Peavey Monitor recently conducted an interview with MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Peavey Monitor: The "Rust In Peace 20th Anniversary Tour" is a triumph for MEGADETH, and a very positive thing for you and [MEGADETH mainman Dave] Mustaine. Now that you have a few shows under your belt, what does it feel like?
Ellefson: It's good to be back home. This is something that I always hoped would happen, and when it finally came and I was standing in the rehearsal room playing "Symphony of Destruction", I just looked at Dave with his hair hanging into his face, and it felt like I never left. We're enjoying the second time around the track.
Peavey Monitor: It's been a long time since you've played most of this album, and even longer since you played them with Mustaine. Which songs are the most fun to play, and why?
Ellefson: The big hits like "Symphony" and "Peace Sells" are always fun because the whole building responds. The ones that have been a treat to play on this tour are probably the half of "Rust" we never played before — songs like "Five Magics", "Polaris", and "Poison Was the Cure". There's a freshness that keeps us on our game so we're not going into autopilot mode.
After "Rust In Peace" came out in 1990, we did the Clash of the Titans Tour with SLAYER in Europe, then toured with JUDAS PRIEST and TESTAMENT, and then finished with Clash in the U.S. On any album there are certain songs that come off the stage sounding good, and there are some that sound great on the record and are part of your artistic path you took making the record, but maybe don't translate in the live show. Over the years we honed in on the songs that really resonate live. There were about four, maybe five, that we rotated on a regular basis.
By doing it as a 20-year special performance, now people are coming to the show knowing that's what they're going to hear. So it's a special treat when we get to play it all, in order. This has become the soundtrack for their lives, some of them, so the fans get to see it live, performed the way they've heard it all these years.
Peavey Monitor: Early in MEGADETH's career, you had a reputation for going through multiple producers on every album. "Rust In Peace" was the first one made with one producer consistently through the project. Did that have an affect on the outcome?
Ellefson: Lots of times producers would be recommended by the label. megadeth is a band that always sold enough records that we were guaranteed to make another album. But we were the most misunderstood artists at the label — first, because we were wild, unpredictable and often dangerous. They didn't know how to get their hands around it and develop it. But it's also music that is closely held by the fans, so they were hands-off a lot of times. Mike Clink [producer of "Rust In Peace"] was in between GUNS N' ROSES records, and certainly we thought "Appetite For Destruction" was phenomenal. We thought that if he could do the same with us, it would be phenomenal. But what was more important to Dave and me was that he engineered under producer Ron Nevison on UFO's "Strangers In The Night"!
Mike came to one rehearsal, loved it, and then we went into the studio. We recorded it exactly the way we had rehearsed it. What you hear is the band coming into the studio, throwing up mikes, and hitting "record." So it wasn't really produced at all, in a traditional sense. What Mike helped with was the editing that went on, because of the nature of how we recorded it. That was all with razor blade on two-inch tape, by the way, no Pro Tools! He had a great ear for tone, too, and I think his influence is felt most in those areas.
Peavey Monitor: What was the writing process like?
Ellefson: It's funny, you look back over the career, and every album up through "Rust In Peace" was a landmark record. "Killing Is My Business" was a rough-around-the-edges debut, and then "Peace Sells" really refined it. Then we had the member changes, and it took us time to develop an enhanced MEGADETH sound. The writing of "Rust" started on the "So Far" tour. It was Dave and me the whole time. We started with Chuck [Behler, drummer from 1987-89], and then Nick [Menza, drummer from 1989-98] came in about midway through writing. We wrote it as a three piece. Marty [Friedman, guitarist from 1990-2000]'s influence came with writing solos. Maybe because it was just three of us doing the record, it kept things focused. Then Marty came in and really shined. We were just getting ready to record, like in three or four weeks. Dave played all or most of the rhythm tracks. The rhythm guitar playing really defines the sound, and that's Dave.
Peavey Monitor: Those were the band's darkest days.
Ellefson: It's pretty interesting, because for the entire writing period we were in a very dark place, then managed to get completely clean and sober when we recorded it. You can hear the vibe in the record. There's definitely a lot of piss and vinegar in the sound. You could hear the mood swing in the record. I think by being clean and having our wits about us, that's what made the record as fast and furious as it was. We were basically a raw, exposed nerve.
There were some huge transitions during that period. 1988 was fun and chaotic on the road, and '89 was the black cloud of doom hanging over us. In 1990 we got clean and ferociously blasted through the record. It only took a month to record and a week to mix. Clink had to run and do the "Use Your Illusion" records, so Max Norman came in to mix, which was a godsend because he ended up producing "Countdown to Extinction" and everything through '95.
Read the entire interview from Peavey Monitor.
MEGADETH meet-and-greet/signing session at Chuck Levin's Washington Music Center in Wheaton, Maryland on March 15, 2010: