Readying his first ever solo run of European dates, Megadeth co-founder David Ellefson is chipper form. As if bringing his ‘More Live With Deth’ show wasn’t enough, he’s assembled three former Judas Priest members for a one off show at KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton; “This is like a dream moment!”, he tells us. We sat down with David for a chat about the shows, reuniting with Megadeth alumni, twenty years of ‘Risk’, and the future for the Megacruise and the band. Setting the world afire: Eamon O’Neill.
Hi David, how are you today?
Good! I’m just getting up and around and enjoying a beautiful sunny day in Arizona.
You’re coming over to the U.K. and Europe with ‘More Live With Death’, and by my reckoning, it’s the first time you’re come over without Megadeth to play a live show.
I think you’re right. We created this Basstory platform last year, which kind of took the masterclass bass clinic concept, rolled it into the nightclubs, and put a band around it. I called it like ‘a clinic where you could buy a pint and also a t shirt’! But from putting the book out [‘More Life With Deth’], and the solo companion CD Ellefson ‘Sleeping Giants’, what’s happened is we’ve put a full blown band around it, so now we come on stage and it’s a full hour rock concert. It’s a show, and that’s what we’re going to be doing at the Underworld [in London], and then doing the book signing after it.
And then you head north for a very special show at to KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton.
Obviously the unique feature up in Wolverhampton in KK’s Steel Mill is that my dear friend K.K. [Downing] and I will be doing a book signing together, a Q&A, and then busting the guitars out and doing a little playing!
You’re going to be playing with three former Priest members; K.K. Downing, Les Binks, and Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens; how did manage to you pull that line-up together?
Well, you know, I get asked in interviews; “Who is your ultimate dream band?”, and these kind of thing, but this one is legitimate. K.K. was kind enough to loan some words and some stories to my book as a guest, and he also did the narrated version of his bit, and that [audio book] will be coming out here in October. One event in London was fine, but the U.K.’s a big area, so I thought, let me hit K.K. up, and see if I could do a book signing up there, and I thought it would be great for the two of us to do on together. I’ve just read his book, and I’m a fan of it, of course, so he said; “Yeah, why not??!”
So how did it progress to adding Ripper and Les Binks?
It just spin-balled to we should play, and then we got on the phone, and me and KK and Ripper, because the idea came that maybe we should have Ripper come over, and then Les Binks’ name came up, and I was like; “Man, you guys are killing me; I’m joining Judas Priest; this is like a dream moment!” And it’s funny, because, Tim and I, I’ve worked with him on his solo record and tour a few years ago, and we were in Hail! together, so we’ve covered a lot of the planet together. K.K. and I of course, in Priest / Megadeth we did a big part of 1990 and early ’91 touring together; North America, Rock in Rio. K.K. and I have stayed in touch over the years – as I have with the other members of Priest.
Judas Priest were a big influence on you, weren't they?
In my book I make it very clear that ‘Unleashed in the East’ [1978 Judas Priest album] was a game changer for me; musically, the lifestyle; everything about it just turned a corner for me. So for us to have this moment where Basstory turns into the story for me and K.K., really; because he’s got his book, I’ve got my book; it’s almost like two authors getting on stage with their guitars rather than two guitar players who also have a book. It’s funny how it started; the impetus was around the books, which I think makes it that much more authentic, and very brotherly.
I’m glad that you mentioned the word ‘brotherly’, because you recently reunited with former Megadeth drummer Chuck Behler for the first time in 29 years, in Detroit.
You know, it’s funny, I’m the guy in the middle that always stays in touch with all the other guys. I’m just that guy. I’m from Minnesota, and they call it ‘Minnesota Nice’, so it’s part of who we are. You know, we’re friendly in Minnesota, and I grew up a small town kid on a farm, so it’s my nature; it’s the culture I grew up in; inviting; come one, come all. Obviously in Megadeth we’ve been through a handful of members for a variety of reasons, but Chuck is one who I’ve always invited.
He’s not the only ex-member to have played with you recently.
I think when I came back to Megadeth in 2010, that’s the day kind of the floodgates opened for all the former members and managers and agents and people that wanted to come back and see the band; they were excited to see me and Dave back together again. It was a celebration, and so that opened the door of goodwill to just be very all-inclusive, not exclusive and leaving people out. Look, we’re in out fifties now, and people are not with us anymore, or people are suffering serious health consequences. Things are happening, so it’s like, this I think is a season to always be bringing people together. And Chuck, I told him, I said; “dude, get up on this stage, and you’re friggin’ playing with me!” It’s like; “you need to show your face! You are a professional drummer, whether you’re actively working or not, it doesn’t matter. You are a professional, platinum award-winning recording artist for Capitol records! I mean, come on dude, get out of the house, get up there! What are you doing?!”
Chuck nailed the performance as well, didn’t he?
Yeah, and I didn’t know! It’s like, okay, can he still play? I know he’s had some health setbacks and health issues, but he sat down on that kit, and dude, I swear to god, we were playing ‘Hook in Mouth’, and there’s a couple of bass licks in there, and they’re quick and they’re challenging, but playing with Chuck, it was just like; “oh my God”, it was like playing back in the pocket. I told him; “dude, I’ve missed playing with you so much!”, because there’s such a, just an easy feel about how he plays. So that was great.
You also had Chris Poland up with you too at another show.
I invited Chris Poland out a couple of weeks ago to join us on stage in California, and it was the same thing. Chris is a very defining moment in Megadeth’s early days. So yeah, to me it’s about bringing everybody together.
How was it jumping back into that ‘So Far, So Good… So What!’ era with Chuck, given that at the end of that cycle in 1988, you decided to go home and get clean.
Well, yeah, Chuck and I, we shared those dark days. There’s that history of that, and now I’m 29 years sober. It’s the same with me and Chris Poland quite honestly, because that was the downward slide into the darkest days, in the Chris Poland era, and he also is sober many years now. So at least we get to look back on it and have a laugh about it. But you realise when you’re in a room; this is the guy that I walked through that mud with. Those were dark days, and the same with Chuck; a lot of good times, a lot of laughs; a lot of struggles, a lot of addiction was around us, so it was fun to just kind of be past that and just to be able to play the songs together for a while, for fifteen or twenty minutes. It was great.
‘So Far, So Good… So What!’ was an album that did very well for Megadeth.
You’re right, ‘So Far, So Good... So What!’ is an album I think that did well particularly in the U.K. We shot the ‘Anarchy in the U.K. video’ up in Leeds, and we kind of kicked the campaign off for that album there. It’s funny, we started in Leeds, and we ended in Donington [at Monsters of Rock 1988], so for the U.K., that album is historically very significant between our connection of Megadeth in the U.K.
Moving on, and 2019 marks 20 years since the release of ‘Risk’. It’s an album that gets a bad rap, but there are some great tracks on it such as ‘Breadline’ and ‘I’ll Be There For You’.
Yeah, it’s a storied one for sure. I think ultimately we came off a very successful rebuilding campaign with ‘Cryptic Writings’. That was a record that repositioned the band, we finally became profitable again, we dug ourselves out of some huge financial holes, major transitions in our whole management team; a lot. And plus, here in America, we basically wrote a record that fit very well with the FM radio sound that was going on, because, man, as you know; the ‘90s were not kind to thrash metal. Between the Seattle sound, the Nu Metal music and all this stuff; I mean, for us thrash bands, it was challenging, and I think we really hit the mark with ‘Cryptic Writings’.
Unfortunately, ‘Risk’ failed to repeat that success.
I think we came off the road, and we went into the studio with ‘Risk’ much too early. We didn’t have all of the songs together. I think our mind set was we need to write these sort of mainstream radio songs, and when we get to [the recording studio in] Nashville, we’ll chuck these metal tunes out no problem because we can do that in our sleep. And I think what happened is we got to Nashville, and we didn’t chuck out the metal songs! I think there was so much focus on the record being this sort of polished, mainstream radio-friendly record that the metal songs sort of got pushed to the side, and they didn’t get included. And if anything, I think that’s the story of that. But you’re fight though; I think those songs you mentioned, are very likeable songs; forget about the genre or anything. But I think when you buy a Megadeth record, it needs to have a certain sound to it. I mean, even the logo; all of a sudden, pointy guitars, pointy logos; all that shit was illegal in heavy metal. People were thinking; “don’t even say you’re heavy metal; say you’re hard rock”, because heavy metal had such a horrible stigma here in America. Iron Maiden; everybody went through a downturn. It was a challenging time.
You opened for Iron Maiden in Europe during that run; did you realise then that the album wasn’t connecting with people?
We knew it right away. As soon as we put it out we knew it, and honestly, there was a conversation on the bus not long after that European tour, when Dave, he just said; “we have to go back to being a thrash band”. He said; “we’ve got to get back to who we really are, and stop chasing this and that”. And that was when Marty Friedman [guitarist 1990 – 2000] just said; “look, if we’re going to go back to being a thrash band, I’m out”. And the next day he quit, and it was a couple of weeks later when Al Pitrelli came in, so yeah, it was very much a transitional record for us personally, in the band. You know, and part of me was going; “God, are we just going to go back to being what we used to be? Shouldn’t we continue to move forward? As humans don’t we grow forward?” It was an interesting moment, very, very challenging; the whole infrastructure of just who we were as a band was just on the line; everything.
The band has been dealt a major blow recently, with Dave Mustaine’s cancer diagnosis; how are things in the Megadeth camp right now?
Thank you for asking about that. He’s finished his treatment and he’s in his recovery phase right now, so we’re optimistic about a full recovery, as evidenced by our Megadeth / Five Finger Death Punch Tour that we’ve put on sale for January / February in Europe and the U.K. But look, we’re not totally out of the woods yet, so we just appreciate everybody’s thoughts and prayers and concern about the matter, and hopefully we’ll be through it here in the next few months.
Does the enforced hiatus leave you with more of an opportunity to focus on your solo endeavours?
Well it’s interesting because we had the Ozzy Osbourne tour here in America and Ozzy cancelled that. Then of course Dave, the cancer thing came up for him, so it was just a one-two punch of the year just kind of going away. And fortunately I had the book and the solo album already in preparation and I had the Basstory platform already created, so fortunately I had a vehicle in place to be able to get around the world. So after I come over to see you, I’m going down to Europe to Italy and Switzerland, then I’m coming back here to go down to South America for two weeks, and of course we’ve got the Megacruise, that’s coming up here in a couple of weeks, so we’ve got a lot of stuff going on in a short amount of time, which is great.
With a decision still to be made on Dave Mustaine’s involvement in the cruise, is there a chance you’ll bring out some former members, like Kiss have done on their cruises?
Well, you know, once we make the final call as to what’s going to happen here, because again, Dave’s now in his recovery and that’s got to be dealt with gingerly for sure – it’s a very important next step here. So once we make a final decision on that, I guess the rest of it will weigh itself out. So, to be continued!
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David Ellefson's 'More Live With Deth' European Tour kicks off in Wolverhampton on 3rd October 2019. For ticketing and more, visit David's site here.
David Ellefson 'More Live With Deth' 2019 European Dates.
11/03 – Wolverhampton, ENG – KK’s Steel Mill (featuring K.K. Downing, Les Binks and Tim “Ripper” Owens)
11/04 – London, ENG – Camden Underworld
11/08 - Bellinzona, CH - Pit
11/09 - Collegno, ITA - Padiglione
14 11/10 - Milano, ITA - Legend Club 11/12 - Bologna, ITA - Alchemica
11/13 - Tuoro Sul Trasimeno, ITA - Supernova
11/14 - Roma, ITA - Let It Beer