by Pat Prince
It was hard to imagine that bassist and co-founder David Ellefson had ever left the band Megadeth. It seemed certain that after Ellefson's departure in 2002, the band would no longer function as a working unit. Many were convinced that vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine would focus on a solo project instead.
In what speaks volumes about the man's perseverance and passion, Dave Mustaine not only kept Megadeth going but continued to energize its brand. Yet, it still felt like something needed to find its way back, and that "something" was certainly David Ellefson. After all, even the lukewarm fan will associate Ellefson's opening bass riff in "Peace Sells" to one of the main things that defines the Megadeth sound. Now, after all the disagreements and the lawsuits, Ellefson is back where he belongs. Earlier this year, the band announced the return of Ellefson to coincide with its 20th anniversary of Rust in Peace on tour. During the March tour, David Ellefson spoke to Goldmine about the historical reunion.
It's been weird not seeing you in Megadeth all these years. You kind of feel the same way?
David Ellefson: A little bit, yeah. I think the weirdest thing was when the group wound down in 2002, it was weird to not be in Megadeth at that point. It was weird to think, 'Wow, this can't be, that this isn't going to exist anymore.' But through that transition I moved on to a lot of new things. So I was pretty comfortable with it, actually.
And it's weird that now at this point in time when I saw the press release for the Rust in Peace 20th anniversary, that was the time when I first went, 'You know, I should be there now.' That was when it really hit me. And it's ironic that a week later I get a message (from the band).
And when you got back together, did it feel like you never left?
Ellefson: It totally did. Me and Dave playing together, it just fit right together. Shawn (Drover) has got a great groove to how he plays. He's definitely done his homework and paid his dues in being in the band, so he knows what being in Megadeth is all about. Chris Broderick is a fantastic player. He really pays all respect to the older members, if there is any older material that we play, and with the record (Endgame) he's made a pretty ferocious statement of his own creativity as well. So it really is a good fit now. It's very odd and coincidental and everything at the same time, but it all seems to be clicking together and working very effortlessly, which it should be.
Did you begin writing with Mustaine again?
Ellefson: You know, we haven't started to write anything yet. There is a brand new track that was already in the works that he [Mustaine] had me play on. It was actually the second day we got back together. So that was pretty cool. We still have music and riffs from years ago that we haven't used that Shawn was going, "I can't believe we never used these things. These are fantastic.' It's cool to have someone like Shawn around because he gives a different ear and a different perspective to things and that probably has helped Megadeth in recent years in getting back to its roots and plug back into the energy that made the band viable in the first place.
You once said that you wrote songs according to your mood. Do you still feel the same way?
Ellefson: Yeah, I think so. And I think it's like that for all songwriters, quite honestly. Different moods inspire different things.
Does your songwriting still match with Dave (Mustaine) nowadays?
Ellefson: We'll tell, I guess, as we move forward. Sometimes I pick up a bass but right now I'm in performance mode when I pick the instrument up. The other day I was at my house and some ideas fell out. I was in Megadeth but not around Megadeth, so a certain kind of thing came out and it made me go 'Wow, this would probably work well on a future Megadeth record.'
Are you still interested in the same subjects? I mean, are you a fellow Christian?
Ellefson: I am.
Oh, okay, so you can still relate to each other as songwriters.
Ellefson: Absolutely. And you know it's funny with Megadeth, because even years ago Dave would draw from scripture to come up with ideas and they would be very inspirational. It's interesting. The whole Book of Isaiah, you could write an entire Iron Maiden album out of that, you know. It's definitely a good source for inspiration. The history books are just ripe soil for writing metal records.
There had been too much of an unfair attack on metal in the past, especially in the '80s, as far as it being Satanic.
Ellefson: It's funny. Even when the thrash thing started, with Venom and all that, even if you listen to those things, none of those guys were Satan worshipers. They talked about Satan. Worshiping Satan, it's like, 'Is that the best you can do?' He's kind of a small fry guy. You're kind of limiting your resources a little bit there, if you go down that road.
In a recent quote, you encouraged young bands to be more original if they want to be successful. Do you think originality is nearly dead, though?
Ellefson: Here's the thing. Even in our genre, we drew upon everything from Priest, Maiden, Sabbath, and those that went before us. But we also branched out and listened to other things, and that's the thing that's been so unique about Megadeth over the years — that there's such a broad musical diversity within the band, among the players. It's helped us not only survive but, more importantly, thrive. Especially twenty years ago when the thrash thing went way back underground. We ended up hanging a left turn into the mainstream, because we had the skills and ability in the band to do that. To me, the most exciting times in this band is when we rise to the occasion and create something new. Of course, a lot of bands have been influenced by Megadeth over the years and that's great. But I personally respect the ones who go on and do something that does not sound like Megadeth.
I remember one time we were in the elevator of a hotel in Cleveland and the guitarist from the band Matchbox Twenty got in the elevator and he was freaking out that he was standing next to Marty Friedman. He was a big fan. And to me, that was cool. Here's a guy who was in a very big mainstream pop band who loved the talents of Marty Friedman, who at that time was the shredder of Megadeth. To me, it's all in what you do with it, to where it goes to your head and to your fingers and comes out something unique and special. That's why I encourage artists. Record labels are not going to sign an also-ran. They are going to sign things that are unique, ground-breaking, cutting-edge, and are essentially going to change the face of the world. That's what people get excited about. That's what stirs the human spirit.
Well, I was impressed to see you wearing an Angel Witch shirt in your first Megadeth promo photo since returning. A nice New Wave of British Heavy Metal plug. Do you think too many metal fans have forgotten about those bands? There were some really good bands back then.
Ellefson: They really were good! We go back and listen to those things, and Dave has never pulled out from those roots. I did a show with another group I have called Hail! and we play cover tunes. And the whole point of that is to go back and relive not just the thrash stuff but the stuff that inspired the thrash stuff. Let's go be fans again ourselves and go up and play music that inspired us. Going back to play UFO and things. I like the attitude that, if you like, for instance, what Megadeth did, go listen to what influenced the guys in Megadeth. And you'll understand how they created the Megadeth music. It 's a good thing to go back and listen to the inspiration to those who inspired you.
How do you feel about the Rust In Peace tour?
Ellefson: Good. There's just a great work ethic in the band. It's a well-oiled machine. I stepped into something that is very together. And a lot of that is based on back when I was in it so I pretty much know the drill. It's cool to see Shawn and Chris, as the newer guys in Megadeth, to be very seasoned already. They've got a great mindset and great spirit. Dave has always been very focused. He gets out of bed and first thing on his mind is 'How do I improve Megadeth?' and it's the last thing we talk about before we go to bed. And it's cool to see that that hasn't changed.
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