Hit The Lights: David Ellefson On Recording New Megadeth Album: 'That's The Plan'

artist: Megadeth date: 02/20/2010 category: interviews
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Hit The Lights: David Ellefson On Recording New Megadeth Album: 'That's The Plan'
In the world of rock 'n' roll, over the course of time friendships may strengthen, weaken, and possibly even come apart. Life on the road, away from the family and inside the tour bus in the constant presence of fellow band members, can certainly challenge friendships. One such friendship that has had its share of ups and downs is that of Megadeth co-founders Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson, whose triumphs and tribulations have been well documented by the press. In recent weeks however, that friendship has returned to a position of strength. April 3rd, 2002 was the date Megadeth originally disbanded following nineteen years of active service, with Dave Mustaine citing severe nerve damage to his left arm. In mid 2004, Mustaine attempted to reform the lineup that had recorded 1990's "Rust In Peace", consisting of: bassist David Ellefson, guitarist Marty Friedman, and drummer Nick Menza. This reformation wasn't to be, and so September 2004's "The System Has Failed" was the first Megadeth album not to feature David Ellefson. July had seen Ellefson attempt to sue Mustaine for eighteen and a half million dollars in the Manhattan Federal Court, a lawsuit which was dismissed in 2005. Late in that year the two shared dinner in Phoenix, Arizona, which eased relations between the two. Since parting ways with Megadeth in 2002, Ellefson has been involved in the likes of F5, Hail!, Temple Of Brutality, and Angels Of Babylon. On February 8th, 2010, Megadeth announced the return of David Ellefson, with James Lomenzo's Megadeth tenure coming to an end. Drummer Shawn Drover had text Ellefson, informing him of an impending lineup change, and suggesting he talk to Mustaine. Drover arranged for Ellefson to call Mustaine, a conversation that led to the reunion. Ellefson also laid down bass parts for a new track, the track being recorded for an undisclosed new project. Currently, Megadeth is in rehearsals, rehearsing for their North American trek which spans across the whole of March. Supported by Testament and Exodus, Megadeth will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of "Rust In Peace" by performing all of its tracks live. On February 16th at 16:00 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned David Ellefson to discuss his return to Megadeth. David Ellefson: Hi. It's David. UG: Hello. This is Robert Gray from Ultimate-Guitar.com. How are you? I'm ok David. How are you? Great. Ready for the interview? Yeah, I'm ready. Are you ready? Yes. Go ahead. I probably have about thirty minutes or so, and then I have to hop into another appointment here. Ok. That's fine. I'll time us then, and just begin... First of all, could you talk me through what occurred between you and Dave at the NAMM show in Anaheim, California, and how things developed from there? Well, it was interesting. I've talked to Shawn Drover a little bit over the last year. Dave and I actually spoke last year, so Dave has reached out to me a few times over our eight years since we've been in the group together. He came to Phoenix one time; we sat down, had dinner together, and started to put some things behind us, so this period of reconciliation between us has actually been going on for awhile, even though it seems like we take three steps forward and two steps back on a regular basis (laughs). At NAMM, I had a text from... I'd been talking to Shawn Drover, and even Dave's tech. I guess Dave was gonna play a song at the Dean party. I got hit up, and asked "Look, we need a bass player. It's an emergency, kind of an impromptu jam. Would you wanna jump up, and maybe play "Peace Sells..." with Dave?". I said "Sure. Why not? I'm here, I have a bass. If you need me, I'll be right over". It turns out that didn't happen, but I think that was the doorway through which we inevitably walked and ended up where we are today, which is me being back in the group again.

"This period of reconciliation between us has actually been going on for awhile."

After the proposed Dean party jam at the NAMM show didn't happen, did you talk to Dave? Or...? I didn't - I didn't talk to him then. About a week later, I got a text message from Shawn, and again, he just said "There's gonna be a member change happening, and if there's ever a time for you and Dave to reach out and talk to each other, if you ever wanna reinvestigate this, it would really be right now is the time to do that". Shawn actually helped to arrange for me and Dave to get on the phone together, because Dave is in the studio recording and I was out in Phoenix, where I live. We got on the phone and it was interesting, because even though Dave and I hadn't talked now for quite a few months, there'd been a build up of some hard feelings again between us. It's amazing how once we got on the phone and talked, everything just melted away within a few minutes. Dave said "I'd love to have you back in the group - it would be great to have you", but he said "Look, I gotta make a change here. You gotta let me know if that's something you wanna do or you can do, because I gotta get moving forward. I got tour dates booked and etc. etc.". I said "You know what? Let me drive over and let's try it out, and see what happens", and so we did. It sounded great when we played together. I think that was the only thing we hadn't done, quite honestly, in the last couple of years is actually got in a room and played together. I think probably first and foremost, lots of times we'd discuss things and business and what not, but the one thing we never did was just get in a room and play together. The band was like "This is just such a good, natural...", especially with this twentieth anniversary 'Rust In Peace' tour coming up. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Was James Lomenzo leaving Megadeth anyway, or did he step aside for you to rejoin? I got the impression that, for whatever reason, that position was gonna be changing. I don't know all the details around it, so I don't really wanna comment much further than that. That's the impression I got though; that there was gonna be a change, and that's why they reached out to me - to see if I would be interested in coming back. Again, with the twentieth anniversary of 'Rust In Peace' tour here, it just seemed like the perfect time for us to have that conversation. In an interview, you said that you had spoken to Dave a few times since 2002, and that he had brought up the idea of you rejoining Megadeth. However, you went on to say that it wasn't the right time to rejoin Megadeth in the past. Why didn't you feel it was the right time to rejoin in the past, but now was? I think in the past, we'd always maybe to some degree put the cart before the horse, and I'm certainly partly to blame for that. I think we started talking about business issues, and what the lineup looked like, and for whatever reason, it just never fully lined up properly. Again, Dave has been real good about reaching out to me over the years. I think to a large degree, he never wanted to have a strained relationship between us, but I think at the same time, we just weren't seeing eye to eye, and I certainly can be kinda stubborn myself (laughs). Our whole dynamic of everything changed when the group came to an end in 2002; it was a major upheaval in everybody's lives, and Dave was going through some transitions. As a result of that, I transitioned into a lot of new things in my life, and really started to enjoy playing with a lot of other people, and a lot of other new projects. I went to college, and started doing some work for a musical instrument company (Peavey). I was just really spreading my wings and branching out into doing a lot of different things, and I really enjoyed these last eight years in my life. It's really been cool to do that, and to have some new experiences. I think coming back together here now, Dave and I both come back to it from a position of strength together rather than a position of either one of us needing to have to do it, because I don't think that's a good place for a reunion to start either. When someone is in need, or they're broke, or they're just doing it for the money, I think those are always short term... That's too short term of a way to enter back into it. Have press interviews over the years been a stumbling block in your relationship with Dave at all? The back and forth between you and Dave in the press? Maybe so, knowing Dave. Dave really shoots off the cuff, you know what I mean? He's not a guy who sits around, premeditates, and thinks about stuff. He's a guy who you ask something on Tuesday, and he'll give you one answer, but if you ask him on Wednesday, he'll give you another one. He wears his heart out on his sleeve, and I think that's one of the things the press likes about Dave, which is that they can get very genuine, honest answers from him, depending on how he feels that particular day (laughs). Also, one thing I know about Dave... When he and I have conversations together, I know lots of times, the things he says and the inferences he makes often look much different in print than they are compared to how he actually said them. He and I have a very unique relationship. I certainly know him probably better than almost anybody, except maybe his own family. Me and Dave have been sharing stories this last week, and I think Shawn and Chris Broderick are looking at us in horror, going "Oh my gosh". We're like "Yep, that's the life we used to live", and it's kind of fun because we can look back at it in hindsight and have some laughs over it, because it's the life we used to live - it's not the life we live now. Obviously, Dave is working on his autobiography (titled 'Hello Me... Meet The Real Me'). In a recent press release issued just before you rejoined Megadeth, an excerpt was used where Dave speaks about you. He spoke about the summer 1988 'Monsters of Rock' shows, which were cancelled aside from one show. He went on to allege that you claimed to have a fractured wrist, but the real reason was due to the fact you had a drug problem. And that's true. The reason I went home is because I needed to go home, and get cleaned up. I had a very bad drug problem at that time; it was affecting everything that I was doing in my life, and certainly with the band. I needed to go home and get well. It took me about a year and a half, but I finally got sober. Ironically, March 1st of 1990 is when I got sober, and it's funny that the twenty year anniversary of my sobriety is also the start of the 'Rust In Peace' twentieth anniversary tour, which is interesting timing for sure. The management or whoever put that press release out to say that... Again, I really don't remember too much about it, other than that was what was put out. I even went back to the agent later, and made amends with him for having to put him in that position, and to have to even try to cover for that. Again, it was a really bad place in my life, but fortunately, I got through it, got cleaned up, and have not gone back to my old ways. That's good news. How much did your Christian faith and Dave's Christian faith help in this reconciliation? I think it had everything to do with it, quite honestly. To be honest with you, when I met with Dave for dinner probably three years ago - it may be four years ago now - I took the opportunity at that time to just clear up my side of things, and just said "If I had a chance to do this all over again, I would've never been filing lawsuits. I would've just driven over to your house, knocked on the door, and we would've hashed it out face to face". I think one of the biggest problems was, for whatever reason, Dave and I weren't in a place to just deal with it face to face. Instead, we got our managers and lawyers to deal with it, and then it eroded down to a place where it turned into filing lawsuits against each other. The truth of it is, as we've now found out eight years later, if we just talk face to face, we can walk through everything. That's how we should've handled it years ago, but we didn't. But now we know. Lesson learnt. I think Dave has been very open about his faith, and I've been open about my faith. Certainly me getting sober twenty years is what really led me back into Christian faith, but I always had it as a kid quite honestly. I was born and raised Christian, and my family went to church on Sunday, so it wasn't any radical, born again kind of stuff - it was just a natural part of my life. Me being sober and cleaned up off drugs and alcohol just brought me back to that place again, and I know that's very un-rock 'n' roll to talk about, but you know, at the end of the day man, it's people that play rock n' roll - it isn't the music that plays us. I think what happens is that when you stay in control of your life through your faith, your destiny charts out much differently than when you just show up and think "I'm gonna sell my soul for rock 'n' roll". Having done that in the past, that is a very dangerous place to be. There's so many things about this that I think are blowing all of our minds. Me and Dave, the band, the management, the fans - everybody's scratching their head, going "Holy cow, this came out of left field. None of us saw this coming". The truth of it is neither did me and Dave. For whatever reason, the good Lord seems to have wound this one up, and now Dave and I are able to work through a whole lot of stuff man. Stuff not even only just over the last eight years, but stuff from many, many years ago we're able to work through, and process, and finally, really hopefully once and for all, get behind us. We both just seem to be in a place where this is something that we really want to have happen in our lives.

"Shawn actually helped to arrange for me and Dave to get on the phone together."

Is the 2004 lawsuit you filed still an issue between you and Dave at all? Is that still being resolved between you two, or is that firmly in the past? It's totally in the past. The whole thing has been legally settled years ago, and that's all been away, so no, that is not an issue between us at all right now. What have the Megadeth rehearsals for the 'Rust In Peace' twentieth anniversary shows at Vic's Garage been like? The first day I went over there was about a week ago, when I went over just to meet Dave, get in a room with the band, and play some music together. We plugged in, and played through a bunch of different tunes. I think the first song we played was "Symphony of Destruction", and then we started digging into some 'Rust In Peace' material, and you know what? It just went really, really good; it felt good, we all played good, and it just fitted like an old shoe. It was real comfortable, yet it didn't sound old and tired. It sounded fresh and exciting, and it was vibrant, and it had a really cool energy to it, and it just came out pretty effortlessly. To be honest with you, that I think is what got everybody excited to go "Wow. Why wouldn't we at least give this a shot? Let's give this a try". Obviously, look: this could be the next ten years of our lives together, or maybe it's just something in the short term. We don't know. Me and Dave talked about it, and agreed "We don't know what it looks like. Let's just take it one day at a time, and let's just move it forward with what we know now". What we know right now is everybody's feeling really good about it, and everybody's excited. It certainly makes sense with this 'Rust In Peace' tour coming up, and then the rest of this year with the 'Big Four' dates, with the tour with Slayer. I just see Dave, on every level, really wanting to use this touring cycle as an opportunity to try to set a lot of things right, and right a lot of matters between people, and a lot of things he's had maybe sitting out there for a long time. I really just get this spirit from him that he doesn't want those issues and those troubles between him and other people anymore, so this seems to be a time where maybe I can be an encouragement to Dave, and can be someone there to be strong for him, to help him be strong. It's not an easy thing to do, and I really commend him for at least wanting to get all these matters behind us. Right now, this year, the thrash metal revival thing from yesteryear, is really big, yet next year it may not be so big. Everything goes in these twenty year cycles, and next year, the whole thrash metal movement might die down and go back underground again. If that's the case, well, maybe this is a good year to just mend a lot of fences and try to make a lot of things right both musically, and certainly personally. What are your thoughts on Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover on a musical level, and how would you musically compare those two to Marty Friedman and Nick Menza? Now, look. I think first of all, every lineup has been very different in this band, and they've each brought with them a very unique skill set, and very unique personalities. With that said, Shawn is a huge fan of the Megadeth music, first and foremost, and I think that really motivates and drives him. I think that's been good for Dave and for Megadeth on a lot of levels, and I think him at least wanting to try this between me and Dave... This wouldn't have happened without Shawn. I mean, he is hugely responsible for this, and I think he looked at it certainly from a personal side, but also just from a fan side. He looked at it, thinking "Man... If I was a fan, I would love to see these two guys working together again". That is huge, and because of that, he knows pretty much every Megadeth song ever written (laughs), because he's just so into the history of the music. Chris Broderick is a phenomenal guitarist, and Dave always told me this he said "He nails all of Marty's stuff...", and Marty's got a very peculiar style. Not everybody can certainly play his thing, because it is so unique. It's the same with Chris Poland, and even Jeff Young. I mean, we played "Hook In Mouth" the other day, and when it came to Jeff's solo, the riffing that he plays right after the verses and before the choruses, I could've sworn it was Jeff playing it. Chris is a great guitarist. I think at this point in time in Megadeth, especially going back and playing this older material, because he seems to be able to really nail the nuances of it, that really make it sound genuine. When news that you and Dave would reunite in Megadeth broke, obviously the fans went wild, and began talking. Some have discussed the possibility of a reformation of the 'Rust In Peace' lineup. What are your thoughts on that? There isn't, at least not right now. As a lot of fans probably know, Dave worked with Nick Menza on the reformation of that lineup in 2004 and it just didn't work. For whatever reason, Nick wasn't in the head space to come back and do it, and it just didn't work. I don't know if that opportunity will ever come around again. Musically, it may at some point. Marty left the group back in 2000 because he wanted to pursue other kinds of music, and I think he's happy doing what he's doing right now. My attitude is that, if anywhere on our travels around the world, if any former member wanted to come up and jam and play a song, especially in the spirit of what Dave and I have been able to accomplish with mending fences, I think that would be a fantastic thing. It would be really cool to see former members, even if they just came up and played one song just for old time's sake for the fans, and just began to make sure all fences are mended between members. I just think that that would be a fantastic thing, but that's just what I think. That would have to more importantly, I think, happen naturally because everybody wanted to do it, rather than forcing any type of a reunion. To clarify though, in your opinion Shawn Drover and Chris Broderick are probably gonna be part of the future of Megadeth? Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And look; this thing with me coming back and playing again with Dave right now isn't some strategically planned reunion, or anything like that. This just literally fell into our laps a little over a week ago, and wasn't something that was planned. We didn't sit down with business managers, and look at how much money we could make (laughs), which, in a lot of ways, what makes it so cool. That's actually what makes it so genuine, that we're really having fun playing the songs together. Dave and I are having fun being back in the same room together, and getting caught up on old times, and planning a lot of stuff between us. Shawn and Chris are certainly happy to be here playing the songs, and being a part of Megadeth. So really, on every level, it couldn't have been orchestrated in a better timing than it has happened right now. Dave has also spoken of the fact that Megadeth has recorded a new track with you on bass. What can you reveal about this new track? Quite honestly, I don't know all the details of the song. It's something that Dave, Chris and Shawn had recorded, had put down in the studio. In between our rehearsals, Dave just said "Why don't you play bass on this track? I think it'd really...", and he was excited. He really offered it out to me, and said "Man, I think the fans would like it. I just think it would be a great way for us to not only go out and play the songs from yesterday of 'Rust In Peace', but it would be a great way to say "Hey, David's back - he's playing on a new song"", so we've got something current in 2010 as well. Did James Lomenzo originally lay down bass parts for that specific track? As far as I know, everything that was down were just scratch parts. When I heard it, it was still in its composition phase. It even went through a few rewrites and a lot of changes since I played my first pass on it, so as far as I know, anything that was put down, including the drum parts, were really just scratch tracks to just help compose the tune. How would you describe the musical style of that specific track? I think it's kind of 'Endgame' reminiscent. It was interesting because Shawn has a style of how he makes things sound a certain way, which I guess, again, is kind of the 'Endgame' style. Chris Broderick, of course, has a style of guitar playing that, now being heard on 'Endgame' and on this track, brings a new facet to the group as well. It's what you'd expect; it's ferocious, ripping guitar playing, but also done in a very modern way. It's interesting, because as soon as I played bass on it, playing bass to Dave's rhythm guitar track, all of a sudden it instantly sounded like a Megadeth song again.

"I think in the past, we'd always maybe to some degree put the cart before the horse, and I'm certainly partly to blame for that."

You've obviously only been back in Megadeth little over a week, though have you and Dave discussed writing a new Megadeth album? Yeah. I think at this point, the 'Endgame' record is still pretty new, so there's still a lot of touring that he wants to do for that record. Certainly, there's a lot of things that Dave has in his studio now, so he's always able to be in a writing phase whereas maybe years back, you'd write and then you'd go on tour. Dave's always writing, writing on the road, I'm always writing stuff, and it seems like the other members are always composing. It seems like the order of how Megadeth writes songs and writes a record now is different, and probably much more productive, quite honestly. There seems to always be a method by which they can always record things, and put things down on tape and have them, so that when it comes time to officially go in and put a record together, it seems like it's much further along than it used to be in the days when I was in the group - when we would have to literally get in the studio, and start everything from scratch. So would you say that once 'Endgame' has been toured properly, the long term plan is for you to record a new album with Megadeth? Yeah. That's the plan. Yep, exactly, that after this is done, there will be another record in the pipeline. With you on bass? I would assume so, yeah (laughs). That's the plan. So would you say your position in Megadeth is permanent or not? In a press statement, Dave said: "I don't know how long this is gonna last". Well, I think part of that was... Look, I'm coming from a much different place in my life right now. I was on a completely different course, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I'm diverting away from that to come back and be a bass player on tour again. Obviously, that's a pretty huge lifestyle shift for me, so there's a lot of things that go with that. Again, Dave and I are older guys now; we're not twenty-one, just going "Yeah, as long as there's drugs and booze we'll go anywhere" and play everywhere and anywhere just to be out playing. We're in a much different phase of our lives, and the band is in a much different phase. I think we can approach this from a much different direction right now, and really approach it as adults, quite honestly. Yeah, the long term plan is now that I'm in, I'm in and that's it, and this is how we wind down Megadeth for the rest of our days together. I think we're also realistic. Touring takes a lot out of you; it's very demanding, and Megadeth tours and plays everywhere, and so far, the schedule that's lined out seems to be a pretty reasonable schedule. I think the days of going out and hitting the road for eighteen months in a row with hardly a break in between have passed, so the good news is that the touring schedule seems to work much better for everybody in the band, and in the organization. And still, there's a lot of really cool opportunities on the table for everybody, so the plan from here is we do this tour, and we move forward from there. Is there the possibility that Megadeth will play all of 'Rust In Peace' at the Big Four festival shows? Well, it's interesting that you say that because now we're getting emails from all over the world with people trying to put together... A lot of it is web based of course, but there's almost a movement toward "Bring 'Rust In Peace' to Europe", "Bring 'Rust In Peace' to Japan", and I think because it's such a fan favourite album, everybody is just going "Oh my gosh.. This would be so cool if we could see the band playing the 'Rust In Peace' record". Right now, the only plan on the books is to go out and do it here for North America through the month of March. I think that once you open this can of worms, it's something that I think the fans could... Let's just say that once it's open, there's opportunity there for it to probably happen again somewhere else. And finally, do you have a message for the fans who've supported you all these years? Sure, yes. To all the fans, thank you so much for all your continued support to me, because I know a lot of fans were just waiting for the day when I would return to Megadeth. A lot of the fans also supported me in my other endeavours that I've been involved in with F5, and Hail!, and the new Angels of Babylon record that's coming out. I just appreciate everybody following me on my musical journey, which has been a lot of fun, and I look forward to seeing everybody back from the Megadeth stage now. Thanks for the interview David it's much appreciated. Perfect. Thank you very much. And all the best with everything. Cool - thanks. Bye. Bye. Interview by Robert Gray Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2010
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