Megadeth – Using the Man (Again)

Friday, 29th March 2013

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In the frenetic world of Megadeth, turnabout is always fair play. Dave Mustaine’s perpetual revolving door has done little to diminish the band’s musical exploits and has garnered a steady stream of publicity that is an entity onto itself. Thus the return of original bassist David Ellefson didn’t come as a major surprise, outside of the fact that you know, Mustaine bad-mouthed Ellefson relentlessly the last several years. Then again, Ellefson sued MegaDave in 2004 (he lost), prompting Mustaine to unload on the bassist through the press, claiming Ellefson couldn’t keep time, was dead-weight, and had a knack for accepting credit for songs he had little do with it. You gotta love it – Mustaine is a PR person’s wet dream.

Megadeth circa 2010 is not quite the deadly thrash beast it was back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, but judging from the band’s recent performance on the 20th anniversary tour for their seminal Rust In Peace, they’ve certainly got the fading Slayer and frazzled Anthrax beat. Mustaine is still metal’s premier riff-master, even if his vocals are now a huge weak spot, semi-new lead guitarist Chris Broderick (ex-Jag Panzer) nails all of Marty Friedman’s solos, Ellefson is his usual rock-solid self, and drummer Shawn Drover, while a little stiff, provides the best backbone the band has had since the glory days of Nick Menza. And once again, Mustaine emerges as the victor.

Ellefson has become the sounding board for this tour and we were fortunate enough to catch up with the jovial (and extremely cool) bassist on Megadeth’s bus prior to their March 12th stop in Greensburg, PA. Here’s the scoop… When did you have that moment when you knew you were truly “back?”

David Ellefson: One moment was probably the second time we got together to rehearse. Flying back to Phoenix – we did three different rehearsal sessions – I was like, “Wow, I’m finally back in Megadeth again.” Then of course, the first show in Spokane when I walked out in stage and I saw the sea of Megadeth shirts. It’s been a good welcome home. A lot of people have been holding up their “Welcome back David” signs up front. You’ve been keeping yourself busy with Hail!, but for some of this material, were you prepared to handle it again?

Ellefson: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny about that because a lot of the other stuff I have done has been very modern, different tunings, different things, which has been good. When I started to do work away from Megadeth back in 2002, I found out how out of touch. We stayed our course all of those years, and then I was starting to work other bands, especially with producing and I was like, “Holy smokes.” It was good…the music that they grew up on like Rust In Peace or our other material – they were tuning their guitars different and doing things differently. They had a much different musical sensibility to them which forced me to bone-up. Coming back into Megadeth, it’s been a little of an adjustment to tuning the guitar back to the way it was originally invented [laughs].

Vocally, lot of the pitches are higher, which is nice because Chris [Broderick] sings back-up. I used to be the guy did all of that stuff. Marty [Friedman] never did any of that, Al [Pitrelli] did some as well. He used to say he could just yell in-key [laughs]. But now Chris has a good vocal approach, so we have a much better frontline vocal team. And Shawn sings as well. The singing on recent Megadeth records from the last 12 years…especially since Cryptic Writings has started to use more actual singing. How much memory-jogging went into re-entering this gig? I would imagine a lot of these songs are still second-nature…

Ellefson: It came back pretty easy. I’ve stayed up on the Megadeth stuff. There was a part of me that always thought, “One day, this probably will work for us to come back together again.” But also just because I had just a history and in any situation I’ve been, some fans would ask me for stuff. Like, “Can you play ‘Bad Omen?’ Can you play the part in ‘My Last Words?’” So part of me knowing just my own personal pride of the catalog wanted to stay up on it so I didn’t end up looking like a complete newman and not know his own parts [laughs]. How much of a challenge are some of the songs on Rust In Peace?

Ellefson: I was glad I was in the band room when we wrote this stuff [laughs]. Shawn is such a good history buff of all the music and the catalog, so for him, it comes naturally just a listener. And Chris is just a wizard on the guitar and he’s able to pick up a lot of the nuances of this stuff. That’s really in the details of some of the material that really makes it sound like Megadeth. For some of these songs, like “Poison Was the Cure,” have they ever been played?

Ellefson: No. “Holy Wars” and “Hanger 18” have been staples of the set for use. “Tornado of Souls” and “Lucretia,” they’ve been in and out. “Take No Prisoners,” we played initially in the first run of the Clash of the Titans in Europe and Megadeth, more recently has played it as well. Other than that, have never been played since we recorded them. For me, it was so much a big deal because I went back and played them again. I think for Dave, it’s the vocals and guitar playing…as insane as this stuff is for him to be singing and playing – there’s not that many people than can right-and-left-brain this stuff. How is “Poison Was the Cure” coming across?

Ellefson: It’s been great! It’s interesting because years ago, these songs didn’t make any sense to have in the set because you wanted to cherry-pick the songs you know would work. With Rust In Peace now being the set, I love just playing one song after another, after another. It’s like you hit the play button on your iPod and you already have the band up there playing as well. You get the visual punch in the face as well and the kick in the nuts from the speakers blasting you in the face.

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