INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
Transcription by Antaura Zed
David Ellefson is a co-founder and original bassist for legendary metal band Megadeth. Other than vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine, he was the only constant member of Megadeth from the time of their establishment in 1983 to the group’s hiatus in 2002. During that period, Megadeth released nine highly successful albums like RUST IN PEACE, PEACE SELLS … BUT WHO’S BUYING and YOUTHANASIA, which are nowadays a thrash metal classics. Mustaine subsequently reformed Megadeth in 2004 but without David Ellefson, and it wasn’t until last February when he finally rejoined in the band. During his off-Megadeth years, Ellefson worked with several different groups and projects including Soulfly, Tim “Ripper” Owens, Killing Machine, F5, and all-star cover band Hail!. Megadeth is currently on tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of RUST IN PEACE, and in July 2010, the band arrived to headline the Tuska Festival in Helsinki. Here’s what Dave had to say about their reunion, the projects, and about the future of Megadeth… read on!
First things first: how does it feel to be back?
Back in Helsinki or back in Megadeth? Both maybe?
It’s excellent. Good on both fronts. You know, I’ve given my time away from Megadeth. I always sensed there would be a time to come back, and I’m so happy that it happened this year. I mean, this is a great year for it to happen, especially because we didn’t have to have the pressure of having a new album. Which, of course, would have required getting together, writing it, recording it, everything that goes with that. It is a very long process – and then going out on tour. It was nice to come back when there was all very choice, premium touring to do – starting with the 20th-anniversary RUST IN PEACE -tour of North America, Big South, and Central America tour, and then, of course, coming over here and doing festivals, doing the Big Four shows, and then rolling right into “American Carnage” with Slayer and Testament. So it’s really been a great sort of on-ramp back onto the Megadeth road.
Were there any doubts when you joined Megadeth again?
No, not really. I mean, it’s funny because I stayed up on the songs. My chops were really good; I stayed upon it. Obviously, I’d been doing a lot of recording, making a lot of records, touring in my years away from Megadeth, so my, you know, my chops were up, and I was very much still- probably more active- [laughs] If you could be more active than being in Megadeth, it was probably me away from Megadeth and I say that only because I had my hands in so many different things that really kept my chops very sharp – in a way that I didn’t experience in Megadeth before because, when you’re in a band, you go through different seasons, you know. You write, and you record, and you tour, and you do kind of one thing at a time for a long period of time, and what I’d been doing here in recent years was had my hands always in some writing, always in some recording, and always in some touring. So I was wearing many hats all at the same time, which I found very stimulating. It was very invigorating to do that. But with that said, it’s nice now to just be in tour mode because touring with Megadeth, obviously, is a very big production, you put a lot of miles – kilometers – under you in your travels. My main thing coming back was just making sure Dave and I were- we were definitely both in the right headspace for it; we knew within two minutes of talking to each other on the phone that we both wanted it to happen. So that right there was- as long as he and I were both cool with it – which we both were very cool about it – it was easy for it to happen from there.
Did the idea of your return come originally from your side or from Dave’s side?
It’s funny: Dave had reached out to me a few times over the years, and we had talked, you know. So it wasn’t like we had been totally estranged and didn’t say a word to each other for eight years, you know. We have, you know, seen each other, we’ve hung out, we’ve talked, and it was kind of like, “Hey, what do you think about…?” and “What if one day…?” and “How would you feel if…?” and you know what I mean? And we were kind of just checking each other out a little bit, going “Would you be cool with this?” and “How are things?” and, you know. Dave, he knows this is, you know, my home. Do you know what I mean? And he wanted me to be here, you know. And there was obviously in the late 90s, the early 2000s- it was a very difficult time. We had some different management, and there was the RISK album, which was a very difficult album. Creatively, it was not fun. It wasn’t fun for Dave either. Even though I think there are some great songs on there. It was a very difficult time, you know, creatively. Marty Friedman left the group during that time. So [there were] a lot of transitions – and those transitions really take a big toll on band members, and that was really the beginning of our foundation really starting to crumble, you know. So it’s almost like the band needed to end like it did in 2002 and, you know, I think to some degree it was good that Dave had a few years by himself to creatively re-establish where he wanted it to go because, you know, I don’t like to fight Dave creatively on things. I kind of trust if he thinks it should go somewhere, I kind of wind up behind him. He seems to know where things should go creatively. If he likes a riff, usually our fans like the riff. If he writes a song that he feels passionate about, usually, our fans love it. So I kind of always, sort of just sort of line up behind him on that. So it was nice, I think, these last few years for him to not have, you know, managers, and producers, and people pushing him into places he didn’t want to go. So I think that kind of was a big hurdle for him to get over and I’m glad for him that he was able to get over that. I think that ENDGAME was – out of the trilogy of the last three records – probably a really great way to really seal that with the fans. I think fans are very happy; they’re glad Megadeth is back – song writing-wise, creatively…
.. and there’s more good, positive trust in the band?
Yeah, exactly – without a doubt. That’s a good way to put it: there’s a good trust. And I think with me coming back, that just further cemented, like, “Okay, this really is Megadeth again; this is really the deal again.”
MEGADETH 2010: Shawn Drover, Dave Mustaine, Chris Broderick, Dave Ellefson
DIFFERENT TIMES: RIPPER OWENS AND HAIL!
How was your time with Hail! and other things you did while you were away from Megadeth?
You know, it’s cool because I think by all the other things I did creatively through the years away from the band, I came back a much better player – much more excited, probably brought a more exciting element back into the band, you know? Because all those experiences groomed me in a different way – it was great to play with a lot of different people. I think it’s good for musicians to play with other musicians, you know – step outside your band. It can be either solo projects or even just jamming, you know, taking the time. Like I came over here, and I did the thing with Hail! Just going out and just playing some tunes with your buddies. You know, those experiences are good for you. They help you kind of blow off some steam, you the experience of playing with some other people, it also then kind of makes you appreciate- “Wow, I have a home to come back to.”
It must have been great fun to play such different tunes and music during that time?
Yeah, it’s great to play different music, exactly. I think that’s fun, you know, and a lot of times bands don’t get to have that experience, or at least certain members within some bands don’t get to have that experience. And I think what happens is, creatively, you kind of start to wilt a little bit, you know? So I’m glad I had all that. So coming back, you know, I think it was good for Dave and me because we were able to look at each other like, “Man, we’re the two guys.” Shawn always asks us, “Man, tell me another story from the old days.” Even though we’ve done a Behind the Music special and stuff, I mean, there’s just [so many more] stories for days. And they’re funny now because we survived them and we lived to tell about them, so they’re funny. But, you know, I think Dave appreciates that he’s got someone from the early days there with him, you know? Sometimes it’s just a look – we’ll be on stage, and he’ll, like, just give me a look, and it’s like, “Okay, we should speed the tempo up a little bit,” or. Or he gives me a nod and it’s kind of like- We throw each other a little smile, like, you know, “We’re kicking ass tonight.” It’s kind of a good team effort thing, you know?
Speaking more about Hail, I actually interviewed Jimmy [DeGrasso] last November, and he told me that it was you and him who originally started the band. Tell some more about how that Hail! –the thing got started?
Well, it’s interesting – it was, but there’s a manager involved who he was then- I know Jimmy was a little [upset] that it carried on without him. He was kind of upset about that, but it’s- You know, I always said, look, because it’s four guys from four very different schedules, we almost always have to be able to let the group work if one of us can’t be there. And then that happened to be me one day. I’ve kind of been revered as a founder of it, you know, and I happen to be the one who handed the bass over, first to Paul Gray who – God rest his soul – was not able to do that tour. I was so happy for him too, that he was going to do that because I always felt like Paul was a guy who- A lot of the other guys in Slipknot, they took their masks off, they went out, they worked they did other things. Obviously, Joey [Jordison]’s had some great drumming gigs, and Corey [Taylor]’s got Stone Sour with Jim [Root] and everything. So I was so happy for Paul that he was finally going to get out and do something on his own. Even if he had his mask on, it’s like, dude, just get out there and play, man; have fun; just go and do something and be– Like what I said earlier: just creatively go out and enjoy a couple of weeks outside your own band. I find that’s such a good thing, so that was what was so heartbreaking about that. But James Lomenzo is a great player. I thought he did a great job in Megadeth because he doesn’t come from a thrash metal background, and for him to play these songs and step up and step into this gig and do this, I found it very commendable that he was able to do it, quite honestly.
It must have been quite difficult for him at first to play such different music after being in bands like White Lion, David Lee Roth, and Black Label Society before joining Megadeth?
Sure, sure. But he’s a great player and a great guy – easy rolling guy; he gets the drill, you know. I’m happy he was able to do the last couple of weeks of Hail! dates. And, of course, he and I are kind of in the same family tree now, you know what I mean? So there was, I think, a connection even with the fans and, you know, us bass players, we have a brotherhood unlike any other musicians, you know.
I also interviewed James when he was in Megadeth – maybe two or three years ago – and we talked a lot about this brotherhood thing.
Great, he’s a good guy.
How about the future of Hail! and David Ellefson? Is playing with Hail! something that you can’t definitely do anymore in the future?
No. I mean, here’s how I left it: I was like, look, pretty much the rest of this year I’m busy – we’ve got a lot of touring coming up that we’re going to be doing. So I said, look if more opportunities come for the band, James – or whoever’s available – by all means, please go [and] keep working. Because that’s a fun band, it’s not original material; we’re not out promoting a record, there isn’t, like, a window where we have to go promote this now or else the record dies kind of thing. So it’s a fun gig, and everybody has a great time, so my attitude is, man, whoever, whenever should be Hail!, you know. I mean, I feel kind of ownership to it, but…
But do you still think you will be able to do some Hail! dates in the future?
I would love to! When the window of time ever opens up to do it, I would love to be able to go back and do that. Because, again, I look at that as, like, I – in a way – was a sort of founder of it. Like I said before, that band was formed because of me, and the manager and Jimmy– Jimmy was definitely there right from the very beginning. To me, it was Jimmy and me – our manager Mark had recommended Andreas [Kisser] because the first group dates were in South America, which was wonderful. I didn’t know Andreas, and I’d never played with him before. But man, what a great fit for the Hail! gig. Because he- You know, again, we know him as a Sepultura guy, but, again, you know him very one-dimensionally for only being a Sepultura guy. Man, Andreas has got a whole world of other musical knowledge, and there’s just a world and world and world of stuff there with him that you would never know until you see him in Hail! or you pick up a copy of anything he’s released, like an acoustic record or something, or a nylon string record or something, so all of a sudden you’re like, wow! There’s a whole bunch of other stuff going on there. And then, of course, Ripper is a real to-the-wall singer, man. When that guy opens his mouth and sings, you go, “Now that guy is a badass singer, man.”
I remember seeing him doing his solo tour last year. It was you, Simon Wright and Chris Caffery playing with him there. That was a fantastic show. It covered almost all kind of things of metal music, you know?
Was it the Stockholm one?
No, no – it was the one in Sweden Rock Festival.
Oh, Sweden Rock! Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Sweden Rock: that was a good gig; that was a fun tour with him, doing that. Because, again, we’d already done some Hail! stuff where- It was fun because it just goes to show that we’re the brotherhood because, you know, in Hail! I kind of would help outline the setlist and make sure that it was from a thrash origin and stuff. But now I’m playing bass for Tim, and I’m kind of working for him, which is cool. It’s like, okay, you’re the boss, and you tell me what you want me to do. So it’s cool to have a brotherhood like that – that we can, you know, respect each other enough and know kind of who the guy in charge is. And not that I’m in charge of Hail! by any means, but you know what I mean? With Hail! we defined it: look, these are tunes from the thrash genre or songs that inspired the thrash genre – because we had to close the window at some point. [If not, it would become] “Ah! We should do some Zep!” I mean, all of a sudden it turns into- it could be- play anything, and we didn’t want this just to be some cheesy cover band, we wanted it to really be focused, knowing what our fans would want to hear us play.
TIM RIPPER BAND 2009: John Compxrix, Dave Ellefson, Chris Caffery, Tim Owens, and Simon Wright
OTHER PROJECTS AND STUFF
So you’ve returned to Megadeth, but what about all the other projects you had going on? Besides Hail! you recently had a project called Killing Machine. Tell us something about that project?
That was a great record. You know, it’s funny because Peter [Scheithauer] had originally contacted me about Killing Machine and he said, “By the way, there’s this other record that I want to do first,” which was Temple of Brutality, which was Stet [Howland] who was at that time playing with W.A.S.P. So I flew down to Florida, we banged out the Temple record within, like, a week – I mean, top to bottom. And it was a ton of fun, great vibe, just a great hang, and then I said, “Man, we gotta do this Killing Machine record” – these are great riffs, these are just old school, very traditional, power metal, heavy guitar riffs. So I called Jimmy DeGrasso into play on it, who I think really took it to a whole different level and because of his playing, being very different than Stet’s; it also made sure that it didn’t sound like Temple. Even though two of us were in both bands, they sounded very different. Of course, James Rivera is a great singer. I’ve known him for a lot of years – Helstar’s tour with Megadeth [for example]; I produced Helstar many years ago. So that was a cool record. I still pop through my iPod once in a while and listen to some of those tunes, and they’re cool, man – I love them. More recently, I did the Angels of Babylon record, which was with Rhino [Kenny Earl Edwards] from Manowar – he was really creative; he got that moving. And the singer, Dave Fefolt, lives in Phoenix and is another great talent. There’s a lot of great talent – that’s one thing I discovered in my years away from Megadeth. There are a lot of very talented artists and musicians out there who have the heart for it, they’ve got the mindset for it, but for whatever reason, they just never get that lucky break, you know?
They never had the real chance…
Yeah, they just never had the chance for whatever reason. And so I feel really good about a lot of the records that I did: Temple, Killing, Angels of Babylon. Even the F5 guys – extremely talented, great writers, great players. I felt really proud to- you know, not pride but just from a place of real joy – just happiness for people to help them have a chance to do this.
Tell us something about your brief stint with Soulfly?
The funny thing is that I just saw Max [Cavalera] a couple of nights ago at this- in Slovakia at a festival. Cavalera’s Conspiracy was playing there. And I have just a great kinship with them now. They live, like, twenty minutes from me in Phoenix. But we never see each other in Phoenix, probably because we’re both always out and about but- It’s funny, playing on the PROPHECY record- Bobby Burns is a great bass player in Soulfly. You know, I’m glad he’s doing it. It wasn’t the right time for me to join Soulfly as a full-time member, but I was very happy to play on the record, and I went down, I started- we sat in a room, and we riffled. Max basically shows up with the tunes, and he even puts them down on a little four-track machine. And then we all learned, you know, parts and I- He was just like, “Man, whatever you want to play.” I’m like, “Well, should I do something like this?” He says, “Man, whatever you want to do.” I’m like, “Wow! Well, this is cool!” I mean, it’s probably the most casual metal gig, because the metal is very, you know, precise. The Soulfly gig, it’s kind of a loose, jammy, groovy- almost like a world music jam band for metal, which is very unusual. And I tell you, it was a lot of fun. It was fun for me to do that as one of my first big records that I did after Megadeth.
You’ve been doing a lot of touring in your career. The music business has changed since the ’80s. So what do you think is more important now? Touring or keep on releasing new albums?
Well, it’s funny with a band like Megadeth, for instance. If you’re a brand new band, obviously you would have to make new records, and the record company’s going to have to put all of their money and everything on that new single, the new record, the new video, which is a traditional way to break a band and break a record. But it’s nice with Megadeth now. I see it clearly, coming back here: we used to make a new record which would help people learn about our catalog of other records. Now it’s switched. The catalog – like the Rust in Peace record – has probably helped sell more ENDGAME records than just the promotion of the ENDGAME record, because record companies, they just don’t spend the money and especially when you’re a band with a long history, like Megadeth, it’s almost like record companies don’t want to spend the money because they figure, “Well, Megadeth’s already a big band – the fans will find out about it.” So they kind of back off and they save their money. Especially when we did that twentieth-anniversary tour, Dave and I would go out – actually, the whole band, but usually lots of days it was Dave and me – we’d go out, and we’d sign autographs. We had a thing where if you’d buy either an ENDGAME or a RUST IN PEACE record at the merchandise and t-shirt booth, you got a sticker, a little ticket, to meet us after the show and we’d do an official meet-and-greet. And I tell you, man, it was almost one-to-one. Every night we saw maybe one hundred, one hundred and fifty RUST IN PEACE records, and we’d sell one hundred or one hundred and fifty ENDFGAME records too. So it was a beneficial way to do it to help the fans and people really find out about the ENDGAME record, which is, again, a really good album. It’s interesting that all these years later, we’ve got fans from so many years ago that they want to hear RUST IN PEACE, they want to hear PEACE SELLS, they want to hear COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION, you know, YOUTHANASIA – those were the glory years of Megadeth. Which is funny is that they’re all coming to a kind of a twenty and twenty-five-year maturity right now. And they bring their kids with them. And, you know, I first saw that about three years ago when Iron Maiden came through Phoenix. I went to go see them on that “Somewhere Back in Time” -tour and I saw this one father, and he had, like, four or five kids, all in descending height, from oldest to youngest, and they all had their Iron Maiden shirt on. And I was thinking, you know, that’s kind of where Megadeth is getting to. That’s why it’s fun to come back here now because we do see a lot of that. We see a lot of our fans bring their kids. In fact, Dave has stopped a few shows because somebody will have their little son or daughter in the front, and he’ll stop the show and go, “Wait, wait – get your son out of the mosh pit.” Just for safety, you know? And we put them down in the barricade, so they’re completely safe by the security guards and stuff, because it’s cool, man. I’m a father, I’ve got two kids, and it’s fun to introduce your kids to the stuff that you grew up on. And especially now with Guitar Hero and Rock Band, you know? Those video games have introduced a whole new- Again, my kids, you know, my daughter, who’s eleven, has found out about more music that I grew up on from just playing one or two games of Rock Band and Guitar Hero. All of a sudden, she’s playing Cream and a Metallica song off DEATH MAGNETIC, and “Paradise City” and, you know, just cool, rockin’ guitar parts. Megadeth stuff is pretty hard to play, so that’s always some of the more difficult stuff to play.
But the Megadeth bass parts aren’t always too difficult…
[Laughs] Not the bass parts. You know, the bass parts are pretty hard too. I mean, even “Peace Sells,” when you think about it – it’s very recognizable, but it’s a tricky little part to play. “Iron Man” is easier; let’s put it that way. Which is why we like it because it’s easy?
NEW MEGADETH ALBUM?
So what about the future? Have you been talking to Dave about a new album? Have you got some new material written already?
Yeah, of course. We do have some riffs; we’ve got some ideas. And it’s cool because there are sections of stuff we started recording at sound checks, just little bits of ideas – which is usually where some of the best songs come from. We’re out on the road; we’re already in that mode, we’re plugged in, it sounds great, we’re already ramped up, you know. We’ve got the crew there, so if we need to tweak anything, they can help us with it. Otherwise, you go back home, and you’re like every other little garage band: you’ve got to pull amps out and set them up or have the crew there – there’s effort involved. Whereas now we’re really in a groove and it’s rolling along with good and so- Yeah, we’ve all got some ideas we’re starting to throw out there and just talking about some stuff for the next record. I mean, we’re a long way off from it, but at least the discussion’s there. The tour’s up and running, we’re groovin’, we’re doing well, so that part’s rolling good, so now it’s kind of about getting the creative hat on.
Do you have any idea when that might come out? Two years? Three years? Is there any sort of timeline set for it yet?
There is no timeline. I mean, my thought is, because ENDGAME came out in ’09, you know, a new record in ’011 would make sense, but, I mean, I’m definitely not going to go on record on that because it could be ‘012, it could be ‘015 for all we know, who knows? Especially if more Sonisphere’s pop up. You don’t want just to bang a record out just to do it; you want to make sure that it’s the right record and that it’s done well. It’s got to be done for all the right reasons too. We generally don’t take five years between albums but, you know, taking enough time to make sure that they’re right- And, again, now we have other catalog records that are coming to twenty and twenty-five-year maturity, fans ask us about, you know, “So is there going to be a PEACE SELLS –twenty-five year [album]?” you know what I mean? And the truth of it is, we have a lot of new opportunities available to us just because of older catalog stuff that’s coming up that we can do fun things with now. And it’s fun for the fans. You know, the only reason we’re doing the RUST IN PEACE thing is because the fans wanted it. I would have never thought it would’ve been a fan favorite. I was like, “It’s just another album.” I mean, it’s a good album, but all these years later for it to be the one that so many people hang their hat on with anything about Megadeth – the real hardcore metal fans, the Megadeth fans. RUST IN PEACE is that album for them, so, who knew?
It’s like what Tony Iommi said: he sometimes hates “Paranoid,” but that’s the main thing for fans. That’s the thing. And it’s the same thing with Deep Purple and “Smoke on the Water.”
That’s true, but… I don’t dislike RUST IN PEACE at all – I love it. It’s a fantastic record and half of it we’ve never even played since we recorded it – we never played it again. So it’s a lot of fun to play “Five Magic’s” and “Poison Was the Cure” and “Polaris” and a lot of these tunes that we play live but, you know, again, who knew? Back to answer your question: RUST IN PEACE took almost two years to make. Not by any intention, it just took that long to make the thing. So, in due time regarding the new record… we’ll see?
THE BIG FOUR
Last question: Of course, I have to ask about the Big Four… how was it from your point of view?
It was fantastic! I have to tell you that it was so cool that Metallica did that. And I put a lot of the kudos to them, quite honestly, because, obviously, look: Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, we all get along, we’ve done “Clash of the Titans,” we place nice with each other already. And we’ve all played with Metallica; we’ve all played with each other, we’ve just never all four done it on one stage before. And, obviously, Metallica has gone on to success beyond what is almost humanly possible. And they’ve done so much for heavy metal. Their success has broken down so many barriers and helped recreate what metal music is, you know? So we owe a lot to them. It’s not like they went back in time; it’s almost like the past came up in the front view. And I always said that about Megadeth. People would say, “Would you ever go back to Megadeth?” and I’d say, “I’ll never go back to Megadeth, but if Megadeth comes up in my front, then I’ll definitely take a look at it,” and that’s exactly what happened. Twenty years after, RUST IN PEACE all of a sudden was in front of me, and it wasn’t behind me anymore. Because you can’t look back, you can’t go back; you can’t go back and try to recreate. You can’t recreate, you always have to create, which means you’re doing something forward, moving forward. And even Megadeth now is a new creation with Shawn, with Chris – this is a new Megadeth. It’s a new day.
And it’s like people say: you don’t get any younger.
Well, yeah, exactly. I mean, look: the past is past; it is what it is. Even for Metallica, they weren’t going back in time; they were really looking at going forward. I’d have to think if they’re Metallica, gosh, they’ve achieved the biggest mainstream success that any metal band could ever have, so now it’s [time] to go forward for them to combine forces with all of us from the original seed of the movement. It was brilliant, quite honestly. It was a brilliant move on their part to do that and, obviously, we all win because we get to play in front of bigger audiences and I think, for Metallica, it gave them a lot of credibility again where a lot of metal fans might have maybe thought that Metallica had forgotten about the metal scene and moved on – which is easy to do. I mean, we’ve had pretty good success in Megadeth as well, and you start selling a lot of records, and the mainstream media wants to get a hold of you, next thing you know- It’s easy to get gobbled up in that, you know? And then, all of a sudden, become like a tabloid band or something, and then you lose your credibility. And you don’t mean to, and you don’t even intend for it to happen, but it happens. And it’s the way of, especially of media, with all due respect to these interviews I’m doing right now, but there are some that are not passionate about metal, that they just want to spin a story, and that’s where they start to spin all that crap out of it. So, I think, for the credibility of the movement, on all fronts, the Big Four was so good for heavy metal music across the board – for all of us. Not only the bands but the fans. We all won on that. That was, like, some of the best two weeks of heavy metal that any of us could have ever asked for.
So you think there’s any chance of seeing more things like that in the future?
You know, everybody walked away from it feeling great, very happy, very satisfied. And that, to me, is always a good sign of, “Hey, what are you doing next year about this time?” [laughs] So we can only hope that there will be more of that. We certainly hope that there would be more. Again, everybody walked away happy from it.
Ok, Dave. Our time is up now. Thanks for your time, and see you at the show!
No problem, and thank you!
FOR MORE INFO GO TO WWW.MEGADETH.COM
PICTURES FROM MEGADETH SHOW IN TUSKA FESTIVAL