|Posted on February 22, 2015 at 6:35 PM|
Interview with David Ellefson
By Dave Smiles
‘when you’re a young musician… you pretty much have to sell your soul to be in this business, and if you’re fortunate enough to go and get your soul back… you really come to appreciate what it means to just be happy.’ -- David Ellefson
David Ellefson is one of metal’s survivors with a wealth of knowledge and experience with which he is heading down here to Australia to share with the fans on a speaking tour. With his brother in arms Dave Mustaine, the pair created and nurtured the beast that the world knows as Megadeth, but like all success stories there have been many obstacles to overcome along the way.
What inspired you to do a speaking tour?
The idea was brought to me, gosh, almost a year ago. My book, ‘My Life With Deth’ had just come out at the time, just a few months earlier. It’s interesting how, sometimes people write books cause they’re on the speaking circuit, in my case I ended up getting speaking gigs because I wrote a book. And I think it’s fun for the fans more than anything. The book offers an insight into my personal life, some behind the scenes stuff of a rock band that most people don’t know. So to take this down, especially down there to Australia where I haven’t been now in about four years I think is really cool. I was really excited about it when I was approached about doing it. To me, any chance I can get to Australia is always a good one.
Is it sometimes difficult to be open when you’re writing books and doing the speaking tour?
You know, as far as writing the book you get the luxury of getting to edit it. You write it, you do the interview, and you get to re-write it, and re-write it again. I think when you’re out speaking there’s a little more of the impromptu thing, it’s like recording verses playing live.
What can fans expect from the night, how will it be set out and divided up?
We’ll be starting off with a video presentation and then go right into it, there’s a few things out of the book, specific things that I like to talk about and then open it up to some stories, develop things a little more. There’s some things that I put in the book that I think will be fun to develop. It’s fun, it’s a fun night out. It’s not going to be some heavy serious thing, yet at the same time there’s certainly some serious moments in it, you know as anybody’s life would be. It’s really a chance to be up close and personal with the fans. Kind of like people do a clinic with music, a spoken word opportunity is like the same thing with a book.
If you hadn’t become a musician, what do you think you would have done with your life?
Not a clue. I mean I grew up on a farm. (laughs) I can’t say I would have enjoyed being a farmer, even though I can appreciate it a lot more now than I did then. I think I’m doing what I was called to do. For me, the calling came at age ten. I was on the school bus listening to the radio, and rock n roll just started to peak my interest. I couldn’t wait to get a guitar, a bass and start playing. So, to me, the key in life is following what the inner voice tells you because that has been my experience, cause that is the stuff you’re supposed to go after.
What was it about bass guitar that inspired you to play it?
First of all I thought it looked cool. (laughs) Cause it was really long, and it had really big fat strings on it. To be honest I really didn’t know what the thing sounded like I saw pictures of guys playing it, like Fred Turner from Bachman – Turner Overdrive, inside the Not Fragile album. I started seeing people on TV playing the bass, and I was drawn to the bass for some reason. It’s just one of those instruments, even though I love the sound of guitar, for whatever reason I was always drawn to the bass. And then I realised when I got a bass that there was hardly anybody in my little town or neighbouring town that played the bass so I realised, as I started to get pretty good at it pretty quickly, I realised I had quite a few job opportunities if I wanted to go out and be a gigging bassist. One of those was playing in the high school Jazz band. Then I got called up at age twelve, I got called up with a bunch of sixteen year old high school kids, playing in their band because they needed a bass player. I was really into it, I was just into playing the bass, playing rock n roll songs with anyone I could. I grew up in a little town with about two thousand people, so any time I could find a rock n roll musician to hang out with I would, and that helped me get pretty good pretty quick. I find that the more you play with people the better you get. Playing a variety of music is also good too cause it just helps to develop your ear and, especially the bass player, develop your feel, for how to feel music. You could academically learn music, you can read music but when you’re actually playing in front of people it’s about how it feels when you play together.
What’s the best thing about playing your own music in front of a live audience?
You know it’s just one of those things if you’re wired to do it it’s like an endorphin rush. It’s better than drugs, it’s probably on some days better than sex, (laughs) it’s just one of those things, if you have music, or have a performance that can really rock a crowd is such a cool, it’s such a great feeling. To move that many people, to be so connected to so many people it’s just really an incredible thing. And for those of us who get to do it… music isn’t like this job that you do till aged 62 and then you retire it’s something that you do for the rest of your life.
Throughout the eleven albums you recorded with Megadeth, what would you consider to be your best work, and do you have a favourite bass tone?
I think all of them have had some really cool moments, I listen back now to the Youthanasia record and I forget just how great that record really is. I’m actually surprised at how tight the performances are because we recorded that as four guys in a room playing together, well actually Nick was in the drum room. Me, Dave and Marty were in the control room with Max Norman, and we recorded all those songs together in one take. Actually we did three takes and picked one we liked the best and if there were any little, you know, notes to fix you fixed them. Countdown To Extinction was kind of the laboratory experiment where we got so anal and nit-picky about every little nuance, with Youthanasia we thought, ‘Let’s take a different approach. If we can’t sound good as a band we don’t deserve to be in the studio.’ So we intentionally applied pressure on ourselves which in fact Norman would say to us, he’s British, he’d say (in British accent) ‘You gotta apply pressure on yourself, mate. You gotta put pressure on yourself and play your parts.’ I’m glad he did that. You know a good producer is like a sports coach. They inspire you and they raise you up to be better and every album is kind of like going in to training and conditioning for the big race so that was one of those records that I think is great as a band, as opposed to everybody sitting there overdubbing till the cows come home. This is one where we really nailed it together as a band.
This year is the 25th anniversary of Rust In Peace. Are there any plans to do anything to mark the occasion?
You know… we did the twentieth anniversary just five years ago and that was a huge thing. I mean through a change of events it opened the door for me to return to Megadeth. It’s funny cause I returned for a one month commitment. Shawn Drover called me February second, and said ‘Man, we’re making a bass player change, if you have any interest in getting back with Megadeth now is the time.’ Three days later on February fifth I drove over to the studio in California and we’re rehearsing and we knew after I think probably after one whirl of Symphony of Destruction it would be great, and I certainly wanted to come back to the band. On February 8th we made the press announcement. I made a one month commitment. I said I’ll come back for one month and do the Rust In Peace tour and we’ll figure it out from there. It’s funny, you know, a one month commitment and here I am five years later still going strong.
How has your relationship with Dave Mustaine changed over the years?
You know I gotta tell you it’s certainly gone through a lot. In the early days it was not just about forming a band but it was also about survival together. I mean he was just really down on his luck, from the Metallica thing and financially really behind the eight ball. I had just moved to California from a pretty comfortable middle class life on a farm in Minnesota and straight into Hollywood. I never went back home, I never called home for money. My attitude was I’m out of home now pursuing what I want to do and now it’s time to do this on my own. So Dave and I we became like brothers in arms. We started a band together, we had to figure out a way to survive together, we drank together, we did girls together (Laughs), we did everything together you know? That was just the spirit of being in a rock n roll band together. Especially being a heavy metal band in 1983, I can’t think of a better time to start a heavy metal band. Especially in LA, cause it was full on, it was great. It was just one of those things when you go through those experiences together I mean that’s a bond that just doesn’t come along that often. It’s sort of like a heavy metal fraternity or something…. And a lot of the other guys they couldn’t handle it, they couldn’t take it, you know? Dave and I, we were the two. We were literally at the bottom and then we were even lower… and that’s,… when you go to those kind of lows together… you like to think you can handle the highs together and so that’s what mine and David’s relationships is and I think now that we’re older and we have families we’ve grown into grown men now. Now we can look back at those things and laugh about them, we’ve certainly got enough stories together. But I think, just as importantly, we know ‘well, we’ve been down this road before, we know what this looks like…’ And the funny thing is he and I have been in the business longer than damn near anybody in our organisation, managers, record company people, publishers. Maybe not booking agents cause there’s a couple of people who have been doing this longer than we have, but for the most part Dave and I, we are the statesmen of our organisation, without a doubt.
Is there anything else you’d like to achieve in your life personally and as a musician?
I think more than anything at this point it’s about doing stuff that you walk away feeling good about. I think that when you’re a young musician… you pretty much have to sell your soul to be in this business, and if you’re fortunate enough to go and get your soul back… you really come to appreciate what it means to just be happy. Because there’s so many things I think that as a musician you have to do that just really infringe on your spirit. You do it for the greater cause, the greater good and hopefully one day there’s a payoff. I think now it’s just about making great records that people will like, and listening back and in some ways just being a fan of your own work.
Is there any news from the Megadeth camp as to who the new members will be?
There are some developments with it and I think I’ve come to realise - we’ve certainly spent the last several months, kind of late November, sorting things out. I think, what I’ve come to is that we need to make a great record, cause that should always be… the songs have always determined who’s going to be in the band; from day one. And nothing should change with that. To go back and chase some glory day is like chasing fool’s gold. I think that the songs, and the album, are going to determine what the line-up is and I think that’s the proper order of putting the horse in front of the cart.
David Ellefson will be in Australia in March. For more information and to buy tickets check out the following link.
Effefson’s book can be ordered through Amazon