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INTERVIEW – Dave Ellefson, Megadeth – January 2015

| 9 February 2015 | 3 Replies

INTERVIEW – Dave Ellefson, Megadeth – January 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

As co-founder of Megadeth – one of Metal’s ‘Big Four’ – Dave Ellefson has seen and done all there is to see and do in rock over three decades, and he’s bringing his spoken word show, My Life With Deth, to Australia this March.

Dave Ellefson 01

TUESDAY 24 March – Civic Hotel, Perth
THURSDAY 26 March – Factory Theatre, Sydney
FRIDAY 27 March – Prince Bandroom, Melbourne
SATURDAY 28 March – The HiFi, Brisbane
SUNDAY 29 March – The Gov, Adelaide

Having published his autobiography, My Life With Deth, in the middle of last year, the bassist started thinking about how he could translate his life experiences from the page to the stage.

“You know, really it was born out of my book,” the chatty Ellefson said. “A friend of mine had contacted me – last year actually, which is kind of ironic because it was around the time that the whole Soundwave thing was going on last year [Megadeth pulled out of Soundwave 2014 at the eleventh hour, citing “circumstances beyond our control.”] – and at the time I thought I was going to Soundwave, so we didn’t end up moving anything forward with the Spoken Word events. But then, of course as things panned out, that didn’t end up happening.

“So late last year we started talking about it. It just seemed fitting to roll into the new year and do it here in March, which is pretty cool. So I’m looking forward to coming down and doing the very first one ever, actually, in Perth with you, over there.”

At this point I had every intention in asking Ellefson if getting up on stage to do a solo Spoken Word show provoked more anxiety in him than playing to thousands behind the safety net of the band and an instrument – but since he hasn’t done so yet, that question became redundant pretty fast.

Dave Ellefson 02

The bassist laughs at the turnaround of the question, before admitting, “I guess, you know, if I sit around and think about it too much, yeah, it does make me a little anxious. But, you know, the truth of it is, to me it’s an evening with David Ellefson and the fans and friends of Megadeth. And to be honest with you, we’ve all been hanging out together for the last 30 years anyway.

“To me, I think certainly the book gives a basis to do Spoken Word,” he continues. “Then there’s a lot of [other] things [to talk about]: there’s Megadeth, obviously. There’s music, there’s faith walk, there’s transitions of life, there’s music and business, there’s all kinds of things that I’ve been open about, that I’ve written books about, that I’ve talked about. I mean, bass clinics, playing in bands – and you know, I think a lot of Megadeth fans are also musicians, as well.

“I’m excited because I think every one of these [shows] is going to be different. When you have a band, you walk out with a pretty tight repertoire. You just go do that show night after night. I think with this type of thing there’s certainly a repertoire, but it leaves room for improvisation, it leaves room for some spontaneity of the moment to happen.”

Ellefson says he’s braced himself and is ready to tackle all comers in a Q&A section of the shows.

“Sure, absolutely. Yeah, you know, I think I’ve got a lot of experience at it in a multitude of settings. I mean, certainly in interviews with Megadeth over the years. Also doing bass clinics, you know, because I’ve found that I’ve become a pretty good scholar [of music], of sorts. I don’t know, maybe that’s a little bit different for me, because I’ve never been a guitar teacher, for instance, so I don’t look at myself [as having] that type of academia. But I’m pretty good at lecturing, standing in front of crowds, narrating, talking, discussing, orating. And that’s kind of a different skill set, you know?

“Again, I think because of the Megadeth history,” he carries on, “so many things always are just only a few degrees of separation away from Megadeth. So, I think that’s the common bond through all of this. You know, with my most recent book, My Life With Deth, I knew as I was writing it that the Megadeth thread is the one thing that’s consistent throughout most of [my life] story.”

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Ellefson is an amiable chap down the phone line, and while he agrees that it’s a rare skill to be an engaging raconteur, but feels he has the stories to hold the attention of a room full of fans.

“Sometimes when you write a book, for instance, you can only put so much in it because it has to be a consistent story, [with] a beginning, a middle, and an end. Same when you write a record – they start to take on a certain style so you have to stick with the running order of what that piece of work is.

“So what I’m excited about with Spoken Word is especially the Q&A part. Because to me, I thrive on interaction. I like to be relational. I’m not the guy who stands up there and tells everybody what to do, or else. In fact, Dave Mustaine’s always called me The Ambassador! So, that’s kind of been my role over the years in Megadeth. And as a result, I find myself in a myriad of dynamics, and different situations, and I think all those different dynamics create a lot of the content that allows you to go out and do some different things with it.

“Some guys stand up there and just tell jokes. Other guys sit up there and play guitar for a while. Other people read poetry, etc, etc. But, you know, I’ve got three books to choose from: My Life With Deth, Making Music Your Business, and then also Unsung, all the words and images that I self published, which is lyrics and poetry. So there’s a bunch of different stuff, just from the works that I’ve published on my own, away from Megadeth. And that doesn’t include, obviously, all the stories, and all the things about Megadeth at the same time.”

Aside from all the success that being a part of one of probably the second biggest Heavy Metal band of modern times, selling upwards of 50 million records and touring the world, Ellefson’s life has had it’s share of disastrous lows as well – none worse than a serious addiction to heroin which lasted for years. Was it emotional to have to relive those experiences first for his book, then again to prepare the Spoken Word tour?

“You know, yeah, there’s…” he says, taking a slow, deep breath. “You know, it’s funny, I go back to certain parts of my… well look, probably the answer to that question started 25 years ago when I got off drugs, and then I started living a new life. It’s ironic because, because of that new life I’ve had my biggest successes, I wrote the bulk of [my] material and songs.

“And part of that is walking away from dark edges, and walking back into the sunlight of where good things happen in your life. As a result, starting to just say ‘yes’ to things. Because addiction pulls you away from the mainstream of life, and it gets you alone where it can kill you. So, part of being recovered is saying ‘yes’, and moving back into the mainstream – and by mainstream I don’t mean mainstream rock and roll. I’m talking about just being engaged with life and the people, and opportunities, and events. As a famous scripture says, ‘no man is an island unto himself.’

“So for me, that whole thing changed for me when I was 25 years old. Ironically I just turned 50 back in November, so half my life ago. So this half of my life has been the best part of my life.

“With that, certainly there have been a lot of ups and downs, because part of what you do when you walk away from an addiction is, you first have to unlearn a bunch of bad stuff you learned. At the same time you start learning some new things to replace the bad stuff with, and that’s a life-long process.

“And I think me having those changes happen to me in the spotlight, they magnified them even more. One of the things that I’ve found, that when you stand up in front of people, if you share openly and honestly about your life, warts and all, the good and the bad, that’s when you seem to strike a chord and really engage with people, you know, because at that point it’s your soul speaking. It isn’t your head just sort of randomly reciting things – at that point it’s your heart. That’s the level that all humans are connected on – through spirit. I think when you see a great performance, and you see a great comedy act, and you read a great book, wherever greatness comes from … Hell, even great food. When it’s made with heart it tastes better, you know?

“And it’s the same thing in the performance realm. So to me it’s really about just being able to go up there and – just like I did with my book – I tried to share real [stories], some pretty heavy stuff of my life. I think that’s my approach, quite honestly, with the My Life With Deth Spoken Word tour, to just be able to share, warts and all. And from there, kind of let the outcome be what it is. That’s why I think every night it’ll probably have its own really special, unique dynamic.”

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Ellefson was raised in a religious household, but abandoned his faith as a young teen. After kicking drugs though, he re-embraced his faith quite publically, a move which saw him on the receiving end of some abuse from some of the heavy metal crowd, who thought religion was against what they believed in.

“Sure, of course I did,” he agrees, before countering, “you know, it was interesting because I did some seminary studies, I guess it was three years ago when I started them. A big news story went out on the news wire around the world in January of 2012. And it was literally three years, almost to the day, because I was at the winter NAMM show – which is a big trade show in Anaheim, which is actually happening next week, that’s why I remember the timeline so well – I remember, I was in these autograph queues, signing autographs for fans, and the news story broke that day, that morning. Fans were coming by going, ‘dude, that is so cool that you’re doing that. You’re like, the perfect guy to do that!’

“It was funny,” he continues, “because in the beginning heavy metal fans may have gone, ‘dude, it’s not cool to talk about your faith, blah, blah, blah.’ You know, [then] here I am all these years later, where my own fans were high-fiving me, and congratulating me [on the same thing], really being the wind in my sails to go pursue something like that. Ironically [this time] the religious community were the ones who were starting to turn against me, almost like, ‘how can a heavy metal guy possibly do this? This is blasphemy.’ So I found it very ironic that my community of metalheads totally supported me. It’s like, to the degree that people at meet-and-greets, were coming through the line [and asking], ‘hey, can you be the pastor and preside over my wedding? And maybe we can have the other three guys in Megadeth be the witnesses for the wedding?’

“It was just really, really, really, cool, you know? Again, I’m so lucky, because what Megadeth songs have created is a community, and that community has gone global. So we live in this really cool, global, heavy metal village, all of us together. So, as big as it is, it’s actually kind of just a cool, quaint little community between all of us.”

While Ellefson has been planning this debut Spoken Word tour, there has been tumultuous happenings in the Megadeth camp, with first Shawn Drover quitting the band in late November, followed just a few hours later by Chris Broderick. The bass player explains how it played out from where he was sitting.

“Well, you know, there were some things leading up to it that I certainly was in tune with, and paying attention to,” he admits. “Actually, I swear the day it happened I was shocked. Actually it’s funny, a friend of mine sent me a text, he goes, ‘hey, I just heard Shawn Drover quit Megadeth.’ And I was like, ‘that’s odd…’ and the next thing you know my phone started just blowing up. So I called Shawn, I said, ‘what’s going on man?’ He said, ‘yeah dude, it was time.’ And I was like, ‘all right,’ you know. So we just had a conversation about it.

“Shawn is … I consider Shawn, definitely a good friend,” he continues. “I mean, he really helped open the door for me to come back to Megadeth. I mean, he and Dave [Mustaine]’s guitar tech, Willie G, they really got it – they knew when there was going to be a line up change five years ago, they’re like, ‘dude, please call David Ellefson.’

“And of course I was ready for it, the timing was right. But Shawn has really been a tremendous friend to Megadeth, to the fans. He knew how to keep his head down and avoid trouble, yet at the same time when he knew he had to stand up for things, he does. So, I have great respect for Shawn, and I’m very thankful for my time being able to work with him in Megadeth.”

Dave Ellefson

Can Ellefson comment on rumours that Nick Menza and Marty Friedman – who left in 1998 and 2000, respectively] might be coming back to the band?

“Well I can comment that there’s rumours,” he laughs heartily. “I can’t comment on anything beyond that. Certainly they’re a favoured line up of Megadeth’s past, for sure. Obviously we’re aware of that. Our fans don’t let us forget it, believe me – let me put it that way. But, yeah, that’s … I can’t comment anymore on that!”

Let There Be Deth.

An edited version of this story first appeared in X-Press Magazine’s 4 February, 2015 issue

Shane

Category: Interviews

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