Interview by Jeff Treppel
Megadeth's upcoming CD, TH1RT3EN, is bassist David Ellefson's first since leaving the band after 2002's The World Needs a Hero. The new album's combination of powerhouse thrash and anthemic hard rock allows him to demonstrate the fluid, malleable style that's made him one of the most respected bassists on the metal scene. We reached out to ask him his thoughts on the new album, the current Megadeth lineup, and more.
(This is the third in a four-part series of interviews with all four members of Megadeth, leading up to the release of TH1RT3EN on November 1.)
Do you feel like being out of Megadeth for eight years and playing in other projects has made you a better bass player?
Yeah, without a doubt. To a large degree, I almost started to get staid as a musician because I didn't have any other outlets. I guess what it took was, one day Megadeth ended, and that was the catapult that it took to get me out of the nest and hook up with other musicians and start playing and having other musical experiences. I mean, with the exception of Megadeth, none of these things are really meant to be forever. And even Megadeth, at one point, when we get to our rocking chairs and wheelchairs, we won't be able to play anymore either. To some degree, to me, music is something to be enjoyed. It's why we never went and got day jobs, so we could enjoy playing our guitars. Being in a bunch of different musical experiences over the last 10 years is one of the best things I've had the opportunity to do, to really just grow my palate of chops and have different experiences with other musicians.
Did the maturity you gained from having some distance from the band facilitate the process of putting together TH1RT3EN?
Well, I look at it like, I'm here to be the best bass player I can, regardless of who writes the songs. We all throw out a lot of ideas, both lyrically and musically, bring different ideas to the table. I just know from working with Dave [Mustaine] that there comes a point where, when he wants to get his songs done, he wants to get his songs done, and stay out of the way. Just let that happen. By and large, my attitude is, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? And I'd rather be happy in my life then always try to prove a point. So that's the maturity level I think all of us had in this, which is like, man, let's just make the best riffs, the best songs, let's get them down and everybody show up and do the best part, because that's what makes it feel like a true Megadeth album, when everybody is able to do their best on it.
Is it hard to summon up the anger that fuels so much of thrash metal at this point in your career?
You know, I think that part is always in us, and it always was in us. I think the delusion is, "well, if I dump a bunch of drugs and booze in me, I'll be angrier." The truth of it is, we were angry anyway, that's what made us dump the dope and the booze in us. So you take the dope and the booze away, and the anger still comes out. That was what people heard on the Rust in Peace album, because that was the first album where we recorded stone cold sober. So you hear all the piss and vinegar that was always inside of us come out on that record. And over the years, you start to season and become a veteran at your craft and you get more comfortable taking chances and trying different things because you don't remain a 21-year-old your whole life, you grow. And as a result your music is a reflection of your life instead of trying to make your life a reflection of your music.
So do you feel TH1RT3EN stacks up against the classic albums like Rust in Peace as far as your playing goes?
I think so, I'm really happy with my playing on it. I think what you hear is the thrash metal approach that you always hear on Megadeth records, but you also get the eight years of experience that I had away from Megadeth working with a lot of other bands, writers, producers, musicians that really developed and evolved my playing in so many other ways. It's probably why I was able to come in and knock out a whole record in three days, because I had those years of those experiences there. To me, the bass is really tight with the drums and guitars, and yet it's very liberated, a lot of different movements that haven't been heard on previous records. There's just sort of a simplicity – there's a simple progressive nature about it [laughs]. I don't think I've really been able to combine those two elements until this album.
How would you say this Megadeth lineup compares to lineups you've played with in the past?
Well, like [TH1RT3EN producer] Johnny K said about Chris Broderick, "he's very capable of playing anything we need him to play," which is true. That's the kind of player Chris is. He's very – Chris practices eight hours a day, his chops are superb and Chris is a guy who works really good under direction. Shawn Drover is probably the best friend Megadeth could ever have, because even though he wasn't there in the beginning, he breathes Megadeth. He really understands what is at the core of Megadeth and the music. And I think for Dave, knowing that he had me back as his right-hand man, he knew that he had a solid band under him, and he didn't have to stress about having to reeducate or educate or teach people how to play his music. He knew that whatever he wrote, we could play. And I think that was a major source of stress off Dave's head, and it allowed the whole project to be relaxed, and as a result we were able to make a Megadeth album in 10 weeks.
Are you happy with where you are in your life and with Megadeth as a band?
I am. I'm thrilled and humbly grateful that we have been given a second chance together, especially between me and Dave. It's an experience that I'm so thrilled we can lock arms and go do this together again. The fans are thrilled about it, and just for me personally, in my own life I'm happy, I have a family. I have a wife who supports me – it's unusual for a wife to want her old man to be back in a rock 'n' roll band again. Most women I know – they love guys who are in rock 'n' roll bands until they hook up with them, and then they want them to be out of rock 'n' roll because they're afraid they're going to go be rock 'n' roll guys. My wife is actually really supportive of me. She's the one who actually really encouraged me to get back together and work with Dave again, so when you have that kind of support at home, it makes life out on the road and out on stage easier. It's one less thing to have to worry about so you can concentrate on being right where your feet are, which is in the moment.
Megadeth's TH1RT3EN will be in stores November 1.