In-person interview with David Ellefson of Megadeth
By Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal
March 31st 2010, The Palladium, Hollywood CA
Andrew:This is the last show of the tour. This tour was announced before there were any talks of your rejoining the band. How did you feel reading the press release at that time and how does it feel now?
David: I felt that I should be here when I saw the announcement for this. It was kind of like a little bit of a kick in my stomach. Nobody did it to me personally but my thought was like that. My heart sank a little bit and I was like, 'Man, I should be there for that'. And then ironically about a week later I started getting some correspondence from Shawn Drover and Dave's tech Willie and that basically led to me getting on the phone with Dave. It was like we both wanted it to happen and we both just needed to get on the phone and say it (laughs). It worked right out and it was really simple after that.
Andrew:How would you sum up your eight years away from the band?
David: For me it was scary. At least initially it was, because I had grown up for almost 20 years in Megadeth. It became my identity, it became how I played, how I wrote songs, how I viewed the world, how I lived, how I pay my bills, I mean it was everything you know (laughs). One day that was over. First thing I did was I moved forward creatively. I did a lot of writing and some co-writing. I actually did some writing with a Roadrunner act called 'Dry Kill Logic'. That really kind of got me going and opened my eyes to how guys were writing songs, different tunings and guys who grew up influenced by Megadeth, how they went out writing their songs with some different stuff like a lot of drop tunings and all that. That led to me forming F5 and playing in Temple Of Brutality and all these other groups that I did, which were great and I'm glad I did those because they were really the experiences I needed to have, just as a person, musician and songwriter. It was cool to have those. By nature I ended up being the leader of the bands because I usually had the most experience. So all those experiences made me a much better musician to come back into Megadeth. So that's the good thing that happened from that.
Andrew:You had sound problems in Baltimore but made up for it the night after. I really can't think of any other band that would have done this. Once you knew that the venue was available, how hard or easy was it to convince everyone to be on board and come through with it?
David: Yeah that! (laughs). The only person that travelled on was the lighting guy who travelled up with Testament up to Scranton. So we just used an alternate guy. But all our other crew were there. They were sick; they were tired. They were really looking forward to a day off. But it was just something we felt we had to do. We went out and almost did the show. Then we had to stop because we had to change over all the sound equipment. Then we went out and did the first three songs of the set. Then we had to basically cancel the show because it was just not working. So we figured, people got to see Testament and Exodus so they kind of got their money's worth with that but they didn't get their money's worth seeing the Rust In Peace set. So, at least from our side of it, that was the thing that people coming for the Megadeth show had paid to see. We felt we owed that to them. Even though the sound problems were not of our doing quite honestly (laughs), but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter whose fault it is. The responsibility does lie with us as the band. Miraculously the venue was available, we had a day off and it was cool. It was kind of a good bonding session for me, Dave, Chris and Shawn. To have that kind of an issue happen, it brought us together as a band. It brought us together as a whole touring entourage, me being pretty new in the fold. That was cool. So sometimes things happen for reasons you don't always know. It's almost like the good lord was shutting the PA off (laughs). That's what happens when you are in a band and you're on the road together. You have brotherhood bonding experiences and you usually grow through the difficult times. It's not when you are triumphant and victorious. Those are usually the outcomes of having to go through a bunch of hardships.
Andrew:There has been talk of new material being recorded in the studio and also the new video. Because this reunion was so out of the blue, how much time did you actually get to transition yourself into recording with Dave again, and working with Chris and Shawn for the first time?
David: It was overnight, literally overnight (laughs). Bang! Dave and I talked on a Thursday and on Friday we were in the studio playing together. On Saturday I was recording the new track, taking photos, we were watching the press release. It literally happened within a day. Within 48 hours, everything was all put in motion and set in place to go. So it happened quickly, but again my playing was really good. My chops were up. I had been working a lot, playing, touring and doing things. So I was in good physical shape and my chops were good, so I was prepared for something like this to happen. For any other musicians who may be checking in on this interview, that's an important thing, to always be prepared. Because you know, the call for the big gig always comes at the most unlikely time. Dave and Shawn have been real good about it and it was like, 'Lets just use these couple of months to get the transition going, kind of all of us get back and get everything done'. It isn't just about the hour or two hours you see us on stage. There is lot of other stuff that happens. The preparation, life style changes and things like that, so its really been a nice smooth and kind of a methodical transition which has made it good for everybody.
Andrew:One of the basses you've used on this tour is the transparent red BC Rich Mockingbird. With that and with other gear, how have you gone about recreating the same live sound as it was back on the original Rust In Peace tour?
David: I have a whole bunch of different basses. But for me, the BC Rich was really just for the fans. I wanted to bring a Jackson bass back. I got some Hartke amplifiers because that is the tone we recorded the album with. The bass with which I recorded Peace Sells was an old BC Rich. So they were kind enough to give me one of those. For me, sometimes in the instruments, its not just what goes on sonically. There is a visual thing like 'Oh man, he's breaking out the BC Rich, oh man he's breaking out the Jackson'. Shawn Drover being a big Megadeth fan and historian over the years, when I told him I wanted to get a Jackson and BC Rich, he was like 'Oh man!' I opened my drawer at home and found some old sweatbands from the Rust In Peace tour, with the radiation sign on it. So I got those wristbands made. For me this was all about bringing back the whole thing, getting the original set cards and the backdrop. So I wanted it to really look and sound authentically like it was twenty years ago.
Andrew:On this tour, you've been ending the shows with a reprise version of Holy Wars, while you still play it in the set before that. What is the reason for that?
David: It's kind of an old showbiz trick. We've done it with Peace Sells over the years too. Sometimes we start with a song, play the first part and then transition into a couple of other songs and then end with the back part. So the Holy Wars reprise is just cool. It sort of ties the end of the show with the main reason people are here, which is to see the Rust In Peace set. Dave does his band member introduction over the bass and drum thing that we do. We've changed some of the set a lot. We've changed some of the early songs and some of the last tunes. Then we kind of tweak our encore a little bit. We want to give the people a show. It's more than just us standing there and playing songs. We want people to be entertained and want them to have fun. So the meat and potatoes was the Rust In Peace set but the other part too in which we definitely played some of the old classics as well.
Andrew:You've been involved with Rock Source 360. What exactly did you do for them?
David: Here's the funny thing. I had the intentions that I was going to do a few online lessons. I actually had just put that up and someone had booked a lesson. Then the Megadeth thing happened. So I really had to pull back out of it (laughs) because I just don't have the time to do it now. I'm certainly not going to do that for the next few months at least.
Andrew:You interviewed the original Metallica bassist Ron McGovney last week. How did that go and what did you guys essentially talk about?
David: First of all, Ron and me are bass players. So by nature, we get along. Bass players are like that. Guitar players are like gunslingers. They fire at each other every once in a while, but bass players get along well (laughs). I've known him for many years, throughout our travels and everything. So it was cool to sit down and talk to him. I know of course a lot of the Metallica history. He and Dave were in the band for such a short period of time but there really is a great connection. It was during the formative years of that band. So it was cool to talk to him and find out that he had a long friendship with James Hetfield before Metallica, which I wasn't aware of. There is some great stuff and I learnt a lot talking to him, it is very cool. Stay tuned to Megadeth radio for that!
Andrew:Up until this tour started, you had been part of the super group Hail!. What did the guys in Hail think about the reunion?
David: Well, Ripper [Owens] even said, 'Dude as a fan it would be great to see you back in there'. Even Andreas, he knows. Him being in Sepultura, he has gone through these transitions with Max and former members. So I think they understood. There were shows that were booked, coming up in May and June. I told them that the spirit of Hail! is, no one is ever kicked out. We just keep adding more members. It was unlikely that I was going to be one of them who would have to transition out of that, at least temporarily, but that was always put together as a fun group. We had a great time and we just enjoy each other's company. The fans love it and we just go out and do that whenever I can. By all means, I told them, 'Please get someone else, I'll help you find somebody so you guys can still go and play'. They really just do it for the love of music and the fans.
Andrew:You have the Big Four and the American Carnage tours coming up. How excited are you for those and what else do you have on your own plate?
Check out the band's official website.
David: It's all Megadeth on my plate now! (laughs) I think it's great. In fact, when the Carnage tour got cancelled, well initially it was cancelled then postponed, my first thought was, 'Man, I should call Dave'. Then about two weeks later I see the press release from the Rust In Peace thing. I just had this hunch when I was looking at these Big Four shows coming up. I was thinking, this is a big year for Megadeth, for thrash metal, the big four coming together. I thought if there was ever a time for me and Dave to just rejoin and just go make things work, this was it. Because I knew that both he and I would want that to happen. He's reached out to me over the years. We've talked and we've been able to bury the hatchet. The final thing was just getting together in a room and playing together. It really is a historic year for Megadeth and I thought, as a co-founder of this thing, the original member from back in the day and being a long time member, the fans would love this, it would be a great time for Dave and I to reconcile everything and publicly just be together and say, 'We've had a long history but let's just keep our eye on the future and roll forward'.