David Ellefson, a name immediately associated with long-running ginger-led thrashing outfit Megadeth, seems to only have gained for his departued from the band when that imploded in 2002. Ever since, his lower octave skills have been honed, sharpened and displayed over a wide array of albums and bands. Now, he's been kind enough to tell us about his new album with F5, "The Reckoning", and other interesting endeavors.
First of all, how are you doing? I understand you just released F5's second album, how does it feel now that it's finally out?
Interview with: Long running bass-player, producer and thrasher Dave Ellefson
Yes, the new album released here in the USA August 19. The reviews and fans seem to really be diggin' it! I'm glad it's out now because to me, as difficult as it is to create a new band and put out a first album, sometimes getting everything in place to actually do a second album is even more difficult. I think album number two is a good testimony that a band has survived some grueling work together and has matured enough to take the next step creatively.
The feedback and reviews I've read so far have been pretty good, enthusiastic even; does it relieve the tension of releasing a new album? What do you think measures an album truly as a good one or a bad one?
I think we artists always like to get good reviews but I think you're right on this one; the reviews have been very enthusiastic and for me it feels good to know that we are doing something new and fresh, not just rehashing my past or following other people's trends. I always felt that F5 is not only a fresh start for me, but is something current but still true to metal from my past.
What can you say about the album, "The Reckoning", to those who haven't had the chance to hear it yet?
For anyone who knows of my past work I'd say it is similar in ways to "Countdown To Extinction" in that it is heavy, but has some really strong rock songs on it. It also displays some great musicianship and guitar solos, too. Overall, I'd say it's one if Jimmy DeGrasso's best recorded performances, which says a lot considering all the work he's done over the years with various top line artists.
What does F5 stand for? Fantastic Five? Fat Five?
Our former drummer Dave Small came into rehearsal one day after watching a movie about tornados and suggested the name. The F5 being the most deadly and fiercest one of all…it's like a Category 5 type hurricane. He said "they call it The Finger of God", which I really liked! To me, however, the name always represented the 'force of five" guys making some ferocious music together, rather than a tornado.
How did the band start? How did you form your specific sound?
I met most of the guys in 2002 when I went around America doing developmental producing for various bands. One day, Dave Small asked me to stop by guitarist Steve Conley's house to do some jamming as he was putting together a reel to submit for a guitar audition to Halford. This was just after Pat Lachman left that band. Steve had a track I played bass on and that inspired us to get in a room and throw down some music together.
We got in that room and started jamming a few days later, some ideas came together very quickly it just felt great to play together. It was a very fresh, invigorating feeling; something I hadn't felt in many years. It was great to be making music in a new setting where everyone was bringing stuff to the table and really vibing well with each other, rather than any one person dominating the situation with only their music and ideas. That was very rewarding for me and that has made F5 a real passion of mine.
Some bands choose to write their music as individuals writing ideas and then meeting to match 'em, and some choose to jam into the night until they stumble upon their next hit – what method are you more fond of?
For me, I write most of my ideas at home and bring them to the band. I like having some quite time to myself to experiment, especially since most of what I write I do on guitar and in a band room I usually have a bass around my neck, which is a bit of a disadvantage.
From there, those ideas go through our writing process and that turns them into an F5 song; something everyone can feel a part of creating.
Steve Conley writes most of his stuff right there on the spot when we are in the band room and John Davis works a bit more like my process. Dale Steele writes almost all the lyrics and melodies which he often does on the spot or in the studio when he's there to track his vocals. He's very spontaneous and I love that about his contributions to the music.
What were the writing, recording and production process for “The Reckoning” like?
I'd say we have strong group collaboration on the writing. The recording process goes through a very tedious period just prior to the tracking in order to weed out the best of the best songs for our records. Producer Ryan Greene has been very instrumental in that process. Plus, Ryan is a drummer so he really puts the drummers through hell! Overall, he helps capture the power and hi fidelity nature of how F5 plays together, too. He's got a great ear for perfection which is good for our records.
At this point I'd like to go back and talk about your past with Megadeth and how you see it in retrospective.
Well, obviously we did some huge things together over the years and I think the best work we did was when we were united as a team, probably the early to mid 1990's from Rust In Peace through Cryptic Writings.
However, as I look at it now, I think that band was really just a starting point for me creatively. At this point I'm taking all my experiences from those years and building on them as I re-create myself moving forward.
After you left Megadeth it was well known you were in a feud with Dave Mustaine, getting up to the point where you wouldn't mention the band in interviews or on your website. However, in recent years it has become known you've patched things up, so what was the turning point for you? What can you say about your relationship with Mustaine today?
We had some conversations back in 2006 but nothing more has happened
In a previous interview, not too long ago, you said that you'd re-join Megadeth if you were given the chance straight-away. Assuming the next phone call you get suggests it, would you still do it today?
I don't think I said I'd do it "straight-away" but I did leave the door open if it made sense for us to do something again in the future.
What's your take on Megadeth's current material?
Since I'm not part of it, I really don't pay much attention to it now.
Shortly after Megadeth split, you ventured with different bands, such as Temple Of Brutality, Killing Machine, and Avian, some of which you're still a part of today and some were appearances, such as with Necro and Soulfly. Who would you like working with again if you were given the chance?
Temple of Brutality was one of the most fun bands I've ever done. It was so stupidly heavy and brutal it was pure metal! Soulfly are friends of mine and if they needed my help again I'd be happy to work with them. That was a really creative gig and good fun to play in the band live, too. They've all been fun bands to work with in their own
In 2005 the album "From The Depths Of Time", by US power metal band Avian was released, and you took place as a guest player. What was it like doing this type of music, which is much more melody-based than your usual thrashing self?
I was actually the producer of that record when the guitarist Yan wanted to put it together. It spun out into a band after that. At one point I brought in Lance King to sing on it and offered to let him finish the production as I was getting too busy with F5 and Soulfly. I didn't play on the new record but I'm looking forward to hearing it.
I like some of that scene's music but overall I like aggression and music that is a bit more punk attitude in it more than having to concentrate so much on chops, chops, chops. For me, I like a good mosh-pit more than having to "think" about the music. I think that's why Thrash was so fitting for me because in our scene, we all grew up with both Black Sabbath and Sex Pistols records in our collections.
Thrash was really just a fusion of metal and punk.
On the same year you also joined Temple Of Brutality, a by-the-book thrash metal band and released one great album ("Lethal Agenda") so far, so where does the band stand these days?
We haven't done anything with it now for about a year but it would be great to do another album. I know Peter Scheithauer has been busy writing a lot of new stuff but Stet and I have been working with other bands so it's been a bit hard to nail anything down with it.
We'll see if that one lines up again because live that is a very brutal band. It definitely invokes a good pit!
Dream Theater's "Systematic Chaos" album (2007) saw your appearance, this time not on bass, in the song "Repentance" as one of the persons apologizing for what they've wronged – which of the sentences is you speaking? Who was it directed at and why did you choose that particular thing?
I ran into Mike Portnoy at WNAMM 06 and he asked me if I'd do that vocal part, and of course I was honored to participate. I loved his song concept about making amends for our past so I did some good soul searching to come up with my lines for it. It wasn't really directed at anyone in particular but more about the feeling of clearing the air with someone and asking for their forgiveness. That is a very vulnerable place to be and runs contrary to most human nature, which is to want people to do things our way.
Mike has become a good friend of mine and it was cool to participate on something other than a bass track.
You've been playing bass for more than 20 years now, so you've got quite a share of experience. What tips would you give a young metalhead who's just picked up the instrument for his/hers first time?
As a metal head we play the music that we are passionate about, which is great. HOWEVER, do yourself a favor and spend some time learning other music styles and really STUDY your instrument and music in general. Play for the love of the music but know that as you educate yourself, the more opportunities you will have in your career.
Which musicians did you look up to growing up?
I loved Gene Simmons, Geddy Lee, Angus Young, Ace Frehley and a bunch more. I was really into musicians and rock stars, not just bassists.
Albums you're currently listening to and wish to share?
I'm checking out the new Metallica album, new Slipknot and Disturbed, too. I also like bands like Nightwish and Dark Tranquility.
For something completely different I saw Robert Randolph last night, who is this cool blues based steel guitar player, and he was awesome! I love being inspired by out-of-the-box type players like that.
I also just completed the "Rock n Roll Fantasy Camp" tour which exposed me to a whole bunch of other Classic rock, stuff I hadn't played much before. That was a great hands-on education and really expanded my bass playing and signing a lot, too.
From the many albums you've took part in so far, which album do you like the most (and why) and which is your least favorite (and why)?
I love both the F5 albums. I like "Countdown To Extinction'" "Peace Sells….", "Cryptic Writings'. Also Soulfly's "Prophecy" and Temple of Brutality's "Lethal Agenda" are pretty slammin', too.
I like them all for different reasons and overall I usually walk away from every record digging something, if not everything, about them.
In your entire long career so far, what's were best and lousiest shows you played?
The worst was one of our last shows on the Winter tour for the "Countdown To Extinction" album. The best was probably Rock in Rio in 1991 and much of the "Cryptic Writing's" tour was good, too.
When you started your career you were quite young (about 18), and since then the times have changed quite a bit – what do you feel is the major difference between the music world back then and the current one?
The record industry as a whole is really different now than it used to be. When I was a kid you'd dream of growing up to be a rock star; making records, touring the world, making money and all the rest of it.
Today, it's not like that. The records don't sell as much so there isn't as much money. Because there isn't as much money it makes it more difficult to exist as an artist, or certainly to make a living at it as a young start-up artist.
I think you really have to do it for the love of the music, which is why we should be doing it in the first place, but it forces you to really ask yourself if you can sustain a living as an artist solely by playing your music. I'm glad I got to be part of the generation that I did because we had a good run at it during those years in the
Dave, you're a married man with kids now – tell us what's it like being a rock star and a family guy? Do the two collide often? Any Osbournes' moments?
As radical as I am with music and that life I'm pretty conservative when it comes to raising my kids. In some ways I think all my radical living over the years has taught me that there are definitely some bad roads you can go down and the people that want to lead you there should be avoided at all costs.
At the same time, I don't think you have to be a prude about things either. It's OK to let your kids stretch out and find their own uniqueness. I think that's the trick in parenting; being liberal enough to let your kids explore and find out who they are but not being so liberal that the kids end up being their own parents either. Fortunately, my kids are way into sports which I think is a good path for our family to be on.
As a Christian person, how do you manage with the deal of the metal & rock world being generally anti-religious and particularly anti-Christian?
I think most people who play metal are reasonably decent people and are in it for the love of the game. We just like to thrash, play really loud and do our own thing. If you find it offensive then don't listen to it and don't hang out with us.
Is there a band/artist you wouldn't listen to, play with or perform alongside to due to their anti-religious lyrics or point of view?
No. My attitude is "Don't bother me during my set and I won't bother you during yours".
I've read somewhere that you also work for Peavey amps as an artist relations representative. How did that come to be? What's it like being on the other side dealing with different artists just like yourself?
I always thought that would be a cool gig to have and I'm a pretty good diplomat so that type of endeavor suits me well. It works well with continuing to be an artist, too, because both activities serve each other very well.
I think that in my case I've been an endorsee and professional user of Peavey products for so many years that it is a great alliance for me to talk with other artists about their gear needs. I've gained some great business and personal relationships from doing that and I think I've always had a good knack for working with people in that arena.
I'm a good gear junkie, I guess.
That position also inspired me to go to college and finish my business and marketing degree, which I completed in 2007. It's a great feeling to know that I understand how the world really works from both an academic and practical point of view now.
As an American, what do you think about the US's number one problem? No, not the administration, not the health care policy – I mean Emo.
No shit! It's like this mix of rock meets nerds. I managed an Emo band for a few months and while I appreciated the passion for their scene, I really didn't like the music.
Plans for the rest of 2008?
Right now we're busy promoting the new F5 record. I just played on a few more albums that will likely release in 2009, one of them being a new THE ALIEN BLAKK album. It is a very heavy, metal fusion album. I got to really stretch out my bass playing a lot on that stuff so I think the fans of mine that did my older thrash work will like seeing me really get down on the bass chops on that new album.
You're in title, after so many questions, to make three wishes. Choose wisely.
Love to be healthy, work to be wealthy so I can live long to be happy.
Any last words people out there reading this and waiting for a strong finish?
Don't waste time trying to find yourself, but rather go out and create yourself!
Many thanks and I wish you all the best with the new endeavors.