The Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival had a powerful line up of bands, which consisted of metal groups from the 80s, 90s and the 2000s. You could travel across generations of metal music by simply changing from one stage to another. The founding fathers at Mayhem would be the guys of Megadeth. The American heavy metal band from Los Angeles, California formed in 1983 and has since then put out album after album. Let’s just put some Megadeth calculations out there for you ShockYa readers, so you get just how influential the band has been on the path of metal music. The quartet has released 12 albums, sold over 30 million albums worldwide, with five consecutive albums being certified platinum or multi-platinum in the US and has also been nominated nine times for the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance. The numerical achievements won’t even stop there for Megadeth, as we are quite confident that those of their upcoming album, Thirteen, will add to the list.
Before Megadeth came to Mayhem, the group joined forces with the other founding fathers, Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax, on the UK stage at the Sonisphere festival. Unfortunately, we were not able to catch that iconic performance, but we were able to talk with Megadeth’s bassist and backing vocalist, Dave Ellefson at the Mayhem Festival in Holmdel, New Jersey on July 27th. We were happy to settle for that. Ellefson has decades of musical knowledge and it was truly an honor to chat briefly with him.
He has had countless experiences as a member of Megadeth and can recall them as if they were yesterday. Check out our interview below with the legendary musician and remember to take each prized moment in your life as humbly as Ellefson has.
You guys just played as the big four at the Sonisphere Festival in the UK. How’d the show go?
Fantastic! To me, the big four is like our family reunion for us and for our fans, more than anything. It’s exciting leading up to the Yankee Stadium show that’s coming up September 14th. It’s so big you got to put it in a baseball stadium.
You guys tour in so many different places. How does each show stand out?
Ya, I know what you mean. Sometimes the venues can start to look the same. Fortunately, they don’t all look the same. We’ve been doing this long enough now. We’ve got special memories it seems like from every city, Dave and I especially. We are like “Ah man, remember when we were here in 1998….”
Any specific stories?
Well, I gotta be careful about that. Names are changed to protect the guilty right?
Are you guys bonding with the other bands on the Mayhem tour?
Sure! There are a few of these bands that have been out on tour with us before. In fact, it’s funny, Godsmack, we took out on tour with us in 1999. We did Woodstock together with them. Disturbed, we never played with before. The Trivium guys are excited to play with us. I think they grew up big Megadeth fans.
Do you guys feel like role models to these bands?
To some degree yah, most definitely. We got in the game a few years before most of these bands and a lot of them grew up with our posters on their wall and learned how to play guitar to our records. So, it’s fun, but at the same time it’s nice that they learned from us, but aren’t doing what we’re doing. They created something new for their generation and to me that means there is a future for heavy metal.
How do you think the course of heavy metal has changed since when you first started out?
As thrash metal, we were the rowdiest, most dangerous thing out there and since then, of course, a lot of stuff has come around, like Slipknot, new metal stuff like what Godsmack and Distrubed are doing with modern metal. The hardcore stuff going on with Kingdom of Sorrow and a lot of that kind of stuff, so it transitions. You know what I like hearing though? Some of the side stage bands over there, like Red Fang and Straight Line Stitch. It’s cool to hear a female singer.
Ya, I got to interview her. She’s great!
Awesome! She’s great. You can tell she really has got a presence as a leader. You know for the new generation, Red Fang kind of reminds me of a throwback to Corrosion of Conformity. So, it’s nice to hear there is a good variety of stuff out there.
You guys have a new album coming out, 13. Can you tell me a little bit about that album
13th studio album and there is the likelihood it will have 13 songs on it. That’s to be determined at this point, but we got a lot of great songs. Everyday we are hearing new mixes coming in to approve. It’s going to be a great record.
How many tracks do you have so far for the album?
We’ve got 13 in the can plus we have some live songs. The reason you have to do that in this day and age is because Japan wants certain songs on their release that can’t be found anywhere else. They know their record buyers over there are buying them on import. We try to specialize and cater releases to special territories around the world so that they feel that they are getting something special.
Has the recording process been the same for this album as the others?
Everyone changes. With this record what was kind of funny about it is that we recorded it between tours, which we’ve never really done. Usually you put out an album and tour for 12 to 19 months. Then you know you are coming off the road and going to have some downtime and write and record a new album. Sometimes that’s like a year. Well, with Megadeth right now, there are so many touring offers coming our way that we would be foolish to say no to them and shut everything down to make a record. So, we thought well, here is a little ten week window and we’ll go in and make an album. It literally took us 10 weeks to go in and write and record an album.
What do you do on your downtown when you aren’t recording or touring? Or even right before you go on stage at Mayhem?
Well, you know it’s interesting. Everyday is a little bit different, but generally like today, we show up here and sometimes it’s busy like today because we are by New York and there is a lot of press, like yourself here, media people, which we like to talk to. Get in, shower, have something to eat and kind of refresh then press the reset button. We always have a fan club meet and greet. We do something special for our fan club members everyday at every show. Then we go into our lockdown mode for about two hours before the show. We go through a real strict regiment of vocal warm up, warming up our instruments and playing and everything. Then we step into the telephone booth and come out as the mega man. Right? Then we hit the stage and do our things. When you travel to places, it’s easy to get distracted, so that strict regiment keeps us together. Now off the road, we go on vacation. We kind of do almost anything other than deal with music, so that you feel fresh when you go back again.
When you guys go on stage, do you have any good luck rituals that you do?
We say a couple of prayers. A few of us and the band rally around and have quiet prayer time. Then we do the band and our immediate touring entourage people. We get together and kind of do a little huddle and give a little thanks. If there is anything on the horizon, we’ll ask a little prayer for that and that’s just good. Those are the moments that I think cement everybody together.
Even though this is your thirteenth album, do you still get nervous about how fans will respond to it?
You get a little excited and you never know how people will respond to it. I think with this new album, in particular, is feeling much more like our early records, which was us writing songs that we liked that and we made albums we liked. It seemed like if we liked them, all of a sudden a million other people liked them. So rather than second guessing yourself and going, well I don’t know maybe we should make an album like this because modern music says…. I think chasing trends is the kiss of death.
Stick to your own sound right?
Yah, just do what you do.
How do you think this upcoming album will fit in with where metal music is now?
That’s a good question because it definitely sounds like a Megadeth record, but we’re not a hardcore band you know? We don’t do those singing styles. It’s a melodic type of singing that we do. The guitar playing is off the hook. I think, most importantly, we try to just write really great songs. I notice, even with the big four, that when we come out and play our set, our songs to me sound very fresh, like they just came out. They don’t sound like we wrote them 25 years ago and that’s something that not everybody has that gift or that luxury, where all of a sudden you hear something and you’re like ‘Oh, I remember this. It sounds like 1986.’ I don’t think our music sounds 1986; it still sounds very current.
Your fans cross through generations. How does that feel knowing your music has affected that many people and will continue to be remembered ?
It’s pretty cool. Again, I think it comes back to a great song, whether it’s “Hotel California” or a Led Zeppelin tune, whatever it is. A great song is a great song. When you hear it on the radio you go, ‘Wow, that’s an awesome song.’ It’s cool that Megadeth after all these years fits in that category. You know? Young kids are here. Sometimes our fans have grown up and now they are bringing their kids. To some degree, it’s funny that games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band and stuff have helped introduce our material to a whole different bunch of younger people.
Do you try to play those games?
I am terrible at it. I am much better at really playing them then I am at trying to play them on a guitar control.
Ever gotten any crazy gifts from a fan?
Oh ya. Here is probably the craziest one. Dave and I used to share an apartment in Hollywood years ago. One day, we hear a ringer on the intercom and we go, ‘Who is this?’ and it’s this Japanese girl. We look down and she’s standing at our door with a 6 pack of beer and so we let her up. I got down and met her and she has this picture of me that she took when we were on tour in Japan. She took a picture of my bag over my shoulder and it had my address on it. So, she flew over to LA, stayed at the Hyatt in Sunset and took a bus over to where we lived. This is way pre-google, where you can just google everybody. This was like 1987, maybe 1988. She found where we lived and she was kind enough to bring us a 6 pack of beer, very hospitable of her. To come all the way over from Japan….So I guess the gift out of that one was a 6 pack of beer. [Laugh].
That’s a great story!
Isn’t that cool? Talk about dedication.
What are Megadeth plans after Mayhem?
After Mayhem, we have the one big four show in Yankee Stadium, September 14th. The album will come out late October, early November and then we go to South America for about three weeks and do a big live Latin America tour.
Any news about 13 that people don’t know yet?
Well, we are playing one song live on this tour called, “Public Enemy No. 1”, and that’s just one sliver of what the album is going to sound like, but it’s also a pretty good indication. It’s heavy; it’s got some fast stuff; it’s got some slow stuff; it’s melodic; it’s got good hooks.
How’s the crowd responding to it?
They love it, which is hard because when you play a song people haven’t heard before they sometimes go into listening mode, which they do. But there are also good parts to it to rock out. It’s one of those songs that’s a good first listen song because with the first listen, you start to engage and really get it.
How long do you see yourself being in the music world for?
I ask myself, ‘What else am I going to do?’ I don’t want to do anything else. So, I hope I keep doing it forever.
by Lonnie Nemiroff