Interview conducted by Joshua. Published on 11/3/2011.
Last year, when it was announced that original Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson was returning to his four string duties in time for the Rust in Peace 20th anniversary tour, many assumed it was a temporary situation. The two Daves, Mustaine and Ellefson, side by side once again? It was too good to be true. Eight years of legal wrangling and barbed tongues had irreparably fractured the once solid foundation of the Rattlehead household. Or so we thought. Over a year and a half later, the pair seem no worse for wear. On the eve of Megadeth's latest studio effort, Th1rt3en, Dave Ellefson talked to Joshua from Lambgoat about his return, the remasters collection, and his rekindled friendship with the other Dave.
Dave, it's been a decade since your last Megadeth studio album, The World Needs a Hero. How does it feel to put your stamp on a new Megadeth record?
I am very happy about it. It's great to be back working, putting, as you said, my stamp on the new record. More importantly, all of us really working together to really carve out what the next chapter of Megadeth is going to be.
How much writing did you get to do for Th1rt3en?
As far as creation goes, "New World Order" was the main one. As a bass player, this is probably the most liberated I've ever been on a record. I think a large part of it was because the song ideas were laid down. Dave and Jonny K. [producer] laid them down. That allowed for each of us to come in and bring our best to the table. As opposed to when you write in a room together and then you make demos, then you finally go record the record. Sometimes the songs just get worked to death and it loses a lot of its spontaneity and its freshness. So I think that's what you're hearing on Th1rt3en. You're hearing a lot of the spontaneity and it's a very fresh sound. Because these were all the first original ideas we came up with for the songs.
Songs like "Whose Life (Is it Anyway)" have almost a punk edge. Was that an angle you were going for or was that part of the spontaneity?
That was definitely part of the spontaneity. We went back and listened to a bunch of old riff tapes, old things that were sitting around, old song ideas that were still there like "New World Order," "Millenium of the Blind," and "Black Swan." But we really went in to it wanting to start from scratch, knowing that there were some songs that we wanted to include on the record. The rest of the record was just shoot from the hip, spontaneous creations.
Did going back over old riff tapes help erase some of the time gap between your tenures?
Yeah. And I think doing the Rust in Peace tour last year brought forward a lot of music from 20 years ago and made it fresh in everybody's mind. So when we went back and visited, say "New World Order," which was actually written on the [original] Rust in Peace tour. When we go back and revisit that and bring that forward it doesn't sound out of character and it doesn't sound like something from a different generation. It sounds very modern and timeless again.
Speaking of the Rust in Peace anniversary tour, have you talked about playing another album in its entirety? Peace Sells… maybe?
There was talk about the Peace Sells… thing, just because we'd just come off of Rust in Peace, so everybody kind of thought, "wow, does that indicate another anniversary tour?" But I think the Rust in Peace album is such a fan favorite. And half of those songs we never ever played live after we recorded the album. That was just a triumphant moment for us and our fans.
I think Peace Sells…, the way the album was repackaged, had some goodies in there that you couldn't get anywhere else, I think that was the right way to play that. Plus right as the Peace Sells… album was coming out in July, we were putting the finishing touches on Th1rt3en. I think at that point we were already heading into new album mindset.
When the band originally ended in 2002, were you upset or relieved to take a break from it all?
It was a little bit of both. All around there was probably a lot of misunderstanding about it. For me, when I understood that the band was over, that was it. It was done. I moved on into other ventures in my life.
As it turns out, looking back, they were really good experiences for me to have for when I came back to the band. When things reformed and I was not a part of it, that wasn't the right season for me to participate back with the band yet. I had already been involved with other ventures and I think it was good that I saw those things through.
Timing was everything in coming back to Megadeth. The timing of it was something that none of us had predicted, for sure. It was something that just landed in our laps. And I think to some degree that's what really made it so much easier and made it just that much smoother too, not just for the band, but for the fans.
What was your initial reaction to the Megadeth albums that you didn't play on?
Well, I had heard them all a little bit when they first came out. They sounded like Dave's music for sure. Obviously the cast of the band had changed, so it was hard to really do a direct comparison to any other record because they were all different line-ups playing on each one of those records.
What do you think about today's heavy metal climate?
The mid to late 90's were not very friendly to thrash metal at all. The music scene and the media that was once very favorable to us, we learned pretty quickly that as tastes change [bands] are also changed out with that. The 2000s served a different purpose. A lot of it was sort of the backside of a detrimental wave of the late 90s.
It's kind of cool now and it's interesting how 2010 really launched a whole new trend and breathed a whole lot of life into thrash metal and into Megadeth, and that's why for me it was a great time to come back and participate in it again.
You don't think the younger bands are ripping off you and your peers?
I think it's good that there's a young crop of bands coming out. That they grew up inspired by us is always a compliment. But I like when bands come out with something new. We don't need Megadeth 2. The world always needs inventive and creative new music. So if they take what we did and filter it through their fingers and the fretboards of their guitars and come up with something new and fresh, that's the most exciting part of it.
What was your reaction to the Megadeth remasters that were released in 2002 and 2004?
The idea of it started back in 2001. Well, the idea had been around for a while to go back and remix a couple things. The two albums that were really the impetus for it were Killing Is My Business, which we actually did remix and remaster in 2001. And then the other one we thought would be cool to do was So Far, So Good... So What!. That was an album that was kind of a transitional album because we were coming out of the [Chris] Poland, [Gar] Samuelson Peace Sells… line-up, transitioning ultimately to the Rust in Peace line-up that would be stable for quite a few years. So Far, So Good... So What! had such attitude.
And I think the songs were really good. Unfortunately the original mix from Paul Lani was not knocking us out of the park. The final mix from Michael Wagener we felt was too far of a stretch away from where we wanted it to be. Both those guys are great mixers; we hired them for those purposes. It often becomes a matter of personal taste. That album to be remixed was really what started it. Now as far as the rest of the catalog goes, to me, because I've heard the originals for so many years, I automatically default back to the original mixes. Though I've gotten compliments from several people that the remixes have highlighted the bass guitar a little better.
One instance of the altered bass sound that stands out is the iconic intro to the song "Peace Sells." What are your thoughts on it?
That whole album was originally mixed by the producer Randy Burns. It was mixed very raw. Then when we got signed to Capitol [Records], Paul Lani was brought in to do the remix on it. And he actually created a couple of the edits like muting the band in the chorus of "Peace Sells," muting the bass line at the end of "Wake Up Dead" which actually created anew energy to the arrangement, an arrangement that we would then perform from then on out.
It really is funny how you get used to hearing something a certain way for so many years and that kind of becomes what your ear always wants to go back and hear again. So if you just came into Megadeth and only heard the remastered versions, that becomes your benchmark of ground zero. For me, the original mixes are the ground zero benchmark.
How did you feel about the Big 4 shows in the US?
In Europe you kind of get used to it because they have a real legitimate festival season over there that starts the end of May and pretty much runs through into August. But to do something like that here in America, that just doesn't happen. To me, that was the bigger accomplishment, between the four [bands] we put together our own unique heavy metal festival. And there are enough fans that want to see it that we can only hold it in big outdoor fields or inside a baseball stadium.
I've heard rumors of a third US show. Any truth to those?
You know, I'm not sure where that's at. They usually pop up out of nowhere. For us it's one of those things where Metallica puts the call out and, assuming we're all available, we do everything we can to try and make it work. It's such a huge event for all of us that we are proud to be a part of together as four bands. I think for the fans, they'd love for there to be as many of these as possible.
How about the rumored supergroup with Dave Mustaine, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and yourself?
Dave, I think, has this yearning to, at some point, play some music with James and Lars again. And especially now that things are much more friendly and just amicable with everybody in the Big 4. I think saying that was just kind of an open invitation. I'm certainly glad that he invited me along with it because if it ever did happen I think it would be cool. Now that we all go up and do the big jam together it's kind of like we all played together anyway.
Now that you've been back in Megadeth for almost two years, how is your relationship with Dave Mustaine. Was there a period of walking on eggshells?
Interestingly enough, when I came back it was not walking on eggshells. It was actually very open arms, hugs, big smiles. Just, "Man, let's go out and do this. Let's blow everybody's minds!" And it's still that, which is great, because I get to bring a new perspective to Dave from the outside in. And Dave can also continue to bring a new perspective to me because of all the years that he has been running Megadeth during my time away.
So it really becomes a nice mutual two-way street for both of us, which is really what a friendship is supposed to be.