Last Friday at the Aragon Ballroom, I had the chance to sit down with bassist and Megadeth co-founder David Ellefson in advance of Megadeth's appearance later that night with Motörhead, Volbeat and Lacuna Coil as part of the 2012 Gigantour. Our conversation hit upon topics like the return of Gigantour, playing in Chicago, Megadeth's often politically charged lyrics and much more...
*** Photo above taken by Lyle A. Waisman. Check out more of Lyle's work HERE
From 1983 when the band started to 2002 when they briefly broke up, various members of Megadeth came and went with only two constants: Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson. When Mustaine reformed the band in 2004, disagreements between the pair surfaced, the word lawsuit came into play and ultimately, Megadeth moved on without Ellefson in the fold. But in February of 2010, order was restored when David Ellefson rejoined Megadeth.
Before rejoining the band immediately in the studio, the bassist joined his bandmates first on the road for a tour playing 1990's Rust in Peace album in its entirety. It was a tour that grew organically, eventually leading to Ellefson's return to the studio with Megadeth. "I think we did it right coming back, to go out and celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Rust in Peace. That was a fun time to come back for a whole year. It was meant to be like a month tour and it turned into a whole year. And then of course that just led right into the creation of a new album."
TH1RT3EN includes songs like "Millennium of the Blind" and "New World Order" that have been floating around in various forms since 1991. So the album has kind of a vintage feel at times. But with timely lyrics and production from Chicagoan Johnny K (Johnny K has produced everyone from Disturbed to the Plain White T's) the album feels fresh and never seems forced.
"The producer in Megadeth… they come in with all of their acumen and all of their professional abilities but at the same time they have to be able to work with Dave [Mustaine] who is ultimately bringing the vision of Megadeth to that producer. And if that relationship works, we make great records. If and when it doesn’t, we don’t. And it’s really that simple because a band with a bunch of ideas who can’t get them on tape… that ain’t a record. So to me, that’s the dynamic that has to happen and I think it totally came together on this album." says Ellefson about the recording of TH1RT3EN.
Ellefson continues, "The creative part of bands can be trying. It can be difficult. You’re just laying everything out on the table. Your emotions. In order to make great music and great art you have to make yourself vulnerable. And that’s something that a bunch of dudes in a metal band… that challenges that whole dynamic! Yet you have to do it if you really want to make passionate music that translates out of the speakers into people’s hearts, ya know? And that’s what we’re here to do. To get into your head, your heart and your soul. So I think we did it right and it’s been great."
So with the success of the Rust in Peace anniversary tour and the 2011 release of TH1RT3EN, the timing was right to jumpstart Gigantour.
What was created by Dave Mustaine in 2005 as a multi-stage, touring, heavy metal festival headlined by Megadeth continued annually through 2008 before going on hiatus. 2012 saw the festival return to America heading indoors while featuring Megadeth, Motörhead, Volbeat and Lacuna Coil.
Out of the band during the first four Gigantours, Ellefson seemed excited to be part of his first and Megadeth's fifth. "I think it’s great. A couple things about it... One: we were able to put together a lineup that I think is really fitting for today’s metal scene. Some new bands, like with Volbeat, and an established group like Lacuna Coil (And Motörhead of course being the forefathers who started this whole thing!). And to do a festival thing, which I think is good for fans if they can pay one price and get a lot of entertainment, a lot of bang for the buck. And to do it this time of year when there aren’t very many tours or certainly any big package tours like this going out? I think it offers something good for the fans."
Gigantour brought Ellefson back to the Aragon Ballroom last Friday, a place Megadeth has played many times. Host to countless rock shows over the years, metal always seems the genre of rock most capable of overcoming the notoriously poor sound of the Aragon. As was the case when I talked to Motörhead's Phil Campbell last week, the Aragon specifically is a place that Dave Ellefson enjoys playing with Megadeth.
"We’ve started at the very bottom. The Metro all the way up to the World Music Theatre and the United Center. Everything in between. The U.I.C. Pavilion. Everything! And here [The Aragon], gosh we’ve played here for so many years. We’ve come back here so much, it’s like a home away from home. And it’s a good metal venue. It sounds like a metal venue. It’s so cool looking and ornate but it’s stood the test of a lot of music over the years so fans can get rowdy and have a good time and not worry about trashing the place!"
Megadeth has never been afraid to cover controversial fare with their lyrics. Politics, war and addiction have been covered at length, often in timely fashion. And it was with that in mind that the band performed "Foreclosure of a Dream" Friday. "Our bass player Dave Ellefson wrote this song and it has everything to do with our economy" said Mustaine as he introduced the song.
The performance was my favorite moment of the band's seventy-five minute Gigantour set and it was easily the evening's most poignant moment.
I asked Ellefson what it's like to see the crowd's passionate reaction to Megadeth's more politically charged music and he specifically referenced the often overlooked Countdown gem.
"Dave [Mustaine] and I wrote a song together on Countdown to Extinction called “Foreclosure of a Dream” which we’ve now put in the set. We’ve been playing it. And Dave last night even introduced it and he said 'This song is just as appropriate twenty years later as it was when we wrote it in 1992.' And boy is that ever the truth. And I think that’s the element about Megadeth is that our songs lyrically and musically have a timeless feature to them. Maybe not all of them but by and large the catalog has that feature.
And I really noticed that even when we went out with 'The Big Four' and did those shows. Our music didn’t sound like 'Oh yeah, that’s a throwback to 1986.' Or 'Remember when that was all popular back in 1991?' Megadeth doesn’t sound like a period piece. It’s definitely something that transcends time and because of those lyric topics and the way the lyrics are written they seem to just be something that’s kind of like an onging, reoccurring narrative."
"The Big Four" were a series of shows that Megadeth performed in 2010 and 2011 designed to showcase thrash metal's all-time greats: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax.
As Megadeth approaches it's once improbable thirtieth anniversary, the band continues to thrive. Having come of age at the height of the major label recording system and continuing in an era where that system has begun to implode as music distribution continues its shift in focus to the internet, the band nevertheless saw TH1RT3EN debut at #11 on the Billboard 200 album chart this past November and Friday's Gigantour stop at the Aragon was nearly sold out.
"I don’t necessarily consider Megadeth to be a legacy act. We’ve always been a very active touring band. All metal bands are I think. Iron Maiden, Metallica, Motörhead, Megadeth, Slayer… We’re constant touring machines. So it’s not like we ever went out of fad and out of vogue and had to rebuild like some of the other maybe bands from the seventies who sort of were broke up and then reformed when the offers for enough money came back on the table. This is just what we do! Before we put records out, we were doing this! So I think for us, it’s because of those fans over there that we’re here. And it’s less about the record business than it is just the passion of our fans and for that we are very fortunate."
Touring is their business... and business is good.
Check out my interview with Motörhead's Phil Campbell (a Gigantour preview) HERE
Check out my full concert review of Megadeth, Motörhead, Volbeat & Lacuna Coil at Gigantour 2012 at the Aragon on Friday, 2/10/12 HERE