Dom Famularo of The Sessions Panel recently conducted an interview with MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson. You can watch the entire chat below. A few excerpts follow (transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On expanding into record producing, clinic work and book writing:
David: "When you get kind of famous, you get called to do all kinds of stuff. And that's really where it starts. I always go back to, 'If you're on the stage, they just assume you can already play.' So you're kind of beyond that. You're beyond, 'Dude, my licks are better than yours,' and all that stuff. It's more about communicating. And I realized, really, I'm just a communicator, whether I do it with a bass, whether I do it like this, talking right here, whether I do it in a clinic, authoring a book, my record label, even my coffee company — these are all, basically, just portals to allow other artists to have a voice. And I think in this day and age, as the record business has changed so much, and in an industry that probably you and I grew up in many years ago obviously transitions, you have choices. You can either sit on the sidelines and cry foul or you just get on with it and you go along with it and you realize how to reinvent. If you really wanna be creative in business, learn how to reinvent."
On the early lessons he learned as a bass player:
David: "I was focused on being a professional from the day I got the bass at age 11. I mean, literally, a few months later, I met… My brother, I had an older brother, two years older than me, in school, and so I hooked up with a couple of his buddies, a guitar player and a drummer, and we formed our first little three-piece band. An again, [we were] playing the porch for mom and dad, whatever — anywhere we could play. And eventually, I remember there was a gig at the local armory and they actually paid us money, so now we're actually technically in show biz. [We were at a point where we were] getting paid to play. And it's awesome. And I just remember, now you've gotta have a setlist, you've gotta have some stage clothes, you've got a look, how, 'Hey, don't go on the stage before the curtain goes….' You know what I mean? You kind of learn professional acumen from the very beginning. And, of course, there's other bands around you, and most have more experience. I was always the young guy in every band I was in. Even MEGADETH, when we started MEGADETH many years later, I was always the youngest for many years. And so I was always the youngest guy in those stages. And I would watch and I would learn and I would pay attention and I would see… And even things like, 'Hey, they have a road crew. They've got a guitar tech. There seems to be a guy managing this thing. They've got a semitruck, and we have a van. How do we get to that?' And on it goes. And it's still the same thing even today in MEGADETH. We'll show up with four trucks, and someone else has eight. It's, like, 'All right. Well, how do we get to eight?' And it's just kind of how this business has been for me ever since I got that bass guitar at age 11."
On the importance of making music that you can successfully market to the public:
David: "And also the imaging. I've been in groups where you've got great music, great charisma even, and that's not enough. There has to be a logo, there has to be an image, a t-shirt. I mean, people want to buy lifestyle. And I think MEGADETH, of course, the nuclear disarmament… I mean, we've had a 'greatest hits' back just called the 'Arsenal Of Megadeth'. Everything about the name really translates into the imaging on the album artwork and the t-shirts. We created a mascot based on a couple of lyrics, 'Looking Down The Cross' and 'Skull Beneath The Skin', which were on our very first record, 'Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good!' And that created this mascot that we called Vic Rattlehead. It's 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.' And this was all part of this strategic idea that was coming forth. Then Dave [Mustaine, MEGADETH mainman] is an incredible writer — very intuitive and just really in the moment with things. And I've learned a lot working with Dave, as he and I came from the beginning and grew up, me being in the room as this thing was conceptualized. We've been through a lot of other members with our drummer and second guitar player. But being in the room, it's, like, I really got the vision of what it was, and it was, like, 'I'm in. Let's do this. This is great.' And to really be supportive for Dave for when he creates things, and for him, I think, to know that, hey, I got his back. And then, over the years, we've co-composed and things that we do together. It's good to have a partner. Even if you're a solo artist, there's partnership. And I think that's the other part of this, too — we all get to have our little piece of real estate on that stage and we all get a moment in the spotlight, but if you can work together as a team, and everybody to kind of stay in their lane… As I say, 'Stay in your lane. Know your place. Stay in your lane. There's a reason you're in that lane. And we need someone in that lane, and we'd like you to be there. If you're not [gonna be there], we'll get someone else to do it. So, really, just really own and appreciate what your lane is.'"
Ellefson is currently taking part in his "Basstory" tour, which combines solo bass performance with David's celebrated brand of storytelling, as he recounts intimate details of his struggles and triumphs in the name of rock 'n' roll. "Basstory" also includes special VIP meet-and-greets, exclusive merchandise, and more.
MEGADETH's most recent studio album, "Dystopia", was released in early 2016. The band's next LP, which is tentatively due in 2019, will be the first to feature new drummer Dirk Verbeuren (ex-SOILWORK).
Photo credit: Mike Savoia