Former MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson was interviewed by Eddie Trunk on the "Friday Night Rocks" show on New York's Q104.3 FM this past Friday (October 15). Several excerpts from the interview follow:
On MEGADETH's split in 2002 and eventual resurrection — without Ellefson — earlier this year:
David Ellefson: "When we [Trunk and Ellefson] spoke last time, it was about January 2002, the 'Rude Awakening' DVD and double CD was about ready to come out, and at that point, we thought we were gonna be rolling right into doing the next MEGADETH record, and we were gonna just get right into that, and then a couple of weeks later, Dave [Mustaine, MEGADETH mainman] announced that it was over, it was done, that's it, and that, of course, was a very life-changing day for me when I got that announcement.
"I met Dave like two months after his METALLICA departure. He went from New York out to L.A., and I had just moved to L.A. from Minnesota, where I grew up. He and I met — we lived in the same apartment building — and started MEGADETH. And that was like June of 1983. So up until early February of 2002, we were the MEGADETH guys. The group ended, and obviously, a lot of strain and a lot of stress and a lot of issues and stuff goes down when something like that happens. I mean, it wasn't just like some bar band broke up.
"On another whole level behind the stage curtain, there's a bunch of business stuff, and you read about a lot of that stuff in trade magazines and that, but… You know, look… To me, personally, that was stuff that I never felt was really appropriate or talked about out in the open public and with the fans, because… I mean, look, I got into this 'cause I'm a fan. And it's like I didn't really care about the politics or any of the arguments that happened backstage with the bands I grew up listening to — I just wanted to hear the songs. It's like, 'Shut up and play your music.' I mean, I personally never tried to go there with that. Even now, obviously, we're trying to settle up some business disputes that we've got, get that behind us, and move forward with things.
"But am I bummed that I'm not in MEGADETH and things have moved on without me? I mean, of course. MEGADETH was my life. I poured my entire life into it — it was my whole heart and soul, my whole life, and it was our whole thing, you know, and it's unfortunate that Dave and I are on opposite pages right now with some things. Because I don't think it should be that way and I don't think this really had to be that way."
Eddie Trunk: Did you not wanna do it [get back together with Mustaine in the resurrected MEGADETH]? Did he not offer you the opportunity to do it when he put the band back together?
David Ellefson: "No, I wanted to do it, Dave did come to me about it. I just wasn't willing to do it for anything else than where it was when it broke up. I mean, I didn't quit the band, I didn't leave the group, I didn't walk away from it or any of that stuff, so it's like, 'Pick it up where we left off, I'm in, let's go.' And when I found out that it wasn't gonna be that, that's when the problems started."
Eddie Trunk: So essentially, reading into that, and knowing the business aspect of it, you were a partner in MEGADETH and the new arrangement, I would assume, meant that you were more or less a hired gun at that point at an adjusted…
David Ellefson: "Greatly reduced [rate]… [laughs] Yeah, exactly. And that was unacceptable. I mean, again, I didn't quit, I didn't walk away, it didn't break up because of me, it wasn't any of that stuff. So it's like, 'I'm in and let's go. The bass is tuned, let's rock.' And when it became something other than that, that's… I mean, really, in a nutshell, that's really where the problems started. And I think, the thing I'm probably the most bummed about is that there wasn't more direct communication between me and Dave, because up until about a week or two ago, we lived like five minutes from each other [in Arizona]. And the fact that we've been in business together for 20 years and we played music together and been to hell and back and everything we've done together, I think it's an unfortunate parting of the ways right now."
Eddie Trunk: Do you any envision any scenario down the line where you think this could be patched up and you guys would work together down the line or do you think it's beyond repair?
David Ellefson: "You know, I hate to ever… There's a saying, 'Don't cut what can be untied,' meaning that if something can be delicately untied or undone because it needs to be or has to be, it always, of course, leaves something palatable to be able to mend back up at a later date. To me, it seems foolish that we wouldn't do that. In fact, it seems… It's a very odd time right now. I think about it every day. I think about this every single day, because… It could be together and it could be such a cool thing, and it could be phenomenal, but instead there's dissension and there's not peace and rest and it's not settled. And it's an uncomfortable feeling. I don't like having it in my life. I don't have that in any other area of my life, and that, to me, is a very uncomfortable position to be in."
Eddie Trunk: Did you listen to the [new MEGADETH album "The System Has Failed"]?
David Ellefson: "I have not heard the record. I heard some of the songs on it, and of course, I hear the single on the radio, and there's some good stuff on it. I mean, you'd expect it to be — it's Dave. I never had any disputes with Dave in his writing abilities. In fact, I don't think hardly anybody has — Dave is a very talented writer, so you expect what he does to be good."
On why MEGADETH was never able to recreate the sound and the quality of 1990's "Rust In Peace" on any of the subsequent efforts:
David Ellefson: "It's interesting, because… You think of a song as like a photo, and an album is like a photo album. It's sort of a snapshot of a period in your life. And as you have a catalog, like what MEGADETH has, there's various times of your life, and they really just reflect what was happening in your life at that time. I mean, I remember talking with Dave, actually, back in 2001 when we were on the 'World Needs a Hero'. A lot of our fans wanted us to go back and make [another] 'Rust In Peace', and we could come close, but we will never make another 'Rust In Peace' ever again. I mean, there will never be another 'Peace Sells…', there will be never be another direct recreation of any of those records, because those were a moment in time. That was how old we were, and that particular album, 'Rust In Peace', man, that was a lot of angst going on [laughs] and just everything that was happening in our lives at that time, it was sort of a culmination that was just like this big boil that popped when we did 'Rust In Peace', because that album… We were coming out of some very strange times right then, with the new… I always looked at that period of time that we weren't replacing two guys, we were essentially starting, kind of almost starting the band over fresh — Dave and I were — with Nick Menza and Marty Friedman coming in, and boy, I tell you what: That chemistry of the four of us working together… 'Countdown to Extinction', it got a little more refined, we perfected it a little bit more, and it went to the next level. But what happened on 'Rust In Peace', you really have to just enjoy it for what it is, because it was just that moment in time."
On how his new band, F5, came together:
David Ellefson: "When MEGADETH ended, it was like a death in my family, man. I mean, it was… A lot of people were like, 'Oh, man, you've gotta get a new band together, get another singer, put some guys together, go do something,' and I've gotta be honest with you — I am not one of these guys that sat around in MEGADETH just hoping for the day when I could finally do my solo album, or I could do my side project. To me, MEGADETH was… that was my deal. So I just sat there with a bunch of riffs and my guitar and ideas and stuff for songs, but I've gotta be honest with you, it's almost ike I went through this year of a mourning period, you know what I mean? A grieving period. It was done and it was over. It was that simple. So I wasn't running around trying to find a bunch of guys to play with, some people were calling me to play with them. And how F5 came together is in early 2003, so about a year later, I'd been going around the country, I was doing some artist development, producing some young groups that had demos, producing some things for them, and whether they went ever got signed and went on to do that thing, that was really pretty much out of my hands. I really enjoyed being in the studio because it really got me in touch with a lot of new music, a lot of new guys, the way guys are approaching guitar playing and tuning and songwriting, and a lot of new stuff that was very different than what we did things in MEGADETH. And I really enjoyed it — it was a nice refreshing change of pace. And some of the guys that I worked with — their bands broke up, and that's how F5 came together. A couple of these guys I'd done some things with them, produced some things with them in the studio, and me and the guitar player, Steve, and the drummer Dave, we started writing and it was just one of those magical things, man, where songs clicked, they just started flowing. I mean, we wrote a half a dozen tunes in a couple of days. It was fun, it was exciting, we weren't trying to be anything, and obviously the guys know my history in MEGADETH, they honor that, they're excited about that and everything, but F5 is not a recreation of MEGADETH. It's almost like I had enough time away from it that a whole new thing took on a life of its own, and it's a whole new sound, it's new faces, it's a new day, it's a new sound, it's a new thing."