David Ellefson has explained why he declined to rejoin MEGADETH upon the band's 2004 reformation, citing concerns with the business structure he had in place with band leader Dave Mustaine.
Mustaine reformed MEGADETH 15 years ago after disbanding the group in 2002. Originally setting out to record a solo album, Mustaine enlisted studio musicians to play on what ultimately became MEGADETH's 2004 "The System Has Failed" comeback album, subsequently recruiting former ICED EARTH bassist James MacDonough to take Ellefson's place for the album's touring cycle.
In 2004, Ellefson filed an $18.5-million lawsuit against Mustaine, alleging the frontman shortchanged him on profits and backed out of a deal to turn Megadeth Inc. over to him when the band broke up in 2002. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed and Ellefson rejoined MEGADETH in 2010.
In a recent interview with Jimmy Kay of Canada's The Metal Voice to promote his new "More Life With Deth" book and "Sleeping Giants" companion album, Ellefson was asked about the years in which he sat on the sidelines while MEGADETH carried on with new members.
"Dave [Mustaine] quit the band," Ellefson said (see video below). "He folded up the band. He basically quit. He quit. We don't have a quarterback; no one's there to throw the ball, so essentially the band is done. 2004, he reformed the group, but suddenly all the business dealings were changed and everything was different and I was not onboard with it. I didn't agree to it. Dave basically moved forward without me being part of that. Initially, I think, it was, like, 'Well, let's just find a way to figure that out.' Of course, as one often does when there's money and deals and contracts, lawyers are involved, and next thing you know, you're having legal disputes. That's kind of part of the business, I've learned over the years. It was weird, because before the group ended, I thought, early in my sobriety, they told me, 'David, there's only one thing you have to change in your life in order to stay sober and that's everything.' I went, 'Oh! Yeah!' that's a tall order and I've now seen that to be true."
He continued: "It's interesting because I was sitting in church with my friend Billy Smiley who I talk about in the book, he played in a band, a big Christian band called WHITEHEART with Dan Huff, who produced a couple of MEGADETH records for us in the late '90s here in Nashville. I was sitting in church and it was literally the first week of February of 2002 and that thought hit me: 'Oh my gosh. The only thing I haven't changed is MEGADETH.' Literally two days later, Dave calls me and quits the band. I just kind of went, 'Well, there's that answer.' Part of me was kind of relieved. It was a lot. Dave and I had been going almost 20 years at that point and it was a lot. Everybody knows the other side of that sort and other members' history and story. It's just a lot. You're creative people. MEGADETH is a real rock and roll band. It's dangerous, it's dynamic, it's charismatic. It's all the great things that make great rock and roll. But the train is always ready to careen off the frickin' tracks at any given point. That makes great theater in rock and roll. On the other side, when you're in the band on this side, it's a lot. So, on one hand, I was, like, 'Dave needs to step away. Good. If that's what he needs to do for his life, then god bless you and move on.'
"I just kind of moved on," he added. "I got busy with my life and moved on. I wasn't going to sit around and cry about it. I was a young man with a young family, I was in my '30s. We made money, we'd done some things, but I was young, I wasn't ready to retire. I wasn't done with my life's purpose. Again, young families are expensive and there's a lot of life ahead. I had to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I think that largely the story of the next phase of my life, is in the book. I talked about it in my previous book, 'My Life With Deth', I talked about it too, but I think the lessons I learned from that season from 2002 to 2010 when I came back into MEGADETH, there's now bigger lessons and I think those are the things that [book co-author] Thom [Hazaert] was encouraging me to write about in this book, because not only did I come back to MEGADETH, then that relationship was healed and mended, obviously the fans were all excited about me coming back and we're back together again."
In his 2004 lawsuit against Mustaine, Ellefson claimed that he "attempted to resolve his differences with Mustaine on an amicable basis and offered to continue to perform with [MEGADETH]." However, his "offers were met with verbal abuse, threats, lies and continued invective from Mustaine." Ellefson also said that Mustaine — a veteran of at least 17 drug rehab stints, according to the bassist — resented Ellefson, a former drug addict, for having kicked his own habit. According to Ellefson's court papers, the battle of the band spread to the Internet when Mustaine posted on Megadeth.com that Ellefson was trying to extort him.
Mustaine gave his version of why the 2004 reunion with Ellefson didn't pan out in a message posted on the MEGADETH web site. In lengthy essay, Mustaine claimed that Ellefson missed several deadlines to accept his offer, which included 20% of the artist royalties on "The System Has Failed", none of the publishing royalties and a $2,500-a-week salary while the band was on the road.
In his first book, Ellefson admitted that he became a salaried employee upon his return to MEGADETH nine years ago. He told Metal-Rules.com in a recent interview: "Going from being a co-founding owner to just a sideman musician was initially why I didn't come back in 2004. I was not happy with the participations that were presented to me. In recent times, coming back, I found great joy in doing music with a lot of other people in other settings that helped me fall back in love with playing music. Now I can come back into or go into musical situations and be able to be there for a purpose and level of pay. Being a sideman absolves you from being involved in all the other stuff. At this point in my life, I would rather leave that stuff on the sidelines. Like American Express says, 'membership has its privileges,' being a sideman has its benefits. In my case, it helps retain a friendship too. In order to have a friendship, I had to give up some ownership."
"More Life With Death" will be released July 16 via Jawbone Press.