DECEMBER 19th 2013
DAVID ELLEFSON EXCLUSIVE
By Ruben Mosqueda
David Ellefson the bassist for one of the premiere thrash metal acts Megadeth caught up with Metal Titans; while on the road promoting the band’s new album ‘Super Collider.’ In case you don’t know he also released his biography which he wrote with the help of writer Joel McIver. The book is aptly titled; ‘My Life in Deth’ the book covers Ellefson’s upbringing in Minnesota to his move to Los Angeles to his first meeting with Dave Mustaine to his departure from the band to his inevitable return. Ellefson’s musical life has come full-circle; he was excited to talk to us about it and he mixed it up quite well I might add. In the interview Ellefson says, “I’m not a motivational speaker. I’m not here to sell a product this is not a stage for me to stand up on some soapbox. The book is about me giving a testimony of my life. A testimony is a lot different than an infomercial.” Amen to that.
1: MetalTitans: What’s the length of time that you worked on ‘My Life with Deth?’
David Ellefson: When we started the book it was summer of 2010. That’s when Joel McIver approached me about doing it. We got started on pretty quickly on it while I was in Europe on tour. I didn’t know what the book was going to look like to be honest because all of my harrowing darks dark days are all behind me. That was like 25 years ago! (laughs) Traditionally these type of celebrity books are a crash and burn tell all pull the covers back book. It’s not my style to do that. That’s not the legacy that I want for my life for something like that to be out there forever. The other thing is that ‘those’ thing were so many years ago and I’ve worked through them. I have a much different life today.
The whole process took about three years close to three and a half actually from the time we started our first interview to the day the book hit shelves. I had written a book years ago in 1997 and that was about a three year process as well. So I was already familiar with the publishing time for printed material. Joel because he’s written so many books in the past that he knew how to direct me; he knew what the readers want to know. He is very knowledgeable in the Megadeth history so he knew what stuff to get into and what was not as important. Joel was a great coach and guide throughout this process.
2: MetalTitans: In the book you took us inside the two near misses where you almost came back to Megadeth. After a couple failed attempts you reconnected with (Dave) Mustaine and returned. You want to talk a little bit about that for the readers?
David Ellefson: Yeah, one day all of a sudden my life was turned up upside down when the band ended in February of 2002. Anyone that has gone through a career or a job transition knows what that is like. Sometimes you see it coming sometimes it comes out of the blue. So now you have a set card and that’s the hand you have to play. There have been time in the past when Megadeth went on 3,4,5 month hiatuses; we took some time at the end of the tour for people to have some down time. Anytime I got started writing or working on other things they’d be cut short when Megadeth fired up. So that stuff never saw the light of day.
It was different in 2002 because Megadeth was officially done. The press release went out and the band now ceased to exist. My work with F5 and Peavy were well under way then Dave gets a hold of me and said that he’d like to get started working on some new music again. Part of me was very excited then other part of me didn’t want to kick all these things to the curb. I had put a lot of work into them and people have invested a lot of time. I felt that they’d be very disappointed if I pulled the plug. My goal to keep it all going; unfortunately it didn’t work out. It was very disappointing because it was a much different set of circumstances that were put before me in 2004 than they were when things ended in 2002.
Trying to make it work again between Dave and I; there was always this excitement if we could make it work again. The fans would have been happy but it just never works. Quite honestly on side of things I had a lot of unresolved issues which added to why it didn’t work. It took time to work through that and eventually…when legal matters head to the courts—when things go to that place. Dave and I are really a rare situation because when things end up in court people usually don’t get back on stage or back into business together again. That’s a story that I did want to tell in this book; I wanted to show testament in our faith. Faith isn’t something that is looked upon favorable in mainstream things and most certainly not in the metal world. Dave and I aren’t 21 anymore we’re a lot more open and honest about things. I really wanted to write about the reason things worked out between Dave and I was because the Good Lord provides a way when there just doesn’t seem to be another way. That is very clear to me; acknowledging that publicly was something that felt needed to be put out there.
I’m glad I did it because I’m receiving a lot of positive feedback from people who say stuff like ‘it’s very bold of you to do that.’ I have received comments from people that say that they’ve received strength and encouragement from reading my book that helped them push through barriers in their lives. You know what? If that’s a reason why the book came out other some entertainment value? That it helped inspire people to get through some personal barriers then the book was worth all of the three years that it took to write and put it out.
3: MetalTitans: Obviously talking Megedeth and other musical projects in the book was a given. I liked how you addressed your spirituality and your family in the book. Also let’s not forget you addressing your recovery. As we go through the book it appears to be seamless but that’s a lot of hard work.
David Ellefson: Yeah, my pastor said to me I didn’t know you and know your entire story I would have thought that you were the only guy that wasn’t a mess and a drug addict in the band! (laughs) I took that as a positive thing because again with these kind of books people throw everybody under the bus. There’s a lot of stuff like ‘it’s their fault’ there’s a lot of finger pointing and I’ve learned in my alcohol and drug recovery that I have to take responsibility for my side of the street or I’m not going to get better. I will never get through it and most certainly I will never stay sober. This book I had to cautiously tell my story without telling everyone else’s story. Here’s my philosophy I have the right to tell my story but I don’t have the right to tell your story. That was my benchmark when talking about the decadence and the debauchery. I also had to talk about the new life that I received as result of all the stuff that I have been through. I feel like I started to live in 1990. I didn’t write this book to say ‘look at me, look at me!’ I’m not a motivational speaker. I’m not here to sell a product this is not a stage for me to stand up on some soapbox. The book is about me giving a testimony of my life. A testimony is a lot different than an infomercial.
4: MetalTitans: You returned to Megadeth at a time when the band set out on tour to play the entire ‘Rust in Peace’ album from top to bottom. It was documented on CD and DVD. Fast forward a couple years and you got an opportunity to do the same with ‘Countdown to Extinction.’ Thing have come full-circle for you haven’t they?
David Ellefson: It really has. The two big ‘credibility’ records are ‘Peace Sells’ and ‘Rust in Peace’ the big mainstream success records started with ‘Countdown to Extinction.’ I think ‘Countdown’ is one my personal favorites because it was a result of the entire band working collectively as a group. I have to add that ‘Countdown’ along with ‘Cryptic Writings’ and ‘Youthanasia’ are my three favorite Megadeth records. You listen to those albums—there’s this synergy between us. We survived some very ‘unfriendly’ time for heavy metal bands. The 90s were brutal for metal. The creative output that came out of Megadeth throughout those years; we dug deep and we worked great as a team. I’m proud of that and the result speak for themselves.
To be able to go out 20 years later to perform these records live; I have greats memories of those days but I also remember how much work it was. I love that I have been given an opportunity to plays these records again but in a celebratory way. It’s kind of like taking a ‘victory lap.’<br/>
5: MetalTitans: ‘Super Collider,’ I like the record but it’s received some very ‘critical’ reviews by fans and press a like. I think the consensus has been that this ranks at the bottom of the Megadeth catalog alongside ‘Risk.’ What’s your take on that?
David Ellefson: We’re aware of the comments for sure because they’re on our own website or our Megadeth Facebook page! (laughs) My personal thought is that the next record will be much different. We go through these phases. Dave made three records when I wasn’t in the band and a couple of them quite good I might add. They were good records because they were really good ‘metal’ records. That’s what fans want to hear; because Megadeth has this 30 year career we have more than just one style in our cache. Fans have discovered us at various times throughout our journey; there are fans became fans when they heard ‘Risk,’ that’s when they go into rock ‘n’ roll and they bought their record at to them that is their debut Megadeth record. I have learned not to criticize our own work simply because there are nay sayers out there and the fact that every record has significance to different people.
Having said that the first thing that people heard from the record was track “Super Collider” which is a very mainstream, commercial song. I think had they heard “Kingmaker” first for instance the reaction would have been much different. The first impression is more often than not the most lasting impression. When you hear a song that sounds like Megadeth right out the gate you say ‘awesome man!’ When you hear a song that you have to listen to several times, analyze it and get your mind around it the first impression may not make you want to dig right into out of the gate. I get that. I’m a fan. I used to buy KISS records as a kid and Cheap Trick records. I remember some records I got it right out the gate and there were records where I’d say ‘what the heck is this?’ It wasn’t what I was expecting. Some records take one listen, other take three or four listens other more. I think for me ‘Super Collider’ is one of those records.
6: MetalTitans: Is there a particular song or songs that are off limits in the Megadeth catalog? Dave Mustaine has gone on record to say that he would not be performing “The Conjuring” anymore. In addition Megadeth have dropped “Anarchy in the U.K.” from the set after the formation.
David Ellefson: (long pause) Yeah, there’s some song that because of Dave’s faith convictions he just doesn’t want to sing them. The very first line in “Anarchy in the U.K.” is ‘I am an anti-christ’ He’s said ‘I’m not an anti-christ why would I sing that lyric?’ I stand by him on that—fair enough; “The Conjuring” which he did write there’s a line in a prayer that says ‘lead me not into temptation.’ If you don’t know the prayer look it up. It doesn’t say ‘Lead me out of temptation’ rather ‘lead me into it.’ People change there’s a time in Dave’s life when he felt that—he doesn’t anymore. The fact that he stood up and had the conviction about it and laid it on the line was pretty admirable. I have news for you we’d play “The Conjuring” and it would go over fans’ heads. They were like ‘what song is that?’ They didn’t say a thing until we said we weren’t playing it anymore and then the 8 people on some website started crying foul! (laughs) We heard stuff like ‘dude they aren’t metal anymore!’ They didn’t care when we played it and now they want to be all controversial.
7: MetalTitans: In the book you spoke about your work with F5, Temple of Brutality, working Soulfly and Killing Machine but you didn’t mention Angels of Babylon. I loved that debut album which you played on. Why was that overlooked?
David Ellefson: I personally thought those songs were fantastic. The reason I didn’t talk about that book was because it was really Rino’s band. Those songs were his creation. He came from a band similar to Megadeth where there’s a clear leader and it’s a focused group. There’s no time for people to have a great deal of say or doing solo projects and stuff like that. My involvement with Rhino was because I know where he’s been in his career and when I heard the songs I was like ‘these are amazing! I didn’t even think you have these songs in you!’ So I came on board to just support it. I played on some tracks and he used my creativity as a performer on the record. I’m proud to have been there to support and champion Rhino because it’s a great record.
8: MetalTitans: I can’t let you go without mentioning an observation that I’ve made in watching you play and listening to your records over the years. You have this ‘percussive’ approach to playing the bass. You have a way of locking into the drums unlike anyone else playing bass other there right now.
David Ellefson: I know exactly what you mean. You know it’s funny you should mention that because over the course of the past couple of nights—we’ve really dialed in my bass tone. It’s probably the best that it’s been in many, many years. I wear in ear monitors which makes it sound like I have headphones on. I can hear every single detail of everything that happens. I have noticed that my tone is a perfect combination of ‘Rust in Peace’ and ‘Countdown to Extinction’ crossed with ‘Peace Sells’ and ‘Cryptic Writings.’ It’s a culmination of the best of the best bass tones that I have ever recorded. I have got to tell you that I had something hit last night when we were playing in New York; how I hit the notes, hoe I strum the string, how I play the bass lines and how they very much syncopate with the drums while at the same time picking the melodies of the guitar. It’s similar to how Paul McCartny where I play a bass line that has it’s melody of its own. It’s very much an intrinsic fabric of the rhythm section-- it’s a very unique role. It’s very enjoyable. I’m one of four guys but I also get to be my own guy; I think that the dream of every musician. You get to be part of a group but you also get to be yourself.