How I met Dave Mustaine ? I heard this loud, shrieky yell saying to shut up, and I heard this crash into my air conditioner, and my first thought was ‘Well, people in California aren’t as friendly as they are back in Minnesota’.”
Wikimetal: Hello, Dave.
Dave Ellefson: Hey, how are you?
W: Hi, Dave, it’s a real honor, a real pleasure to be talking to you, how are you?
DE: Thank you, I’m doing very good, thank you.
W: Just to start, back in the day, Dave, what would you consider to be the main influences that made you choose to become a bass player? And who are your favorite bass players?
DE: Well, I grew up… I mostly heard music on the radio, because I grew up in a very rural part of the United States, a mid-west state called Minnesota, and it’s like all farm land around there, so the stuff I heard on the radio was stuff like: Sweet, Kiss, Aerosmith, things like that, so a lot of like British and American hard rock. And then, of course, Kiss, and that really worked me up to want to play. And the bass was a very intriguing instrument, I’d never heard anything like that before, and then when I saw it, it was big and long and has strings on it, and liked the people that played it, like Gene Simmons, and it was inspiring to me. And then as I picked it up and started playing, I, of course, listened to bands like Rush, and Iron Maiden, and it was my turn after that when we started Megadeth.
W: Dave, on Dave Mustaine’s book “A life in metal”, he shares this really cool story about how you guys met for the first time. Could you please tell our listeners how that happened, how you met Dave Mustaine for the first time?
DE: Well, five days after I graduated high school, in 1983, I was eighteen years old, and me and three friends drove from Minnesota out to Hollywood, California. And the apartment that we moved into, Dave was living right upstairs, above, and I did not know of Dave, in fact I’d never heard of Metallica before, because being in the mid-west, news of music and entertainment stuff traveled a little slower, you know. And the east and the west coast and parts of Europe were starting to know of this next wave of heavy metal which had been called trash metal. I hadn’t heard of it yet. So meeting Dave… One morning I woke up and I was practicing probably like, “Running with the Devil”, or something, by Van Halen, and I heard this loud, shrieky yell saying to shut up, and I heard this crash into my air conditioner, and my first thought was “Well, people in California aren’t as friendly as they are back in Minnesota”. And my friend had seen Dave walking around the apartment complex, and said “We should go meet this guy, he looks like a cool rock N’ roll guy”, so we went to knock on his door. At first we wanted to buy some cigarettes and he looked at us and slammed the door in our face, and then we knocked again in order to buy his beer and then he opens the door and let us in. So that was essentially our first meeting with Dave over a case of beer and a lot of storytelling then we got to know him, and heard the whole history with Metallica and his departure from the band. And he started to play some of the songs the he was writing post-Metallica, which would be songs that would become “Set the World on Fire”, “Devil’s Island”, I could name a couple. And we all loved it, we thought it was great music, and also saw some of Dave’s lyrics, and he had a really very simple, but really ingenious method of storytelling in his lyrics. So that inspired me, and the other thing about Dave is he was doing something brand new, you know, you have to realize this was 1983/84, so everything that was going on in Los Angeles was what would be considered pop metal, hair metal, things like that… Mötley Crëw had already gone… Had started to be successful, Ratt was becoming successful, WASP, a lot of those kinds of bands, those were the main bands in Hollywood, and the whole Brooklyn music was really starting to take off at that point.
Once the 90’s and the Seattle Grunge movement came, and this whole anti-rock star with everybody apologizing for being a rock star, I never got it, I never understood. I never felt guilty for being a rock star.”
W: Changing the subject now, Dave, talking about your new album “Thirteen”, what caught my attention was the high amount of great songs in this album. Any particular reason for that, like maybe because you went back to the band?
DE: I think it’s… I don’t think albums are any one thing, and any one person. Albums are a collection of songs and every creative work is a collaboration, on many levels. There’s a collaboration within the band, musically. I think bringing Johnny K. in to be the producer on the record brought a new and maybe a fresh dynamic for the band and a very productive production style as well, you know, we didn’t have a lot of time to make the record, a lots of times in Megadeth, when we don’t have a lot of time, sometimes that’s when we produce our best material, too.
W: Yeah, I was going to ask you about Johnny K., how did you guys choose him to be the producer of “Thirteen”, and how was working with him?
DE: I’ve been a fan of Johnny’ work since I first heard the Disturbed records. I just think that, you know, the work that he did, he’s been doing a lot of work in Chicago for many years, he was friends with Dan Donegan from Disturbed, and when they got signed with Warner Brothers, Dan insisted that Johnny produce the record, and that really put Johhny on the map, as sort of a mainstream, major label, record producer. And I just think the work he did with that band was phenomenal. Then when I heard some other work of his, I realized that Johhny’s not one of these producers that makes bands sound like him, he seems to be a producer who came in and really found the true essence of what the band was and made that band better. And that, to me, was something that I thought was going to be really important with Megadeth, because we’d already been down the road in the late 90’s where producers and people tried to shape us to be something other than what Megadeth was, and we don’t ever want to go near that ever again. So Johhny and me and Dave and Johnny got along well, and it seems like the songs just begin to flow, and next thing you know we’ve done a record.
W: Dave, we have a classic question on our show, one that we ask every single person we interview: imagine yourself maybe driving your car listening to your ipod on shuffle mode, and then a song comes up and you just lose control totally, like you start headbanging wherever you might be. Can you choose that song so we can play it on our show right now?
DE: Sure, I’d say there’s two of them. Probably the main one would be – I just listened to it yesterday – which is Black Sabbath’s “Neon Knights”.
W: Dave, I think that “Thirteen” is a real, real good album, in my opinion, the best Megadeth album since “Countdown to Extinction”, maybe. What’s your favorite Megadeth album?
DE: You know, it’s funny you say that, because I seem to think that probably my favorite record overall is “Countdown to Extinction”, in fact, I was just listening to it yesterday with my son. My son’s 15 years old, and he was breaking out some Megadeth records. And this is kind of a new journey for him to discover these records and the first thing that hit him is how timeless the record is, it doesn’t sound like a dated record made 20 years ago, it still sounds fresh. And I was listening to them… To me there’s not another band that sounds like that. So those are a couple of really key components that any great record, they don’t sound dated and they don’t sound like anybody else.
W: You are absolutely right and I totally agree with you. For example, last year we had the release of “Peace Sells… But who’s buying?” 25th anniversary edition. What do you remember of the recording of this album that made it so special and so relevant, and so unique, as you said, like, Megadeth has such an unique sound, and especially “Peace Sells…” is so relevant after all this time?
DE: Yeah, I would say “Peace Sells…” is another one of those records that is certainly unique and definitely didn’t sound like our contemporary, you know, at that time, obviously the Big Four, as we are now called, we were all making some of our most pioneering records in those days, and I think Megadeth, we definitely sounded different from all of them. And I think the large part is that Dave and I were the metal guys, and Gar and Chris were these fusion jazz guys, and the hybrid of those two genres really created a musical ferociousness in the records that was just unparalleled by any other bands out there at that time. And also I think that the tuning on that record, as weird as that may be, you know we tuned that record on E flat, but it added a very mystical and dark sound to the entire record, and I think that’s something that… I know it because I was a musician and play a lot, but people say “man, your songs just sounds dark”. And I think lyrically there is a very dark intrigue about the lyrics and the music, that I think that tuning of the instruments actually created a very unique sound.
W: I saw you playing in Brazil many times, I was in Rock in Rio in 91, “Monsters of Rock” with Ozzy and Alice Cooper in 95, and last year the SWU Festival with Faith No More and Alice in Chains. Do you have any memory in particular of Brazil that you could share with our listeners?
DE: Oh, man, you know, last year the festival was fantastic, I mean, Brazil is known for its monumental festivals, and I think certainly starting with Rock in Rio, that was such a great experience, to be part of Rock in Rio in 1991, it was something so huge at that time, and I think that every time that we go back there, you know, we played in “Monsters of Rock” festival and we’ve done SWU last year, it really is, you know… It’s sort of the enormity of it, it just goes to show how supportive the Brazilian people are of heavy metal down there.
W: Talking about the old days, Dave, how would you compare the music scene in the 80’s and now? What are the good things and the bad things in both periods?
DE: I think the thing about the 80’s is that it was kind of the last big hurrah of rock N’ roll and I’m talking about the glory of it. It’s good for something that united the people, united so many people all around the world. It was just something that… It was an advance, you know, girls got dressed up and they were pretty, and men got dressed up because they wanted to pick up all the chicks… It was so like… It felt like it was entertainment back then, and I think once the 90’s and the Seattle Grunge Movement came, and this whole anti-rock star… Everybody apologizing for being a rock star, I never got it, I never understood. I never felt guilty for being a rock star. You become a rock star because of what you do, you know, if you set out to be a rock star, if you want to have success only to get narcissistic, you probably should feel guilty about it. For us, I think, you know, in thrash metal, we were a music of the people, by the people, for the people.
W: How about the importance of the reunion of the Big Four? How important do you think that that reunion was for heavy metal in general, but also for the creation of a new generation of metal fans?
DE: I think, first of all, it wasn’t even really a reunion, because the four of us never played together before. You’re right in the sense it was a reunion that all of us had played together, just not all four of us had played together on the same stage. And I think that unity, I think probably squirt a new interest and probably forever put thrash metal on the front page of the history of heavy metal.
W: And, I believe, in rock history as well.
DE: Yeah, absolutely. Exactly, I think that took thrash metal from being this sort of bastard child over in the corner and solidified its validity in the history of rock N’ roll.
W: Do you remember the first time you heard about this project, or when you were first approached to be part of this project?
DE: Yeah, I heard about it… It was actually even before I came back to Megadeth. I was on tour with Tim “Ripper” Owens in Europe, we were at the Download Festival, in England, and the agent came up to me – who I’d been friends with for a long time – he actually came up to me and he mentioned this idea, and I thought “Man, that is fantastic!”. So we started discussing my return back to Megadeth and it just seemed like everything was lining up perfectly, and it seemed like… My agent said “You know what, just go with this.” And I’m glad that we did, I’m glad that I did, because the story, it really has a Cinderella ending to it.
Dave Mustaine had a really very simple, but really ingenious method of storytelling in his lyrics.”
W: Can you pick a song, from Megadeth now, that you’re really proud of being a part of, or maybe having written or recording, so we can listen to that one on our show now?
DE: Sure. I would say “Foreclosure of a Dream”, because it really is the story of my father and a lot of his friends, who suffered some governmental issues here in the United States, in the late 80’s, during the Reaganomics, and this caused a massive back crash and crisis.
W: Talking about your projects and experiences outside of Megadeth, like F5, Hail, Killing Machine, Temple of Brutality and you also played with Soulfly. Do you thinks it’s possible to describe something, musically speaking, that all these projects had in common?
DE: Well, I think they were all heavy rock projects. The thing that I think I like the most about all of them is that they were all very different from each other. Soulfly… F5 was probably the first thing I started working on post-Megadeth, because at that time Megadeth was actually disbanding. And that was so fresh, and it fun to play with younger guys, who had a certain appreciation and even a bit of an influence from Megadeth and understood music in a whole different way, different tunings, they had different influences as well, so that was very liberating and refreshing for me, and it was the first time that I got into a band room in many, many years with a group of guys and really felt inspired to just write songs, and I felt like a teenager again. Then, of course, when I got the call to play in the Soulfly record, it was a similar thing, because Max, of course, had already lined out what the Soulfly music was, but when I came in to play bass, Max was, you know… It was really the reinvention of Soulfly at that point, so I’m proud to be a part of that process. And also, you know, Max just looked at me and he just said “Man, just go out there and play whatever you want”, so it was very liberating, that whole segment of my life, and Terms of Brutality was the same thing, just caught me during my years of expertise as a heavy metal bass player into a process that was brand new, just starting out, and to be one of the real key pieces that glued that thing together and actually turn it into a real band.
W: Well, we love your participation on that project, and we love Max, as you can imagine, as Brazilians, we just interviewed him a couple of weeks ago, he’s a real legend for us. Changing the subject again, Dave, how did Christianity change your life, and what you would you say to someone facing the same kind of problems with drugs and alcohol that you have faced in the past? Do you think that religion can help these people in those kinds of situations?
DE: Here’s how I feel about that, I think that, we’re all born with an innate desire to want to know our creator. It’s sort of like, when you’re born, you want to know your parents – I see this with people who are my friends now, who maybe were adopted when we were young, they have this desire to want to know who their real mom and dad were. And I think that that is something that is just hardwired into us to want to know – we’ll just call it God – but it’s our creator. And I think throughout our lifetime, the evil that is in the world can be very distracting and its own mission is to take our eye off of knowing God. And when we get our eye off of knowing God and were we came from, you know, our creator, that’s when problems start in our lives, you know, and it’s easy to buy into the world, even though we’re not really of the world, it’s easy to buy into, you know, if you start drugs, gambling, all kinds of different things that can ultimately be harmful and some of them can kill us. So I think that when we… I think the biggest part of overcoming those things is to admit defeat. And that’s a good thing, because something that’s not meant for us is killing us. So to admit that it’s killing us is, there’s strength in that, I came into that strength from my weakness, and I think that in that moment, we can come back and go away. But I need to hit the reset button and go back to kind of being, they call born again. It’s kind of a rebirth, we get to have two lives within one lifetime and we get to kind of start over again. And that’s a cool thing, and sometimes it happens through proper religion, sometimes it just happens through sort of a one on one personal connection with getting to know God again. I seem to think that it’s probably more of a personal thing, and that sometimes, you know, religion, as much as it has helped many people, I think that everybody has to kind of figure out for themselves whether it’s liberating or whether it’s confining for them.
W: Those are great words, Dave. I’m just about to finish with the interview – First of all I’d like to really really thank you so much, we’ve been fans of your band and all your work for the past, let’s say, 27, 28 years, since the first album of Megadeath. So it’s a real honor for us to be talking to you. Just for us to finish with the interview, what would you say to a 15 year old kid, or 14 year old kid that is thinking of playing an instrument or picking up the bass and starting up a band? And please leave a last, final message to all your Brazilian fans.
DE: I think that anybody who’s picking up an instrument, you’re going to know pretty soon what inspires you, and I would say: go after those passions, whatever musical style that is. I think that it’s great, as a musician to be out playing with as many different people as possible, whether that’s jamming in your house, or getting a band together out in the garage, or, if you have ambitions for rock stardom, whatever it is, I think, you know, music is something that brings people together, don’t be too focuses on the outcome, just enjoy the process of it.
W: Excellent, Dave. Thank you once again, it’s been a real honor, and we’ll be always supporting Megadeth in everything you’d like to do, and you can count on Wikimetal, we’ll always be there.
DE: Great. Thank you very much, great talking to you. Tchau!