RockOverdose and Zisis Petkanas got a chance to talk with David Ellefson, bassist of the most legendary thrash metal bands of all time, MEGADETH.
David Ellefson, comments on the making process of the upcoming Megadeth album as well as his recent personal projects. Moreover he recalls memories of Greece and shares his thoughts on religion, drugs and rock'n roll!
RockOverdose: Hello David, first of all thank you very much for that interview. It’s an honor to have you here at Rock Overdose.
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): Thank you! Good to chat with you again!
RockOverdose: I think it’s been almost 4 years since we’ve last chatted!
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): Yeah! It’s been quite long time. It’s funny because now everything is shut down, Megadeth being off the road since 2018 and then last year it was a bit of an odd year with everything due to Dave Mustaine throat cancer treatments and then I started my solo endeavors with Ellefson band. We did kick the Mega cruise which is cool, the last year we were all ready to have big fun but this pandemic changed everything! Hopefully, we’re going to visit Greece sometime soon, if not this year - hopefully in 2022! It will be good to be back and see you guys again!
RockOverdose: As we know you love our country!
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): Of course!My daughter’s name is Athena, come on!
RockOverdose: Let’s begin with last year’s highlight, the release of the album “No Cover”. If anything, the word game in the title is an original and smart one, as well as the choice of the specific cover. How did the idea for such an album come about?
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): We were working on an Ellefson original album last year and once everything shut down and we realized the touring is not going to happen, we decided to do cover songs! There was an attempt to do a double CD because we did many songs, it was so much fun! There are songs that got me into music, early Deaf Leppard, Queen, Overdrive… as well as things my band wanted to cover, like WASP, Krokus, Billy Idol… It was pretty easy to decide what to do, but we recorded so many it was enough! Everything about it was with respect and homage to our heroes!
RockOverdose: The album features some of the top names in the metal scene. Was it difficult to persuade them taking part in the recordings, judging by the prevailing world situation?
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): No it wasn’t difficult. It was not intended to be a cover record by my solo band – the Ellefson Band. But as we progressed we’ve been doing a lot of live streams through the Ellefson Music Foundation and we started doing telephone live streams and we connected with so many people and realized everyone was at home, quite panicked and freaked out like “Oh my Gosh!”, a lot of incomes lost and people tried to figure it out … So we tapped them to play at the record! It was a fun cover record … so that’s what we did! We just had people jumped in! It is kind of that moments that I really enjoy! Going over that sort of music genres boundaries! It’s fun to tap people from other rock genres or even pop and you know, doing things like that is really fun, not to just be limited in “it has to be metal or not”!
RockOverdose: That’s great! Do you have any other music projects that you are currently working on?
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): Of course the Megadeth record finishingis moving on its own tempo and of course touring as well. I got to say 2021 it’s not very optimistic. I don’t think for a lot of the touring, most of the dates are going to be postponed again! I think this year is going to be almost like 2020, where everyone is trying to figure out what life looks like after that.
For me, I’m working also on my 3rd solo record. And I’ve also written a new book “Rock Star Hitman” that I’ve publish to the Ellefson Book Company and I have a new independent horror film called “Dwellers” rolling out next week actually. So that’s kind of what’s on the horizon for me this year! I think music is going to move to background of my life this period and behind the scenes, and I’m going to be promoting the book and the horror film.
RockOverdose: As you mentioned Megadeth are preparing a new album. Is there excitement about the final result?
David Ellefson (MEGADETH):Of course! Absolutely! It’s been a working progress for almost 4 years now. We started on early 2018 and again it’s the way that the world has operated. 2019 was set to be a big year for us, we had this big tour over America with Ozzy Osbourne &Megadeth that all went away cause Ozzy felt ill, and then Dave had his cancer treatmentsFortunately we continued working on the new album and then on 2020 everyone was affected by the virus! I think the good news is that we’ve been able to work on this record behind the scenes, breath and take shape and a lot of different directions. We are definitely happy with the result, but it’s early to talk about something that is not finished yet, so I’m looking forward to it!
RockOverdose: If I asked about how does it sound, comparing it with the latest Megadeth albums?
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): As we celebrated “Rust In Peace” a couple of times, in 2010 we did the 20th anniversary, last year 2020 we celebrated the 30th anniversary and I think we’ve given that album plenty kudos, further to fans request of course, we give the fans what they want. But as there’s new music I don’t think we always have to be behold to the past records. We’ve been certain kind of people back then, coming from dark days and addictions, there’s a lot of rebuilding and musically even things are going around us impacted us in anyway. We were just holding strong on what we were as a band and despite Madonna or Michael Jackson being number 1 on MTV, what was coming behind us was Seattle music, so our 1990-91’s was probably the pinnacle of thrash metal, and that’s something I think the trash zone had been building since it formed in early 80’s. The BIG 4 – Metallica, Anthrax, the earliest forming of Slayer and of course Megadeth, set the early foundations of thrash metal and it took a decade! The 80’s was sort of building bonds with our fans and I think by that time Metallica delivered “And Justice For All”, Anthrax “Persistence of Time”, we delivered “Rust In Peace” and I believe we came into our own… That was kind of interesting, you know… coming from “Rust In Peace” and going to “Countdown to Extinction” I think we were really on point, were Megadeth needed to go. It was then that we realized we extended our horizons even further, widening our sound more, just being thrash, not pointing away from thrash but expanding a bit wider beyond it. I think we accomplished that, especially with “Countdown…”, “Youthanasia”, “Cryptic Writings”… The 90’s for Megadeth was a pretty productive decade that pretty much close in thrash metal. But as a result to that, you can’t just go and make an album like “Rust In Peace”, that’s impossible. It’s like as a family grows, at first you’re just you and your wife and then you have children and so on… And that’s how any new Megadeth album is now, including all the family of the past. Any new album is going always to evolve, with new members like Kiko (Loureiro), the same way we did with Nick Menza, Marty Friedman back in the 90s. These very capable musicians and song writers have done a lot, to develop and expand the sound of Megadeth, so that’s how the new Megadeth album will sound like…
RockOverdose: I suppose you don’t have a release date yet…
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): We don’t. And you know, that’s always changing based on 2020. I hope we could hear something during this year, 2021! And of course touring, assuming that the touring adjust to the pandemic then the music probably get back a little bit as well.
RockOverdose: After the adventure that Dave Mustaine experienced with his health, do you think that the bonds between you and him as well with the other members of the band became stronger?
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): Yeah, I think so. Back in 2019 while working for the record in Nashville, we saw the seriousness of what was happening, all the transitions. You know Dave is a tough guy! As he’s preparing for his cancer treatments he’s writing riffs, coming in everyday and working on songs. Even though we’ve been working together during those months we waved the band a lot, kept everything going. That’s when I released my first solo record, “The Sleeping Giants”, which was meant to be a companion to a memoir that I wrote, called “My Life with Deth” and it was all scheduled to come out a week after the Ozzy - Megadeth tour, in July. Of course, by May we knew the tour would be cancelled, so we quickly pivoted and headed to Nashville to work on the new album, which we did until June - July. But by then I already had a book and a record scheduled to come out. And as I wouldn’t be working with Megadeth for a few weeks (because of Dave’s treatments), so we got busy going on the road and touring around, supporting the book and the album. I have to say it was a lot of fun! Also, that set the stage for more stuff, like when the time came for the MegaCruise (Dave was not able to perform, because of health issues). Me and Dirk and Kiko kept the MegaCruise afloat, my solo band stepped in to perform some Megadeth numbers, plus the fans felt like they’re getting the real Megadeth experience and I think we did a pretty good job with that! Then I went on to perform with K.K. Downing, my solo band went to Italy and Switzerland, South America, did a whole month of what I call “Bass touring”, which is my solo bass shows. So by the time 2019 ended I was pretty busy and it was a beautiful thing! Heading to 2020 we were pretty optimistic, not only because it would be a big year for Megadeth, but also for the Ellefson solo record, number 2. I think for me, just staying creative and engaged in the process, you know, every day I’m working on a lyric and some music and filling in some parts… Even my memoir got a volume two, it’s shaping up pretty good, it will probably be ready to get pushed in summer. So, it’s nice to work on some different things ready to go!
RockOverdose: That’s great, you have a lot of things to do.
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): Yeah! I mean years ago, in the 80s and the 90s, when we were building Megadeth, I didn’t have time to do anything else, it took all your time. Also, I had a young family, so when I wasn’t on the road, I was at home with my family. But now, my family has grown, so it’s nice to be in this creative season again. In fact, these last few weeks have been perfect, just sitting in my piano, writing, picking up a guitar and writing or working on some lyrics, just writing for the sake of writing. I don’t always have to write with an intention, but just create. That’s how the process goes for me.
RockOverdose: So, what are your memories from Greece?
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): You know, my daughter’s name is Athena, named after the great city of Athens and on the freeway on the highway leading to the airport there’s a town called Elefsina or something. So it’s “Elefsina, Athena” and all that, so I always take a picture of that and send it to my daughter! I have a handful of friends in Athens and it’s a country I would like to explore further. You know, I’ve never been to the islands, because I’ve mostly seen the city when we come to play with Megadeth. Actually, I have tried to put together some family vacation there, but it never seems to work out. But I definitely have it on my list, to come and explore the southern parts of Greece.
RockOverdose: Talking about Greece, you once refused to share the stage with the Greek metallers, Rotting Christ.
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): I don’t think I was with the band at that time… Right? So I can’t comment on that.
RockOverdose: Of course, but I think it has something to do with religion.
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): Maybe it has something to do with religious conviction, but again, I wasn’t in the band, so I can’t really comment on that decision.
RockOverdose: What’s your opinion about religion and Metal?
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): To me, if you are religious, great, if not, no problem. I was raised as a lutheran kid, kind of a protestant faith, growing up in a farm in Minnesota, then I transitioned to Hollywood and we started Megadeth, so I wasn’t a religious kind of guy at all. You know, I got sober through 12 step programs back in 1990 and that led me back to having a spiritual awareness. It’s mind, body, spirit, not just your physical form on the planet, but also a soul, a greater spiritual operative, that kind of makes us work. You see that when you go to a funeral and see someone who has died and say: “He doesn’t look the same, because his spirit has left him”. That kind of led me back to the lutheran faith, I found it important as I was raising my family, you know, to have some sort of agreed upon place to go for spiritual development and as I started reading the bible (which I do every day, for 10, 12, 15 years) I loved the New Testament, most of which takes part in Greece. For my own journey through sobriety and stuff, I have come to have my own understanding of it, it’s not necessarily bound only by a religious denomination. As I say, “there’s no atheists in a foxhole”, meaning that in a war, with the bullets flying around it gets more: “Oh my God, what am I doing, oh my God please help me”. We can think we are in charge when we know what’s going on, until you… need someone to send you a lifeline. To me, spiritual development is a personal thing, noone should tell me what to believe and I shouldn’t tell anyone else. If you want to develop it, by all means, do so.
RockOverdose: I also wanted to ask you your opinion about the incident with Jon Schaffer at the Capitol.
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): I don’t wanna comment on any of that stuff. I write songs, books and make movies, I’m not involved with that.
RockOverdose: That’s the main fact, you don’t have to mix politics with music.
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): No, not at all! I mean, if you wanna write a song about it, write a movie or a book, that’s one thing. But I tend not to go there.
RockOverdose: So last question, you are very honest with the struggle you had with drugs. What do you have to say to someone seeing this, who is experimenting with drugs?
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): Not everybody is an addict, you know? Some people can drink or occasionally enjoy recreational part taking of certain chemicals and drugs without problems. I’m not here to try and change anybody’s opinion, I had my own experience with it. It was fun when I was taking the drugs. It didn’t turn funny when the drugs were taking me. That was when I needed to seek help, so all I can do is share my story and my experience with it. It’s funny, drugs are like religion, it’s a personal thing! If you wanna explore it, that’s up to you, you know the potential problems. If you don’t wanna explore it, that’s ok too. If people are getting ensnared into addiction, there are 12 step programs, rehabilitation centres and places where people can go to get help. It was my guitar tech who told me: “David, getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness”. That’s probably the best thing I can say about that.
RockOverdose: Would you like to leave a message to the Greek fans?
David Ellefson (MEGADETH): Sure! Thank you for all the support through all these years, I can’t wait to get back to your beautiful country and enjoy the sunlight, the food and your beautiful company. We hope to see you soon!
Questions: Evangelos Giannopoulos, Tasos Stoidis
Transcript: Vivi Zapantiotou, Daphne Georgadaki