When you are a member of a multi-platinum selling band such as Megadeth, life doesn’t really slow down much, even when you are 30 years down the road. Screamer Magazine alum ( he was a monthly columnist back in 1993) and Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson knows that all too well. While on a three week break from touring, Mr. Ellefson took some time to chat with the mag that he used to write for.
Of course taking a break doesn’t mean that the man is lounging around. Of course he is spending some time with family and relaxing, but he is also continuing to work, “ Just scratching some ideas so I always have a few arrows in my quiver when we’re ready to start working on whatever the next record will be, whenever that will be.”
Gigantour, a touring festival founded in 2005 by Dave Mustaine, wrapped up on August 11th. This year’s line-up featured Black Label Society, Hellyeah, Device, Newsted, Death Division, and of course, Megadeth. The bands were personally chosen by Mustaine, and both he and Ellefson have known many of the other band members for many years, which makes touring together a joy, according to Ellefson. “Jason Newsted- Mustaine and I have known Jason the longest of anyone on the tour. We just worked with Dave Draiman when we did Mayhem a couple of years ago because Disturbed was the headliner of that. And Zakk, I’ve never actually played or toured with him, but I’ve seen him all the time at the Golden Gods. I’ve known him for years so its really cool to be able to go out and tour with him. Every band when they’re on stage, it’s their moment- their show for that time they’re allotted,”he says.”But off the stage, it’s nice to know that you’re rolling with good buddies, good friends, and people that have been in the business a while, you know? They’ve got their heads screwed on straight.”
If that tour wasn’t enough for metal fans, Megadeth will soon be heading out on tour with two other monsters of the metal world. First up, a North American tour with Iron Maiden ( September 5-14), which is reminiscent of a past tour, says Ellefson. “What’s kind of ironic about that is that 25 years ago, we released the So Far, So Good…So What? record, and we did seven shows on the Seventh Son tour with Iron Maiden. And here we are 25 years later, and they’ve been playing part of their setlist- the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and we’re doing seven shows with them again. So it’s kind of funny how everything has come full circle 25 years later.” The finale of that tour will be in San Bernadino with Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Anthrax, Testament, and Overkill.
Following that, they will be heading to South America for a stadium run with Black Sabbath ( October 4-26). “South America is kind of our home away from home,” says Ellefson. “They love metal. There’s no denying it. They’re into it, they love it, and it’s fantastic.”
Super Collider, the latest offering from Megadeth was released in June of this year. According to Ellefson, “It was an interesting album to make because the influence probably came mostly from within. We had just done the Countdown to Extinction 20th Anniversary tour, so I think it took me and Dave back in time. What it was like creating those songs, writing that material, and just kind of the spirit of that. Super Collider was a much different environment, different setting, obviously a different date in time and different place, even different band members. But in a lot of ways, the mindset was similar.” When Megadeth began working on the Countdown to Extinction album, they realized that they had musical and songwriting abilities that they needed to unleash, and that is what they did on Super Collider as well. “So it was like, lets just unbridle the melodic part of Megadeth even more,” says Ellefson. “I think, too, when we do Megadeth records now, we realizes that there’s fans that come in along the way over the last 30 years since the band formed. And there’s a lot of history- a lot of variations of the Megadeth sound that have developed throughout those years. So I think we try to always make sure that everything we write- if it’s on the record that it sounds like Megadeth. But we also try to open up the governor a little bit so that we can always continue to create something now and not get stagnant and rewrite the smae old song over and over.”
In addition to promoting Super Collider, the bass player will also be releasing his autobiography, My Life With Deth through Simon and Schuester on October 29, 2013. In the book, Ellefson discusses his journey through drug addiction, rock stardom and his eventual renewed commitment to sobriety and his Christian faith. Alice Cooper, a long time friend of the band who took them on their first arena tour in, 1986, penned the foreword to the book. Ellefson shared a story from that tour: “We’re young and runnin’ and gunnin’ and doing what we do and partyin’ and rockin’. And then that moment came where we got to go on the bus with Alice and meet him for the first time. It was notorious then that he’d cleaned up. He’d quit drinking. He’d gotten his life together and he was a couple of years into that new journey for him. And here his career was taking off and really doing well and having this whole second life that I would then get to know myself years later through the same transition,” he says with a laugh. “But you know, he was very professional and kind of like a father he just said, ‘ You know guys, just be careful out there. You could burn yourselves out.’ He didn’t scold us- he didn’t counsel us. He just kind of shared, ‘Well this is what happened to me and this is what I did and this is where it led. So be careful out there.’ And the seed was planted.”
Writing a book is never a quick process and Ellefson compares it to making an album. “It was about a three year process from the time I started recording the interviews and compiling it. It was probably almost a year of just doing the interviews and then probably another six months to sort of put it all down on paper and then almost another year to edit it and go back and forth and fix and updated and rewrite,” he says. “So its not unlike an album, where you just lay your ideas down and then you’ve got to go back and re-record, you rewrite, you tweek, you fix and them point along the journey, the body of work starts to lay itself out. You realize eventually- heres what the core of this book is about. This is kind of the thread that goes through the whole thing. So in a lot of ways, each chapter is like a song and you’re compiling a bunch of chapters to make a book just the same way as you compile a bunch of songs to make a record album.”
Despite the fact that many other bands from the era self-destructed and/or imploded on themselves, Megadeth soldiered on through drug addiction and band member tensions and both Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson reconnected with their Christian faith and got sober. Does that make playing in a metal band a different experience? According to Ellefson, not really. “ You know, honestly for me, it’s really not that much different at all, you know what I mean?” he says with a laugh. “My bigger thing was mostly getting cleaned up off the dope and booze and I realized I had to plug some faith to keep that going forward as well. I think lyrically, more than anything, it OPENS up opportunities. I mean, you could write an entire metal record out of the book of Isaiah, you know? A lot of people go to Biblical things or at least scriptural things to write from because, lets face it- there’s nothing more intriguing to a human than good versus bad, heaven versus hell, the righteous and the corrupt. Whatever variation you look at that in, whether its political, religious- those issues always speak to the listener because when you write songs about people- times may changes but people never really do.”
This is not the first writing experience for Ellefson. Besides his work for Screamer, he also published Making Music Your Business: A Guide for Young Musicians. Ellefson was continuously being asked when he would write another, and, due to the length of time it takes to write and publish a book, decided that the internet was the best route to go. “One day I just flipped on my flip video camera and started filming myself and I just filmed questions that fans were asking me about the record business,” he says. “Those became the episodes that I started putting up on YouTube and I just called it ‘David Ellefson’s Rock Shop’.” That YouTube series has now developed into an app for the Apple marketplace,working with Kevin Robertson, who developed an interface where you plug your instrument in and play along with songs from your ITunes library. Of course there is a Megadeth-specific twist to the app. “We specifically designed it so that songs that were off the record Peace Sells, which is in this strange tuning- that the app would automatically tune those tracks to a standard pitch so you don’t have to try to retune to the Peace Sells album when you play along with them inside the David Ellefson Rock Shop app. And then from there we developed it into a practice tool. I thought, ‘What do I need to do? I need to be able to slow tunes down to listen to them, to figure them out without changing the pitch.’ And you can also re-pitch songs if you like. So I just really tried to make it this kind of hip, portable practice module. Something that would be very practical and useful for musicians.”
Both Ellefson and Dave Mustaine are now the only founding members of Megadeth that are still with the group. There was a period of time that it was well-known that the Dave’s were having some “issues.” Clearly, those issues have been worked through and they are playing together again. Are they as close as they once were after having gone through some growing pains? “I think honestly we’re a lot closer than we were before,” shares Ellefson. “Dave and I were both really young. Obviously our mission and goal was to get the band launched, to get it going and then once you’re in the middle of it, there’s a lot of work to keep it going. I always say the two hardest parts of running a band are 1) starting it and 2) continuing,” he says with a laugh. “Being young guys like we were, it was our first time of big success, our first time of making money,celebrity, fame, people always wanting to be around you. A lot of people wanting something FROM you. And you know, it can take a toll.” Both men were also starting families at young ages and many other things going on within and outside of the band. “ Some of those transitions unfortunately cause separation rather than harmonious togetherness, you know? So I think in our time way, we both got an opportunity to grow up on our own a little, which I think is needed in bands. When members have their own identities, they come together and bring so much more to a band, and now the band is strengthened by that and thats what happened with me and Dave in our time apart, and quite honestly, it made our friendship a lot better,” says Ellefson.
Megadeth has seen many band members throughout the years, but they are currently playing with Shawn Drover and Chris Broderick, who both play an important role in the band, according to Ellefson. He says, “ Shawn is probably one of my favorite drummers to play with. First of all, he’s a great guitar player. He’s a great musician. He sings good, he plays guitar good, he plays drums good. He’s a very well-rounded songwriting addition and he really understands the inner workings of Megadeth music. He understands Megadeth as a band, as a business. He just gets the whole thing. He just gets it. He provides a lot of stability, which is good. Before it was always Dave in the middle and I was the right-hand man. Now Shawn’s the left-hand man. So there’s like, two pontoons that sort of gives a stability to it.” As far as Chris Broderick goes, his position requires walking a delicate line, according to Ellefson, and he walks that line perfectly. “ Of course it demands some explosive new input to the band, which he clearly brings,” he says. “ But it also requires replicating what these past tremendous guitar heroes that have been in Megadeth- it requires that he replicate that to absolute perfection, and not his own interpretation of it. Chris is like a machine with that stuff. He is so dedicated to his craft and is such a perfectionist with everything that he does that he really does the Megadeth legacy a great honor by performing those songs the way that he does.”
Speaking of past guitar players, some fans wonder, what happened with Marty Friedman leaving the group, after playing in the band for 9 years? Ellefson shared, “ You know several members have obviously come and gone throughout Megadeth. Marty is a guy who when he came into the band was very thankful to be in the group, but he had done a lot of work on his own, his own identity as a guitar player. He’d grown up in heavy metal, so he knew his way around the campus. I think there just reached a certain point, especially through the Risk album, which was not an easy record for Megadeth. There was a lot of fallout, a lot of wreckage that came from that album. I think when all was said and done with that, Marty just realized, ‘You know what? I’ve got other things I want to do with my music and my expression and Megadeth is not where I can do it’, so he moved on. And that’s my hunch. You’d have to ask Marty personally what it was, but just being a friend of his and a guy I stood on stage with for 10, 8 years. You know, people grow- change. When people need to go, they need to go, you know? And as a friend, you need to let them go, so that they can go on and do something else.”
Megadeth have been on top of the metal world for 30 years so what does Ellefson believe is the future of metal music? “Metal is a very unified tribe,” he says. “ I think because it represents who we are as people, we’re never going to let it stray too far. But at the same time, metal needs to innovate, create, and come up with some new stuff. There’s always this ongoing battle of the newer versions of metal versus the old school. I get it because I’m a big fan of old school stuff that I listened to growing up, yet as a musician and a songwriter, I’m always intrigued when someone does something new. We have to evolve and create, so I think its a little bit of both you know. As far as Megadeth we do a little of both. There’s a very traditional Megadeth sound that you hear even on Super Collider– this pretty old school traditional Megadeth riffing style and there’s clearly some brand new things like Super Collider, Blackest Crow– things that are very forward thinking. that just shows our expansion as songwriters to push our own genre, push our own band and just really try to keep things moving forward as well.”
Many current bands, when asked who their influences are, inevitable cite Megadeth at the top of the list. But even superstars like Megadeth enjoy listening to some of those bands that they have influenced, either directly or indirectly. There are two bands that Ellefson mentioned that he especially enjoys. “Five Finger Death Punch is really in the mainstream. They’ve obviously done great. They’ve really done some cool things. They’ve kept metal in the mainstream, which is important. We need to have people who are out there on a big level doing big things in the name of metal because that keeps it on the radar.” He adds with a chuckle, “ At the same time, I love Municipal Waste. They’re probably one of my favorite new bands, or more recent bands that have come along. To me, they remind me of the old New York hardcore. They remind me of Stormtroopers of Death.”
In addition to the touring runs with Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, My Life with Deth’s release, and the Rock Shop app, fans of Ellefson and Megadeth will be pleased to hear that in the coming months, the band will be releasing a Countdown To Extinction Live DVD, recorded at a show in California in December of 2012. The album (the band’s fifth) reached number 2 on the Billboard charts,earned the band a Grammy nomination for best metal performance, and was certified double platinum in the United States within two years. In addition to the performance of the entire album, the DVD also features all the other Megadeth classics.
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