Megadeth is one of the Big Four thrash bands, and one of the biggest and most successful metal bands there is. The group formed during the classic, early days of the genre and has released 16 albums as well as compilations and live records and picked up a Grammy along the way.
Drummer Dirk Verbeuren entered Megadeth history in 2016. Besides touring with the band, he played drums on the latest album, The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead!, released in 2022. His drumming resume goes back farther than that, though: he co-founded the death metal band Scarve, joined Soilwork in 2004, and started the grindcore band Bent Sea in 2011, along with many other collaborations and projects, too many to mention here.
Personally, one of my desert island discs is a Megadeth album (Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?), so I was delighted when Verbeuren agreed to be interviewed for the blog. Speaking via email while on tour with the band, he shared what’s it like being in Megadeth.
From the time Verbeuren first started playing with the group up until 2021, David Ellefson was the other half of Megadeth’s rhythm section. That year, bandleader Dave Mustaine replaced Ellefson with James LoMenzo on bass for an upcoming Megadeth tour, so Verbeuren had to adapt to a different bass player.
“James and I both happened to get to the first rehearsal early, so we decided to jam on a few songs. It all just clicked. Playing together felt natural and easy. James is really, really good at what he does, not only as a bass player but as a vocalist as well. He’s honed his craft playing alongside some of the biggest artist in rock and metal.” LoMenzo had previously played on two Megadeth records and toured with the band, “so yeah, we played together pretty effortlessly right off the bat.”
I asked what the audition process was like in 2016. “There was no audition,” he said. The band had asked Verbeuren to fill in for a Megadeth tour, but the timing meant that when he came off a Soilwork tour he only had about 10 days to learn the entire Megadeth set. He flew in for one rehearsal and the next day played a big stage at the Rock on the Range festival, “and of course the whole experience was stressful for me.” While the band and crew were supportive, he said he just did the best he could. That must have been enough, though, because after about a week of shows, Dave Mustaine asked Verbeuren, “‘When are you telling your band that you’re my drummer now?’ I thought he was joking, but clearly he wasn’t!” [laughs]
In his seven years with the band, Verbeuren has played at least 40 different Megadeth songs. And since the band has 16 albums, writing a set list is “a bit of a conundrum,” he said. While there’s a number of songs they have to play because “they’re definitive Megadeth songs,” he said he’d love to be able to play more tunes off the new album.
However, “at the end of the day, we have to consider what works best on stage, but also what would give someone who’s never seen Megadeth the best representation of who we are.” Verbeuren has played older songs such as “This Was My Life,” “Mechanix,” “Rattlehead,” and “In My Darkest Hour” live with the band, but “what I’ve learned—also with my previous bands—is that a song might sound great on record, and therefore look great on paper to play live, but that doesn’t mean it’ll actually work within the flow of a live show. Some songs are just not great live when compared to others.”
Verbeuren uses gloves when performing, for a specific reason: he found out the hard way while in Soilwork that, on long tours, his fingers will blister without them. The band had to cancel a gig “because my hands were so messed up I couldn’t play properly. We had to put chairs and tables on the stage and sign albums instead! [laughs] Funny to think of now, but back then I felt terrible for causing that to happen. That’s when I started using gloves. It’s not ideal, but like most things, you adapt and get used to it.”
Verbeuren has signature sticks, but gloves aren’t required, he said. “They’re 2B sticks made out of natural Japanese oak. They come without the usual glossy finish, which actually increases the grip a bit. Any drummer can use them.”
Playthrough videos are popular social media content, and Verbeuren has done them, recording himself playing along to classic Megadeth songs. I asked him, “Is it strange having to listen to those tracks and figure it out just like any fan would have to, but it’s like, you’re in Megadeth? You know what I mean?”
“I do. In some ways it is,” he replied, explaining that it can be tricky doing justice to the original drummer on a song while at the same time incorporating “my own approach and swing. I aim to find the best balance I possibly can, because people are used to hearing the old songs a certain way. I don’t want to let anyone down. As a fan myself, I know how that feels when someone new comes into a band you’ve loved for years and the sound feels off.”
Lots of working musicians supplement their income with side hustles, lessons, and small businesses these days, and on the band level there’s things like expanded merch offerings (beer, hot sauce) and VIP experiences at gigs. Verbeuren says this situation has everything to do with the lack of income from album sales.
“Let’s face it: only a select number of people buy albums anymore. I don’t think you can reasonably blame anyone for using streaming services,” he said. “It’s convenient and cheap. But the music industry behemoths should have been the ones building a sustainable business model for streaming. Instead, they pretty much ignored the rise of the Internet and got bypassed by companies that use music as a means to sell ads and subscriptions. They became so huge, they can now afford to pay the artists supplying them with their product a fraction of a fraction of a cent per stream. I’m actually not sure if things would have been different if the major labels ran the streaming business. Who knows? But one could imagine that they might have paid their artists a little better.”
Verbeuren continued, “You can’t put the genie back into the bottle, so I think the era where bands made millions from album sales and royalties is probably gone for good. Most bands nowadays offer VIP meet and greets, special events like the Megadeth Boot Camp or the MegaCruise, partnerships with brands, special merch items, et cetera, because it’s a way—the only way?—for them to survive and continue doing what they do.” ■
Further reading: This isn’t the first time I spoke to a member of Megadeth. Read the D.U. interview with David Ellefson.
Photos: Nanci Bompey for D.U.