Interview with J. Marshall Craig, author of Megalife.
What inspired you to write a book about Nick Menza? What is it about his story that makes for such a compelling read? Are you a drummer as well?
Nick approached me after I was recommended to him by a close friend of his who is a fan of my Eric Burdon book, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. He wasn’t sure there was a book in his story .., and I convinced him there was. A great story. I was a drummer throughout high school and college and eventually switched to guitar. It was cool, because in the year I lived with Nick, I got some unbelievable lessons from him on power, technique, and, of course, setting up a kit properly. We jammed a lot — it was brilliant.
How long did it take you from the initial idea to have it come off the printing press?
Way too long, to be honest. And I know that was really frustrating for his fans. Nick didn’t keep a diary or anything of his decade on the road with Megadeth, and he was so much a dude who lived for the moment, and the future. He didn’t remember a whole lotta stories. And he wanted this to be a book that had a little Megadeth but mostly Menza in it … so the stories were happening as we were writing. When Nick died so tragically and unexpectedly, it took me a year to work through my own grief — he’d become one of my best friends — and rewrite the book.
Was it hard to secure funding and/or publishing?
No, there was always a lot of interest in a book about Nick. And I have a pretty decent track record of getting anything I do published. I have to give a shout out to Jacob at Post Hill Press, however, for really stepping up to the plate with this project.
What was your writing routine like?
We spent a month or so just talking, jamming, listening to music … cooking, eating, hitting clubs in Hollywood and the Valley. From there we developed what I call a “chapter map” and once he signed off on that, I got to work on all the heavy lifting: Preparing questions and dialogue with him, taping our conversations, transcribing, spending hundreds and hundreds of hours researching all the bands he’d been in, talking to dozens and dozens of his friends and former bandmates. He was always working in his studio, when he wasn’t rehearsing or playing with Ohm, or working on his cymbal line over at Soultone. I’d catch him late at night and we’d talk, play, watch cartoons on Adult Swim … and I’d tape. Over the following few days, I’d write. And we’d start all over again.
Did you approach any members of Megadeth, past or present and ask them to contribute?
I did. Marty Friedman was absolutely golden. He gave me so much material and was so generous with his time. David Ellefson … well … what can I say? The book is so much more and so much better because of the kindness of David. We spent hours on the phone together and talked via text and email … he was simply invaluable with his input and gracious time, and beautiful remembrances of Nick. Ultimately, I had to decide what NOT to put in, of all the material he gave me. But only because Nick insisted on this being a book about him, not exclusively about Megadeth. James LoMenzo was also absolutely righteous in his help. What a great guy. Again, terrific stories and very generous with his time. Chris Poland was another invaluable contributor to the book and I’m hugely in his debt. Same with Jeff Young, who was a steady source for tales of the early days when Nick was the drum tech. Nick and I both approached Mustaine, starting in about 2014, and he simply never even responded to either one of us. After Nick died he and I talked on the phone a couple of times … and he hung up on me each time. I guess all I can say there is that Dave Mustaine is very accurately represented in this book.
Was there anyone who was especially helpful, or conversely anyone who declined to participate?
HUGE shout out to Robertino “Pag” Pagliari, the bassist in Ohm, the last band Nick was in. Pag (like Chris Poland) was a brother to Nick and Nick had the greatest respect and love for those guys. And it shows in how they spoke of him while he was alive — and after he died. Kelly Rhodes and Christian Nesmith were also absolutely key in their assistance.
There were a couple of Nick’s lifelong childhood and high school friends who chose not to participate, for whatever reason. And I was sad and disappointed that though producer Max Norman and I wrote back and forth for a couple of years, we never seemed to get together for a chat.
What was the most shocking revelation you came across about Menza while doing your research for this book?
Discovering — experiencing, first hand — his genius. I mean that. Nick was an absolute genius. He knew more about music, about arranging, chord structures and tunings, than I had ever experienced (he was so inspired and influenced by his father, Don, the world-renowned jazz saxophonist). And he knew a staggering amount about audio science. He designed and built his home studio, wired in his massive drum room to the studio on the other side of the house … and even designed and built his own monitor system and zero-bleed headphones. Then came the handmade snares, cajones, custom cymbals, microphone mounts … the guy was relentless.
Do you think that someone will eventually reissue his rare solo album?
That would be up to his estate … his mother, Rose … probably his two boys. Nick was going to re-mix it and remaster it, especially working on his vocals. Then, he said, he was just going to record a whole new record, which he did work on over the years.
How has initial response been to the book?
Absolutely huge. In South America, where Nick was a massive star, and where Megadeth is still a stadium act, the response has been great. Here, I was told the book was the Number 1 bestseller in advance sales for music bios before it was officially released today, December 11.
For our aspiring authors out there, what is the one best piece of advice you could give to a writer?
WRITE. Seriously. If you don’t have anything to write … sit down and write, “I can’t think of anything to write today.” Then write the sentence after that. This is what writers do. Wannabes bitch about imaginary writer’s block.