Interview: Megadeth’s DAVID ELLEFSON – ‘We Had A Lot of Piss and Vinegar’
35 years of Megadeth, Metal Allegiance, and being a foodie
You could call David Ellefson many things; rock star, entrepreneur, pastor, humble, foodie, author, and more. Lazy is not a word that would come to mind. The Megadeth bassist and thrash icon (oh look, two more titles) somehow manages to share his time between his life in Deth with two record labels (EMP and Combat), Ellefson Coffee Company, recording with Metal Allegiance, writing books, developing young bands, and much more. During a recent chat with Ellefson, Metal Nation asked him how he managed to juggle so many endeavors.
It sounds exhausting when you say it (laughs). There’s a lot of stuff going on. I’m very blessed. I’ve had a long illustrious career as they would say. It’s been a 35-year overnight sensation with Megadeth. We’re blessed to have a lot of fans who support us and always look forward to new things we do. By doing that you get experience, and when you get experience you get an opportunity to pass that on to the next generation, and sometimes parlay those experiences into some new endeavors. The record label, and my love for coffee has now put me squarely over into the food and beverage business with a handful of different opportunities. To me they are all focused around one thing, and that’s music and rock and roll. That’s the long and the short of it.”
Ellefson forged a lifelong connection with Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine 35 years ago. The two have seen Megadeth grow from one of the thrash metal genre’s seminal acts to one of the most celebrated metal bands in the world. The group’s debut album, Killing is My Business… and Business is Good dropped in 1985. Last year, Megadeth released its fifteenth studio record, Dystopia, which further solidified the band’s hard-earned legacy. Despite all of his various successes and endeavors through music and other pursuits, Ellefson sees his role as that of a communicator.
At the end of the day, I’m a communicator. Whether it’s you and me talking here, me playing a bass, communicating rock and roll through a cup of coffee–whatever it is, it’s always just about communication with other people. To me that’s really the greater good of it, which is bringing people together through the things you’re passionate about.”
Last year, Ellefson and label partner Thom Hazaert acquired and relaunched the classic Combat Record label. The duo invested a lot of time in the process, paying respect to its rightful stature among metal labels. Among the initial signing were classic bands like Helstar and Raven, as well as newer artists like Hatchet and Marc Rizzo (Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy, Ill Nino).
This is such a formidable opportunity, but not something we wanted to rush. Combat’s got almost four decades of legacy around it. Certain record labels, like Combat, become synonymous not only with bands, but with genres, and things that are bigger than bands. So we wanted to make sure we launched it in a way that it paid real homage to it being a thrash metal label. We chose to put out the new Marc Rizzo solo record because its a very shredder, metal, musician kind of record. Marc, as a solo record is sort of a new artist, if you will. So that became a cool opportunity. We’re just being very selective with it. It’s not something we want to cram a pipe line full of records. We want to cherry pick, and make sure it’s the right on these releases with Combat.”
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Megadeth‘s third studio effort, So Far, So Good… So What! The album was made during a critical period in the group’s early career. Chaos, conflict, and controversy seemed to court the band. It stands as the only record to feature guitarist Jeff Young and drummer Chuck Behler. Ellefson shared his memories of that period for the band.
I actually sat down last week with bass in hand and played through that record, top to bottom. Just jamming along to the record. Some of the songs we’ve played; “Set the World on Fire,” “In My Darkest Hour”… We’ve played “Hook in Mouth” recently. There are some other songs like “Mary Jane” that we haven’t played in years; “502” and “Liar”. We haven’t played those songs in decades. So to sit down and play them, kind of reminiscing the recording, reminiscing the writing… That was a very angry album. I remember there was an earthquake while we were making it. A massive earthquake out in Pomona that rocked us at 4:30 in the morning, and scared the crap out of me. I’d never been in an earthquake before. I was also on a lot of drugs back then. I would say it’s our most punk rock album. It’s ironic that Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols actually performed on our version of ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’. We just had a lot of piss and vinegar. It was a snotty, punk rock fueled album.”
Dystopia reminded fans how potent Megadeth can be. With the additions of guitarist Kiko Loureiro and drummer Dirk Verbeuren, fans are anxiously awaiting the band’s next studio effort. However, Ellefson is quick to point out that patience in the creative process is what made Dystopia so strong, and the next record will not be out in 2018.
One thing we learned from the last several albums, that I think was confirmed with Dystopia is…with Dystopia we just took as much time as we needed to really make a great record. Some of the records before, Super Collider in particular, we had tour dates, I think we came into the studio a little early on that record. We had a similar experience on Risk where we came off a big tour from Cryptic Writings. Probably a bit premature. The only difference now is you can start to write and record, and because it’s digital, you have the opportunity to go back and revisit some things and tweak them a bit. It’s a lot easier to do than it was back in the big expensive studios and analog tape days. With that said, you want to be prepared and you want to have the material in motion. With Dystopia we found that taking the time to make the record as good as it really can possibly be, that stuff is so important. So I think we’re going to make sure the record’s great rather than hurry up and put it out.”
Ellefson confirmed the next Metal Allegiance record in 2018. “It’s pretty much done. It’s in the final mixing stage, so we’re in good shape with that. We’re just looking at the right window to release that record.” While David could not disclose the title at this point, he did disclose that he and Frank Bello of Anthrax will be releasing another Altitudes and Attitude record.
We actually have an LP that we’re just finishing up now. We’ve been working on it in our down time over the last several years. That whole thing is just such a labor of love for me and Frank. It’s so different from what we do in our main bands, and it’s fun for he and I to just get together. For something that started over some bass clinics, to see it actually turn into a full-fledged record…So we’ll have some announcements on when that will be released. We’re just putting the finishing touches on that one right now as well.”
You can listen to the full interview below, as David Ellefson also talks about his passion for food, and writing a food related book from his experiences on the road and around the world.