Intervista Megadeth (David Ellefson)

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Intervista Megadeth (David Ellefson)
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Hi David, how are you?

I’m pretty good, thanks, how are you?

I’m good, thanks.
Let’s get to our interview, my first question is, I've got to ask you this, I've seen Megadeth once a year since 2010, in the meanwhile you also released 3 studio albums, 3 live, remasters and so on. How do you keep up with such a busy schedule? Don't you ever feel like slowing down?

No, no, I mean, Megadeth…we are a band of intensity, you know, and I think that we don’t like to just sit around and do nothing, we’d rather be productive and be working on things, there are days when we wake up and think on what we can do to make Megadeth better and make do fun things for our fans and I think what you just mentioned, our discography is the outcome of that hard intention, you know?

Taking about how busy you are touring, we must add that you tour a lot in Asia, something that not many bands do. Can you do a little comparison of that crowd and the European and the American ones?

Well, what I noticed in Asia is…Rock N’ Roll is very new over there, China for instance, they’ve only known the electric guitar for about maybe the last 15 years, right?
So imagine that, no Hendrix, there’s no Bo Diddley and all the old greats so their introduction to the electric guitar is very recent [laughs].
America has that kind of been there, done that, seen it all, Americans like celebrity, you know, often celebrity without substance so they like, the new rock stars now are the Facebook titans, the tech giants, Uber, CEO, these kind of people, very young, hot shot, ideas, those are the rock stars of America.
In Europe what I see, starting kinda with Russia and coming over this way, is young teenagers, lot of girls, who love Heavy Metal and Rock N’ Roll, which is very much like it was in the Eighties in the United States, right? [Laughs]
There’s this young generation, and I see it every night with these young guys and girls who are just, they love Megadeth, they love Heavy Metal, they love Rock N’ Roll, and it’s, it’s cool to see because we are a band who are now in our 4th decade, you know, so it’s nice to see sort of this 4th generation coming up, because to me that shows there’s a future for what we’re doing.

You're now touring in support of your latest album, "Dystopia", which saw you coming back to a very hard and fast sound. Was this a set decision, "We want this to sound this and that", or is it just the way the music came out?

Well, I think we got a little stuck in this…habit of always writing these sort of radio chorus kinda songs and, look, a great chorus is awesome, I’m not faulting that, but there’s this sort of pattern that we had when we were writing, kinda leftover from the Nineties, from the late Nineties, and it was kinda hard to break this habit and I think, Endgame, I heard it, even though I didn’t play in that record I heard a lot of this much heavier impactful sound to Megadeth and then of course Dystopia, I think it’s exactly the same, you know, is this very heavy complex riffing and that’s what our fans has told us, “That’s what we want” [laughs] you know, “Just do that!”.
So I think at some point as an artist you want to explore, you want to try things, you want to do things and at the same time you also know that our fans really like this small little window of what we do and I think Dystopia was just really…focusing on just…really playing hard and fast and heavy.

The album came out after a period of uncertainty when there was no drummer and lead guitarist in the band; did this influenced the songwriting in your opinion?

For sure, for sure.
Dystopia was about…at least a year of writing, not all at once but over little periods of time, and these songs, from where they started in early 2015 to where they ended up by later 2015, by where they then ended up when we started recording in February and March 2016 [Ed. The album was released in January 2016 so I probably meant 2014 for the writing and 2015 for the recording], waaaay, and especially from when Chris Adler came in and Kiko came in and we knew we had a lineup and a band, from where they [the songs] were in those last troubled weeks to when we finally recorded them it was astonishingly, so progressive and so far ahead of where they were just even a few weeks ago, in 2015.
I think the lineup influenced it, I think there were influential people around us during the recording of the record that really helped us stay on track and make it a really slamming heavy record.

Of course being the bassist you are half of the backbone of the band, the rhythm section; how different was working with Chris Adler compared to with Dirk?

You know, honestly I really didn’t even work with Chris at all, because I came in and played bass to the click track, I was the very first person recorded on that album, so Chris played to me and then Dave played around that so…

It’s quite unusual, isn’t it?

It was very unusual, I don’t know of any record ever in history that’s ever been made like that, so…unfortunately I didn’t get to play with Chris until we went on tour, like a year later [laughs].

And from a live point of view is it any different playing with Chris or Dirk?

Yeah, I mean, Chris is a great drummer, he’s a younger drummer so he hears things [differently] but he obviously got his own style, his own charisma and so to hear Megadeth’s songs through his mind, the mind of a young person…

The mind of a fan as well.

Yeah, exactly, and hearing from a fan as well as his own, I mean, he’s a celebrity, an accomplished drummer, it was fun!
And again he’s a friend, so it was fun to play with him aaand…then when Dirk came in, you know, Dirk is very much a precision professional, he came in, he had charts, he’s a very skilled player, and he’s the kind of guy who come in one day, rehearse, and he’s on stage the next day to play the show, he’s that good of a player.
We had a drummer like that in the Nineties when Jimmy DeGrasso came in, a very skilled player, so Dirk is a lot like that as well.

I'm curious about the process behind the search for new musicians, how does it work? Do you ask for suggestions to other people or do you just go to bands you like and propose the role to their musicians?

Little bit of both, I mean, you know, obviously we don’t like to peach people out of a band if they’re in a band and they’re happy and they’re doing something, ‘cause that’s…that’s kind of a difficult position to put someone in, at the same time we did have a shortlist of guitar players and drummers to choose from.
Dirk was actually kinda easy because Chris even said, “If I had to pick someone to replace me I would choose Dirk”, so that was kinda easy.
The guitar player was much more difficult, I know a lot of people, I played with a lot of different people in lot of little, you know, ventures if I get asked to write and record and perform from time to time, so I’m pretty well in touch with a lot of musicians out there and Kiko’s name came out and, I had just played with Kiko a few months before he joined the band, so when Dave called me up and said, “Hey, I think Kiko is the guy” I called Kiko and said “Hey, give me a call, your name came up, do you wanna join Megadeth?” and quickly he got back to me, he sent over three songs for us and we just went “That’s it, you’re great, let’s do it!” so…yeah, a bit of both.

This is the first time that Megadeth has a number of non-American musicians; has this affected the band in any way, or is it the same as usual?

I think it makes us stronger in a lot of ways, I think it’s cool because our music is international, we are an international band, we are not a band that says, [mock accent] “Hey we are from Texas and this is who we are, nah nah nah” [laughs] we have this sort of identity in the band, we’ve formed in California, me and Dave don’t live in California anymore but Kiko and Dirk do, which is kind of ironic.

Oh, I didn’t know that, I thought they lived in Brazil and Belgium.

No, no, I mean, well, Kiko lives between Brazil, Finland and L.A., and Dirk lives in L.A., he sees his family in Belgium where he’s from, you know.
I like it, I think it brings a multifaceted cultural dynamic to the band that is cool, because we play all over the word…we’ve got a lot of languages going on in the band and also it brings a little kind of different points of view into the band.

One of the latest "big things" for Megadeth was the Boot Camp, something quite unique, I can't think of any other artist ever doing something like this before; how did the idea came out?

Well, we talked about doing a camp when we were doing our last American tour in 2016 and…I’ve done a lot of them, I’ve done the Rock N’ Roll Fantasy Camp, I did the Dream Theater, no, the Winery Dogs camp when Portnoy asked me to be a part of that, very different concepts so we wanted to create something that was our own kinda taking from, you know, we have a lot of musicians in the Megadeth’s fanbase, we wanted to have unique fan experiences with the beer, the coffee and…making something personal kinda like you’re hanging out with us, like being part of Dave, David, Kiko and Dirk’s day to day life over the course of a weekend.
So I think we created a really unique fan experience.

I remember reading some tweet by Dave about some plans you had with Killing is My Business, can you tell me something more about it?

Yeah, there’s a remix remaster that’s all ready to go, I don’t think we made an announcement about it yet, but we are looking to launch it very shortly, I was hearing September, so I don’t know if that’s the official date now, but…
Yeah, it’s cool because, you know, that album has been one of these cold classics that’s sort of come along and, you know, just being continually growing and now more than ever with these young fans, they want to go back and hear Killing is My Business, it’s so strange [laughs] very cool.

A few years ago Dave had neck surgery which caused him some vocal problem. If I'm not mistaken as a consequence you downtuned your instruments live…

Yeah, and part of it is, well, look, if you go back and listen to some of these early records, “Killing is My Business”, the singing is VERY high and if you even watch interviews about us on YouTube it’s [makes a high pitched voice] “Hey, we are talking like this, la la la”, you know?
And now our voices are [makes a low pitched voice] down here [laughs], so it’s just natural with age, for singers it can be a struggle, so rather than quit, than not play, how do you work it around? Well, let’s drop the guitars, let’s find a way to work around it, you know?
And there’s a lot of songs that we talk about playing , and sometimes if they’re in a vocal range that’s too far out we, rather than play it and not play it well and properly we sometimes forgo that, but I think we have a really good strong setlist right now that has a good variety of all, everything from “Killing is My Business” all the way up to “Dystopia”.

Oh, you’re playing stuff from “Killing” as well?

Yeah, randomly we throw it in, more and more all the time.

Back to my question, what I wanted to ask you is, have you ever considered the possibility of hiring a new singer instead of dropping the tuning?

No, because of the way Dave became the singer; we were looking for singers and, you know, L.A. in 1983, the Sunset Strip and no one had it!
So one day, one night a guy doesn’t show up to rehearsal, it was New Year’s Eve, 1983, Dave just walks up to the mic, sets the notebook up and starts trying to sing and play, I don’t know, “Chosen Ones” or something, and we play it and it was like “That was fucking awesome man!” and Dave is almost passed out because he wasn’t breathing properly, but I said “Dude, you should sing, you should be the guy”, he goes, “Really?”, and I said, “Yeah! No one’s gonna sing the lyrics off that page the way you intended them from a writer’s point of view, from the way you feel them in your heart”.
And, I tell you, it was a really interesting moment for me as a musician to really understand what being a vocalist in a Rock band is about; it’s really about portraying and parlaying the charisma of the words on the page.
It’s not about how great of a singer you are, it’s really about when you say it, does your audience believe it?
And I think with Megadeth, Dave, when he sings the audience believes him.

In recent years Megadeth frequently got online criticism in for what often are misinterpretation of your words during interviews, maybe based on headlines without even reading your actual words; has it caused you to be more cautious while answering or you are unaffected by it?

No, not really.
I mean, you know, look, with internet forums people can just open up and talk shit about you, you know, those kind of sites and those kind of people that go to those sites to hide behind  keyboards and their phone to fire bullets at you, they would NEVER say that to you face to face.
That same person if you walk in the room would be “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, can I have an autograph”.
Look, if you really mean it say it to our face, you know? That’s my attitude with it and, again, as an artist you can’t be everything to everybody and you’re never gonna make everybody happy, so you may as well just be who you are, and that’s really the spirit of Megadeth, just be who you are, for both us and for our fans.

A couple of years ago you founded a record label, EMP Record Label; what is your role in it, do you personally listen to the band you sign?

I do, I have an operations manager, an A&R staff, we have a publicity staff, a radio department, we have all the components of a label.
I admittedly am not the A&R staff, the scout that go out to find new bands, that’s a real skill and is, in a lot of ways, a lost art, you know, these guys who would discover…you know, if you watch these movies, now on HBO there’s something called “The Defiant Ones” about Jimmy Iovine and his work with Tom Petty, the rappers, Stevie Nicks, you know, these great artists and going on watching it there’s even Michael Alago who signed Metallica and was also recording Megadeth at one point.
A&R, discovering artists, really seeing who they are and where they can go and taking them there is a real skill.
I’m doing it with a group called Doll Skin right now, that’s the one group that I’m very much A&R, management…I’m like Motown with them, I’m like Berry Gordy, every step on the way, really my hands are on that and I’m very much a part of that.
We signed some great bands, we’ve just signed Autograph, we’ve signed Mark Slaughter, Doyle, Motograter, some other artists that have already had careers and it’s interesting to work with them because a lot of times they’re putting out new records often built on careers, like Megadeth, from many years ago, 20, 30 years ago, and that’s an interesting dynamic to see their fans engage, respond and being excited about these new records.
My partner Tom, he’s the hearth and soul of the operations of the label, I mean, he really has great instincts, but he and I talk every day, it’s as if we’re sitting next to each other in an office, no matter where I am in the world, we talk at least once, sometimes several times a day.
I’m not an outside hand-off owner, I’m very much hands-on.

Talking about new bands, not only the ones you signed, is there any young bands you're excited about?

You know, it’s funny, Dirk has a group which we just signed, he’s managing, called Chronus, out of Sweden, I’ve just seen their new video and they are exceptionally good, great songs, great hooks, great players, well written, you know, I love the Scandinavians because there’s something about how they in general take music and do something slightly different with it, I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, I don’t know if it’s a classical education, sometimes it’s keyboards, you know what I mean? It’s the dynamic that they have that I really appreciate.

And I think that demographically they are like the countries with the most bands in the world.

Isn’t that amazing?
They have an incredible creative output [laughs] so, yeah, this band, Chronus, is really…I’m blown away.
I like melody, I like great playing, I like great melody, I like a storyline you can follow and I like bands that look like bands, that look like they’re together, that look like they’re on a mission together, to me that’s all part of that, and that’s what I see when I look at Doll Skin: as young as they were they had that, that’s fucking awesome.
Chronus is like that, you know…Mike Portnoy’s son, Max Portnoy’s band, Next to None

I was just about to mention them, I interviewed them last month and they told me they were about to tour with Doll Skin.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, they are a great band, I’ve watched them rehearse at Mike’s basement, when we were working on the Metal Allegiance’s record, I walked in and they were jamming and rehearsing and then two years later seeing how good they’ve gotten, I mean, Max is…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Max is an INCREDIBLE drummer and is such a cool guy, he’s a humble, sweet, mellow kid and he’s an animal on the drums.

Megadeth have always been an extremely productive band with an almost constant schedule of a new album every 2 years; are you already working on new ideas?

We are, we are, we’re definitely starting on it, we’re talking about it as well.
That’s a lot of what me and Kiko are talking about, he goes, “I love talking about the new album”, that’s part of the excitement because it sets out the concept, you’re visualizing it and that’s how Megadeth started, we were a vision before we were even a band and it’s cool that we’re are in that phase now with the next album.

That’s was my last question, thank a lot David!

That’s cool man, awesome.

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