Interviews

Interview: DAVE ELLEFSON of MEGADETH

Megadeth legend David Ellefson is coming to the U.K. for a brace of shows, including a special one-off, featuring legendary former Judas Priest guitarist K. K. Downing, alongside two other ex-Priest legends; Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens and Les Binks. In the second interview featuring the musicians playing in the Allstar band, I chatted to Dave Ellefson of Megadeth.


Dave Ellefson
Photo: Thomas Woroniak Photography

ANTIHERO: You’re bringing the Ellefson Band to Europe, including a couple of UK dates. I just wondered if it brought added pressure, given that it’s your name up there rather than the band name?

Dave Ellefson: You know, it probably would be if I hadn’t already been doing this now for a couple of months. This particular group concept, I’ve taken across the United States all summer long around my new book, More Life with Deth, and the solo companion CD, Sleeping Giants. So, I think, for now, I’m very comfortable with it. I think in the UK, what adds the extra interest is that the London Underworld show will be pretty similar to what we’ve been doing over here in America, with the opening act, me as the headliner, then doing the book and merchandising signing after the show.

Probably the difference, of course, is in Wolverhampton, playing at KK’s Steel Mill. We’ve added the press conference in advance, and a VIP Q&A portion with me and K.K. Downing and his author, Mark Eglinton, and then, of course, adding Blaze Bayley as our support act. I will come out and do my portion of the show and then we have a big extravaganza. You know, a full set with me and K.K. Downing and Les Banks and Tim “Ripper” Owens. So, the KK’s Steel Mill show, you’re kind of getting three shows in one, which I think is pretty cool. I think it adds to a real night of legacy heavy metal.

ANTIHERO: What about the whole concept and the idea of doing something outside the realms of the typical live show? Was that something that you just came up with yourself? Was it something you devised in partnership with Thom, who you do a lot of business ventures with?

Dave Ellefson: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, Tom and I, we talk every day. We create things together, companies, ideas, like the record label and Ellefson Coffee Company. I defer to him as a sort of management role in my things that I do on my own, away from Megadeth, of course. I think it’s dangerous to self-manage yourself. We always need perspective from other people and Tom provides that for me. Same time, because we’re both creative types, and Tom also produces and writes songs and has had his hand in that side of the business now for over 20 years as well, I think it was kind of a natural transition that we would get in the studio and create some music together. Which is what we did with the Sleeping Giants album, at least with the three songs, with Vultures, Hammer Comes Down and Sleeping Giants.

That’s made for a fun transition onto the stage, because last year when I was doing Basstory, it initially started as a kind of more of a master class, almost bass clinic, that we were doing in the nightclubs with a warmup act. Then we could sell beer and T-shirts, and have it be more of a concert, rather than just a very sterile clinic inside of a music store, or a school. Taking that concept and moving it forward now with the book and the solo album, where there’s actually some songs created specifically for a Basstory type event, has really opened this whole thing up now into being a much more appropriate headliner solo endeavor for me.

Always, of course, aimed around the bass, my life story. My life story as told through the risks and the music that the fans are already familiar with, with me. So, I think we found a pretty comfortable way to do it, and I think because it’s my story and it’s my songs and it’s bass riffs that I’m known for, getting on the stage solo is very comfortable for me.

ANTIHERO: Are you still doing band management, as well? I think the last time we talked a couple of years ago, back in Manchester, you were doing some management, as well.

Dave Ellefson: Yeah, I have a company, EMP Management. We manage a group called Doll Skin, who are on Hopeless Records and have been over to the UK now, actually just last month. They just did a run through the UK with Trash Boat. They’re a much different genre, more of younger, pop-punk kind of group. But yeah, between the label, the management company, the coffee company … Of course, acquiring Combat Records. Funny, acquiring Combat Records really helped flesh out the story I told in the More Life with Deth book.

I think when you start writing a book, you start putting the story down on the page and then the story always takes these little turns down different little alleyways. I think the Combat Records fork in the road was really appropriate because it then looped back all the way to the origins and the earliest days of Megadeth, where I started with Combat Records in 1984. And of course, now not only do I own the label, but I’m also an artist signed to the label with my own album, Sleeping Giants.

ANTIHERO: You mentioned there writing the book. How did writing a book compare with writing music? Obviously, it’s a totally different approach, but at the same time, you’re still being creative.

Dave Ellefson: You know, you use a laptop instead of a guitar, but essentially the creative process is very similar, because every chapter is like its own song, and all of the chapters together make the book, in the same way that all the songs together make an album. This is why, an album, it’s a snapshot of music at that particular time, and a year or two later you write more songs to create another album. So throughout your musical career, you have these albums that are snapshots of your creative journey. A book is very much the same thing. It’s why I’ve written three books. The first book I wrote was called Making Music Your Business: A Guide for Young Musicians, now published through Hal Leonard. That was my first life story. It was comfortable.

We were doing the Youthanasia Megadeth album tour and cycle, and I wrote it while I was on that tour. It came out at the downbeat of the cryptic writing job in 1997. For me, the story I wanted to tell then was the story of, I was an ardent musician who had worked really hard my whole life and Megadeth was starting to have some double platinum-level success and Grammy nominations, but I’m still just a kid from the farm in Minnesota at the heart, and I always went back to that. Like, what was the dream I had at age 12 that I’m now living in, at that point in my late 20s, and how did I get there? That’s really the story of that book. It was parlaying the journey of that in a way that I think would help other young musicians.

That was one of the first music business books that were used in music business classes in colleges across the country here in the United States, and I’ve heard even internationally. So I think to that degree, that book was successful. The first memoir that I wrote, My Life with Deth, that I wrote with Joel McIver, published, I think it was in 2013, that was the first time I set out my actual real-life story. That was actually a more difficult book to write. Not that I have anything that I didn’t want to share, but with memoirs, by its nature, you have to dig down into divulging some personal frailties. If you don’t, it’s kind of like a tall tale. It doesn’t really carry any weight with it.

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Because I read a lot of these. I’m looking at my bookshelf right now. You know, I’ve got everything, Slash, Sammy Hagar. I just read Runnin’ With the Devil by Noel Monk. I’m reading Bob Daisley’s book right now. That’s the thing that I like about them is that they expose … you know, here we are, these big bad-ass, larger than life rock stars to our public, yet we write these memoirs and it brings out our humans.

Megadeth - Dave Ellefson
Photo: Thomas Woroniak Photography

ANTIHERO: You mentioned books, the record label, coffee. Is it essential for musicians these days to explore other avenues of creativity, other revenues of revenue, basically?

Dave Ellefson: Well, speaking for me, I have been a bass player since I was 11 years old. When I moved to Hollywood in 1983 upon graduation was my real … That was me really diving in the deep end of the big boys club, and then Dave and I secured our first record deal with Combat Records in 1984. So, since I was about 19 years old, I’ve always had a record deal and I’ve always been under contract to write and record original music. I’m very blessed because there are many people who want to do that. At the same time, in today’s world, you probably make more money being in a tribute band or a cover band and playing on the weekend, because unless you got in the game many years ago, and I’m talking 15, 20, 30 years ago, and built a name for yourself, it’s really difficult to be able to make a living at this.

When you’re young you can do it because your expenses are low and you’ve got nothing to lose. It’s everything you live for. As you get older and you want to improve your quality of life and your standard of living like we all naturally do … buy a home, have a car, maybe raise a family … doing that exclusively with a music career is very difficult. And I’ve been able to do it my whole life. I’m very blessed. But I, while I’d like to think, at the top of my game, I’m also … You know, I went through a transition in the early 2000s when Megadeth disbanded and ended. And I feared that day because I was really not prepared for it. As much as we were very successful, our businesses were earning a lot of money, when it stops, it stops. So does the money and I mean, it all shuts down. That transition was something I was not prepared for.

So, I spent, really, 2002 until I came back to Megadeth in 2010 really hustling and working hard, probably working the hardest I’ve ever worked, while already a well-known and kind of hallmark artist and bass player. I was working harder than I ever had before in my life. And so when I came back to Megadeth, 2010, I made it my mission that Megadeth, it’s great to be back home and playing those songs for our fans, but only a fool would just put all our eggs back in one basket again, knowing the frailties. That’s one of the things when you’re in a group setting when you rely on each other to keep the doors of your business open, is, boy, if one guy goes down, the business is over.

Most businesses aren’t like that, you know. Apple Computer, when Steve Jobs died, had a transition process and the company survived. Rock bands aren’t usually like that, because they’re very personality-driven and that’s a big part of it. So I think for me in the last decade especially has been while I’m still in Megadeth and enjoying great success, having a lot of fun doing that, I’ve learned that there are other things that I want to do with my life, and there are other things that would be wise for me to do with my life. And quite honestly, it’s always more fun to build your future while you’re currently active and busy, rather than being behind the eight ball, scrambling and hustling.

So, this last decade of me doing all this stuff that I’m doing, which I spoke very openly about in More Life with Deth, comes from real labor of love. It’s not a dire necessity. I’m not grasping at straws. I’m not desperately trying to do things. These are all things that are very fun. The record label, the coffee company, management company. Even making records with Frank Bello, with Metal Allegiance, these things, these are all born out of passion and just a real love of music and all the things that it provides.

ANTIHERO: Dave, I’m already a little over time here. If I could just finish by asking you, obviously Megadeth had to cancel some shows recently due to Dave’s recent diagnosis. I just wondered quickly how he’s bearing up, and indeed, how you are bearing up? It also must be difficult for you, coming to terms with that, as a longstanding friend.

Dave Ellefson: He’s finished his treatment and he’s in recovery now. Obviously, we’ve put on sale the Megadeth – Five Finger Death Punch tour for next year, 2020, so we’re optimistic we’re moving forward for a full recovery for Dave. But we certainly appreciate all the thoughts and prayers until we’re completely out of the woods on that for him. I mean, look, I’m lucky that again … Last year in 2018, we created Basstory and we began writing the book and putting the solo album in place, not really knowing the future of those things. But suddenly, I had them, which gave plays back to, coming off a hugely successful world tour with Dystopia, I didn’t just sit around and go on vacation for six months.

I immediately came home, put my bass on and started writing songs and got in the studio, and started writing the book, and got busy. And thank God I did, because a year’s worth of work in 2018 suddenly came to fruition at a very unexpected turn in the road in 2019, with a lot of shows being canceled here in America, with the Ozzy Osbourne/Megadeth tour that got canceled, or postponed, I should say, and then, of course, with the health issue in the band. So, I’m always a little prepared in advance now. Do you know what I mean?

So, that way, at least from my side of it, I can … Again, I’ve learned from the past, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and it’s not fair to any other band members to rely solely on them for your livelihood, either. You know, I think at this age and at this point in our career, it’s wise to spread yourself out a little bit, to make sure that if things happen like this, that we’ll be prepared for it. And I was this time. I was prepared.

ANTIHERO: Okay. I’ll let you go on there. As I said, we’re already over time. I’m looking forward to the Sheffield show. I’m actually planning on attending that one myself. It’s going to be a great night. Hopefully will get the chance to meet up with you.

Dave Ellefson: Yeah, I know. Perfect. Thank you so much. I appreciate your time today. Thank you.

ANTIHERO: Thank you very much.

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Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time.

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