By David E. Gehlke
David Ellefson survived his 2021 dismissal from MEGADETH after sexually tinged messages and explicit video footage involving the bassist were posted on Twitter. Instead of obfuscating, Ellefson got out in front by taking legal action and talking to the press. While his actions were ill-advised considering his marital status (and were no doubt embarrassing),Ellefson became a sympathetic figure when placed against the man who dismissed him, MEGADETH leader Dave Mustaine. The two have since traded volleys in the press, with Mustaine also going as far as to replace all of Ellefson's bass tracks on the band's latest album, 2022's "The Sick, The Dying... And The Dead!" Conversely, Ellefson has not held back in his characterizations and criticisms of Mustaine, a surprising tactic considering his reputation as the perpetual second banana while in MEGADETH.
The MEGADETH saga will continue for Ellefson as long as he's asked about MEGADETH and continues to play MEGADETH songs in KINGS OF THRASH with ex-MEGADETH guitarist Jeff Young. Yet the bassist has quite a few other things going on, including hard rock band THE LUCID and his latest and perhaps most surprising venture, the extreme metal band DIETH. The band's hefty and enjoyable "To Hell And Back" debut finds Ellefson embedded as a full member and songwriting partner, something he didn't have when he rejoined MEGADETH in 2010. It was just one of the many topics on hand when Ellefson connected with BLABBERMOUTH.NET.
Blabbermouth: You've always been active in or out of MEGADETH. What are your requirements now to take on a project?
David: "I set the benchmark some years back of music I like with people I like. It starts there. 'Do I even like this?' Whether it's going to be successful, who knows? The other thing is that they are all 'projects' until they get legs and turn into something. MEGADETH and 'Killing Is My Business […And Business Is Good!]' was just a project until the phone rang and Capitol Records got involved. Even then, we were album to album. We'd be pushed out to the sea if we didn't sell enough albums. Fortunately, MEGADETH sold enough records to justify them giving us another. For a while, we didn't have an A&R guy other than a guy taking us out to dinner, which they charged back to us. [Laughs] At some point, you make your own way. We're not in the music business. We're in the entertainment business. Our job is to entertain you and at some point, you entertain us back. It's a mutually reciprocating process. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: Do you feel liberated now?
David: "Every band has its roles. You have to fit inside that role or you're not part of the band. I knew that in every band I've been in. Mostly I've formed every band I've been in, except for working with Max Cavalera [in SOULFLY] and writing stuff with Al Jourgensen from MINISTRY. I've essentially been an originator, founder and creator of every band I've been in. I always say, 'Always for a reason, but sometimes only for a season' these bands exist. The ultimate outcome and success of it are really far beyond your control. You can control some things from within, like craziness and chaos in a band or friendship and fun in a band, which is better — hopefully making music that people want to listen to. We know because it's the entertainment business. It isn't just about how good your music is or how good you sing it. It's about charisma. Does it rock your world? I just heard 'Ballroom Blitz' [SWEET] on the radio. I was ten years old when I was on the school bus and heard it. I go, 'I want to do that.' The guitar sounded cool; the singing was awesome. That was a land, far, far away. Then when I heard KISS, it continued the narrative. That's what rock and roll has always been for me. It's a land far, far away. Take me over there. That's where I want to hang out."
Blabbermouth: So, has your second post-MEGADETH career been more enjoyable than the first after the band split up in 2002?
David: "For sure. That first era taught me how to do this era. That was the first act. This is the second act. I love the Jason Newsted [ex-METALLICA bassist] analogy: 'The fist packs a more powerful punch than four individual fingers.' You're united. I always said it because [former MEGADETH drummer] Nick Menza hated leaving home. When we got on the road, he wanted to be home. I always told Nick, 'When you're home, you want to be on the road. When you're on the road, you want to be home.' I told him, 'You never know if this will be the last time we go to Europe or Japan. We're a fucking rock band. We're in a real rock band that has this lunacy. Who the fuck knows when this will blow up?' NIRVANA shows up and no one wants to listen to heavy metal. I always had that approach and I guess when I got cleaned up and sober helped me have more gratitude for every day I got to walk on a stage and play music. Somehow I paid my mortgage. [Laughs] The difference in this second act is when I returned to MEGADETH, my friend Dale Steele, the singer of F5, I told those guys, 'I know you want a big record deal because you've been in a room with a rock star, you think a tour bus will show up and you'll be whisked off to fame and fortune. Get your mind to reality. Who knows what this will be?' My friend Dale, it was February 5 or 8, 2010. I saw him on a Monday night. I said, 'Did you see the press release that I rejoined MEGADETH?' He looked me in the eye and instead of being gushy-eyed and congratulatory, he said, 'Good. Now be ready for when it ends the second time because you weren't ready the first.' That was probably some of the best friend advice I ever got. It was a slap in the face. Like, 'Hey dude. You know this isn't going to last. You're jumping on the Titanic. You're going to hit an iceberg. When you get on the boat this time, make sure you know where your life raft is.' It will be something other than that if you're under any delusion. You're an idiot. Then it was, 'Hey, enjoy the journey. Be present. But don't be stupid. Don't be a fool and think it will be any different because it won't be. Find your joy. Find your happiness.' Look, I lasted another 11 years. Then I had to jump in my lifeboat one day. When it ended, I wasn't bitter. I didn't fight my way out of the door. I thought, 'I'm not in the band anymore? Bye. Bye, Felicia.' I sailed onto the shore and moved on to the next thing. As always, when I returned, I learned that I wouldn't put my eggs into one basket. Why would I? That would be foolish. I knew it could end at any time. It did once. It will happen again. Get your ballast and land legs under things. That's why I did other things like the label, coffee and books. It worked in concert with the rock-star life I had over here. I can do business and other things over here and have fun with my friends. I think it all worked out. The problem is I got a little too famous and too much press. That didn't go too well on the home front."
Blabbermouth: You've handled it well. But it's also ironic now: You're the caretaker of MEGADETH's legacy. It doesn't seem like certain people are interested in Nick, Jeff Young or Chris Poland's era.
David: "Even Dave always called me the 'diplomat' and 'ambassador.' Dave's mission was always to push MEGADETH forward. That was his role. At some point, I was the guy that had to make sure the family stayed together at the reunion. The long-distant cousins and uncles are still part of the family. We exist today and many bills are paid, including my own, from the work we did in the yesteryears. We're lucky that we're one of the very few bands in the history of the world that has this rich legacy. We had these incredible musicians, this charisma around the whole thing. I'm no longer a performer in MEGADETH but I will always be part of it. Rather than throw rocks at it and talk shit, I embrace it and hail it. 'I hope your tour is great.' Meanwhile, me and Jeff are going to Australia to play 'So Far, So Good […So What?]'. You guys aren't or don't want to. It's not on your menu. Fuck it. People want to hear it, so let's do it. Everybody wins."
Blabbermouth: MEGADETH will never play "502" or "Liar" again.
David: "Exactly. It's not done out of disrespect. I'm not going to play [recent MEGADETH song] 'We'll Be Back'. [Laughs] I recorded it once. I'm not going to play it again. It's a very unique situation and the world isn't going to let it go dark on me. In every interview I do, somebody always wants to talk about it. I bring up MEGADETH with fond memories. It's part of my life story. It's part of our history. I think it's better to be celebrated and honored respectfully than everybody fighting over it. I hate seeing that. Our fans don't want to see it. We're like their superheroes. They don't want to see their superheroes fighting. They want to see us swashbuckling and taking down the bad guys together."
Blabbermouth: You are part of the DIETH songwriting team. How many of your ideas were used on the new album? And, was it refreshing since you felt Mustaine didn't value your songwriting contributions?
David: "The reasons my songs didn't get used on MEGADETH albums had nothing to do with my songwriting. It was about someone not wanting them to be there. Whatever. Go rock on with your new album and do your thing. Meanwhile, I'm going to be here doing five other albums. It's not about the success, like, 'Who charted at the top?' I was working on some lyrics with KINGS OF THRASH. Those guys are coming out here this week and we will work on the new tunes we started while on the road. The fun of it is creating and putting words to music and a story into the timeline of a song. I knew in MEGADETH that my role was the best-supporting actor to his [Mustaine's] lead. He made sure that everyone knew it by calling me 'Junior'. You're like, 'This is going to be a long fucking journey, but I'm in. Let's go.' I knew what I was dealing with. I'm not stupid. You go along with it, which showed I have a pretty good aptitude. At some point, it's not what I want to do anymore. I'm not even looking for a new band. The phone is ringing, and people are calling me. Whether it's Drew [Fortier] calling me about THE LUCID or Guilherme [Miranda, DIETH] sending me these songs and asking if I wanted to play bass, these things come to me. People are super excited. I'm not going to lie: When you've been in a knocked-down position for so many years and decades, it honors that within you that, 'Yeah, you do matter.' Everybody likes an atta boy. I'm not above that. At some point, I already knew that. I found that when I was doing F5 back in 2003. I had a cassette tape with leftover songs from [MEGADETH's] 'Countdown To Extinction' that I took into F5 with a different tuning, younger guys and fresh ears. I sent over a folder and riffs as I came into Guilherme and Michał [Łysejko] for DIETH. A bunch of shit I submitted to Dave that he didn't want to use. He kept going, 'These are great riffs. I will definitely use these somewhere. These are awesome.' I sent them to Guilherme and he said, 'This is good shit.'"
Blabbermouth: Have you considered a third book based on what happened with MEGADETH?
David: "I always said it would be a trilogy: 'My Life With Deth', 'More Life With Deth' and 'My Life After Deth'. [Laughs] 'My Life After Deth' is on the back burner right now. I need to live some life before I do that. It may not even be called that. Who knows? There are these journeys in our lives. This is a new one right now. I don't know."
Blabbermouth: What's next for KINGS OF THRASH?
David: "We got the dates in Australia. We will continue playing 'Killing Is My Business' and 'So Far, So Good'. That setlist will modify as we move forward. These original songs— we were playing one, 'Bridges Burned'. That originated from Jeff's riffs from '88 or '89 when he was still in the band. That's why we gave it so much attention. Much like we took the 'Peace Sells […But Who's Buying?'] album out on tour before we recorded it in '86, we did a little three-week tour up the East Coast. It's a great way to try out songs. Even in the age of YouTube, after we finish it, it will sound different. We did it and said, 'Fuck it. Let's go old-school.' Jeff is big on analog. He says we're analog people. The music needs to be analog. That's why digital doesn't resonate. With the ones and zeroes of digital and AI, you still have to hand AI something to work with. It doesn't do something on nothing. That's the motif of it. I hear a little bit of VAN HALEN in it. Even though we're 'KINGS OF THRASH', the name wasn't to honor me and Jeff as 'kings of thrash,' but to honor the music. That's where the name came up. The studio experience that we're going to have, I'm really excited. Once you go into the studio, no matter what your intention is walking in, the studio has a way of changing you. It has a way of raising the bar. You come out of it a very different and almost always better band than when you went in."