An Interview with David Ellefson of Megadeth - June 17, 2014
By Jim Barber
Photo by Myriam Santos
David Ellefson Enjoying Life in Megadeth More Than Ever
Although not related by blood, there is a profound connection and genuine affection and appreciation between the two Daves that comprise the heart, soul and musical majesty of one of the most popular and influential heavy metal bands of all time - Megadeth.
Not long after being turfed out of a fledgling thrash metal band called Metallica, Dave Mustaine hooked up with bassist David Ellefson to write music for a new project. The two bonded like brothers back then in the early 1980s, and that bond has survived some tumultuous times. Sometimes strained, other times joyful, Mustaine and Ellefson have persevered and are truly emotional and spiritual leaders of a band that has sold more than 50 million albums, toured the world and helped to influence an entire generation of headbangers.
And there’s a lot more to come as the members of the band, which also includes Canadian drummer Shawn Drover (in the band since it reformed after a two-year hiatus in 2004) and axe-master Chris Broderick, who has been in Megadeth for the past six years, are currently working on material for a new album.
The band has been remarkably prolific over the past few years, releasing three studio albums since 2009: Endgame (2009), TH1RT3EN (2011) and Super Collider in 2013. There has also been a live album, and huge tours celebrating 20th anniversaries of the band`s most successful albums, Rust in Peace, Countdown to Extinction and Youthanasia. In 2010 they shared the stage with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax as part of the unprecedented and hugely successful ‘Big Four’ tour, uniting the four biggest thrash metal bands on the planet at one time.
So it`s been heady days for Megadeth; Ellefson said he and Mustaine are appreciating every moment, especially the creative process for this forthcoming album which would be the band’s 15th. A recent post on the band`s website showed the two Daves hunkered down in Mustaine's cozy little home studio, guitars in hand and smiles on both men`s faces.
“It always started with Dave with a guitar in his hands, chunking out some riffs. And what was so cool about the early days was that I was right there with him. I caught the vision of what the band was and I was the first guy to say, ‘I’m in.’ A lot of other guys wanted something that was comfortable or conventional, or were only interested in the money – me and Dave were locked into this before there was even a band called Megadeth,” Ellefson told Lithium Magazine from his home in California, as he prepared to head up to Canada for the band’s set at this weekend’s Amnesia Festival. Megadeth is coming back to Canada on July 19 for a show at Casino Rama.
“And so what was so cool this past week was me and Dave sitting in the studio, three decades later, doing in June of 2014 exactly the same thing we were doing in June of 1983. That was when we were formulating musical ideas, the lineup was coming together and discussions of what we were going to call the band were floating around. That same sort of process and feeling happened last week.
“We went out for breakfast one morning and I just said to him, ‘you know what’s happening back there in that little studio, that is Megadeth. Despite all the changes, all the people who have come and gone, the money, the success, the whatever – at the end of the day that little moment back there with just the two of us sitting around hunkered over our guitars jamming over some riffs, that is Megadeth.’ And he agreed.”
The term ‘brothers’ is sometimes tossed around flippantly when it comes to the relationships between teammates or bandmates, but it couldn’t be a more apt way of describing the level of intimacy and the strength of the band between Mustaine and Ellefson. And like even familial bonds, they can be strained. At one point the two ‘brothers’ locked horns in a lawsuit brought forward by Ellefson and which went on for a number of years before being settled out of court. It meant an estrangement from the band he loved that began with the hiatus in 2002 and only ended eight years later when he rejoined the band in time for the Endgame tour in 2010.
But sometimes those difficulties end up bringing people closer together because they realize what’s at stake and that the friendship and creative relationship is more important than the business side of the music business.
“Just last month my own brother passed away from cancer, and the band was actually ready to go onstage in Buenos Aires on May 1. We were in the dressing room and Dave came up to me and said, ‘hey man, how’s your brother doing?’ And I just broke down and started crying and said, ‘it’s not good. I just got the call today.’ And, man, he rallied around me in a way that no one else did or could because he has known me for so long. He’s known my family. He knew my brothers, my mother and he knew my father before he passed away. So we are as close as two brothers can be, sometimes even closer, without being blood relatives,” Ellefson said.
“And it’s cool and interesting how in that moment, what I just went through with my own brother passing away, in a lot of ways brought Dave and I closer together. He really rallied around me like the brother I never had, and the brother I don’t have any more. It says a lot about the bond between us and within the band.
“As much as there’s a lot of big stuff that goes on around Megadeth, there’s also a lot of closed doors, intimate moments where it’s just the two of us or the four of us alone in a room. Especially before we go onstage, we have this 30-minute lockdown where no one comes in and no one goes out. It’s just the four of us. And I tell you, my brother’s passing brought all four of us in Megadeth closer together too. And in a weird way, it was kind of a cool gift that my brother gave us on his way out.”
As for the Megadeth as a creative force, Ellefson said the band is at a point in its career where there are zero worries about conforming to trends or the demands of the industry. Megadeth is able to just focus on making great Megadeth music that inspires the four members of the band and, in turn, the millions of fans around the world.
“You can’t expect greatness to happen if you’re not in the room prepared for greatness. And I think that’s the phase we’re in now. Just being in the room together, all hands on deck with our guitars at the ready bringing ideas to the table is where it’s at. We’re prepared for those great moments to fall off our guitar necks,” he said.
“We don’t have to pander to video networks and media – the so-called tastemakers of the business. We can just be at ease being Megadeth because our fans, clearly now after three decades, are the ones who made us and as long as we play music that we like, they seem to like it and then we all get to enjoy the ride together.
“We are so beyond worrying about those things. The rules of what make a successful album don’t apply any more. The record business has changed so much but fortunately heavy metal fans are with you for a lifetime. We are the antidote to the music business. We are the antidote to pop culture. Whatever is hip and popular, we are the antithesis of that. That’s what heavy metal has always been. As long as the riffs we create are making us want to bang our heads and tap our feet when we’re making records, that’s all that matters, because that moment we feel in the studio, that translates like a ripple effect throughout the fans all around the world.”
Twenty years ago, the concept of big name bands playing casinos or cruise ships we seen as evidence of a career on the wane. But these days, these venues are often providing the best live experiences, sound and show-wise for both the band and its fans.
“The concert business has changed because the record business has changed. A lot of these circumstances have nothing to do with us, nothing to do with our music. Although it does probably have something to do with the fact that casinos, cruises and state fairs, at one point, were sort of looked upon unfavourably. But now, when you get the opportunity to play these sorts of events it shows that you have truly arrived, that you have made your mark in a huge way – and in our case, a global way,” Ellefson said.
“If you really want to be a full-time professional musician, part of the requirement is that you be ready to go everywhere and anywhere to play your music for people. And over the years, playing in basketball or hockey arenas was seen as the benchmark, and they are usually the worst sounding venues in the world, but they were the only places to play for bands of our stature.
“In this day and age, casinos like Casino Rama have considerable amounts of money so they not only have really good, high quality concert venues that really are made for music production, but the fans also have something to do all day. They can book a hotel room, they can hang out, eat at nice restaurants, which really makes for a cool, all-encompassing concert experience.”
And no doubt fans coming to Casino Rama on July 19 will enjoy exactly that - a cool, all-encompassing, as well as rockin’ and head-bangin’ concert experience by one of the masters of metal.
For more information on the band, visit www.megadeth.com.
For ticket information for the Casino Rama show, visit www.casinorama.com.