each other, and even by sometimes disagreeing, and then figuring out how to move forward from there. We’ve really developed an understanding of each other’s personalities, and that’s really the key because you spend a lot of time together on the bus, the plane, and the train while on the road, so if you don’t get along, it’s gonna play out in ways that aren’t good. So for us, the band is always central, and the only thing we want to do is go out there and play the best shows we possibly can every single night. And that includes Dave because he still has a very deep passion for improving everything night after night, and for bringing the absolute top-of-the-line stuff that he can to his fans. I think that’s really inspiring for the three of us – for James [LoMenzo], Kiko [Loureiro], and myself – because Dave is not jaded in any way. Even after all these years doing what he does, he’s still got the fire. So yeah, I think it’s really about just listening to each other. I think that’s really the most important thing when it comes to getting along.

Andrew:
With bassist James LoMenzo now back with Megadeth on an official basis, walk me through the process of you two locking in as the band’s rhythm section.

Dirk:
Well, it was very easy with James because he’s just such a great player, and he has so much experience as well. You know, he had lots of years with people of various backgrounds. Most recently, he had been playing with John Fogarty, but he’s also played with people like David Lee Roth, White Lion, and as you said, he had a stint with Megadeth before. So, you know, he’s just somebody that you can count on night after night, and he’s also a great singer to boot. And that’s beautiful, because, you know, the background vocals we have on stage, they’re not on tape, they’re all sung live by James and Kiko, and James really nails his parts night after night. Having him is a wonderful thing on many levels, but for us as a rhythm section, I mean, I’ve just basically been doing what I’ve been doing, and James is right there with me. We have a lot of fun together on stage, and we interact quite a bit. On a personal level, he and I hit it off immediately. Pretty much the first day he was here, it was smooth sailing, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.

All images courtesy of Dirk Verbeuren/Megadeth Official/Getty Images

Andrew:
With The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! in the can, and ready for release, take me through some of the challenges you faced being in the studio for the first time with Megadeth.

Dirk:
Well, there was some tension for me, because it was my first time doing this with Megadeth. I didn’t really know what to expect as far as how things would go with the songwriting and just being in the studio, so I was a little bit apprehensive at first. But actually, even though we took a lot of time, things went smoothly overall. I mean, of course, the pandemic hit, and that slowed us down, and not long before that, Dave had his cancer diagnosis and had to get treatment, which happened pretty much in the middle of our songwriting. He soldiered on for a while, but then he had to take a break because treatment became too heavy for him. So, throughout all that, I learned that just listening and being there was a key thing. It’s just like what I said earlier because Dave really has a very clear vision of where he wants to go musically, and lyrically. So for us, the biggest thing was to be able to understand that so that we could complement what he wanted to do.

The thing is, Dave asked us all from the get-go to contribute our own ideas, which we did, including myself. I wrote a couple of songs and some riffs for the album, and two of the songs ended up making it onto the album. It’s cool to be in a band with such a great legacy that I grew up listening to, and then to contribute to that, not only on the drums but also songwriting-wise, it’s a really exciting thing. I think the challenge was really to find my place in the studio, which is a natural thing over time. But again, it’s also something that I’ve had experience with in the past when I was working with different people, who have different viewpoints and different demands. I just wanted to make Dave feel comfortable and make him feel like whatever he needed on drums, that I had him covered. The recording itself went very smoothly, and it was a lot of fun. We did that in the middle of a pandemic, so as far as the drums went, it was really quick, and Dave was super enthusiastic the whole time, as well as the other guys.

Andrew:
You mentioned that you contributed parts of two tracks to the record, which are “Life in Hell,” and “Night Stalkers.” Break down those tracks for me.

Dirk:
Yeah, so when it comes to “Life in Hell,” that’s roughly based on a demo that I wrote at home. I just picked up the guitar, put something together, and added some drums and bass to that. Then I took that to Dave, and he reworked it together with me and with other guys, and it eventually turned into the song that’s on the record. When it comes to “Night Stalker,” that’s a song that I had a riff laying around, and it just fit the song. It’s funny because the story behind that riff is that I was at Dave’s house, I think it was during one of the very first times I went there to go work with him on some ideas one evening. So, I just picked up his guitar and this riff just kind of came to me, and that’s the riff that ended up in the song. Everybody in the band thought it was a good riff, and that we had to use it. For me, that’s exciting, because both of those songs are very much connected style-wise to the older Megadeth. It’s cool because that’s the stuff that I grew up with, and for me to be a part of bringing that element back to the album full-on, that’s something I’m very excited about. This being said, I don’t think that we were looking backward, and I think this sounds very much like a modern album. But, you know, we’re kind of just embracing the whole history of the band, I would say.

Andrew:
Interesting you mention that, as I was going to bring up that this record does seem to harken back to the classic Megadeth sound, while still sounding modern.
Were there any specific conversations in regards to the endgame sound?

Dirk:
It’s not something that we really talked about or decided, I think it just naturally happened from our different influences, and the things we individually brought to the table. You know, when we first started, we just worked on riffs that Dave had in his massive vault of riffs that go all the way back to when he first started playing guitar. So, he picked some that he liked, and I started putting various drum ideas down, so he would have some stuff to work with. And then Kiko would come by and put some additional guitars on, sometimes harmonizing things, adding complementary riffs, or whatever. So, that was kind of the starting point for us before anything really developed, you know? With that, you can see that there wasn’t any clear like, “Oh, it has to be this,” or any type of throwback to the first two or three records mixed with something else. There weren’t any discussions like that at all, it was more of us progressing alone, and it’s just kind of how it went. That said, we did work on some songs that didn’t make the cut in the end, so not every single idea was completely brought to fruition. But we really just kept working on the stuff that inspired us the most, and that we were the happiest with, and as it turns out, that’s what The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! is. It’s cool because I think the band was already kind of headed in a similar direction on the previous record [Dystopia], but I think on this one, you can really feel the whole story of Megadeth inside this one album, which I think is really amazing.

Image credit: Travis Shinn

Andrew:
In what tangible way did producer Chris Rakestraw affect the album’s soundscape and overall flow?

Dirk:
Chris is a great guy. He’s not only a very capable producer, and engineer but also really somebody who understands the psychology of the band members, and that how they work together is paramount to getting good results. He was a great person to kind of redirect us if we were getting a bit lost, or help us out if there were any sort of struggles, disagreements, or whatever. On top of that, he also had a great artistic vision of the overall process, you know? So that was really his role, besides just sitting there and recording us, and keeping everything organized, which is a massive job in and of itself. You know, we spent months together as a band in Nashville in 2019 before and during Dave’s cancer treatments, and that whole time, Chris was there working with us. I think a lot of the stuff that we managed to do, we really have to thank Chris for because he was there to keep things on track and guide them in the right direction, which is really what a producer should do. I’m really happy with the finished product, and I hope we get to work with him again.

Andrew:
As as far as the drum tracks, what was your vision going in, and how did Chris effect that, if at all?

Dirk:
My vision was to keep it as natural as possible because I love the sound of raw, natural drums. I think as a drummer sitting behind the kit, you get this perspective that basically only a drummer gets, and so that’s how I hear it. So, I told the guys from the beginning, “Look, I’m fine with anything, I just don’t want like a bunch of triggers, drum samples, and stuff like that. I want it to be the way I play it. I’ll do takes that are good enough where nothing needs to be messed with.” So, that was my approach, and Chris and Dave were on board with that, and they facilitated that. At the end of the day, of course, the album production is something that gets gone over several times. I mean, we had a bunch of different iterations of the mixes that people gave their opinions on, and the one that you hear on the album is the one that everybody was most happy with. So for me, it really came down to going in, being prepared, knowing my stuff, and working efficiently, so that the songs would have what they needed.

Retaining the soul was important, but it was also really important, and was also my goal as the drummer to bring my own style to the table. But I also wanted to respect and honor the legacy of the band, just like I do on stage because what was also essential to me is that the band would still sound like Megadeth. I put it like this, If I was a fan, you know, at fifteen or sixteen years old discovering Megadeth for the first time, I wanted them to get that feeling, that unique sound, and style that Megadeth has, and the drums contributed enormously to that. I mean, Gar Samuelson was an absolute monster and a very unique player, and I get particularly inspired by his parts. So, I wanted to bring some of that flair to the table along with my own ideas and styles.

Andrew:
Sammy Hagar and Ice-T also feature on this record, how did that come to be?

Dirk:
Well, Dave and Ice-T have been friends for many years, and Dave did some stuff with Body Count not too long ago, so that came naturally. You know, they respect each other a lot, even though they’re from different backgrounds, and there was just a spot in “Night Stalker” that called for Ice-T, I guess. I’m an old-school hip-hop fan myself, and Ice is a legend, and I respect his work. So for me, that was a great thing as well, and I was all for it. And then when it comes to Sammy Hagar, basically, we did a cover of a song called “This Planet’s on Fire (Burn in Hell),” and they decided to ask Sammy to come in and do some vocals on that. So, that’s how that came about. I do think it turned out really, really cool, and it’s a great song.

I feel the same with Ice-T’s part on “Night Stalker,” because I think it really adds to the song. I’ve always loved this idea of marrying diverse influences because I went through a phase as a teenager where I really had blinders on, and I only wanted to listen to particular things that were fast, heavy, and aggressive, and everything else was crap. [Laughs]. But at the same time, before that, I grew up listening to things like pop music, early rock ‘n’ roll, and hip-hop. That being said, it only took a few years before I embraced all of that again, and realized, “Hey, you know what? Good music is good music. It doesn’t matter what style it is.” So for me, marrying those things like the way it’s done there, I love that, and I think it adds an additional dimension and an additional factor of coolness.

All images courtesy of Dirk Verbeuren/Megadeth Official/Getty Images

Andrew:
After spending six years in Megadeth playing the band’s back catalog, how has your perspective changed now that your first album with the band is about to be released?

Dirk:
Well, I would say that I found my place, and that’s basically how it feels. I feel comfortable. I feel like I know what the band needs. And most importantly, Dave is comfortable with having me, and he knows he can rely on me both on a personal level, and on a musical level. You know, that’s really what I’m there for. I’m there to be a good partner, and I’m there to be a solid element of the band. I think that’s the biggest thing that has changed for me because it takes some time to find your place when you join an entity that’s been around for a long time. And, you know, that took some searching and some erring on the wrong side a few times, but I think right now I’m in a very good place. I honestly think we couldn’t be more ready to go out there and promote this album. You asked earlier about the tour we were on, and I have to say, Dave has been singing better than he has in many, many years. He’s extremely excited about the band, the record, and the response to our first single, “We’ll Be Back,” which came out a few weeks ago, and has been tremendous. I think we’re all very eager to go out there and show everybody that Megadeth is alive, and that we still have got a lot to say.

Andrew:
Dating all the way back to your first gig with Megadeth until now, what’s been the most surprising thing you’ve encountered along the way?

Dirk:
It’s probably just how easy it is. What I mean by that is if you take the time to understand the situation, I mean, it’s obvious that when you go into a gig like this, you’re not sure what to expect. Having said that, Dave comes with a reputation that precedes him, but as it turns out, he’s a guy that has a huge heart, that’s always giving 110%, and that’s always doing his best to make sure that everybody in his camp is happy, treated well, and have everything they need. So going in, a lot of these thoughts that I had, I guess I would say it was more like a lot of the anticipation of how’s this is gonna be, they all turned out to be wrong. I found that out very quickly, and sure, some stuff maybe took me a little while to see, but my biggest surprise was really how easy it all is if you show up, be a good bandmate, do a good job, and come prepared. If you do that and show Dave that you’re one less thing to worry about, it really is very easy.

I mean, it’s really tough being a bandleader, and it’s especially tough when you’re a band leader in a big band like Megadeth that’s been around for many years, where the expectations are really high. Everything falls on Dave’s shoulders at the end of the day, like if something goes wrong, nobody’s gonna say, “Oh, it’s Dirks fault,” you know? If things go wrong, it’s gonna be Dave’s fault in the public eye, and that comes with a lot of pressure, and a lot of stress. And so for me, being there and making life easier for him, and for the rest of the guys is the best thing that I can do. That’s what I aim to do every day that I’m on the road with the band or every day that we’re working together. So, that would be my biggest surprise, because I didn’t really fully understand that until I joined Megadeth.

Andrew:
Having said that, what are you most grateful for, Dirk?

Dirk:
I’m most grateful for being able to fully be a part of this band. I cut my teeth doing shows and playing the band’s back catalog for six years, and now The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! is coming out very soon.
Now I feel like I really get to be a part of the band’s history by contributing some music and adding my own drums. Being a part of the whole thing from scratch, that’s extremely incredible for somebody who grew up listening to this stuff as a kid. It’s not something you even dream of in your wildest dreams, so I couldn’t be in a happier place, and I couldn’t be more excited to go out on tour, play the songs from this album, and for people to hear the record.

All images courtesy of Dirk Verbeuren/Megadeth Official/Getty Images

Andrew:
With Megadeth being as vibrant as ever on both the live and studio fronts, I wanted to gauge your thoughts on the idea that “rock is dead.”

Dirk:
Well, I dare anyone to show up at Hellfest in France, Graspop in Belgium, or Download in the U.K. and say that. If they were there a few weeks ago amongst the hundreds of thousands of people being there for days in a row, I can’t imagine them still saying “rock is dead.” [Laughs]. I mean, in the case of Hellfest, it’s two weekends in a row of all these people cheering on all kinds of rock bands, so where do you see “rock is dead?” [Laughs]. It just makes no sense. I think what people are seeing is the way that music is consumed is changing. I think there are different genres of music that are maybe at the forefront right now of what’s popular with younger people, but that doesn’t mean by any means that rock music is dead. When Megadeth is on the road, we have a lot of young people at our shows, and a lot of dads are bringing their kids to discover Megadeth for the first time too. I think that’s great because whatever made the band attractive when Megadeth first started still exists. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1985 or 2022, it’s the same thing.

Andrew:
I’m sure you’ve also noticed the hot button issue where some bands are using pre-recorded vocals to help them along in the live setting. I know Dave Mustaine doesn’t do that. What are your thoughts, Dirk?

Dirk:
I mean, I don’t really have any criticisms about what other bands want to do. I think it’s all about the kind of music and what the music needs. And, you know, there are so many different factors involved in putting on a good show, so for some bands, I guess that works for them. I think if you look at where Megadeth comes from, which is from a rock ‘n’ roll and punk background, and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, it’s not the kind of thing that those bands do. I mean, you don’t see [Iron] Maiden or [Judas] Priest using backing tracks. It’s just not in the vibe of those bands. As for Megadeth, we go on and we rock, that’s the idea. For us, it’s always been a thing where we work on our vocals, and we do vocal training backstage before the show. We have our jam room, and one of the things we do is when we’re in there, we do vocal training. Now I don’t do that much of it, because I don’t sing live, but I participate a little bit with the guys. But for Kiko and James, it’s always something that we’re working on because it’s just an integral part of our show, and I think it’s that much more exciting when you see that. Personally, I think it’s more exciting to know that whatever you’re hearing is what we’re playing and that there’s no pre-recorded stuff. That’s just what works for Megadeth, so that’s what we do.

Andrew:
And of course, your drums. What drums, cymbals, and heads are you using out there?

Dirk:
So, I’ve been with Tama Drums for many, many years. I think it’s almost thirty years, actually. I love my Tama Drums, and they’re the best drums on the planet, as far as I’m concerned. As far as cymbals go, I’m with Meinl Cymbals since 2005, I believe. They’re a German company that I really love. They make great stuff, are very solid, and are very good sounding. They’re also a company that does a lot to be kind to the Earth in their factory, which is located in Germany. Most of their products are entirely green, and I loved it when I went to visit. As far as drum heads, I use Evans, which is an American company, and one of the best ones. I think their heads are extremely durable and extremely complimentary to the sound of my kit.

Andrew:
What’s next for both you and Megadeth as you move forward?

Dirk:
Well, next up we have another single coming out not too long from now. I think it will be out in maybe a week or two, but I forget the exact dates. So, you can all look forward to that one. If you enjoyed “We’ll Be Back,” then you will love the next one. And then we have The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! coming out in September, and at that time, we will be touring in the U.S. again, doing a big North American tour with Five Finger Death Punch. After that, I’m not exactly sure of the details yet, but I heard a couple of days ago that we will be, “Touring a lot more after that.” So, that was the latest news, and wherever you are, you can expect to see us sooner than later.

All images courtesy of Dirk Verbeuren/Megadeth Official/Getty Images

Andrew Daly (@vwmusicrocks) is the Editor-in-Chief for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at andrew@vinylwriter.com

3 thoughts on “An Interview with Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: