MEGADETH's DAVID ELLEFSON - "My Motto Is Just Say 'Yes'"
February 13, 2018, a year ago
Bass legend Dave Ellefson is more qualified than most to comment on the eb and flow of L.A’s thrash metal scene. As a founding and continuing member of big 4 thrash titans Megadeth, Ellefson saw the rise of the movement in its infancy, the flight of such familiar names as Slayer, Metallica, Armored Saint and Suicidal Tendencies.
Ellefson lends his expertise, and also provides narration duties on the latest installment of Inside Metal’s doc series, The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal, available now from MetalRock Films.
Ellefson was approached by director Bob Nalbandian, who was one of the early supporters of Megadeth when the band began to cut their teeth in 83.
“Over the years we’ve been in touch. When he started making these series of films about the L.A. rock ‘n’ roll and metal scene, he tapped me about narrating,” Ellefson shared with BraveWords. “I said absolutely I’d love to. Not only did I narrate, but I’m also interviewed in the movie, so I sort of have a double participation in this one.”
While L.A. unquestionably had a tainted reputation in the 1980s for glam metal and the strip, it has been criminally uncredited for the emergence and growth of some of thrash metals giants.
“Suddenly California was really on the radar where it seemed like it was this next wave of heavy metal bands and musicians coming out of there,” Ellefson recalled. “That’s what got my attention in 1980-81 when I set my course to move out there after graduation from high school in 1983 in Minnesota. By the time I got there that whole scene of Motley Crue, Ratt, Dokken, W.A.S.P., Quiet Riot, all of those bands had already sailed off the runway and were in flight, all over MTV and creating the Headbangers Ball … What’s interesting was that right behind it was what would become as we know it, the thrash scene. I’m not sure what journalist dubbed it ‘thrash’ but that became the title of our genre. Until then it was speed metal, Slayer was doing a sort of Satanic metal. It didn’t have a description or title to it yet. Metallica, Slayer, Dark Angel, Hirax, then of course Megadeth in 1983.There was this era when the glam, sunset strip bands all had their record deals and had sailed on. Next up was thrash metal.”
Of course Ellefson and Megadeth have survived the rise and fall of various metal movements and trends. The 2017 Grammy winners have endured since Ellefson and frontman Dave Mustaine formed the band in 1983. But then, Ellefson has never been one to put all his eggs into one basket, avoiding creative strain or fatigue.
Ellefson is the founder of Ellefson Music Productions, or as it is more widely known EMP Label Group, known for their signing of Phoenix rockers Doll Skin. EMP has since gone on more established names like Killer Dwarfs, Mark Slaughter, Autograph and Doyle.
“Doll Skin was really the impetus to form the label,” Ellefson explains. “I needed the machinery and the mechanisms in place to push this band down the road a good year in an album cycle … I see them as a long-term vision. You take a band like Killer Dwarfs, Autograph or Mark Slaughter. These are groups that have an already built in iconic name. There’s already an affiliation.
“Those initial phone calls with these artists, it’s so fun to hear them be excited again. A lot of these artists have been in the game a long time and have got some battle wounds and mileage. It’s a very different business today, and I’m glad that we can be the ones to offer them the off-ramp to get back in the game again.”
Some sagely advice from one of metals all-time great bassists would always come as a welcome gift to any emerging artist. Chiefly on his list of dos and dont’s? Stay away from the turbulent lifestyle. He’s been there and done that, and has more than one t-shirt to prove it.
“The ‘80s was basically our version of the ‘60s,” he laughs. “I quickly learned into the late ‘80s and ‘90s, people would tell us that we’re not going to put our money behind fucked up rock stars anymore. Those days are over. The business got more serious, people finally wanted to make money. The best years of my career have been since 1990. Being of a clear head and a clear mind have certainly been helpful.
Ellefson shared that the bulk of 2018 will see Megadeth compose material both individually and collectively for a follow-up for their acclaimed Dystopia. All speed ahead on the EMP front, not to mention his other endeavours like his home based Ellefson Coffee Co. So how does the 45 year veteran of the business do it?
“My motto is just say ‘yes’. At least say yes to the conversation and the opportunity. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to get involved in everything. Life is a lot more fun when you say yes. I figure people call you because they want to hear you say yes, not that they want you to say no. My attitude at 53 years old is if not now, when?”
The Rise of L.A. Thrash Metal featuring Dave Ellefson is available now. For more on EMP Label Group visit this location.