ThePOGG Interviews – Dave Ellefson – Founding member of MegadethPosted by THEPOGG in Blog.
The heavy metal music genre simply wouldn’t be where it is today without the titans of thrash Megadeth, a band formed by Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson and who have a career spanning three decades. Dave Ellefson took somt time out from the band’s crazy schedule to talk to us about the band and the new Megadeth slots game.
Looking back over your career, Megadeth can undoubtedly be considered to
be one of the most influential metal bands of all time. You’re now known as
one of the ‘Big 4’ – the thrash metal bands that forged an entire genre or
music – have sold millions of records and received plentiful accolades from
your peers and the industry. How do you feel about your success? Did you
know from the start that you had something special going?
It feels really good. The truth is, right from the start this band felt like it was
going to be big. It wasn’t an overnight success because we had to earn it but
the interest for the band was there right from the start.
Having really driven a whole musical sound, do you feel that there was a
pivotal point in your career that really influenced the direction that thrash
metal would take?
It could be argued that Motorhead were the earliest pioneers to point toward
the genre but I think Dave Mustaine’s guitar playing (even in Metallica) was
the invention of Thrash. Thrash was really invented in the USA because it’s the
hybrid of punk and Metal music. We were the first generation of musicians to
like the Sex Pistols and Black Sabbath so as a result we drew from both punk
and metal cultures to create our Thrash. That can really be seen in any one of
the Big 4 bands and beyond.
In 1986 with the release of ‘Peace Sells…. But Who’s Buying?’ you went from
being a band that had enjoyed relative success with your first album on a
small label to being a band receiving critical acclaim from all corners of the
music industry, with a major label deal and an album that would go on to sell
over a million copies. How did that album change your lives?
We did a short three-week tour in early 1986 performing most of the songs
from “Peace Sells…” before we recorded it. We could tell then that the
song “Peace Sells..” was a going to be a hit. That gave us real confidence to
move up to a major label because we knew we had what they needed, which
was sell-able music. From there we just went out and worked it on tour for 18
months. There were no free lunches along the way but we definitely seized our
opportunities and that resulted in the all of the fans and the sales of the
By the time ‘Countdown to Extinction’ came out there was a notable
difference in Megadeth’s musical style. The tracks seemed to slow in pace –
compared to the furious example set by your previous outing ‘Rust In Peace’ –
and develop a more melodious structure. What drove that progression in
After doing the “Rust In Peace” album and tour we knew we had really done
our best with fast and furious Thrash up to that point. So, on CFE we felt we
had even deeper musicianship and writing capabilities within the band so we
pushed ourselves beyond our comfort zone to really dig deep and come up
with different and even better material. That result was the “Countdown…”
This year sees the 20th anniversary of the release of ‘Countdown to
Extinction’ and you have a whole tour planned where you will play the album
in its entirety. This is the second time you’ve done this after the 20 th
anniversary tour for ‘Rust in Peace’. How do you feel the fans react to these
whole album sets? Do you play the album in order? Do you bolster the set
with other tracks?
I think they like these types of tours because they are different and the fans
get to hear deep-cut album tracks instead of just the singles or the more
popular songs each time we come through town. We do play the entire albums
in order. We usually warm up the set with a few classics to get everyone in
the ‘mood’ and then we finish with a couple classics so everyone goes away
with the memory of those songs in their heads. We realize that our fans come
from such diverse age groups now that we can’t just assume they have all
heard those albums top to bottom. So having some of the classic hits scattered
throughout the set helps those fans feel included in the show, too.
Your album ‘Risk’ saw a marked change in musical direction and seems to
have made the band – alongside some fans – quite uncomfortable. If you had
your time again, what would you change in relation to the creation of that
I think it was a great record but because it said “MEGADETH” on it people did
expected a different sound, a sound they were more familiar with from its
predecessors. With that said, I think it unwise to go back and change things,
it’s like you are apologizing for what you did when in fact that was exactly as it
was supposed to be at that moment in time. Imagine if we went back and
changed ‘Rust In Peace’ because we moved forward to make “Countdown To
Exctinction”?!! At some point, you learn something from every record you
make and you move on to the next one with those experiences.
In 2002 Dave Mustaine experienced an injury to his left arm that left him
unable to play and expert prognosis was that he would be unlikely to ever be
able to play again. At that point he made the decision to end Megadeth. This
must have been a huge shock and disappointment to you. How did you feel
at the time? What were your first thoughts about what to do next? And how
do you feel the break away from Megadeth helped you as a musician and as
At first I was shocked but I knew I had two roads ahead of me; either fade
away from music or move forward with new endeavours because I was young,
ambitious and had many musical statements yet to make. As much as it
wasn’t expected, my time away from the band really helped me grow as a
musician and as a man on my own two feet. Band life is unique because it
requires the individuals in it to maintain specific roles in order for the band to
operate. However, over time people change and often grow out of those roles
so those moments can provide opportunities to rediscover your passions.
In hindsight, I think the time Dave had by himself to re-align Megadeth the way
he intended it to be was good for him, and for the band. Additionally, my time
away from the group allowed me to develop aspects of my life that I couldn’t
have done while recording and touring like we were doing for so many years,
In many ways those matters were critical for my growth in order to mature
and really bring something effective back to the group upon my return in 2010.
Looking back on it all now, it all seems to have worked out pretty good for
Could you tell us about the projects you were involved in during your years
out of Megadeth? Are you still involved with any of them?
I did many different things during those years and I think that was the point of
them all, to stretch out and do things that weren’t exactly like what I had done
previously. After all, Megadeth is one of the really great metal bands of all time
so why should I compete with my own past?
At this point, I’m really enjoying being in Megadeth full time now…this is my
home and I’m happy to be back here again.
When close friends fall out it can often get very venomous and cause wounds
that take many years to heal if they ever do. The rift between yourself and
Dave Mustaine clearly fell into that bitter category even reaching as far as
lawsuits, but you’ve worked through this and are ultimately friends again.
How do you feel the break of and reunion has changed your relationship? Do
you feel you’re closer now than you were before?
Dave and I grew up together from a very young age, he being 21 and I being
only 18 years old. Dave was always a very street savvy California kid and
I learned a lot from him because that was not my childhood path. At the
same time, my good-natured Minnesota upbringing really juxtaposed our
relationship and aside from the songs, that dynamic really defined the heart
and soul of Megadeth. Two Dave’s who bring something very individually
unique to the table.
I think having that time away created a realization for both of us that while we
are both productive individually, Megadeth is definitely stronger with both of
us in it together. In many ways, that emphasized our differences as actually
being strengths for Megadeth. In fact we always had a saying that went ‘if
we also agree on everything, then one of us isn’t necessary!’ And from that,
we forged a new friendship now that goes beyond just being members of
Megadeth and for me, that is pretty cool.
The band has had a tumultuous relationship with drugs and alcohol over the
decades, thankfully all of which seems to be relegated to the past. How do
you feel substance addiction has affected the band and their music?
In the beginning you can write, record, perform, tour and bounce back pretty
quickly from the effects of that lifestyle. But, at some point, when it becomes
an addiction it consumes you and destroys your band. Some people say
that “Peace Sells…” has this dark, evil sound about it and I agree. But, part of
that sound is the tuning of the album…in addition to the four of us being a little
left-of-center at the time, too!
It is well known that you returned to faith later in your life after having lived
through some dark periods. How do you feel your faith affects your day to
day life? What affect, if any, does it have on the music of Megadeth?
It’s everything! I mean, the drug lifestyle consumes you to a point that it
becomes everything you are and it has to be replaced with something in order
to stay clean and grow in a new direction away from that old life. For me, faith
is that replacement and what I found is that it is the way we were originally
intended to operate. It’s in our DNA to have faith in something beyond just
I’ve found that for creative-driven people, faith opens up new channels of
inspiration because it’s like finding a compass in the woods when your lost and
you can finally find your way back home. For me, things that were often
confusing for me started to finally make sense and that was the greatest
discover I could have in my lifetime.
Over the years Megadeth has toured in support of many great bands and had
many other great bands support them. Is there one band that you
particularly enjoyed touring with?
There have been so many, and many that I was a fan of growing up, bands like
Judas Priest & Iron Maiden for example. Then as we became headliners we
got to take out some great up and comers, like Stone Temple Pilots and Alice
In Chains. Both of them are still favs of mine to this day.
Do you have any control over the bands that support you? Do you keep your
eyes open for new talent to give a hand up to?
Yes, we have complete control over who shares our stage with us. We also try
to make decisions on who we play with as well, and that includes the larger
festivals. It’s important to us that our fans relate to the bands we play with
because they are going to spend a large part of their day/night at the show
and they are probably paying hard-earned money to see it as well. They
deserve to get their money’s worth and feel satisfied from the show.
What advice would you give to a young metal band starting out today? What
advice would you give to your past selves if you could?
I would say try to be different. The world doesn’t need another MEGADETH, it
doesn’t need another KORN or any other band who has already been
successful. The key to success is to be great but also be different. In fact, the
two go hand in hand.
As for our past selves, I wouldn’t change a thing. We are who we are now,
because of who we were then.
Was there any advice given to you early on that you feel really helped you or
that you wish now you’d listened to?
My father always said “you’re not great until someone else says you are”. In
many ways, that really sums up the essence of show biz and is also why so
many young musicians are their own worst enemies. You usually find out
pretty quickly that if you are just playing in a band so you can get chicks and
get drunk, or hopefully not to have to get a real job and grow up, then you are
probably in the wrong line of work. Sure, being a successful musician can have
some great perks but this career path takes years of hard work, discipline and
commitment to your craft to really make it big. No one, and I mean NO ONE is
an overnight sensation!
As one of the longest running and most successful metals bands to still be
active today, you’ve really lived through the entire metal scene. How do you
feel the industry has changed since you were first playing? What have you
done to keep up with it? And where do you see the scene heading now?
When I met Dave in Hollywood back in 1983, metal was so alive and vibrant
in the USA, probably more than any other time in history and probably more
so than it ever will be again. So much so, that there were new sub-
genres being created every couple months, stuff that was so diverse; San
Francisco was home to Metallica and Exodus. New York birthed Anthrax and
Twisted Sister and Hollywood had the likes of Motley Crue, Ratt and WASP.
Then came hard-core metal, black metal, death metal and so on in the years
to follow which showed how diverse metal fans really are. And more than
other mainstream rock n roll, metal musicians really showcased some amazing
I think more than anything, musicians were really pushing the envelope and
not holding back. They inspired people to really play well and innovate on their
instruments. In many ways the 1980s may have been the last bastion of unique
rock n roll guitar/bass/drum/vocal shredding. I’d love to see someone come
along and really change the course of those instruments again, not just rehash
what has already been done.
For us, we didn’t follow the trends we just did our own thing. That wasn’t
always the most popular way to do it but we knew we were doing something
great, something we believed in and when we believed in it we found our fans
believed in it, too. Maybe that is the real lesson now moving forward; you have
to believe in yourself if you expect anyone else to believe in you, too!
Megadeth has always been renowned for their aggressive and engaging live
shows. Do you still enjoy playing live as much as you used to?
Absolutely! I love writing and recording, but in many ways that is just a means
to and end of getting out and playing those songs live. Megadeth’s songs really
take on a dimension of their own in a live setting. They are emotional, they are
groovy and really move people; either to be rowdy & mosh, to be introspective
or to just sing-along to some great lyrics & melodies.
Is there one gig in your career that you really feel was a highlight?
There have been so many. I would say the Big 4 “Live from Sofia” was pretty
epic but so are our tours of South America. At the same time, you can roll into
a smaller venue and have some great memories with the fans because you are
up close and personal with them. Plus for me, the bass usually sounds really
good and tight in a hot & sweaty club!
Being a highly successful musician you must have many Bass Guitars now. Is
there one particular guitar that’s really holds a special place in your heart? If
I have many basses for different applications. Right now, I have one of my
Quicksilver Jackson five-string signature Concert basses that seems to sound
& play just about perfectly for most all current live settings. I also have a great
Modulus 5 string Quantum bass that records metal records to perfection as
well as a couple Fender P-basses that record great, too.
Most of all, I like basses that are use-able. I’m not so much into just collecting
them for nostalgia. In fact, I’ve sold many of my own really old Megadeth
basses to fans because I wasn’t using them any more and I figured the fans will
appreciate the nostalgia more than I could. One of those basses was actually
placed in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland by a fan who purchased my
BC Rich Mockingbird from the “Peace Sells…” album and tour. To me, that just
shows how cool our fans are to want to carry on our legacy.
Leander games has just released a Megadeth slots games featuring all of the
current band members and many of the band’s classic tracks. Have you had a
chance to play it? What did you think? How did the slots game come about?
I’ve messed around with it and I think it’s a great game and concept. I think the
various versions of the game that Leander offers is something really cool for
everyone to participate with it.
Finally, I’d like to say that it’s been a real treat for me to get to talk to one of
the musicians I’ve been listening to for nearly two decades and work it into
my passion for gaming. To finish up could you give me your current Top 5
Thank you very much. Here you go:
- The Sword- Gods of the Earth
- Steve Harris- British Lion
- Aerosmith- Toys In the Attic (a classic I never tire of!)
- Kyng- Trampled Sun
- Rush- Clockwork Angels