Interview by Tarja Virmakari
DAVID ELLEFSON has no need for long introductions, as an original member of MEGADETH, credited as one of the thrash metal’s “big four” with Anthrax, Metallica and Slayer. David Ellefson is known for his unique, hard-hitting style of bass playing and unwavering dedication to his musical craft. David has engraved a vast musical hallmark as a bassist, songwriter, record producer, clinician and author. Together with MEGADETH, he has been awarded 10 Grammy nominations, countless gold & platinum records, plus continued recording & world concert tour activity. Ellefson holds a Bachelor’s degree in business marketing and continues to lecture on a variety of music and business related topics. Additionally, David is a prolific author with his titles: “Making Music Your Business… A Guide For Young Musicians”, “UNSUNG Words & Images” and “My Life With Deth”. Among his many accomplishments, Ellefson’s latest triumph is Ellefson Music Productions/EMP Label Group, the record label and production company formed in 2015, with industry exec Thom Hazaert tapped by Ellefson to oversee operations. With a diverse Rock and Metal Roster EMP has quickly become a dominating force in the World of Hard Rock and Metal.
Just a couple of days ago Tarja Virmakari had a pleasure to interview David Ellefson (who is currently on tour with MEGADETH in South America) talking mainly about David’s life outside of stages. Enjoy!
Hi David, first of all, I want to thank-You for your time! I know you are a busy man, both on stage and outside of it! If you agree, I’d like to touch topics mainly about your “off-stage” life. So, let’s start with the past, talking about your earlier years… what was the moment when you and Music met each others? And when did you know that it’s going to be a huge part of your life?
I toyed with music at about age 8, with the typical piano lessons and elementary school band. Those early experiences taught me how to read music and play in an ensemble setting.
But my real music interests started at about age 10 when I heard rock n roll on the radio. Things like KISS, BTO, Ted Nugent and Aerosmith were my real first real interests in hard rock and they got me excited to get a bass and really learn how to play. Those bands made me love music, but just as much showed me what real rock stardom looked like, and I wanted to be in the club from that moment on.
How did you develop your unique, hard-hitting playing style? (watch below David’s “Top 5 Megadeth Bass Riffs” video)
It was born from survival. I couldn’t afford big loud amplifiers at a young age, so I learned that by hitting hard, and eventually playing with a plectrum, gave me a real bright and percussive sound. I always struggled playing in cover bands because while I could play the lines properly, I could never really sound like the original players. What I soon discovered is that I actually had my own style and sound and that became a great asset when we started Megadeth because being an original artist is all about having your own voice, style and sound as a player.
What are your personal influences, and source of inspirations?
My father was an influence on me as a person and he instigated so much wisdom and philosophical insight in my life. So were people like my high school jazz band teacher and even the older high school musicians who I was lucky enough to play with as a young kid.
As far as musical heroes, they were the guys like Tom Peterson of Cheap Trick, Pete Way of UFO and also many other musicians who were not bassists. Guys like Eddie Van Halen, Michael Schenker, Neil Peart, David Lee Roth and so many other great charismatic rock stars all laid a fingerprint on my life as a musician and professional artist.
Talking about the music business, in generally… how do you see it has changed in these years?
The record business is what has changed because of the distribution of sales via the Internet. Also, because we now listen to music on our phones and other devices, not just at home or in our cars, the new services who distribute music have really altered the outlets and the financial outcome as well. I might add, not for the benefit of musicians in most cases, either.
Not so many months ago you launched Ellefson Music Productions (aka EMP Label Group)… was it something you had planned already a long time? or was it due to a necessity to create and offer something new?
For many years people have been encouraging me to take my years of experience into other areas of the industry, like management and a record label. The reason I never did it, was because I didn’t want to go to “the other side”, I wanted to stay on the artist side of the biz instead.
But, last year I took this amazing young female rock group called DOLL SKIN into the studio to produce a few tracks with them. During that process I got the vision and saw a need to mentor them, develop their sound and assist with management services so they wouldn’t get thrown to the wolves of the business and get eaten alive. That’s what led me to create the record label and management company. I saw a great band that needed to really get in the game, regardless of their age, and I was tired of always having to shop my productions to other people in the music business, because you are essentially trying to sell those people on what you already know is worthy! So, I created my own infrastructure to see my ambitions become reality.
From that enthusiasm, my friend Thom Hazaert and I were working on some other things together around the “Shocker” movie sound track, and our interests let to creating the record label. From there, all the rest of it started to fall into place with other people joining the team.
Just recently you and Thom Hazert, with EMP Label Group joined forces with Alpha Omega Management for a two-way partnership… quoting the press release: “ALPHA OMEGA Management enters EMP Label Group creating a new sub-label for upcoming artists, and, furthermore DAVID ELLEFSON and THOM HAZAERT enter ALPHA OMEGA Management, to form a global partnership for management and booking.” This sounds pretty interesting, so please tell me about the next steps what’s going to happen?
Thom was one of the first people to really help me get the EMP record label in place. He has great ears and instincts with records and the record industry. He has also been a huge caveat with management on several other acts we work with on the label. So, to partner with Alpha Omega on a global level is a great fit all around.
More and more these days, we see management companies operating like the record companies used to in the glory days. There are many departments, with many layers of staff who all work with each artist. That same mindset is now being applied with our partnership, especially with us being able to assist Alpha Omega domestically, and just as much with them being able to assist us with our acts internationally. Between us, we have a global reach now with our combined resources and is something we can offer to select acts on the EMP labels as well.
Me as a huge coffee-lover, this next question is a must… not a long ago you founded Ellefson Coffee-brand. Please tell me, how this wonderful tasty adventure got its beginning? And maybe you’ve already new plans and new tasty ideas coming up?
These days, being a musician is as much about letting our fans become one with our lifestyle and personal interests, one of mine being coffee. So, I founded the company and now have two roasts available, with more coming soon. I love how coffee brings people together, just like music does. To me, they are inseparable.
Yet another very important and interesting topic is you as Author! And with this one we’ll step to another side of Life… so far you’ve published 3 books (*Making Music Your Business: A Guide for Young Musicians (1997) – *Unsung – words and images (2012) *My Life with Deth: Discovering Meaning in a Life of Rock & Roll in 2013) …and I would like to talk especially about “My Life With Deth” where you’re sharing your uplifting and empowering memoir about overcoming addiction and dedicating your life to God. To be a Christian is one thing, but to be a Believer has a deeper meaning, which reflects on each aspects of Life.. and Death. I know this is very personal, but would you like to tell me more about this decision? And how it has changed your everyday life?
I’ve been raised as a Christian in the Lutheran church my whole life. I didn’t really have a “born again” experience, as some people do, but rather my story is about drifting from day to day faith because I got involved with drugs and alcohol. That lifestyle also began to derail my dreams and work as a musician by the time I was only 23 years old. So in 1990 I got clean, and through that process it brought me back to a life of faith.
I’m human, I’m not perfect, nor do I profess to have all the answers, but even in a rock n roll band I found that living a clean life has brought a greater sense of purpose in pretty much every way possible.
By the way, talking about Christianity in Metal Music, and especially on its extreme side… What do you think about bands like ANCIENT, with a christian singer, in a genre where nearly all bands are satanic or at least anti- christian? Can it make sense to be a christian in a genre like this? Do you think it’s conflictual or maybe even a blessing?
Not every song written about Satan is satanic. Some of them are just stories. Even for me, when our Thrash metal genre was starting, me and my buddies were always intrigued with the occult because it was dark, macabre and it scared us! We watched movies about it, we wrote songs about it. We touched on many different topics, as did our heroes like Ronnie James Dio, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and so forth. Writing a song can be a historical recounting of a situation, a made up fictional concept, or just fun. It doesn’t always reflect who we are.
Your dear Mother, Frances M. Ellefson was laid to eternal rest last week, my sincere condolences for your loss, David!… I wouldn’t dare to touch this very personal topic, but reading your open messages on your Facebook Page, I understand that your relationship with her was one of a kind! What is the (spiritual) heritage and memories of her that you will always carry in your heart?
Thank you very much. My mother was the quintessential sweet, good Samaritan woman. She was a nurse by trade because she was a nurse in her heart. She always had a kind word, a sweet smile and a gentleness to everything she did. She was a woman of faith and her life is evidence of those beliefs right up to the very final moments here on earth. She is, was and always will be an incredible inspiration to me, and to so many others who were touched by her life.
Living a busy life on many fields, like you do, what are the moments you “unplug” yourself? I mean what is your way to relax your mind?
I love doing music each and every day because that is the gift I was given for my life. So, I don’t see it as a burden, but rather a passion. Most everything I do is based around that.
I also have my family and when I’m not on tour, I unplug to be with them. As much as I’m the father to my children, I’m at an age where they bring so much inspiration to me now. They are the same age as many of our fans now, and to see life through their eyes reminds me of when I was where they are on this journey of life. Its just a continuous circle that is so inspiring.
And last but not least, lets talk about “Dystopia World Tour”… MEGADETH is currently in South America and just recently you announced your North American tour for September visiting 16 states with Amon Amarth, Suicidal Tendencies, Metal Church and Havok. Please tell me how this current tour is proceeding? and what are your expectations on the upcoming South American tour?
Yes, we just started South America and it is so fun down here. The fans are still excited and passionate as ever and it really makes you realize how a song can connect so powerfully with people anywhere. The USA tour will be the final trek for 2016 and I’m really excited about the lineup. It is heavy, but diverse. I think there is something really cool and broad for all the fans to come out and experience this fall.
The last question, and the word is yours… what are your greetings to your fans and Metal Shock Finland readers?
Thank you for your support to me and Megadeth over all the years. You have helped give us all an incredible life, full of such marvelous experiences through music. I hope to see you all next year!
More information at:
http://www.davidellefson.com | https://www.facebook.com/davidellefson | https://www.facebook.com/emplabelgroup | http://www.emplabelgroup.com | https://www.facebook.com/ellefsoncoffeeco | https://www.facebook.com/Megadeth | http://www.megadeth.com | https://www.facebook.com/OfficialAlphaOmegaManagement
Megadeth’s David Ellefson – Top 5 Megadeth Bass Riffs: