Megadeth Interviews


On the Phone with Dave :: Out to Lunch :: So Far, So Good for Megadeth :: Rust in Peace :: Dave the Human, Mustaine the Artist :: A Founding Forefather of Thrash :: The Outside Corner :: Music Is Our Business... And Business Is Good :: Deth Rally :: Trial by Fire :: Megadeth Conquers Globe :: Megadeth: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered :: Shooting from the Hip :: I Made It Home Alive! :: So Far, So Good... Now What? :: Megadeth: Online and Onstage :: Sodom and Gomorra :: Metal Is Still Their Business... But Who's Buying? :: Shooting from the Hip II :: Country and Western :: Metal Church :: Get in the Van :: Foreclosure of a Team :: Last Men Standing :: Without the MTV Support :: Set the World on Fire :: Dave Mustaine University :: Heavy Metal Marines :: The Real Line-up of Megadeth :: Risk Factor :: The World Will End in Megadeth :: Megadeth: Crush'em with Ferocity and Finesse :: An Ugly American :: Try to Sue Capital Records! :: Big Boys :: We're Pissed Off Again :: Dave Mustaine's Symphony of Reconstruction :: It Wasn't Fun Anymore :: Metallidethica :: Answers to the Questions Everyone's Been Asking :: Dave Ellefson: Life After Megadeth :: Die Another Day

Risk Factor

taken from Renegade, 1999
Gerri Miller talks to David Ellefson


One of the '80s premier metal bands, Megadeth has continued to rock hard with multi-platinum success in the '90s on albums like Rust in Peace, Countdown to Extinction, Youthanasia, and Cryptic Writings. Last month, the band released Risk, which combines old-fashioned metallic aggression with modern effects and catchy melodies in a satisfyingly listenable mix.


Gerri Miller: You're playing in the States this fall before going to South America this winter. How do you determine the routing? I noticed that there's no Los Angeles date.

David Ellefson: Our tours have been dictated by where we were getting the most radio play and unfortunately Los Angeles, even being the entertainment capital that it is, has very little radio. So it's been really tough for us to play any shows that are of any significance at all. But I think that's starting to change. I think "Crush'em" is being played on KLOS.

GM: Does radio's response to the track surprise you?

DE: I kind of had a feeling it was going to be big once we got the drum groove and the bass line worked out. A couple of weeks into it, it all started to come together. One of the reasons we thought it might be huge was at the beginning we didn't like the song. Playing a disco bass line with a dance groove under it is not something that we are particularly adept at doing.

GM: Did you have misgivings about doing it?

DE: Absolutely. But our manager, Bud Prager, said to us, "You guys need to do something that will make all of your contemporaries knock themselves on the head and say, 'Why didn't we think of that'?" That was what really got our blood boiling and got us moving on it.

GM: Is that a part of why this album is called Risk?

DE: Absolutely. That's exactly why. "Crush'em" was one. The other songs that were a pretty forward stretch for us were "Breadline," "Wanderlust." They're melodic and the grooves are very modern-sounding. Not industrial, but danceable. It was a much-needed stretch for us. And as a rhythm section player, it was fun to do that. It was a nice change of pace. It's one of the things that women like about the bass and disco, it gets them moving. The thing's thumping all the way from your booty to your chest.

GM: Is the crowd noise on "Crush'em" from a live concert?

DE: It's from a few places, actually. One of them was at Alice Cooper's Town. The day after we did the Black Sabbath show in Phoenix on New Year's Eve, we did a fan party lunch thing, 50-60 people. We had them shouting, "Crush'em" and we recorded that on a DAT. We took that down to Nashville and put a couple other voices on it, but a big part of it was our fan club.

GM: This is your eighth full-length studio album. Does it get any easier each time you go in to record?

DE: Not really. Because our records make us more successful and they sort of knock down the barriers from age groups in the population so there's more expected of us. A lot of it is self-induced pressure. We not only want to live up to our previous albums, we want to surpass them, not only commercially but as far as being cool and coming up with new ideas, sounding fresh, and being cutting edge.

GM: When you have a following people have certain expectations of the band, and may resist change. But if you keep repeating yourself you stagnate, and it's no fun for you.

DE: There are a few bands that I can think of [that don't change], AC/DC, Ted Nugent - some that growing up, I loved but after a while when they weren't doing anything new, it really became less interesting to me and I was no longer a fan.

GM: So you think change is good.

DE: Absolutely. But not all change is good. Some groups believe their own press and think they're God's gift to music. "We're so cool we can do anything we want." That's not true, either. The thing with Megadeth is we've always tried to deliver the goods for our long-standing fans but we also know there's a whole new wave of young people buying records and listening to music. In our case it kind of becomes harder because there are lot more people that we want to make music for.

GM: As on Cryptic Writings, you worked with producer Dann Huff again in Nashville. Was the process the same? Or did you approach this one differently?

DE: You have to get to know someone not only on a human level but on an artistic level-feel each other out, see what your highlights are and what your weaknesses are. That was out of the way from Cryptic Writings, which had ended on a high note. It wasn't, "Thank God this project's over." and the tour ended on a high note, very positive. We pretty much came off tour and went right in and started writing songs. We never really got away from it and that was good because we were fired up. We spent about five or six weeks writing the songs, intensively, putting together bits and pieces. Then we went to Nashville in January '99 and we didn't get out till May. It was a long haul. But it was good. It wasn't like we suffered this long tour burnout and were forced to go into the studio. In fact, it was quite the opposite. We were very excited.

GM: This is the first album with Jimmy DeGrasso, who replaced Nick Menza, on drums. How did that change the working dynamic?

DE: When Jimmy first came in, he filled in on a few shows when Nick had to take a medical leave of absence. It felt good playing with Jimmy. It was a musical slap in the face to Dave, Marty and me to realize where we had gotten comfort spots that weren't acceptable. Nick would come back and play a couple more shows and it was like putting on an old shoe again. But over time, I think it forced me to become a much better player. I realized there was a lot of sloppiness that was happening and I think a lot of it is, you play together for a long period of time and if everybody's not at the top of their game, you allow each other to get kind of sloppy. Jimmy coming in was a good slap in the face for us to get our chops together, to really think about our timing. Our tempos were all of a sudden at a new consistency. The type of grooves and the type of drumming that was required to play the music on Risk, I can't think of a better person for it to come from than Jimmy.

GM: Did he contribute to the songwriting?

DE: He was there through the whole writing process but as far as bringing in material, no. He wasn't that instrumental in that. I don't think he felt comfortable, he'd just gotten the gig. There's no better way to spoil your gig than to come in and insist on being a writer, especially in a band like Megadeth where there's already a method and a protocol that's established.

GM: Did you contribute to the songwriting?

DE: No, it's actually changed a lot over the years, to be honest. I didn't even do as much hands-on writing on this record. Dave, along with Bud Prager and contributions from Marty, were pretty focused on a method of writing and it kind of took on a life of its own. I think I've been in the band long enough to know that when something's working you don't mess with it. You let things take their own path.

GM: Your manager contributes to the writing?

DE: Bud is really good at the songwriting, big picture, visionary concept and he works with Dave on that. Previous to Bud and Mike Renault being our managers, Dave had to spearhead it all on his own and a lot of times it was Dave's vision and the three of us, we never had anyone outside our camp to bounce ideas off of. That can be real dangerous because sometimes the more successful you get the smaller your world gets and the less perspective you have. I think that the way it works now with the writing and Dann producing our records, it's really working. And we're just rolling with it right now.

GM: I understand you resurrected some music and lyrics from old, unused songs.

DE: Yeah, "Breadline," even some of the bits of the riffs from "Insomnia" were from a few years ago. I think some of the tunes we might have demoed for Cryptic Writings but it's not at all the same song.

GM: Did you experiment in the studio with sounds and instrumentation?

DE: Yes. It started on Cryptic Writings. With Dann Huff being such a guitar god in his own right, we said, "Good, we can finally get great tone." There would be different instruments brought in. Jerry Jones guitars, violin, string sections. Things we dabbled in on previous records, but we really pulled out all the stops on this one. I used a lot of Fender basses to record, which I'd never really done before. I bought a couple of old '70s ones that I liked. I particularly like the sound of these two that I have and used those. Marty was using a lot of different guitars, Gibsons and Fenders. When you want a tone, you will find whatever instrument or amplifier will give you that sound. In your early years when you're a young band you buy gear, record with it, take it on the road and beat the hell out of it and hope it works when you go back into the studio. At this point for us, we've got a whole slew of stuff we use when we record and another whole slew of stuff we take on the road.

GM: Tell me about Woodstock. We've heard all the horror stories.

DE: None of that was happening over on the stage we played. When we got off stage we saw on the video monitors that they had some fires. It's a rock concert, people drink, get naked, build fires. I didn't think anything of it until a couple of days later when it started to become pretty big news. And even then I didn't know if it was media sensationalism because at a big show like that there's always conservative people waiting for it to fail. But the rapes and that stuff, that is not cool. I did hear that people were handing out candles at the end of the show, at the other stage. What kind of a bonehead would conceive of that? Whoever started that, they're asking for trouble.

GM: Otherwise, how was the response? Did you play new songs?

DE: Just "Crush'em." Went over well. But you can't play too much new material. When we played radio shows this summer, we were sitting on this jackpot new record but there's nothing worse than going to see a band and they're playing a bunch of new songs that nobody's ever heard.

GM: Choosing a set list must get harder all the time.

DE: Yeah, we've got our staples. Radio singles and videos are a pretty good place to start for building a set list. Plus a few others that are kind of classics. Our set list changes as we tour the world. Japan likes the acoustic stuff, they like solos in Europe. In America, we're the remote control generation - if it's not quick and snappy and to the point we don't like it. But in Europe they like their old-school metal.

GM: You've traveled the world and seen the state of music changing. Your thoughts?

DE: I think it's much better now than in the mid-'90s. I think the mid-'90s was one of the saddest states of rock. It was not cool to be a rock star. Being dirty and not taking a shower was all of a sudden in. I never understood that. Everybody I knew, we all wanted to be bigger-than-life rock stars. So I'm glad that that shit has gone away and that people are back out rocking and having a good time, and that rock music is cool again.

GM: "Crush'em" became a WCW theme. Are you a wrestling fan?

DE: I grew up in Minnesota and I had a neighbor who watched it all the time. I kind of grew up around it a little bit but hadn't paid much attention to it over the years. But now with the affiliation with WCW and Bill Goldberg. I watched the Bill Goldberg-Hulk Hogan thing. I like the storyline and soap opera that goes with it, it's funny. It's great entertainment. WCW evens are more fun than most rock concerts. It's long hair and girls and smoke and bombs and fire and lights and cool heavy music. I think it's great. It's what we used to like about rock shows before rock shows became uncool. We're glad to be a part of it. It's fun and high energy.

GM: What plans do you have for the look of your show, the staging?

DE: We're redesigning some stuff, we've had the drums-and-amps look for the last few years and I think we're gonna update that a little bit. But we're pretty much a straight-ahead rock band - think there's enough character with the four of us and our songs and the way we play them that we don't need to smoke-and-bomb it up too much. As cool as that is, so many other bands have done that. For us to all of a sudden go over the top would be a little silly. But that's not to say we won't do some of that in the act some point. We want to make it fun. We want to stimulate all five senses.

GM: Do you have a Millennium show?

DE: We have a date on hold in Phoenix at the Memorial Coliseum.

GM: Other plans?

DE: At some point after the first of the year we'll do South America, Japan. We'll go wherever they want us. We'll come back to the States in the spring.

GM: Are you using the Internet to promote the album?

DE: 50-60% of American homes have computers so it's great for America, but outside of America not as many people are as computer-savvy. Certainly you can keep more up to date with at least your most dedicated fans. As far as mass appeal, it's more about radio and television and being seen in magazines and all that. But it has its place. We're redesigning the Megadeth site now because we've aligned ourselves with UBL and it's now Megadethdirect.com. One stop shopping-you can buy our albums, merchandise, the latest and greatest Megadeth stuff.

GM: You wrote a how-to for musicians a few years ago. Is there anything you'd add if you were writing it now?

DE: I don't think so. At that point we were far enough along in our career that I was able to give a pretty broad perspective on everything. The Internet was just getting going so I was able to include that. But I don't know, maybe in another 5-10 years I'll do volume two. But it would probably be more about the traveling than it would be about the business of music.

GM: Looking back, what career highlights stand out?

DE: Probably one of the first ones was getting signed to Capitol Records, which got us a tour with Alice Cooper. That was a pretty big to-do for us, for a band like Megadeth to be on a major label and major tour. That led to us getting on Headbanger's Ball, and MTV. Rock in Rio, which was huge. And more recently, breaking down the doors at radio. We've been able to go out and do all these radio shows. Most recently, Woodstock and having Bill Goldberg use "Crush'em" with the WCW.

GM: Is there anything that you still want to accomplish?

DE: Not really. Some of the coolest things that have happened to us, we never really thought about. You do the next thing that's put in front of you and get out of your own way. One door seems to open and leads you down the path to the next one. That's kind of how our philosophy's been and we just try to enjoy the ride.

GM: Would you change anything if you could?

DE: No not really. When one door closes, another one opens. You kind of hate to go back and mess with fate and destiny. At the time you think, "I wish I would have done that," but you get a little further down the road and look back and go, "That wasn't so bad, because I'm here." It all kind of works out how it's supposed to.


On the Phone with Dave :: Out to Lunch :: So Far, So Good for Megadeth :: Rust in Peace :: Dave the Human, Mustaine the Artist :: A Founding Forefather of Thrash :: The Outside Corner :: Music Is Our Business... And Business Is Good :: Deth Rally :: Trial by Fire :: Megadeth Conquers Globe :: Megadeth: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered :: Shooting from the Hip :: I Made It Home Alive! :: So Far, So Good... Now What? :: Megadeth: Online and Onstage :: Sodom and Gomorra :: Metal Is Still Their Business... But Who's Buying? :: Shooting from the Hip II :: Country and Western :: Metal Church :: Get in the Van :: Foreclosure of a Team :: Last Men Standing :: Without the MTV Support :: Set the World on Fire :: Dave Mustaine University :: Heavy Metal Marines :: The Real Line-up of Megadeth :: Risk Factor :: The World Will End in Megadeth :: Megadeth: Crush'em with Ferocity and Finesse :: An Ugly American :: Try to Sue Capital Records! :: Big Boys :: We're Pissed Off Again :: Dave Mustaine's Symphony of Reconstruction :: It Wasn't Fun Anymore :: Metallidethica :: Answers to the Questions Everyone's Been Asking :: Dave Ellefson: Life After Megadeth :: Die Another Day

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