Interview by Alex Stojanovic
The one and only David Ellefson of Megadeth is one of those bass players that possesses an enormous amount of talent, and deserves much more credit than he gets. He's not only a great player, but an important figure in the metal scene. In addition to playing with Megadeth, he has played with many other bands as well, including F5, Avian and Iron Steel. Some of his current side projects include Metal Allegiance, and a more classic rock-sounding project Altitudes & Attitude, which also features Anthrax bassist Frank Bello.
We had the great honour of speaking to David on the phone, and some of the topics we touched on include the Altitudes & Attitude debut album, if the band intends to release more music in the future, his upcoming induction into the Hall Of Heavy Metal History, and the status of the next Megadeth album. You can read the interview down below.
David Ellefson: You're welcome!
MMK: First off, congrats on the full-length Altitudes & Attitude debut with Frank Bello. I've heard it, and it's an enjoyable listen. This has been an album that's been in the works for a few years ever since you and Frank released the self-titled EP. After you released the EP, was it an immediate decision to do a full-length album, or was it something that came over time?
DE: It happened over time. We did that initial EP, and we had so much fun, and found out that we had such a cool and unique sound together. We collaborated in a very fun, expressive way. It was one of those things where we couldn't wait to do more of it. That led to the next four or five writing sessions that ultimately produced the full-length.
MMK: Very nice. Where did the name Altitudes & Attitude come from?
DE: You know, we were sitting in Jay Ruston's studio in L.A., where we were recording the album, and it just hit me like, "why don't we call it Altitudes & Attitude?", and everyone was like, "yeah, that's cool." I didn't really think of it too much. I didn't know if it would be a song title, or an album title. I didn't really think of it so much as a band name, but more of maybe an album title, but it stuck. It kind of describes the music. There's this sort of levity and lift to the music, in a way that people haven't heard from me and Frank before, but it certainly has tons of attitude in it (laughs). On any given day, either me or Frank gives the altitude, and the other one is the attitude, which is kind of cool. We go back and forth with that. Ironically, they're both aviation terms and I'm an aviation fan, so it makes sense.
MMK: Awesome! Do you view this being the only Altitudes & Attitude album, or will there be more in the future?
DE: I definitely see this whole thing continuing. Frank and I now have enough material, that we can go perform. I think the door is wide open for pretty much anything now.
MMK: Right, and since you're busy with Megadeth, and Frank is busy with Anthrax, it all comes down to scheduling.
DE: Absolutely. We're both a couple of pretty busy boys these days.
MMK: What are the plans for the upcoming shows? Will you be playing the entire album in full, or a mix of stuff from the album, plus some covers?
DE: We were just on the phone today talking about that. It's one of these scenarios where you have to kind of read the room. Frank and I know a couple of cool, fun cover songs that we're going to want to put in. We did a couple of shows about four years ago at the Anaheim House Of Blues during NAMM, and also at Sweetwater Sound, and another show at a venue called Reggies in Chicago. We had three different backing bands at three different shows, so we're pretty good at being able to do the adaptation of lineup, and even setlist. I think it's one of the things that makes it fun for us, to kind of roll with every different setting, and have a setlist that we could tailor to each particular show.
MMK: Right, so if you're in a certain city, and you play some covers, will you play some songs by famous bands from that area?
DE: I don't know. I think Frank and I have a couple of go-to things that we like. In Altitudes & Attitude, you can hear some of our influences. There's obviously some Cheap Trick and Kiss in there, yet there's this modern sound to it, which is why we call it a "modern classic".
MMK: Absolutely. I can also hear a little bit of Thin Lizzy in there, and Frank at times can also sound little bit like Phil Lynott, and I mean that in a good way. Do you agree?
DE: Yeah, without a doubt. We're veteran recording artists, so we can't help but bring in some of our history. It's not a thrash record. This isn't a record where you hear Megadeth or Anthrax at all, which I think is cool. It was never designed to be anything in that vein or in that genre. When Frank and I first got together to do the EP, we realized that we have a lot of different music inside of us, and that's why we called the album Get It Out.
MMK: For sure. It's always good to have a side outlet to get the music that might not be right for your core band, out there.
DE: Yeah, exactly. We're all musicians and songwriters. We find that there's always things that are really cool, and you just set it to the side and think that one day, you'll do something with that, and to me, A&A is exactly that.
MMK: Exactly. Another congratulations is in order for both you and Frank, because you're both being inducted into the Hall Of Heavy Metal History. Now all we need to do is get both Anthrax and Megadeth inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.
DE: Hey, if they call and they induct us, then we'll take it from there.
MMK: How did this come about? How did you get notified that you were being inducted?
DE: You know, last year I was tapped to induct my friend Nick Menza. God rest his soul. I inducted him, with his family there. It was a true honour to do that. This year, they put my name in the hat as the inductee, of course along with Frank, and our friends like Mike Portnoy and Jeff Scott Soto. I'm also super-thrilled that the Blizzard Of Ozz band, along with producer Max Norman are also being inducted this year. It's a really great platform for people in the heavier side of music to be recognized.
MMK: Absolutely. A good buddy of mine, who is also one of our writers at our website (Alex Mrkonjic) had a question for you, which I will ask on his behalf. He wanted to know what are some of your favourite new bands?
DE: I certainly became a big Ghost fan a few years ago. Tonight, I'm going to see Disturbed. Their second record Believe was the record that got my attention to them. Those are a couple that stand out for me the most right now.
MMK: Another killer release that you were a part that just came out is the Metal Allegiance album Power Drunk Majesty. The two albums you guys released so far are just brilliant. The first album was my album of the year in 2015. A few months back, I talked with Alex Skolnick about it. This is another band where it all comes down to everyone's schedules, but would you say that bits and pieces are already coming together for a potential third album?
DE: Yeah, I think Metal Allegiance is this thing where we all write things that compile. In my mind, when I write, I set things aside that I think would be good to do with Frank, other things are more Megadeth-sounding, there's things that I set aside for Metal Allegiance, and then I have maybe a fourth bucket of things I'm not sure about right now, but someday might be used for something. For me, having these different outlets, it helps me be a little more strategic when I'm writing things, so I have a game plan of where to put them out. With Metal Allegiance, that's always a work-in-progress, and the fact that we have so many guests on it, keeps it open to a really wide variety of songs and people that can participate in it.
MMK: On the Megadeth side, I'm curious to know something. Of the three Megadeth albums that were released that you didn't play on, those being The System Has Failed, United Abominations and Endgame, which one is your favourite?
DE: I think Endgame. When I heard it, I hadn't come back in the band yet, but thought that it was a strong album when I heard it. It's ironic that the first song we shot a video for from that record when I came back into the fold was "The Right To Go Insane", because it was actually a song that we had written during the Cryptic Writings era. We didn't end up recording it, but I knew it, because I was in the room when we wrote it. It was fun to go back and re-learn it, so I'd say Endgame. I got to play a lot of songs from that record when we were doing the Rust In Peace 20th anniversary tour.
MMK: Yeah, that's right. I remember, it was 10 years ago when that album came out. United Abominations was the album that really made me become a Megadeth fan, but Endgame was the one that turned me into a huge fan. I also remember when I heard the news that you were coming back into the band, I was really excited, and I was finishing high school at that time. I'm part of the young generation of fans, but I've been a huge fan for a long time.
DE: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. It's kind of cool at this point of 35 years, we've got fans that have come into the fold at different times. Some of them from very early on, some of them very recently, some in the late 90s, early 2000s. It's cool that once you come into the Megadeth fold, you want to go back and investigate all of it.
MMK: Absolutely, and that's exactly what I did. That bit about "The Right To Go Insane" being all the way back from the Cryptic Writings era, is pretty cool. I didn't know that.
DE: Yeah! There's a lot of stuff that gets written, that doesn't find a home in that particular record. Even some of this stuff with Frank. There's stuff that I write that I've shown people, and for whatever reason, it just didn't work. For example, "Leviathan" was a bass line that I had written. It didn't find its home until the A&A record. We had Satchel from Steel Panther put guitar on it, and he was the perfect collaborator, to really turn it into something significant.
MMK: Yeah, "Leviathan" is a great song. You guys just announced the compilation Warheads On Foreheads, and what can you tell us about the status of the next album? How far along is the process?
DE: We're in the recording phase right now. We spent most of 2018 writing, compiling, and getting the ideas centralized, and we're now in the recording phase.
MMK: Cool. Would you say summer time is when we can expect it?
DE: I don't know. Ambitiously, summer time. It could be summer or fall. We learned with Dystopia to not put a deadline on it, but it's done when it's done.
MMK: Absolutely. Dystopia was a phenomenal record, and it wasn't rushed. You can't rush art.
MMK: Just one last question, then I'll let you go. As far as touring plans for this year are concerned, you guys will be on tour with Ozzy this summer, and you have the MegaCruise coming up as well. The lineup for the cruise looks just amazing. You have Anthrax, Testament, Overkill, DragonForce, Armored Saint, Metal Church and others. When I saw that lineup, I was blown away. Are there more acts to come, or have they all been confirmed?
DE: There may be a couple of last minute additions to it, but for the most part, I think everything is confirmed. With the cruises, you put your headliners first, then you kind of fill in the next level under that. If for any other reason we find that there might be an opening or two, then we'll announce who will fill those.
MMK: Cool! That's all I got for you. David, thank you so much once again for taking the time to chat with me. It was a great honour. I wish you guys all the best with the Get It Out record, Metal Allegiance going forward, and of course, we're looking forward to hearing the new Megadeth record.
DE: Cool! Thanks Alex!
MMK: Looking forward to seeing you guys when you come up here to Toronto or around here.
DE: Yeah, you bet. Looking forward to it. We'll see you this summer with Ozzy.
MMK: Alright, see you then!
DE: Cool! Bye!
MMK: Take care David!