David Ellefson of “Megadeth” Interview by Christina Thompson
With savage instrumental chops, Megadeth became a permanent part of metal history in the 80’s, trailblazing thrash metal on album after album. It’s been three decades, and with the 2016 release of their 15th album, Dystopia, it doesn’t appear that they are slowing down anytime soon. In fact, Dystopia debuted at No.3 on Billboard 200 marking the band’s highest charting album since 92’s Countdown To Extinction. MHF Magazine got a chance to catch up with bassist David Ellefson and hopefully extract some top secret information from him regarding the super band as well as if he knows of a good place to get a cup of coffee, say, in the Jackson, Minnesota area? Also, there is the new partnership of his EMP Label Group with Alpha Omega Management,creating a new sub-label for upcoming artists. Furthermore David Ellefson and Thom Hazaert (Artist manager, music and film producer, A&R Director, Operations Manager at EMP Label Group) joined with Alpha Omega Management to form a global partnership for management and booking. Sounds to me to be a plan for World Metal Domination by creating a “super-experience” for their artists. Maybe if we ask nicely, we will get a little insider info on some new up-and-coming talent as well!
First of all, thanks for taking our questions! Second of all, how ’bout that Grammy!! It only took over a quarter of a century- after a dozen nominations, no less. And sure, they played “Master Of Puppets” as you guys walked down the aisle to accept the award–which you guys took in stride like champs by the way. But hey. You won. Congratulations!! I have to ask though…Did you see it coming or had you kind of just made your peace with it and figured- if it happens? Great. If not? That’s okay, too.
IT WAS A THRILL TO WIN. I THINK WE HAD MADE PEACE WITH JUST BEING MEGADETH REGARDLESS OF THE OUTCOME. THE TRUTH IS, WE HAVE NEVER WRITTEN SONGS TO WIN AWARDS…BUT IT IS NICE TO BE RECOGNIZED AND HONORED BY THE GOLD STANDARD OF RECOGNITION IN MUSIC, AND THAT IS THE GRAMMYS.
Dystopia came out swinging–more hungry and aggressive than what we had seen from Megadeth in a while. It has been said that the movies 12 Monkeys, Planet Of The Apes, and Return To The Planet Of The Apes were an influence for the theme of this album. Is it a reflection of your thoughts on the direction of the “state of the world” collectively as a band or even individually? Maybe a warning about the state of humanity?
THE BEST MEGADETH ALBUMS HAVE HISTORICALLY BEEN BORN FROM A COMPLETE DISDAIN TO THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE FROM WITHIN THE USA. I THINK ‘DYSTOPIA’ FITS THAT CRITERIA.
Let’s face it. You (personally) probably have to still have a certain amount of faith in humanity to continue to roll out projects like a coffee boutique, becoming a Lutheran Pastor, continuing to foster other bands/musicians under your EMP Label Group, being an author, or a regular on a radio show AM/PM with business associate THOM HAZAERT. Does Dystopia perhaps give you an “outlet” for the negative to allow you to continue to focus on the positive in your day-to-day life? Also, do you ever sleep?
GOOD POINT! AS MUCH AS THE CREATIVE LENS FOR ‘DYSTOPIA’ IS EXTINCTION FOR ALL THINGS HUMAN AND WORTHWHILE IN LIFE, YOU CAN ACTUALLY TAKE A STEP BACK FROM THAT AND LIVE YOUR LIFE. SOMETIMES WRITING SONGS ABOUT THESE THINGS CAN BE QUITE CATHARTIC AND THAT OPENS UP NEW CHANNELS OF CREATIVITY FOR OTHER VENTURES IN LIFE, WHICH IS PROBABLY WHY THESE OTHER OUTLETS ARE SO FRUITFUL FOR ME.
How has playing with so many musicians over the years shaped you as the musician you are today? With everyone you have worked with, has there been a moment where you were just utterly humbled?
MEGADETH AS A WHOLE CONTINUES TO BE THAT EXPERIENCE FOR ME. WE HAVE HAD SOME OF THE BEST OF THE BEST MUSICIANS, PRODUCERS, MANAGERS AND RECORD LABELS IN THE WORLD AROUND US FROM VERY EARLY ON. I’VE LEARNED SOMETHING FROM EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THOSE EXPERIENCES. A FEW MUSICAL STANDOUTS IN AND AROUND THAT REMAIN TO BE: WORKING WITH DANN HUFF, MUSICAL INTERACTIONS WITH AL PITRELLI & JIMMY DEGRASSO BACK IN 1998-2001, ALEX SKOLNICK WITH METAL ALLEGIANCE, CHRIS POLAND (JUST WATCHING HIM PLAY ANYTHING AT ALL!), FRANK BELLO’S COMPOSING, DAVE MUSTAINE WRITING RIFFS, KIKO PLAYING SOLOS AND NYLON STRING ACOUSTIC, PERFORMING WITH GEOFF TATE IN SOUTH AMERICA A FEW YEARS BACK, AND QUITE A FEW COUNTLESS OTHERS.
There was an experience for Megadeth fans called Megadeth Boot Camp in March. How did that go? Is it something you might do on a regular basis?
IT WAS MEANT TO BE A REALLY UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WEEKEND WITH THE BAND AND OUR FANS. IT SEEMS WE ALL WALKED AWAY FROM IT WITH HUGE SMILES ON OUR FACES. THERE WERE SO MANY CHILLING MOMENTS OF COOLNESS. I DEFINITELY CAN SEE US DOING ANOTHER ONE.
Megadeth has a checkered past, to put it bluntly. But “past” seems to be the operative word. The band as it is today appears to be more cohesive. A more personable unit seems to be coming across. Are you guys (with all of today’s members) just “clicking” now in a way that Megadeth of before just didn’t?
I THINK SO, YES. THERE IS A FRIENDSHIP AROUND US THAT IS FUN TO HAVE. SO OFTEN BANDS GET FOCUSED ON THE MUSIC, TRAVEL, BUSINESS THAT YOU START TO OVERLOOK JUST BEING ABLE TO HANG OUT AND BE BUDDIES. I ALWAYS THINK THE MUSIC AND SHOW IS BEST WHEN THE AUDIENCE CAN SEE A CONNECTION TO THEM, AND WITHIN THE BAND MEMBERS, TOO.
As previously stated, you are involved in quite a number of side projects, one being your label, EMP Label Group. What prompted you to start such an undertaking? Anything in the pipeline that maybe you want to share with the MHF Community that you haven’t disclosed as of yet? What is the “vision” for the label, especially considering? the term Group in the moniker? You are a man of many different hats, so is it fair to say your label isn’t going to stick to just one specific style or genre of music when it comes to the talent you sign?
THE ORIGINAL GOAL FOR ME WAS TO SIMPLY HAVE A PIPELINE OPEN FOR ANY WORK THAT PRODUCED, A WAY FOR IT TO ACTUALLY MAKE IT TO MARKET. BUT, IT QUICKLY TOOK ON A LIFE OF IT’S OWN AND WE QUICKLY REALIZED WE HAVE BEEN BLESSED WITH A TERRIFIC OPPORTUNITY TO HELP SO MANY ARTISTS GET THEIR MUSIC RELEASED AND AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC. THE RECORD BUSINESS MODEL IS A DYING BREED BUT ARTISTS WILL NEVER DIE….IT’S PART OF OUR HUMAN GIFT AND SOMETHING THAT CONNECTS SO MANY PEOPLE TOGETHER BY WAY OF SONG.
FOR INSTANCE, WE HAVE YOUNG UP AND COMERS LIKE DOLL SKIN, BUT ALSO SOME INCREDIBLY SUCCESSFUL ARTISTS LIKE MARK SLAUGHTER, DOYLE AND WAYLON REAVIS (A KILLER’S CONFESSION) WHO ARE CREATING SOME OF THEIR BEST WORK TO DATE. TO BE ABLE TO HELP THOSE ARTISTS STAY CONNECTED TO THEIR FANS IS A SUPER COOL BLESSING WITH THE LABEL.
Speaking of genre…..You are a kick-ass bassist for a metal band that even if someone is not a fan (they are Metallica fans), they have to give Megadeth its due and admit that it is, in fact, a Metal Great. Yet, you are also a Lutheran Pastor. To some, a total dichotomy. But in reality, metal is all about freedom of expression through music. So, as a true music vet as well as a pastor, where do you stand on all of the sub-genre labeling in metal that is going on these days and the elitism in some that it has also produced? You have seen so many changes in metal and music as a whole–production, touring, etc. What is your take on today’s metal scene? What is it you would like to see changed the most?
MUSIC IS A GIFT FROM OUR CREATOR AND THAT’S WHY IT CONNECTS TO PEOPLE EVERYWHERE, DESPITE OUR HUMANNESS LIKE LANGUAGE, POLITICS, RACE, CREED AND SO FORTH. THOSE THINGS ARE WHAT DEFINE US AS HUMANS BUT MUSIC IS WHAT DEFINES US AS CREATIVE CREATURES. BIBLICALLY SPEAKING, THE WORD TELLS US THAT GOD “CREATED MAN IN HIS OWN LIKENESS”. SO, BASED ON THAT, WE ARE CREATORS BECAUSE OUR CREATOR CREATED US! IT’S ALL PART OF THE PLAN HERE.
EVEN THE BLACK METAL ARTISTS WHO BURNED CHURCHES WERE JUST STUCK IN SIN, TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF THE HUMAN CONDITION. THE SAME WAY I WAS STUCK IN SIN AS A DRUG ADDICT YEARS AGO. BUT, THE GOOD LORD CAN DELIVER US FROM EVIL AND GET US BACK TO DOING WHAT HE WANTED US TO DO…CREATE!! THAT WAS MY STORY WHEN I WAS GETTING CLEANED UP BACK IN 1989 AND THEN WENT INTO THE STUDIO AND RECORDED “RUST IN PEACE” IN 1990. WE WERE CREATING IN DARKNESS, BUT RECORDED IN SOBER CLARITY. THAT’S A HUGE PART OF THE SUCCESS OF THAT RECORD. WE DON’T HAVE TO GO AROUND AND MAKE EVERYONE ELSE GET SOBER, BUT REVEALING OUR OWN JOURNEY FROM DARKNESS INTO LIGHT THROUGH THAT PROCESS CAN PROVIDE THE NECESSARY INSPIRATION FOR OTHERS TO BE INSPIRED TO TRY IT, TOO. HEAVY METAL NEVER CAUSED THE PROBLEMS OF THE WORLD…IT JUST A REFLECTED THE PROBLEMS ALREADY IN THE WORLD.
What is one of the biggest positives in starting a band today versus back in ‘83 when Megadeth was formed? Conversely, what is a challenge these artists face today that didn’t exist then? Heck. What is a challenge that even Metal Greats such as Megadeth face today as a band?
I THINK WHEN WE FORMED THE BAND, THE METHOD WAS DIFFERENT, BUT THE MISSION WAS THE SAME…GET OUR MUSIC OUT TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE. IF THE MUSIC WAS GOOD (WHICH WE FELT IT WAS) THEN IT WOULD STAND ON IT’S OWN. THAT RULE STILL APPLIES TO MEGADETH, OR ANY OTHER BAND. SO, THAT MISSION ISN’T REALLY ANY DIFFERENT FOR TODAY’S BANDS. THEY JUST HAVE DIFFERENT TOOLS AND MEANS BY WHICH TO ACHIEVE IT; THE INTERNET VS RECORD SHOPS, HANDHELD DEVICES VS. RECORD PLAYERS AND MUSIC STREAMING VS THE RADIO.
Time for the ubiquitous “What is next up for Megadeth” question. So, what is up next for Megadeth? After the big tour you have going on, that is….
DYSTOPIA’ HAS BEEN SO SUCCESSFULLY RECEIVED BY THE FANS THAT WE HAVE A WHOLE YEAR OF TOURING STILL AHEAD. I THINK WHILE WE ARE ON TOUR, THE ITCH TO START COMPOSING NEW MATERIAL TOGETHER IS STARTING TO HAPPEN AS WELL. IT SHOULD BE FUN TO WORK TOGETHER AS A REAL LINEUP ON THIS NEXT EFFORT TOGETHER.
And final question: I am in Jackson, Minnesota. Where do I go to find a decent cup of coffee? And if I want to get really “off the rails” caffeinated, what do I order? Also, thanks for your time!
THERE’S ONLY ONE SHOP TO VISIT AND THAT’S ‘ELLEFSON COFFEE CO.’ AT 404 SECOND STREET IN JACKSON! OUR ROAST IN PEACE IS THE FLAGSHIP COFFEE BUT THE STORE FEATURES ALL OF OUR ROASTS, INCLUDING A FEW JUST FOR THE STORE AS WELL. SIT BACK, RELAX AND HAVE A LOOK AROUND THE MUSEUM OF DETH, WHILE ENJOYING A GOOD CUP OF JOE!
Any closing words for your fans all over the World and readers of this publication? Thanks once more David , it’s been a pleasure.
IT’S A FUN SEASON OF LIFE RIGHT NOW AND WE WOULDN’T BE HERE WITHOUT OUR FANS. THEY MAKE ALL OF THIS POSSIBLE…SO, THANK YOU!