Megadeth Bassist David Ellefson on His Youth Music Foundation + More – Interview

2020-06-16

David Ellefson of Megadeth – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Melody Myers

David Ellefson of Megadeth joins Anne Erickson to talk about his David Ellefson Youth Music Foundation, the new Megadeth album and more in this in-depth interview

As the bass player for Grammy Award-winning heavy metal band Megadeth, Ellefson has performed on the biggest stages across the world. He has shared the bill with Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and countless other big names.

What’s extra special is that Ellefson uses his platform as a successful musician to help others. His David Ellefson Youth Music Foundation helps children in rural areas and beyond get the tools they need to learn about music.

Ellefson spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio about his foundation, the upcoming Megadeth album, how he’s been doing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and his faith. Read the interview below, and listen to the full chat via the Audio Ink podcast on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: Great to chat with you, David. One really cool thing you’re involved with is the David Ellefson Youth Music Foundation. Tell me about that and why you wanted to launch this foundation.

David Ellefson: We started the foundation with the focus being on helping support music programs, in particular, in the rural areas. Ironically, right as we turned into 2020, my business partner Thom Hazaert and I were talking about how we wanted to make this year a year we could put some attention on the foundation, and little would we know in mid-March, the idea presented itself to us, which was the School’s Out initiative.

Thom hit me one day, and said, “Schools are shutting down, tours are being canceled. We’re all locked down indefinitely. Why don’t you start giving bass lessons online? That phone call spit-balled, and within 48 hours, we had the School’s Out initiative to give free music lessons to students across the U.S. who were out of school because of the COVID-19 shutdown. Within a day, we had 200 entries. Within a month, we had 1,000 entries, and we started giving the lessons. I hit up my friend, Kiko (Loureiro) of Megadeath, Nita Strauss of Alice Cooper’s band, Bumblefoot. I just started calling all of my friends and hit everybody and said, “Would you be able to donate a couple lessons to students?” So, that’s how it all started.

Let’s talk about coronavirus. How have you been doing and what have you been up to on quarantine? 

In our industry, because we got hit first and are probably going to be one of the longest to recover, in the live music sector, it’s been devastating to our business. Yet, on other sides of the business, musical instruments are selling, home recording equipment is selling, digital music sales are spiking, because everybody is at home. The beauty of it is everybody reaching for their instruments and being creative, and I always say kind of like nine months after the Super Bowl, you have the Super Bowl babies, I think we’re going to have a bunch of Covid albums and songs coming out about nine months from now, because people are going to be sitting around working on stuff. Probably not that long! Probably within a week. (Laughs) There’s this huge thrust of creativity that’s coming from that, and to me, that’s the power of music and how it stirs the human spirit and how it connects the human spirit, because we want to be connected. When we’re told we have to go home and can’t hang out, it’s like being grounded when we were kids. Now we’ve been told that we have to be home, but for good reason. But, that doesn’t stop the creative spirit, and I think that’s the beauty of what has come out of this.

You recently covered the Post Malone track “Over Now,” which is awesome. What was the genesis of that idea?

We were in Europe last November doing a solo tour, and Thom brought it up. We had started texting with Post right before “Beerbongs & Bentleys” came out, and said he had a Megadeth tattoo on his arm and other tattoos, and we were like, this guy is a rocker dude. So, we hit him up, and he’s a sweet, lovely guy, and so is his father, and we started chatting. We’re all busy but stayed in touch, and out of nowhere one day, Tom says, “What would you think of doing a cover of ‘Over Now?’ And I said, “I think it’s great.” What I like about it, here’s Post who grew up a metalhead, and then he grew up on my legacy, yet he’s a very current artist, so for us to cover a current song by a legacy artist is the reverse of what you normally do. Usually, the young guy posts some legacy cover… and this was the opposite. I think it’s a nice, fun creative spin on the whole thing that is creates a lot of smiles and a lot of fun for everybody.

Regarding coronavirus, how have things been where you’re based?

Initially, Arizona, where I live here in Scottsdale, was really low impact. It’s beautiful, sunny days every day, the weather is nice, we’re heading into summer now, and we started opening up about a month ago. Now, as of this week, we are now the No. 1 hot spot of spikes in Covid cases reported, and hospitals full, and it’s completely gone the other way. Which is really too bad, because it’s generally been pretty chill here. Look, I go to the grocery store, I wear my mask, I have my gloves, I come home, I throw my clothes in the wash, I take a shower. I definitely am not being slack with it. It is what it is.

I went to Nashville a couple weeks ago and recorded my parts for the new Megadeth album, so we’ve got bass and drums down, so we just decided to pull the trigger and work, because Nashville is kind of the same thing. Tennessee is pretty low impact, so we were able to do that and be productive. I think for me, I don’t watch the news. I stopped getting the newspaper 15 years ago. I really try not to watch the news. The 24 hour news stations are the worst, because they have 24 hours of content they have to fill, they just keep replaying the same story over and over again. So, I just really try to put one foot in front of the other, live a day at the time and just try to be in the moment of things that are put right in front of me that I can actually be productive and do something about. For me, I just try to keep my nose to the grindstone, write, play, record… I have some friends, and stay keep in touch, but I try to really be creative and productive and contribute as best I can during a time when we we really are all having to reinvent our own wheel until we get to the other side of this.

Based on what you’re hearing inside the industry, when do you think concerts will be back?

I was supposed to go to Australia and Japan last month with my solo band, and that’s now pushed back to February and March 2021, and the Megadeth tour that was support to start (last week), The Metal Tour of Year with Megadeth, Lamb of God, Trivium and In Flames, at least the summer leg has been postponed until next year. There’s a leg in the fall, as well, and we’re just taking it as it comes. But at least the summer stuff is certainly pushed back to next year. So, I think there might be some smaller shows. I have some couple of things confirmed and some tentative things for August and September, that have been sitting there. We’ve done a soft announce on it, but not any hard push, because we still have to see how that’s going to go, and those are some dates through the Midwest. At this point, I think we’re all in the same boat, and you have to take it one day at a time, week at a time, month at a time, and you take it as it comes right now.

So, the Megadeth, Lamb of God, Trivium and In Flames tour for the fall is still a go, as of now?

It’s currently on the books, and tickets are on sale, but yes, I think everything is sort of in a holding pattern to see. We didn’t want to just wipe everything clean in the hopeful chance that maybe things might change by then, yet at the same time, we as the bands, Live Nation as the promoter, and certainly the governors of the states and mayors of the cities, nobody is going to let people just walk into a danger zone, either. So, there’s a lot of moving parts to touring right now in a way that it’s never been, so we take it as it comes now.

You mentioned that you got to Nashville to work on the new Megadeth album. What can you tell me about the upcoming Megadeth music?

I can just kind of give you the history. We set the intention to get started on the writing in late 2017 when we wrapped up down in Argentina on tour. We worked a little bit in 2O18. We went out to Europe for a couple of months. Last year was pretty much wiped clean. We had the big tour with Ozzy, and that first got postponed and now canceled, and then Dave went through his throat cancer treatments and fortunately has come through that victoriously. We did keep the MegaCruise on the books last year and went over to Europe with Five Finger Death Punch and Bad Wolves in January and February. So, we’ve had an incredible calendar of amazing stuff, but due to circumstances certainly beyond our control, the majority of it has been wiped off the calendar. So, it’s been a very trying season for tour work with Megadeth.

Fortunately, as far as the creative and the writing and making a new album, that has actually been moving along pretty well, so all is not lost, fortunately. And this is a record that we knew following up on “Dystopia,” this is not something we just wanted to just rush and bang it out and just get back out on the road. This is something that needed time. First of all, you want to make sure the content is stellar. You want to make sure you’ve got something to sing about and a story to tell, because that’s another big part of Megadeth songs. It’s not just sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. There’s always got to be a narrative through the album. So, that’s important and just let that take it’s time. So, ironically, the challenges that we’ve had have actually led to giving us the needed time on the album. So, at this point, we’ve got this year now to be working on the record, which we are, and if all goes as best we can plan, 2021 will hopefully see a new Megadeth record, and we live to fight another day.

After coronavirus is finally behind us, do you think you would ever consider doing another Big Four show with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax, as a big celebration? I mean, I know Slayer is retired, but they might come back for one show.

Yeah, I mean, look– we all would have loved to keep doing more of them. Ultimately, it’s Metallica’s call, because they’re the powers at be that control that. Look, we were grateful just to even do one of them. The fact that they would then keep extending more of them to us for two years was beyond gracious of them. They are the mighty Metallica, and the fact they reached back to us and helped pull us up the mountain to the perch that they sit on was very gracious of them. They did not have to do that. At the same time, it showed, I think, incredible brotherhood between all of us, because we essentially are the four pillars that built the house of thrash metal so many years ago. We’ve all had our own journeys. We’ve all taken different roads to get to the top, and I think what started as competition back in the ’80s just became brotherhood when back in 2010 and 2011 when we were doing the shows together. Look, Slayer is retired, so we have to just let that be what it is. It doesn’t make sense to do the Big Three.

I bet Slayer would come out of retirement for one Big Four show, though.

Who knows? If it’s meant to be, I’m sure the answer is yes. We can put it on our Christmas wish list, let’s put it that way. We’ll see if Santa delivers.

Lastly, I want to talk about your faith, because it’s cool to talk with a fellow metalhead who has faith in a higher power. How has your faith helped you through this coronavirus situation? 

It’s been everything, really, because you realize you’re just a small part of a big wheel. … It’s interesting when you don’t really live a life of faith and then crises happen, you don’t really have much in the tank to draw from. That’s what I was taught years ago. You have to start putting some credits in the spiritual bank, too, not just the financial bank, because there will be certain low spots up ahead, and when they show up, at least you’ll have some reserves in the tank that you can live on. I think that’s huge. We go the gym, and we stay physically fit. We work our jobs, we stay financially healthy. Maybe in relationships, we put our attention into that and stay healthy, but yet somehow our faith walk can easily get kicked to the side. I find as long as it’s the first thing i do in the morning and the last thing I do at night, usually everything in between has a resounding effect of discipline.

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