DAVID ELLEFSON On METALLICA: 'They're Kind, They're Gracious, They're Cool Guys'
December 2, 2023
In a new interview with Chris McLernon and Jack Trash of the "Plus One: A Rock N Roll Podcast", former MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson spoke about recently celebrating his 59th birthday by attending METALLICA's "No Repeat Weekend" shows at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "We're friends with [the guys in METALLICA]. Of course, we grew up together. My own career is a branch off of the METALLICA family tree. And I love that they say that — the METALLICA family — and when you're there at the show, you feel like you're part of the family."
He continued: "They're kind, they're gracious, they're cool guys. Their whole organization is a well-oiled, huge operation. It's like the Microsoft of metal. And it's run very well. And then, when the lights go down and the show starts, all that goes away and you're just watching — to many, four superheroes; to me, four awesome friends kicking ass, playing great songs, most of which I'm a fan of. And I say 'most', because, you know — I'd say up through 'The Black Album,' for sure. 'Load', 'Reload', I like those records; those records all have good songs on 'em, some couple of great songs. And then after that, look, I was busy doing my own stuff and we all kind of went in separate directions there. But I think 'Hardwired [To Self-Destruct]' is great. That's a super-, super-great record.'
Regarding the marketing campaign surrounding METALLICA's latest album, Ellefson said: "I love the whole look of '72 Seasons', the yellow. You see a billboard in England that they put up on their social media. It's just yellow with a little tail of the 'M' of the [METALLICA] logo. And you know what it is. It's like seeing the Apple logo — you see it and nothing more needs to be said. I just admire that, because like KISS did for us, METALLICA busted through all the big doors and laid the track for our trains to all proceed through."
Ellefson previously talked about going to see METALLICA in a recent interview with the Mike Nelson Show. Asked how the concert was, Ellefson said: "I almost wore my METALLICA shirt today. It's cycled up to the bottom of my — you know the black t-shirt pile we all have? Just cycle down, and you go through the shirts. 'Oh, there's a METALLICA shirt. Maybe I should wear this one today.' I'm not in MEGADETH. I can finally wear my METALLICA shirts again.
"Hey, man, I'm a METALLICA fan," he continued. "I mean, talk about gold standards. They're the one for metal. They have gone on to do the impossible. I mean, really, when you think about it in the touring business, there's Taylor Swift, there's METALLICA, maybe Beyonce, GUNS N' ROSES. And thank God, man, they're at the top. We need them to be at the top, because if they're at the top, that means all boats rise to that level. So we want METALLICA to be fucking Apple computer; we need 'em to be for our genre.
"Look, I thought their show… I think the tour now, the show now, this is the best they've been since The Black Album. I think they sound great, they play great, the song selection is great. So, I'm proud of our boys. I'm happy for 'em, and I think it's great that they're out doing it on the level that they're doing. It's one thing to get to that level, it's a whole other thing to maintain that level, which they've been able to do, which is just fucking awesome."
When interviewer Mike Nelson noted that "it must be crazy" because Ellefson probably didn't think 30 years ago that he would ever go see METALLICA show because of MEGADETH leader Dave Mustaine's acrimonious departure from the heavy metal giants, David countered with: "No, I've always gone to see METALLICA. I remember going with Dave [Mustaine] to see them when they played with — the 'Kill 'Em All For One' [tour] with RAVEN. And they came through and they played the Country Club in L.A. where we lived at the time and seeing them play. I'm going, 'Fuck. Okay. So this is it.' 'Cause my first introduction was [the] 'No Life 'Til Leather' [demo]. And then I remember when the 'Kill 'Em All' album showed up, and me and [early MEGADETH member] Greg Handevidt and Dave sat in the apartment in sheer silence while the record played and Dave listened to it — studied it and just listened to it. It's, like, 'Yeah, I'm just gonna shut up and sit here and listen.' And I liked it. It was interesting how they slowed things down. In fact, I remember when Doc McGhee managed us for a short period at the in 1988. In one of our early meetings with Doc, he said he had an observation, he said, 'You know, METALLICA aren't really that fast. They just give the illusion that they're fast.' I thought, 'That's a good way to put it.' They slowed the tempos down so that it would work in the big arenas, which we eventually did in the '90s as we got up in the big arenas and played that — our tempos slowed down our songwriting style adjusted a bit as well. And the other thing he said, he goes, 'The name METALLICA is actually bigger than the band.' It's kind of like the name transcends. And we see it now — we see actresses wearing RAMONES t shirts and even MEGADETH t-shirts. They probably don't even have a fucking clue who we are, but they wear a t-shirt anyway, because the t-shirt and the logo is iconic.
"So, look, [METALLICA] broke down the barriers, they led the way," Ellefson explained. "I remember when we were recording 'Countdown To Extinction', I went down to go see METALLICA, I think it was, like, five nights at the Forum in L.A. And I went down to go see 'em. And I remember coming back [to the studio] the next day and [producer] Max Norman was, like, [adopts British accent] 'So how was it, mate?' And I said, 'You know what? I'm not gonna lie. It was fucking awesome.' What I couldn't figure out is I looked around this arena… MEGADETH could fill this arena, and then we would then, on 'Countdown', we'd put that many people in a venue. And I'm going, 'How is it that METALLICA have five times as many of these people as we do? What's the connection?' 'Cause it's the same [audience] — it's you and me, right? With our black t-shirts; we're rockers and we're metalheads, right? 'So where are all these fucking fans that go see METALLICA? How come they don't come and see us?' And I remember I was kind of shy about letting Dave know that I went down to go see METALLICA. And I remember Max was, like, 'You should tell him the truth, mate. You should tell them they're fucking amazing. Like, let's fucking go. Let's be as great as METALLICA,' you know? And I was, like, 'Well, you don't have to be in a band every day. You're just making a record with us.'"
Mustaine, who was the original lead guitarist of METALLICA, was dismissed from the band by drummer Lars Ulrich in 1983. He was replaced by Kirk Hammett and went on to form MEGADETH and achieve worldwide success on his own.
This past March, Ellefson told "I Ask No One With Kevin Re LoVullo" that the multi-platinum success of METALLICA's 1991 self-titled album "broke the doors down. METALLICA were always the leader. They broke all the doors down to every obstacle in the way of heavy metal," he said. "To some degree, IRON MAIDEN, before them, had superseded and became an arena act and done this stuff too, so certainly you've gotta give credit to MAIDEN. And even DEF LEPPARD, to some degree, because they started out as just kind of a grungy little heavy metal band out of Sheffield, and then they [went] on to become essentially almost like a pop act, on some level; I mean, they became that big. Those guys — certainly DEF LEPPARD and MAIDEN — deserve credit for sort of carving the initial path to sort of the big-time mainstream path for heavy metal. But then METALLICA came in, and they just fucking [said], 'We're here. We're coming in.' They really broke through every obstacle with MTV and daytime rotation with their videos and just became a household name. And it's cool, because they have 'metal' in their name, so it's not like there's any 'what is this?' It's, like, come on. It says 'metal' right in it. You know what it is. And they didn't clean it up and pretty it up; they just kept it raw and frickin' grungy and in your face, and it was, again, authentic. So, again, the likes of Lemmy [of MOTÖRHEAD], who influenced Lars [Ulrich, METALLICA drummer] and the guys, that inspiration that stayed true, that, 'We don't have to…' I remember with METALLICA, it was always the thing: 'We do our own thing. We don't play by the rules.' And to a large degree, they didn't. And that's, I think, what made it appealing to the fans, because, let's face it, heavy metal is kind of working man's music, and that's why we look to our heroes, because they're, like, 'God, I wish I could my boss to fuck off and just go do that, 'cause these guys can do whatever they want.' That's the message, right?"
Back in September 2020, Ellefson told Detroit's WRIF radio station that he and Mustaine paid close attention to what METALLICA was doing in the early years of MEGADETH's existence. "I mean, look, we are all just a branch off the METALLICA family tree," he explained at the time. "I mean, let's face it. Especially MEGADETH, with Dave being there, and then me being a branch off of Dave with MEGADETH. So, I mean, look, we owe everything to METALLICA. Those guys broke down the doors for every one of us — ANTHRAX, SLAYER. Bands today — LAMB OF GOD, PANTERA — none of this would have happened without METALLICA being up there as the 800-pound gorilla just carving the path through the jungle that would have never let heavy metal in. The stuff that they able to do and the size and the scope of which they were able to break those doors down, it changed all of our lives — as musicians, as fans, as everything. That's why I think when they did the 'Big Four' [shows] with us in 2010 and '11, that was just such a great olive branch."
The former MEGADETH bassist continued: "As Scott Ian [ANTHRAX] said, it's like we're all brothers of the same family, it's just that one of our brothers went off and became Microsoft [laughs], and that was METALLICA. It's, like, how the hell did you do that? That's amazing. You changed the world. But the fact that they came back and, again, offered that olive branch to us and just said, 'Hey, we were all in this together. Let's celebrate what we did together so many years ago.' And I think that speaks volumes to just how cool METALLICA is."
In 2019, Ellefson said that he got Mustaine's "blessing" to audition for the bassist position in METALLICA after Jason Newsted left the band more than two decades ago. David went on to say that he learned how to play some of METALLICA's songs in preparation for what he thought would be an audition with the group but that the opportunity never materialized.
Back in 2011, Mustaine said that he was relieved that Ellefson wasn't invited to join METALLICA after the tragic death of Cliff Burton.
Burton died on tour in 1986 in a tour bus crash, three years after Mustaine was kicked out of METALLICA and went on to form MEGADETH.
The so-called "Big Four" of 1980s thrash metal — METALLICA, MEGADETH, SLAYER and ANTHRAX — played together for the first time in history on June 16, 2010 in front of 81,000 fans at the Sonisphere festival at Bemowo Airport in Warsaw, Poland and shared a bill again for six more shows as part of the Sonisphere series that same year. They reunited again for several dates in 2011, including the last "Big Four" concert, which was held on September 14, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in New York City. Since then, METALLICA, SLAYER and ANTHRAX have played a number of shows together, including the 2013 Soundwave festival in Australia. They also performed at the 2014 Heavy MTL festival in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
A heartfelt thanks to my dear friend Lars Ulrich & the Metallica camp for giving me the wonderful birthday celebration...
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