Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Bassist and co-founding member of Megadeth, David Ellefson, has announced the release of a new cover CD, entitled, No Cover, due out 10/2/20 via Combat Records.
While recording cover songs for B-Sides and bonus tracks for his upcoming Ellefson solo LP (due out in the Spring of 2021), David and his solo band, Thom Hazaert [vocalist], Andy Martongelli and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal [guitars] and Paolo Caridi [drums] decided to push the envelope and create enough cover songs for an entire CD. Together they enlisted the help of countless guest musicians like Charlie Benante (Anthrax), Eddie Ojeda (Twisted Sister), Dirk Verbeuren (Megadeth), Frank Hannon and Troy Lucketta (Tesla), Doro Pesch, and Todd Kerns (Slash & The Conspirators) to perform songs by Motorhead, WASP, Def Leppard, Cheap Trick, Queen, Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, Fastway, Fight, and the Dead Kennedys. It’s a collaboration of friends paying homage to the bands and albums that inspired them to be musicians.
Pre-orders for the CD and deluxe bundles can be found here: bit.ly/nocoverellefson
I spoke with David about the bands that inspired him to pursue a career in music, how he chose the right musicians for each song, and to give us an update on what fans can expect from the next Megadeth CD!
I’m looking forward to your upcoming cover CD. The press release mentioned there are 13 cover songs and named the bands. Can you give us a few song titles?
We will be putting out another press release shortly, which may coincide with one of the songs. We will be mixing the majority of the CD until late July or early August. I can tell you this; it may be even more than 13 tracks [laughing]. All the musicians have been so gracious with their time working on this CD. It was meant as a fun way to unite the community in our COVID downtime, which we all seem to have. It’s all about similarities as we are all off tour, at home, and love these songs from our past; so let’s get together and have a block party.
Did you stay true to the original recordings or did you modify their arrangements?
It’s a little of both. For the most part, the arrangements are intact. There are a couple of the songs where we let the guitarist loose for the solos or to accent the riffs. We felt we needed to allow some liberties on the vocals because not every guest singer is going to sound like the original singer, nor do we want that. We wanted their unique personality to come out on these songs. Thom Hazaert is the anchor singer on the CD, and we have guest singers doing duets, trading-off on verses, as well as peppering songs with backing harmonies. It’s a fun way to collaborate because we all grew up with these songs. In our conversations with the singers, guitarists, and drummers, we asked them who would be interested in a certain song. For example, Charlie Benante really wanted to do a Cheap Trick song. I hit up Todd Kerns, the bassist from Slash’s band, to sing on a Sweet song. He was like “challenge accepted,” and I love that! [Laughing]. It was fun flipping through my phone, thinking who would be awesome on a particular song. Even to this day, we are still getting ideas to add people to songs and get them involved.
Todd has a tremendous voice as I’ve been him sing live on stage with Slash.
He does! I remember him when he was in the Sin City Sinners. In 2009 we jammed a few songs together and then again in 2019 when Altitudes & Attitude opened for Slash & Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, we invited Todd to jam on some KISS songs during our set. He is a very well rounded musician and an all-round good dude.
Did you pick the songs first, then invite the musicians or pick the musicians and let them choose the song?
We picked the songs first. One of the songs I chose is a Bachman-Turner Overdrive song. It was near and dear to me, as they were one of the bands who got me on to this musical journey. Thom said, “Dude, I’ve never heard that song before!” [Laughing] After he was done singing it, he told me it turned into one of his favorite tracks. I’ve had the same experiences where I didn’t know some of the songs or found songs to be out of my wheelhouse. I challenged myself and pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, and now it’s a feeling of a job well done. Our guitar player Andy Martongelli was instrumental in getting a whole host of great guest guitars like Andy James and Gus G; his shredder buddies who wanted to be a part of this. It just reminds you that we all play in the same neighborhood, and we’re all part of the same Rock & Roll playground. Since being in Megadeth, I hadn’t played cover tunes since I was a kid back in Minnesota. Once I met David in 1983, I was singularly the bassist in Megadeth for the next 20 years. I didn’t stretch out too much back then. Then in the 2000s, I started stretching out and played a NAMM event with Tim “Ripper” Owens and Jason Bittner. I then formed Hail with Tim, Jimmy DeGrasso, and Andreas Kisser and toured the world. Metal Allegiance came out of that. I had some fun times playing cover songs because my friends and I all share the same record collection [laughing]. It’s fun to get back into it and revisit our past.
The cover of your CD has the borrowed theme from Def Leppard’s iconic album On Through the Night. Can tell me what it was about that album that resonated with you when you were a kid starting out on your musical journey? It inspired my band and me because they were teenagers like us and if they were able to get a record deal, so could we.
I had that exact same feeling! That was the record that spoke to me when I was 15 or 16 years old back in my old band in Minnesota. I can still recall my drummer walking in with the album one day. Black Sabbath’s Heaven & Hell, Scorpions’ Lovedrive, the first two Maiden LPs, and Motorhead’s Ace of Spades had all come out. It was an incredible exploratory area of music, including bands from the NWOBHM like Venom, Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang, and all the other bands starting to appear on our radar. As soon as I looked at the back of the Def Leppard album, I could tell they were on tour with AC/DC by the way the Marshall and Ampeg SVP heads were set up next to the drum riser. It had to be either the Highway to Hell or the Back in Black tour. Now I look at the credits on the album and know all the players and managers. I recall looking at Rick Allen and thinking he was only 16 years old with his stutter kick on his kick drum. What’s fantastic about Rick is there are two eras of his drumming, one before his accident and the second after the accident where he is playing drums largely with pedals. Talk about a guy reinventing himself. He is an incredible player and has a heart for drums. With that first Def Leppard record, their youth spoke to me as they were all teenagers just like me, they are doing it, and I can do this too! That one record made the allure of being a full-time musician for original music in reach, and yes, we are coving a song off of it [laughing]. I was blown away when Thom and Melody Myers, the artist for the cover, sent me the artwork. It has my bass it and it’s a great homage to the mighty Def Leppard. Unfortunately, they don’t often play songs from it live.
Tell me about the play-on-words with the title, No Cover?
It’s a spin or double entendre on Led Zeppelin’s album No Quarter. Also, the idea of when you go see a band at a bar there’s usually a cover charge, this time there is no cover charge; come right in. With the quarantine, it’s on the house [laughing].
I know you are good friends with KK Downing and Ripper Owens. They have a band called, KK’s Priest and are coming out with a CD. I was wondering if you were asked to collaborate on the CD or maybe even asked to join their band?
How things started with KK and I was in 2019 was when I reached out to him to tell him I was doing a book and solo tour. I was looking to find out if I could stop by his venue, KK’s Steel Mill, for a book signing, maybe he would like to do a signing with me, or jump on stage to play a song or two. It started there and grew to me performing in Judas Priest 2.0 [laughing]. I was happy for him as I’ve walked a mile in his shoes, not being a part of a band that you formed and it going on without you. You were all essentially family, as you all grew up together. We were always buddy from the road a few years back, and I wanted to re-connect with him. Through a mutual friend here in Phoenix, we did. It’s a really nice friendship. Because of it, we got to have the musical experience for one night, which was incredible. It was nice to bring some friends together to rally around him and get him back on stage to kick some ass. When we were done with the show and walking back to the dressing room, I wasn’t sure how he was going to react. I was waiting for his response; he was gushing with excitement. I told him to pack a suitcase because his phone is going to start ringing. [Laughing]. It was a great celebration with no motives other than that. We talked about doing some more stuff together. I was excited to get him out of the house, on stage, and to start writing songs again. He deserves more of that. At the time, we had a full calendar, but he should have the liberty to call his own shots, make his own moves, and not be bridled to me being on a Megadeth tour. I had to realize that I had to let KK rock the free world on his own terms. Should the moment ever come that we could shred a song on stage, we will definitely do it.
It’s great that you were the catalyst for re-igniting KK’s career.
For that alone, I feel great!
When we last spoke in May 2019, Megadeth was in pre-production on the upcoming CD. Now that you sat with the songs, can you tell us if the vibe is more in line with Dystopia or more commercial sounding like Super Collider?
It’s definitely not in the Super Collider vein. I think its Dystopia and even way past that. It is a very technically challenging record. David and I agree that there are riffs on this record that are way harder to play than any of the stuff on Rust in Peace. It is an insanely progressive record. I remember when I was a kid and heard Geddy Lee and Neil Peart play something inhumanly impossible. I had that same feeling now on our record with Dirk Verbeuren [laughing]. It lit me up! I was like Holy Shit; this is a moment that I have never felt or experienced until now. Who knows, maybe I needed to be 55 years old to experience and accomplished it with a seasoned guy like Dirk. That’s the emotion, fucking fire, and spirit that I have around this new record. If you liked Dystopia, this CD will not let you down.