Exclusive Interview: Megadeth's David Ellefson on Thrash Metal, his Favorite Bible Story and the Status of That Elusive American "Big Four" Tour (Yes You, Metallica. We're Waiting.)
View more photos in Timothy Norris' slideshow, "Slayer and Megadeth @ Long Beach Arena."
Megadeth are undoubtedly one of the biggest thrash metal bands of all time. Fronted by Dave Mustaine, founder, guitarist and vocalist, the band was formed in the early '80s after Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica for his substance abuse and drinking problem.
Valerie McRoberts David Ellefson enjoying a stiff Starbucks before Megadeth's set
Mustaine has had numerous lineup changes in Megadeth over the years, through 12 studio albums, multiple Grammy nominations over the years, and touring the globe over and over. With the 20th Anniversary of Rust in Peace, the thrash band from California finds no reason to stop now, and no reason to slow down.
LA Weekly got an intimate chance to speak to founding bassist David Ellefson, who discussed his religion, sobriety, the punk rock roots of speed metal, life on the road, and why people still love Rust in Peace.
LA WEEKLY: Tell us about The American Carnage Tour. What does the Megadeth set list look like? Also, why do you think that album is still loved by fans 20 years later?
David Ellefson: The anchor of the set is the Rust in Peace album top to bottom in exact consecutive order. We are your CD player for the night.
After that we have five other songs that are staples of our set, our greatest hits portion of the set and one off the most recent album, Endgame. As far as Rust in Peace being this iconic album, I don't quite understand it, but then again my perspective is a little skewed, because we of course wrote recorded and toured for it and it was a four year process.
But musically it's a very intense progressive album to play, with ferocious tempos. But our fans like all the complexity, difficulty and melody; and lyrically these songs talk about Armageddon and End of the World topics. Our fans don't usually buy the typical status quo view that everything's just OK.
LA WEEKLY: Earlier in the summer, Megadeth, Slayer, Metallica and Anthrax all played the BIG 4 shows to literally tens of thousands in Eastern Europe. Are you aware of any future plans to make this show happen in the US?
David Ellefson: It's all up to Metallica, because obviously Slayer and us are here. The next tour is not officially American Carnage, it's Jagermeister Tour and we'll have Anthrax with us. It's been a huge year for thrash metal, and we'd be happy to do it whenever they can. And I'm sure there fans are asking the same question and want to see it happen as well.
LA WEEKLY: How do you keep in shape while touring/lifestyle on the road? Also, what are some of the benefits of living a sober lifestyle, does being a Christian help you through this?
David Ellefson: My religion does help. Today, after having a stiff Starbucks, I found a gym. I bring my life at home on the road with me; it helps me be consistent. On the road it's easy to take on a second life. You have to have spiritual transparency because those second lives can corrupt your lives, marriages, you know.
Being of sober mind and judgment gives me just a sense of clarity. I'm an artist and an entertainer on stage but after I walk off stage I'm just David the guy. Our fans are one of us and we're one of them; that's the thing about thrash metal; we're a scene that is very tightly connected.
LA WEEKLY: Back in the early days of '80s speed metal, did punk influence Megadeth at all, and if so what bands?
David Ellefson: All of us growing up, from me, Scott Ian, the guys in Slayer, we all have this sort of punk rock influence. I remember reading about The Ramones, Blondie and all those bands out of New York. I was also into bands like Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, Black Flag, The Clash, a lot of those bands were influences on thrash metal, and we're in the epicenter of where it started, well in LA and up north in the Bay Area.
LA WEEKLY: You guys have TONS of touring ahead, you will be back with Slayer again and Anthrax, in October at the Universal. After these touring cycles end, what are plans for Megadeth?
David Ellefson: We've toured the world, but we still have many more places to go. Australia, New Zealand; of course Europe and perhaps more places. You know things are rolling so well, I don't see any reason in stopping it any time soon. Getting a big tour up and going is so hard it's easier to keep it going than to stop it in its tracks.
LA WEEKLY: Do you have an inspirational story or quote from the Bible you'd like to share?
David Ellefson:The one I like the most is Romans 12:2, Conform no Longer to the Patterns of this World. When you are really living your life for the Lord you are living for a much higher cause. Work always sucks, and your boss is always an asshole. But we're all human none of us are better than the rest of us. When you work for the big guy you have a bigger calling, people get caught up in the little things in life. I'm an optimist because I am a Christian.
LA WEEKLY: Final thoughts on this tour or what fans can expect at the AMERICAN CARNAGE tour?
David Ellefson: Well there is only one year for 20th anniversary of Rust in Peace so if you want to come see it, experience it then this is the year!