Dripping entrails spray blood over a dilapidated corpse as a skeleton tears its way out of the body. Don’t be scared, baby – it’s just a heavy metal record.
After 18 years living the life of thrash-metal decadence, Megadeth has come out on the other end, heavily scarred but somehow still alive and breathing. Does this mean the party’s over? David Ellefson, Megadeth bassist, isn’t ready to quit just yet. He sat down with The Hatchet to discuss life after metal superstardom.
“You make choices in your life, whether you want a family or you want to be a full-on road dog,” Ellefson said. “Whatever you want to do, it’s cool. I’ve found that the two worlds can co-exist.”
This man knows what he’s talking about. Ellefson has been in the front seat through the triumphant rise and painful fall of heavy metal. One of the two founding members of Megadeth, he’s seen his band trudge their way through almost two decades of the thrash-metal lifestyle clashing with the law, the road and the religious right.
“It’s only a couple of other bands that have gone through the road to hell and back and made it through,” Ellefson said. What we have is a career, this isn’t just a flash in the pan thing.”
The band has sold 20 million records, survived five line-up changes, a heroin-addicted lead singer and a former band mate’s death. After all that, Ellefson remains confident and composed.
“With careers you get ups, you get downs, you get fortune and you get famine.”
Megadeth may have made it out of hell, but their journey hasn’t come to an end. This year Ellefson, along with co-founding member David Mustaine, are hitting the road once again with a new record The World Needs a Hero (Sanctuary), an album dedicated to their fans.
Ellefson explained, “We’ve always looked at ourselves as a little band of the people for the people and by the people. The whole idea with this tour is going back and doing what the fans have requested.”
But who are the fans?
“At the beginning it was a bunch of dudes coming out with their black t-shirts and their leather jackets. we all looked alike,” Ellefson said. “It was hard to tell a fan from the guys in the band.”
Now, after many years, Ellefson said he has seen a change in the band’s demographic.
“There’s a lot of girls. There’s a lot of younger teenagers coming out,” he said. “Megadeth is a band that has bridged all the gaps of race, gender, age and nationality.”
What brings fans together is a sense of commitment and dedication to the band is this dedication that fuels Ellefson on the road.
“Our audience is rabid, if that doesn’t get you off your ass then you’re in the wrong line of work,” he said.
Megadeth’s uncompromising sound continues fixated with a kind of excessive depravity that will make even the most begrudging mullet-bearing metal head raise a fist. Ellefson admits that there is a formula to success. “It doesn’t take much to get some attention. You
either use sex, or violence or you just be downright crude and vulgar.”
He also feels Megadeth, despite its age, has something modern-day shock-rockers, such as Marilyn Manson and Slipknot, can never achieve.
“You can turn the world’s ear for a minute or two. The real deal is, what do you have to follow that up? Is it just a sucker punch or do you actually have a strategy?”
Megadeth’s current strategy reconnects with the masses. The band has toured through the summer selling out clubs, rather than trying to return to stadiums. They come to the 9:30 club in D.C. on Oct. 14. This is just the kind of club that they’re looking for.
Ellefson welcomes the return to basics. “It feels so good to be back here. It probably feels good because we’ve lived the life. If I’d been just playing clubs and beating my head against the wall for the last 15 years, I’d be pissed off right now.”
Ellefson is seeking a change of atmosphere. After years of partying, he’s come to a decision about drinking and drugs.
“After being consumed by it for a while I got to the point where I realized there’s the entertainer and the entertained,” Ellefson said. “My job five nights a week is to be the entertainer.”
Ellefson feels separated from his past. “A lot of the decadent shit happened so many years ago. I realized because it’s almost like I’m talking about another guy.”
Despite his new stance on partying, Ellefson refuses to believe his music will change. As he said, “We’ve never been afraid to go out of our comfort zone even if we knew we were going to be ridiculed and persecuted for doing it.”
Ellefson has reached a point with his band where he seems to have found clarity of purpose. “I wanted to be in music because I dug the whole thing, that was the innocence before I discovered sex and drugs and rock and roll.”
But don’t take it the wrong way, Megadeth is still a band for the wild and degenerate masses. Although Ellefson is rounding out his journey in the world of metal, he has few regrets and does not seek to apologize for anything. He said he wishes to enable others to have the kind of excitement he’s had in his years with Megadeth.
“There’s nothing wrong with partying, doing all that stuff. When you’re at the Megadeth show, rock out, do drugs, have fun, do whatever you want,” Ellefson said. “That’s what we’re all about.”