David Ellefson says that he and Dave Mustaine tried "everything" to make a reunion of MEGADETH's "Rust In Peace" lineup work.
The opportunity for MEGADETH's most celebrated lineup to regroup arose following the departures of guitarist Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover in 2014.
Drummer Nick Menza was approached by Mustaine and Ellefson to replace Drover at the end of that year, and he started working out new tracks with the band. But the plan collapsed after he was offered a contract he described as "very unfair." A year and a half later, in May 2016, Nick died after suffering a heart attack during a concert with OHM: at The Baked Potato in Studio City, California.
Ellefson spoke about Menza during a nearly hourlong, free-range discussion with current MEGADETH guitarist Kiko Loureiro. Saying that Nick was in MEGADETH for about a decade, David described their time together as "fun, "big," "productive" and "financially very profitable years."
"We grew up as young kids, basically learning how to grow up into men in the public eye," David recalled (see video below). "[We went through] addictions, financial windfalls… I mean, sometimes the only thing worse than a band that has no money is a band who starts to make too much money, because now you have to learn how to deal with that. And that changes people — money can change people — and we don't always know how to deal with it. And also you've got sort of the public eye on you."
According to Ellefson, he found out about Menza's passing from Mustaine, who called him at four o'clock in the morning while they were in Albany, New York preparing to play at the Rock N' Derby festival.
"Dave was devastated," Ellefson said. "And I was, like, 'What the hell happened?' And it turns out Nick had passed on stage, playing with another one of our MEGADETH alumni, Chris Poland. Chris and I didn't get a chance to talk for several months after that, and we've now since reconnected, which is great."
Ellefson went on to say that he has been in touch with Nick's mother and sister since the drummer's passing, and was even asked to induct Menza into the Hall Of Heavy Metal History in January 2018. "And it was great to just relive stories about Nick," he said. "And now his book is out — the 'Megalife' book — and I've read it. And there's funny moments."
David said that he and Nick got "the opportunity to revisit a reunion" when they played together more than four years ago. "And although it didn't work out for us to continue on as bandmates, we tried it, and we let the fans know," he explained. "So I think Dave and I felt good, as MEGADETH, to go, 'We did try it. We gave it everything we had to try to make it work, and it just was not meant to be.' So we could kind of put that away. And so with Nick passing, it wasn't this sadness of, 'Oh, God, I wish we would have tried that. Oh, man, I wish we would have picked up the phone and made the call.' We had tried it. So I think there was a lot of peace in our world about that Nick had moved on."
Despite the public war of words that ensued between Menza and Mustaine following the failed "Rust In Peace" reunion, Ellefson believes that his former bandmate was in a good place at the time of his death.
"Nick, he used to joke about this. He [would go], 'Ah, I just wanna die onstage,'" Ellefson recalled. "And he would kind of joke, almost to get a shock out of people. But it's interesting — he even talked about it in his book, when I read it; he said something like, 'I hope I just die onstage playing my drums.' And talking to his son, I knew he was at peace — Nick was very much at peace in his life when he left. I remember when my dad passed, he and I had a great talk. He had called a lot of his friends. He was at peace, it seems, when he left the planet. So it's nice to know when people are sort of at peace with the people and the things in their life when it's time to leave earth. And I know Nick was.
"I kind of laugh," David continued. "I'm, like, 'The son of a bitch got to go out onstage, just like he wanted.' The final laugh was with Nick. And that's not to make light of him passing, but I'm also of the belief that this isn't all there is — this life on earth is just a moment. And there's other things that we have a life beyond this. So, to me, it's kind of, like, he passed through, got to rock it, blow shit up and then he got to move on."
Back in 2015, Menza explained to the "The Sick Room" podcast why his return to MEGADETH failed to materialize. He said: "I went out there [to Dave Mustaine's studio] and jammed with [Mustaine and Ellefson]. We played for, like, a weekend — like, three days — and on the third day, we were working on new songs. And everything was cool. They were telling me, 'You're back in the band. We'll do a press release.' And I'm, like, 'I don't wanna say anything until I have an agreement, a contract in writing of what's gonna happen.' And then they send me this ridiculous proposal stating that, 'You're not gonna paid anything until the touring starts.' So, basically, I was gonna work for nothing, doing the record. Which I was still kind of ready to bend in that direction anyway. But I'm, like, 'You know what?! I'm not gonna break or sell myself short with something that's gonna be huge. They've gotta realize the longevity of it.' And then they were kind of coming back at me the same way. So the whole thing was silly. I didn't even get a chance to negotiate with them about anything. They just put it off and said, 'That's it.' And I couldn't get hold of anybody."
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Mustaine talked in general terms about why the reunion of MEGADETH's classic "Rust In Peace" lineup didn't happen, He said: "Contrary to all the scuttlebutt that's going around, I wish [Nick and guitarist Marty Friedman] the best. But their recollections of the events that led up to it and happened after are considerably different from my recollection. But here's the thing — a lot of people, they either love or hate me. If I tell anybody what happened, it's not gonna change the way they feel about me. But it'll probably change the way they feel about them. And I don't want to hurt anybody. All I can say I think they're both tremendous musicians and talented guys."