Bassist David Ellefson had an incredibly busy 2013.
With Megadeth he released Super Collider, the band’s highest-charting album since 1994’s Youthanasia.
In October he released his memoirs, My Life With Deth: Discovering Meaning in a Life of Rock & Roll, which he wrote with Joel McIver.
Add to that a massive Gigantour and a live CD/DVD, and you'd think Ellefson might kick back and take it easy to start 2014. You'd be mistaken.
Ellefson has teamed up with fellow bassist Frank Bello of Anthrax as Altitudes & Attitude. The band has released a debut self-titled EP, which is a blend of modern rock and the metal they've become known for. I recently chatted with Ellefson about this new project and more.
GUITAR WORLD: You've obviously known Frank for a long time. When did the seed get sewn, so to speak, for Altitudes & Attitude?
We were doing bass clinics for our endorsement of Hartke bass amplification a few years back when the Big Four were playing shows together. I just said to Frank, “We should really write some of our own material we can play for these clinics. Something unique just for us.”
So last year at Bass Player Live! at the Key Club in Hollywood, Frank got us talking to Anthrax producer Jay Ruston, who is also a bass player, and he got excited to get on board to record some songs for us. We agreed to do just a few songs we could release in EP format. This would make the workload easier with all of our schedules and even allow us to continue releasing more songs moving forward as well. Jay brought in Jeff Friedl on drums and even suggested Gus G to play the solos I wanted to have on the track “Here Again."
Who is doing what as far as instruments and vocals?
Frank plays guitar on “Booze and Cigarettes” and “Tell the World,” and I play guitar on “Here Again." We wrote those songs on guitar so it’s natural that we'd play those parts. Frank sings on everything and I play bass on everything.
The really fun and creative twist to the session happened when we picked up Frank’s eight-string bass to do some overdubs. I asked Frank to bring it to the studio because I thought that is the one bass-register instrument that could really embellish the harmony of the songs. As it turns out, it became our go-to solo instrument for both of us. You can hear the lead bass licks we both play on “Here Again." It really took the clinic-type approach of ripping solos to a whole new level on the record.
When do you guys find the time to write material?
Frank had a few full songs sitting around that he wanted to release. His label, Mega Force, had already heard them and really liked them, so we knew we might have an outlet to release these tracks. I also thought we should have some material that was instrumental in nature for our clinics, which is why I brought in “Here Again." In fact, that song is specifically composed and recorded so we can use it as a clinic backing track to play bass solos over top of it, or we can perform it with the whole band including vocals.
The first track from the EP, "Booze and Cigarettes," has a more modern rock feel. Is it nice to have creative outlets outside of Megadeth to explore other styles?
I agree, it still rocks but it is something different than what our main bands do. I think that keeps it fresh and fun for us and our fans. In the beginning of creating a band, you have to stay focused and united so that your audience gets behind you in every way. But all these years later, I think our fans now also appreciate hearing us do some other things from time to time too. Our two bands are well established in thrash music so our fans know we aren’t going solo. We are just good friends making some music together.
With Frank doing a new Anthrax record and your hectic schedule of touring and press for your book, is there a chance we'll see any touring?
I don’t know if touring is on the horizon, but certainly some one-off performance offers have come our way. In particular, some clinic-based performances can now be more of an all-inclusive concert. So rather than just go up and playing Megadeth or Anthrax songs to an iPod, we now have something new and original to display and incorporate into a night of master class instruction and even live performance.
Is there anything new gear-wise for you at this year's Winter NAMM Show?
SIT Strings released an extra-long-scale version of my signature Nickel Power Wound bass strings. So now we have four- and five-string sets in standard and extra-long scale for all-size instruments.
A couple months back, Jackson Guitars released my signature Kelly Bird bass, which is a design I created with them to extend the bass offerings with the company. From there, I just started using the Dual Bass Station pedal from Providence in my live touring rig.
The Jackson basses into the Hartke amplifiers is such an identifiable characteristic tone for me in Megadeth. But it’s difficult to really detail every nuance of the many different tones I’ve recorded on all the records over the years, especially the really bright top end from the So Far, So Good…So What, Rust In Peace and Countdown to Extinction records. The Dual Bass Station allows me to really focus in that extremely bright top end while still retaining the powerful bottom end from the Hartke Hydrive 810 cabs.
Getting strong bass and crisp top end is very difficult to achieve from one amp rig, but I’ve finally gotten it dialed in right where I want it now using this pedal. It makes it much easier to play when I’m not digging into the strings so hard trying to create that “snap” tone off the fingerboard anymore either. The last U.S. tour was a real treat for me to get that missing piece dialed in.
Are you happy with the fans' reaction to My Life with Deth?
Thankfully, it has been fantastic. You never really know how people will respond when you lay your life out there like that, but fortunately the years of experience have been well received by musicians and non-musicians alike. I just tried to speak from the heart. I don’t have any axes to grind or some point I needed to prove. More than anything, we all have a story of our lives and this one is mine.
What's next for David Ellefson?
We’ve had a really nice two-month break from the road since December, and some time away gets you fired up to get back out there and get rocking again. We have a really full year of world touring coming up starting in New Zealand and Australia and then up to Indonesia and the Philippines. From there we have another headlining tour of South America and then a couple months in Europe over the summer. We have a few other little gems in the works as well.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Youthansia album, and for places like South America it was the new album when we debuted the band to those audiences back in 1994 and '95. Anniversary albums have been a fun celebration for us and our fans these past few years. It reminds you that without the fans’ support none of this is possible. So seize the moment and celebrate what we’ve created together!
John Katic is a writer and podcaster who founded the Iron City Rocks Podcast in 2009. It features interviews with countless rock, hard rock, metal and blues artists. In 2013, he started Heavy Metal Bookclub, a podcast and website devoted to hard rock and metal books.