In 2010, after a long and very noticeable eight-year absence, bassist David Ellefson found himself once again sharing a studio and stage with David Mustaine and his MEGADETH brothers. The affable musician took time out of his busy schedule to check in with bravewords.com to offer a brief update on all of his personal activities before the Megadeth machine ramps up again for a slew of summertime shows and the band preps to hit the studio for their follow-up to the widely loved, Endgame, album.
Bravewords.com: You’re currently doing bass clinics with ANTHRAX’ Frank Bello.
David Ellefson: “Yeah, it’s cool because Hartke amplifiers has been a really big supporter for me. I started using them as far back as the Peace Sells tour and I’ve turned back to my weapons of choice which is the Jackson bass and the Hartke amplifiers. I did some clinics for Hartke while I was out on the Jagermeister tour and Frank Bello just came on board with Hartke, so I thought it was a really cool idea that during our down time that Frank and I go out and do some clinics together. The Big 4 thing has become the anchor between the four bands now. We’ve really put a name to our community and I think that anytime any of us do things together whether it’s the SLAYER/Megadeth Carnage tour, the Slayer/Anthrax/Megadeth Jägermeister tour, Frank and I doing bass clinics or all four of us getting onstage as the Big 4 again… More than ever we’ve become so tightly knit as a community of thrash metal right now and anything that we can do together as either pieces of the big machine or as the big machine itself is great for the fans and great for empowering the movement.”
Bravewords.com: It really is great, but it was a little late in the making don’t you think? The Big 4 should have been done ten years ago.
Ellefson: "The truth of it is – it should have been done twenty-five years ago, but there was a period of time where we were all carving out our own paths and our own destinies which would eventually become our own names for ourselves. To be honest with you, we all had our own course to chart and I think that the fact that we all four went and did that… We were called the Big 4 in the early ‘90s or late’80s even, but it took us to go through what we needed to go through to build our own legacies. Every one of these bands has its own legacy, which then creates this dynasty called the Big 4.”
Bravewords.com: Tell me about your Rock House On Demand bass lessons.
Ellefson: "Rock House approached me about four years ago about doing some instructional metal bass DVDs and I thought, ‘it’s probably a good time for me to go over my tricks, how I play and how I developed my approach to playing bass. So, I put out Volumes I & II which were designed for the very beginner all the way to the intermediate because I know that many of my fans pick up the instrument because I did. If they’re musically inclined they stick with it, and it becomes a fun hobby or maybe it can become, like me, a full time career. Mostly though, it’s for enjoyment, and I didn’t want to start by showing off what a fantastic bass player I am (laughs). So, I started at square one. I remember buying my first bass book at a piano and organ store and that’s how I learned to play bass. I’m that guy, so it lets me give back to the early beginners and bass players just like someone gave a book to me to learn how to play. You can go to the Rock House Method website (Rockhousemethod.com) and there are a ton of instruction and various things on the site that are meant to be a continuation or tutorial of my bass DVDs.”
Bravewords.com: I know this interview isn’t about Megadeth, but on a personal level – how does it feel to be back in the band?
Ellefson: "I think it’s great. I don’t think any of us ever intended for me not to be there quite honestly. Rock bands go through what they go through, but we’re ‘lifers’ and it’s great to be reconnected with Dave again. I noticed right away when we played the very first song (which was a year ago on February 5th, 2010) that it instantly sounded like classic Megadeth and that made me happy. There’s a look, a sound and a feel to Megadeth and when Dave and I play together that really gets honored you know. So, for us to be back and take the whole thing around the track for a year and now for us to be venturing into the next phase which is the creative part and working on new music together. It’s exciting and we’re really heading into uncharted territory and a whole new chapter for Megadeth. Starting back with an anniversary tour was definitely the best place to start and we couldn’t have asked for a better opening back into the whole thing because it was great songs that everybody knew and wanted to hear. The fans were happy to see us playing them together and now to go create the next era of Megadeth together is really exciting for all of us.”
Bravewords.com: While you were out of the band – you did F5 among other things. What is the status of your outside projects? Are you still going to do F5 and other projects or are you going to concentrate on Megadeth and do nothing else?
Ellefson: "Yeah, really for the most part that’s what it is. I did a lot of other things such an ANGELS OF BABYLON and F5, but like my attitude was with Megadeth and as much as I was out of the group for a while and wasn’t participating – I never closed the door on it. Everything for a season and everything for a reason – a lot of the things I did away from Megadeth in those years like F5 developed me as a musician, as a songwriter and as a person, so when I came back to Megadeth I was a much different guy than the period before and it’s good because it strengthened Megadeth.”
Bravewords.com: How are you different? Was this a period of personal growth?
Ellefson: "Well, as you get older hopefully you get a little wiser and you usually get a little wiser from all the mistakes you’ve made and not your successes. At the same time, to me, all the musical ventures I had outside of Megadeth were successes, but it was a very weird time because the music industry had radically changed. I had no delusions that after coming out of Megadeth that everything I did was going to become platinum or multi-platinum. I told every band I was in - you really have to do this for the fun of doing it and if success comes out of it that’s a bonus. My eight years out of Megadeth was a really fun creative journey for me and to play on a lot of different types of music, work with different writers, different producers, different labels… I really got to learn how the modern day music industry works. When you’re in a big band like Megadeth and you’re used to being on a major label… we started as a little indie band and we rose up through the ranks of the big majors, so for me to go back to square one and start over with the indie mindset - well, I already knew it. I was very familiar with the indie mindset. So, it was a really exciting period of my life for me to grow and develop, so now to come back to Megadeth - I feel much more well rounded.”
Bravewords.com: And you appreciate it more. After twenty-five years, you can become complacent and forget the struggles a new band has to go through.
Ellefson: "I have great respect for guys like Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson that for whatever reasons left their bands and went out and did things on their own. There’s obviously a huge excitement when you go back to your band, but seasoned veteran musician who go away from the main group for a while – really do grow. When Rob came back to JUDAS PRIEST he was singing better than ever. We were on tour with them on Painkiller and I got to see the dynamic of what the band was like onstage at that time and when he came back. It was a whole new Judas Priest when he came back. It’s cool to see that and the one thing in coming back to Megadeth now is that there’s a very clear direction on what we need to do… and stylistically what we should be doing and that’s really good. The ‘90s were just brutal for metal especially for thrash metal. We were talking about the Big 4 before, we’re lucky any of us survived the ‘90s to be here today to tell about it or even play together again.”
Bravewords.com: The ‘90s were a lost decade pretty much for anybody in metal. Nobody knew what to do.
Ellefson: "So, for the four of us to even have survived that is miraculous and not only have we survived – we’ve thrived. Despite all the obstacles (creative obstacle and the music industry) – we survived, so it’s a really cool time right now and musically with Megadeth – we know what we should do. We don’t need to make our window so wide as to try and please all people and do all things. If we write a song and we like it then that generally is a song that our fans will like too.”
Bravewords.com: You mentioned Judas Priest earlier. They’re on their ‘farewell’ tour. Has that topic come up with Megadeth or are you ready to go for another fifty years?
Ellefson: "You know with Megadeth, we really live for the moment. It’s always been like that since day one. From the day Dave and I met, this thing has always been for the moment. Yes, there has been ideas and planning about what’s supposed to happen, but anytime we’ve gotten in to these long terms strategic plans… shit changes. It never works out and sometimes I hear people talk with corporate lingo like that and I’m like ‘dude, this is a rock ‘n roll band that you’re talking about and rock ‘n roll is a wild beast that changes. It ebbs and it flows and like a wild animal when it gets hungry it wants to eat. That’s how rock ‘n roll is. It’s wild and untamed. Megadeth is most definitely a real rock ‘n roll band.”
Bravewords.com: Has the farewell tour conversation come up at all between Dave and yourself?
Ellefson: "As long as THE ROLLING STONES are up on stage… how long has AC/DC been going? My attitude in coming back was as long as we enjoy doing it – why wouldn’t we keep doing it? To be able to play music (for a living) is a gift. It certainly isn’t a right and as your fellow Canadian, RANDY BACHMAN said, ‘If it were as easy as fishin’ you could be a musician’ and that really is true. For me, it’s a ton of fun and if we enjoy doing it – we should it and as long as we should do it – we should enjoying doing it.”
Bravewords.com: Before we wrap up – can I get a quote about your Big 4 brothers? Slayer what does that mean to you?
Ellefson: "Slayer were the one band that never changed, never went with the trends and really carried the torch for our genre through thick and thin and without deviating at all.”
Ellefson: "Anthrax are a rowdy New York party band, but they’re from the street and not from the club which is what makes them cool.”
Bravewords.com: And Metallica…
Ellefson: "We wouldn’t be here without Metallica – plain and simple. If Lars hadn’t put those feelers out through The Recycler to try and put a band together… none of us would be here. We owe a lot to him and certainly to him and James for carrying the torch all these years. Metallica is the 800 lb gorilla and I’m thankful for them every day.”
Bravewords.com: The Big 4 in North America from coast to coast – is it ever going to happen?
Ellefson: "I think all of us want it to happen. As of last Big 4 show last year (and we talked earlier about making long term plans), this year there were going to be no Big 4 shows. That was all that was it and everybody started making plans accordingly. We said we were going to go in the studio and make a new album. We were going to do European Carnage. We started making our plans and all of a sudden – bang! The phone rings and it’s ‘let’s do some Big 4 shows.’ So much for planning and that’s what I’m talking about – when the beast wants out, you let the beast out of the house, but that’s what cool. All of a sudden now, there’s a bunch of Big 4 shows in Europe. These shows started in the far eastern regions of Europe and now we’re getting to more of the mainstream of Europe. I think if we did a Big 4 tour – all heavy metal fans could die and go to heaven happy.”
Bravewords.com: Yes and that’s what we’re waiting for… We need a Chicago Big 4 show, a NYC Big 4 show, a Toronto…Montreal…
Ellefson: "I think it’s just a matter of rolling with it. We didn’t think there were going to be any Big 4 shows this year and all of a sudden there’s a whole bunch of them including one in America. So, we’re thankful for what we have.”
Bravewords.com: Finally, the website is Davidellefson.com. Is there anything else?
Ellefson: "There are some in-store signings coming up with Chris Broderick for Jackson guitars. I think that’ll be announced next week. I just did a signature deal with Jackson basses and Chris just did a signature guitar with Jackson. We did not do those deals together. Those were two separate deals. One day, I asked Chris, ‘what are you thinking of for guitars’ and he said ‘I’m really happy with Jackson.’ I was shocked because I didn’t even know he was talking to them. It was kind of cool how that all worked out. Jackson is a big part of the Megadeth legacy.”
Bravewords.com: Chris came in to Megadeth while you weren’t there. What do you think of him as a guitarist? How does he compare to Marty Friedman, Chris Poland or the others?
Ellefson: "Dave always told me that Chris has got every guitar player pegged. He’s got Marty pegged and one of the ones I was most impressed with back when we first rehearsed on Feb 5th 2010 and ran through 'Hook In Mouth' – Chris just nailed the Jeff Young lick. It’s a very fast, articulate and very mechanical kind of lick and I was like ‘holy smokes man. He’s got it down to a tee.’ Chris practices eight hours a day and he works out two-and-a-half hours a day, he plays the show and wakes the next day and does the exact same thing. It’s his love of the craft and his absolute one-hundred percent dedication to perfection that makes him who he is and he really is the perfect guitar player for Megadeth.”
Bravewords.com: The current line-up is one of the strongest line-ups you’ve ever had.
Ellefson: "I totally agree. Shawn Drover has a great feel to how he plays the songs and fundamentally gets Megadeth. I used to be Dave’s right hand guy, but he’s now got a left hand guy with Shawn, which is great because it stabilizes the thing. There’s a left and a right now and Chris is the wind in our sails. It’s one of the best line-ups Megadeth has ever had.”
Bravewords.com: That bodes well for the future and I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.
Ellefson: "Feel free to reach out to me anytime and by the summer we’ll have a much better update about the new album and it’s release, so we’ll be able to get more into that stuff.”