Curtis of Cranked Up Live recently conducted an interview with MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson. A couple of excerpts follow (as transcribed by Blabbermouth.net). You can also watch entire interview below.
On “Dystopia” being MEGADETH‘s highest-charting album since 1992’s “Countdown To Extinction”, which debuted and peaked at No. 2 on the chart dated August 1 of that year:
Ellefson: “It is, yeah. ‘Countdown’ came in at No. 2. And we’ve had a lot of Top Tens over the years. And it’s funny, chart positions are always subjective to whatever else is out. I mean, Justin Bieber has a new record out, and, of course, he has a big fan base. And Adele, who is just absolutely lovely and a terrific artist. It seems like everybody in the world loves Adele — at least mainstream music listeners, I should say, seem to like Adele. She sells a lot of records; she has a huge fan base around the world. So you can’t… Especially as a metal band, because we’re sort of an oddity. We’re our own tribe, we’re our own gang. We hang together as a unit around the world. I think even for us as an artist, there’s always a thing in the music industry, they measure a lot of things by numbers… But fending for us as artists, and for us just being at one with our gang, our MEGADETH rattlehead army, the Cyber Army, as we call ’em, our fans and our fan club, we have to be united as a team regardless of whether Justin Bieber puts a record out or not. You know what I mean? [Laughs] And I don’t think our fans are buying that record anyway, and his fans probably aren’t buying our record. So I think you really have to be thinking about who we are, what we do, who we represent, and I think that, to me, is as big of a triumph. Yeah, certainly, it’s great for MEGADETH, for sure. But we, to a large degree, we represent the metal community at large, as does every metal band who puts out a record. So we kind of are called to a higher calling, in a lot of ways, to represent our tribe. And I’d like to think that by making… First of all, you’ve gotta make a great record with great songs that you really feel strong and passionate about, which we did, and I think what you’re seeing is that is now spreading very, very kindly across all the charts worldwide now.”
On his current relationship with MEGADETH leader Dave Mustaine:
Ellefson: “Every band has sort of its ebb and flow and kind of its own tempo, and relationships within the band… sort of the die is cast very early on. And because I was there at the beginning, on the founding day of MEGADETH, I saw very clearly what it is. I saw how my personality type, my temperament, my musical ambitions and how I fit into the scheme of… the scope of MEGADETH. I saw very clearly who Dave was. He’s very much a very strong leader type. He wants his way. He wants things to go how he wants them to go. And, quite honestly, his way works pretty well. So, you know, I got really quickly hip to the fact that, you know, ‘Get on board with what Dave‘s doing.’ And there have been times over the years where we went head-to-head over things [and we had] disagreements, as any band does. I mean, any good band that has any backbone at all is gonna have members in it who are opinionated and strong-willed and musically adept. And those things are gonna clash at times. I guess, probably MEGADETH, there is a lot of former members and people around it. Because it’s such an explosive type of creative relationship and all the things that go with it, there are some explosions that happen from time to time. And I’ve lasted certainly longer than everybody, and, again, I think it’s ’cause I was there at the beginning and I saw it. And, look, we locked horns at one time too. But I think Dave and I… Look, we love each other as brothers, we love each other as friends, and he, I think, likes my bass playing. [Laughs] And I certainly have a great admiration for his songs and his music, and he has just a very intuitive thing about how he works that I really admire. I love working with the guy. So lots of times, with bands, just like every relationship, it’s about compromise. Everybody brings their best, and there’s also times when you have to sort of know when to back down and go, ‘How important is it, really?’ In the scheme of things… Everybody does better if the group survives, and if the group survives, it’s better for everyone. So I think I, probably more than most, am pretty good with that group mentality. So I think that speaks to our tenure together.”
On the recent interview with Mustaine where the MEGADETH leader implied that Ellefson was not a founding member of the band because, he said, “MEGADETH was already in its formative phase long before I even knew David Ellefson“:
Ellefson: “Well, it’s interesting… Yeah, I did see. And it’s interesting. The headline was very misleading and was obviously meant… It was very inflammatory. It was meant to be a hamburger bomb thrown over into the middle of our campaign. And I think I saw it as that. So, again, open the story, read it. They didn’t even say that. They didn’t even say what the headline says. That headline was misconstrued. Now, look, when Dave came home from METALLICA, he had another bass player, kind of a kid he was almost teaching how to play bass, and another guitar player he had been working with a little bit, and a singer, named Lor. And those were kind of the first people that, I think, in April and May of 1983 that Dave was just kicking some ideas around [with], seeing if he could get anything going. But the day me and my friend Greg Handevidt knocked on Dave‘s door and asked him where to buy some cigarettes and beer, that was the day that there was a unity that moved forward, because me, Greg, Dave, that singer Lor and our drummer Dijon Carruthers, who helped create a lot of the lyrics and the concept of ‘Black Friday’ on the ‘Peace Sells’ record, that was… we were the group that were rehearsing for a few weeks, working on these new songs Dave was writing. And one day we came back to… I think it was me and Greg‘s apartment… And it was Greg who suggested… We were talking about band names, and Greg suggested… There was a name kicking around, FALLEN ANGEL, that I think Dave… That was kind of working title that he had. But he had a song called ‘Megadeth’, which was later retitled to become ‘Set The World Afire’. And it was my friend Greg who suggested, ‘I think we should call the band MEGADETH.’ And it was decided that day, so, I mean, technically, whoever was in the room that day was a founding member of MEGADETH. And, again, I don’t know why there has to be so much importance on that. I know, I was there. And quickly, all those other members either scattered or were let go, and within a month or so, it was me and Dave standing next to each other — Dave and Dave of this new group called MEGADETH. And a lot of the press, obviously, was Dave‘s post-METALLICA group, MEGADETH, and there was a lot of focus on me as the bass player, because Dave had been working with Cliff Burton, who was very celebrated. And, obviously, there was a lot of focus: ‘What’s Mustaine‘s new bass player like?’ And, ‘Is he worthy?’ And blah blah blah. So I think the next several years for me and Dave were about getting out from under the METALLICA shadow. And I think that that happened by the time we got to the ‘Peace Sells’ album. That, I think, was the first album… And even Lars [Ulrich, METALLICA drummer] has been very… He publicly praised Dave and the band for that record, ’cause it was that time where, I think… We started to become our own band. And that takes a few years. I mean, none of this stuff happens overnight. So I always joke that ‘Dystopia’ is this thirty-three-year overnight success that we’ve had. We were just chatting on e-mail just a couple of days ago, and Chris Adler [current MEGADETH drummer] brought it up that he didn’t know of any other band that has, twenty-four years later, had a record that topped the charts — at No. 3 versus where we were in 1992 at No. 2. ‘Cause most bands just break up. In fact, quite honestly, most record deals are written like that. They just assume the band’s gonna break up and then the record company owns the masters and they take your music forever and you’ll probably never see another dime. You know, the whole industry is kind of… It’s almost betting against you. So there’s a lot of success stories with ‘Dystopia’ — certainly for Dave and I. It’s great for the MEGADETH fans, for us as a band, to have been not only just… [Instead] of just keeping crawling along, we’re really firing at the top of our game right now, and I think that’s something that inside of our camp was very, very thrilled about, and the fans seem to be very excited about that too.”