Robert Gray of Ultimate-Guitar.com conducted an interview with returning MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson on February 16, 2010. A few excerpts from the chat follow below.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: 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?
Ellefson: 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 [MEGADETH drummer] and Chris Broderick [MEGADETH guitarist] 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.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Obviously, Dave is working on his autobiography (tentatively 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.
Ellefson: 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.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: That's good news. How much did your Christian faith and Dave's Christian faith help in this reconciliation?
Ellefson: 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.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: 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?
Ellefson: 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.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: What have the MEGADETH rehearsals for the "Rust In Peace" twentieth anniversary shows at Vic's Garage been like?
Ellefson: 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.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: What are your thoughts on Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover on a musical level, and how would you musically compare those two to [former MEGADETH members] Marty Friedman and Nick Menza?
Ellefson: 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.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: 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?
Ellefson: 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.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: To clarify though, in your opinion Shawn Drover and Chris Broderick are probably gonna be part of the future of MEGADETH?
Ellefson: 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.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: 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".
Ellefson: 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.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Is there the possibility that MEGADETH will play all of "Rust In Peace" at the "Big Four" festival shows?
Ellefson: 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-favorite 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.
Read the entire interview at Ultimate-Guitar.com.
Photos below by Stephanie Cabral
MEGADETH 2010 (left to right): Shawn Drover (drums), David Ellefson (bass), Dave Mustaine (guitar, vocals), Chris Broderick (guitar):
MEGADETH 2010 (left to right): Shawn Drover (drums), Dave Mustaine (guitar, vocals), Chris Broderick (guitar), David Ellefson (bass)