In a unique event, Megadeth’s co-founding member and bass guitarist David Ellefson is headed to Australia for a spoken word tour. An evening with Ellefson will feature stories from life on the road and about being a founding member of one of the world’s biggest metal acts. The night will also feature a bass demonstration and audience Q&A, which will allow fans to delve into all things Megadeth and Ellefson’s autobiography My Life with Deth (co-written by Joel McIver). He spoke with Loud about the tour, his autobiography, developments within the Megadeth camp following the recent departures of drummer Shawn Drover and guitarist Chris Broderick, and more.
Q: What are the plans for Megadeth this year?
A: We are not recording yet. We’re writing, and then at some point I would think in the next couple of months we’ll be in the studio, because the record is scheduled to be released later this year.
Q: Can you tell us anything about who the two new members of Megadeth are then? (laughs)
A: I can’t, unfortunately I can’t. So that’s one thing, that’s one question I don’t have an answer to (laughs).
Q: You know I had to at least try, Dave (laughs).
A: Yeah, of course (laughs). I can’t answer anything on that front yet, all the rest of them I’ll probably have an answer for you.
Q: Do you feel perhaps in hindsight that the line-up shifts had been coming for a while?
A: Everything kind of shut down after the tour back in August. I think Shawn and Chris started talking; they’re friends. Shawn and his brother Glen actually brought Chris into the band and ironically Shawn brought me back to Megadeth. So Shawn is sort of the linchpin in the middle that helped bring a lot of good things together for Megadeth. I think Shawn should definitely be remembered for some great stuff. Especially (2007’s) United Abominations, which is his first record he recorded on, and then another, the second record he did which was (2009’s) Endgame, his song that he brought to the table ended up getting Grammy nominated. Shawn, the guy bleeds metal, that’s for sure. But I think with him, knowing there was going to be almost a year away and a year off the road and everything, I sensed that Shawn wanted to get moving on some other things. After ten years in Megadeth, I had just sensed that he felt it was time to go, it was time to move on. And so he and Chris doing something together, I look forward to hearing what it sounds like. I definitely like the music Shawn writes, so I’m excited to hear what they do next.
Q: You mentioned the tour which wrapped up last August. I caught the band in Europe during that run, and if anyone was on the verge of leaving the band, it wasn’t readily apparent.
A: No, exactly. I don’t think that while we were on the tour there was, I didn’t see really any chinks in the armour at that point. But you know, once you get off the road, you kind of clear your head and you start looking at your life moving forward, certainly seeing that there was going to be a year off the road – actually a little more maybe. That’s a long time, and I think that it’s one of the reasons why I try to stay active with a lot of different things. Because I think as creative people, you need to have your voice heard. You need to have other things going on. I was a member of Megadeth for almost 20 years before it disbanded in 2002, and I never did anything outside, ever (laughs), except I wrote a book.
But from 2002 to 2010 I got involved in a lot of different things with a lot of different people. I’ve got a credo, which is, ‘I want to make music I like with people I like’. It kind of brings it back full circle to why you started playing music in the first place. Because it should be enjoyable, it should be fun. Sometimes situations happen where people aren’t having any fun anymore, or it’s not enjoyable or something that once brought you real passion, for whatever reason you just decide you want to go do something else.
But I can only speak for me. I enjoy having my hand in a variety of other things, even while I’m in Megadeth. I think it’s been really healthy for me, and it’s really helped me. It’s actually helped me stay focused that when I’m in Megadeth, that’s what I’m doing. But when the train stops, like right now we have a year off, I also know that I have some other things that I can be participating in. Stay creative, and have some different experiences away from the band. So when I come back to it, I’m refreshed and rejuvenated and I’m ready to kick ass again.
Q: One of those other projects is this upcoming spoken word tour. How are you approaching it – will you be highly prepared for each night’s performance, or improvise while you’re out there, try and read the audience’s vibe?
A: I’m going to be prepared with some stuff, yeah. Anything I come into I like to have some repertoire, some things that I want to talk about. I think my book My Life with Deth should provide a pretty good basis for where the tour started, where the whole concept of it started. So for me, I think that kind of provides me with the starting point, if you will. But then you know, from there, I’m going to bring a bass with me. I think if I show up and people will almost invariably ask me some musical questions (laughs), then I think a bass is a good prop to have there. So that’s a big part of my life, and it’s the thing that people know me for; as a musician, a bass player and a performer.
But also one of the things I’m really looking forward to is some Q&A time with the audience. Because I’ve done bass clinics, I’ve done book signings. I’ve done a lot of that stuff everywhere, except Australia. So for me, to be able to do that with everybody down in Australia to me is the one experience I’ve not been able to have with the Australian people.
Q: I’m assuming your spoken word delivery is rather different to say, Scott Ian from Anthrax?
A: Scott’s got a cool thing going; it’s very Scott, as it should be. It’s kind of funny, because Scott started his spoken word and out of it came his book. For me, I wrote a book and out of that came spoken word. So I think in a lot of ways, we come from two different approaches with it. Scott and I are very different in our delivery and our books. Scott has a very dry sense of humour (laughs), and he’s funnier than hell. He’s probably the most famous guy in our rock ‘n’ roll circles, maybe next to Henry Rollins, doing stuff with spoken word. He’s really done well with it. I have a different delivery; I have a different kind of presentation… I just have a different way of laying it out.
For me, the goal isn’t like, ‘let me try my hand at being a comedian’, because that’s not my aim in life. So I think for me, I’ve spoken a lot to a lot of people in a lot of different settings, and so to me, to be able to talk and do… The first place to start is you start with your own life. I remember when we were down in Nashville and (producer) Dann Huff was working with us on some lyrics. He said, ‘write your life in your lyrics; make your words reflect your life’. And that was probably some of the best advice that I ever remember hearing (laughs) regarding words. So whether the word is written, sung or spoken, I think if you start with your life it’ll always be true. It’ll always be honest, it’ll always have depth and it will always connect with people, because your life is always connecting with other people.
Q: In your book you discuss the role that religion, that your faith has played within your life. Was there any hesitation to discuss that topic; that it may potentially alienate some metal fans?
A: The thing is, Megadeth has always been bold. It’s the thing that’s made us the band that we are, is that we’ve always been bold. We’ve also been very open about all the things in our personal lives. Warts and all, we’ve always shared it with our fans. As a result, there’s an integrity and honesty in our music, interviews, just everything that we do, with our fans. And I think the fans appreciate that.
Thrash metal was a backlash to the big Hollywood hair bands’ big showboating extravaganza and I think that’s the thing people liked about it. Thrash metal was this convergence of punk rock and heavy metal, and for me, when you lay your life open, there’s nothing more punk rock than that, you know? People don’t want to sometimes hear about religion because of what man has done to religion. For me, I’m not necessarily a religious guy, quite honestly. But I’m real open about, the spirit wants to know truth, and the word says ‘the truth will set you free’. So when you speak truth and you recognise truth, you’re free. And there’s no better way to live than in that freedom. When you’re in that freedom you’re most creative, you’re most in touch with other people.
In my experiences I’ve made my best music in those moments. Music for me has never been a rebellion. For me, music has always been a connection to truth, and I can pinpoint the moment of that, of my biggest success is 1990 with Rust in Peace. I mean, that record, as angry and pissed off and full of piss and vinegar as it was, it was truthful (laughs). It’s funny, because that’s the one record that’s probably connected with more people in Megadeth’s history than any other. To me, I take it back to that. Truth doesn’t have to be flowers and sunshine and everything pretty. Truth is sometimes naked, raw and ugly, and Rust in Peace was a perfect example of that.
Q: You also wrote about your industry experiences in Making Music Your Business: A Guide For Young Musicians many years ago. If you were to write a book like that today, how would you tackle it given the current state of the industry?
A: (Laughs) I would probably call it The Music Industry – Don’t Do What I Did, because the industry is not what it used to be. Dave (Mustaine) and I, I’ve said this so many times to Dave, ‘man, we are so lucky we got into this; we got in under the wire’. We were kind of one of the, well, not the last generation but towards the end of it. By the early ’90s, especially by the time we were making the (1994’s) Youthanasia record, the music industry as we knew it had just completely flopped. Then the internet came in, and then with (1997’s) Cryptic Writings we were having to play the radio game in the USA. Then radio went away.
It’s one thing to be a musician; it’s a whole other thing to be a professional recording artist. The two are not necessarily the same. To be in the music industry and to play the game, and to do that, that’s a whole other level of thick skin skill that most people just don’t have, because it’s so brutal. It’s so brutal that the industry will turn brother against brother, band member against band member and create greed and all kinds of horrible stuff. It’ll turn managers against band members. It’s ugly, and it sucks. When everyone’s getting laid and making loads of money, everyone’s having a great time, yeah, the music business is great, you know what I mean? (laughs) But when it all changes and it becomes a lot of hard work back down in the trenches again, that can be an ugly day. Megadeth, certainly, we’ve seen it all, man, from the beginning to the end, then a new beginning and now we’re obviously in a whole other transition ourselves right now.
Part of you says, ‘hey, let’s just get together and write some songs and make an album, and just let it be what it is’. Then the other side of you says, ‘well, we want it to be as good as we can have it be, we want to make sure our fans are happy and we want to make sure that we’re happy’. So all of a sudden, when you’re in the music industry suddenly your life is not your own anymore. So I think that’s always the hard thing, especially with a rock ‘n’ roll band, because rock ‘n’ roll is always about being true to yourself. ‘Screw everybody, screw everything, screw the rules and be true to yourself’. And that’s like trying to thread the needle sometimes (laughs).
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Well, it’s funny that this spoken word tour was actually being conceptualised while the whole cancellation of Soundwave was going down last year. I think it’s one of the things that got me really excited about, is aside from the actual content of the spoken word idea, it really in a lot of ways it excited me as a way to get back down and be with Australian fans. I know a lot of people were very disappointed we didn’t get down there, and so maybe in some small way this will be a way to try to reconnect back with the fans again.
Catch David Ellefson on his spoken word tour at these dates:
19/3: HiFi Bar, Melbourne VIC
20/3: Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW
21/3: HiFi Bar, Brisbane QLD
22/3: The Gov, Adelaide SA
25/3: Civic Hotel, Perth WA