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Megadeth’s David Ellefson: “I was a heroin addict and playing the biggest shows of my life”

David Ellefson of Megadeth
(Image credit: Press/Melody Myers)

David Ellefson is the basisst and second-longest serving member of Megadeth, the band he co-founded with Dave Mustaine in 1983. Following a hiatus away from Megadeth for most of the 2000s, he rejoined in 2010. In 2020, Ellefson released the album No Covers with his eponymous solo band, as well as his debut novel, Rock Star Hitman. He’s currently working on the new Megadeth album.

Metal Hammer line break

What’s the worst thing about being in a band?

“Compromise. In and of itself it’s not so bad – it’s how society works. But in bands, you generally work with people who are at least a little self-obsessed and the spotlight magnifies that.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

“My dad always told me: you’re not great until someone else says you are. You should be confident in your skills, but if your public aren’t buying your records or coming to see you play, you’re not as good as you think you are!”

When was the first time you felt like a rock star?

“Winning the Grammy [in 2017 for Megadeth’s Dystopia] was another level. But there’s also things like touring with Judas Priest or Kiss; those bands changed my life and to stand on the same stage as them is a real ‘call home’ moment.”

What’s been your worst experience on drugs?

“When I got sober in 1990 it took a year until people would trust me because I was always letting them down. The 18 months before that – starting with Monsters Of Rock at Donington 1988 – were incredibly dark. That’s why Download for me is a moment where everything gets brought back home: playing the biggest shows of my life, but in my worst condition due to being a heroin addict. Every time we’ve played since is a chance to make amends.”

When was the last time you cried?

“In summer 2016 I had an interesting week. I broke my foot in Hungary – I tried to stand on it and was knocked back down with pain, so we had to cancel our remaining shows. Then as I got home my mother passed away. It was a double whammy and I cried tears of pain, but also tears of joy for my mother because I was thankful for the many years she was on the planet.”

What does your new covers solo album, No Cover, mean to you?

No Cover was an opportunity to go back through our record collections and find the things that really meant something to us, the bands that inspired me to pick up a bass guitar.”

There seems to be a pretty strong connection to Def Leppard’s On Through The Night.

“We not only covered a song [Wasted], but also the album cover – that’s how much it means to me! I had a band in Minnesota growing up and our drummer said, ‘Check it out – these guys are teenagers’ and there they were on the back of the album, opening for AC/DC. Because of their age, that one record made everything look possible, especially to a 15-year-old kid.”

Ellefson vocalist Thom Hazaert suffered heart failure last summer. How did that affect your outlook?

“It gave me a great sense of gratitude for everything he does for me; he’s always been one of my biggest fans, friends and cheerleaders. He’s been there through thick and thin, so his heart attack was a sobering wake-up call to how difficult it would be to suddenly lose him from this world.”

How did the relaunch of Combat Records come about?

“Well, Dave [Mustaine] and I did not have a good experience with Combat back in the day, but they were also our first stepping stone, and Thom pointed out that even though we’d had a bad experience, people of his generation grew up on bands from Combat, and relaunching it could help other bands on their way. He’s got great vision for things like that and anything he puts his mind to is something we can do.”

What are your hopes and plans for the rest of 2020?

“I have a book coming out, Rock Star Hitman. It’s a murder mystery starring just that, a rock star hitman! We’ll also navigate the next Ellefson solo record around Megadeth activity next summer. With everything going on, it feels good to have so many things on the start line, especially when you don’t know which horse will actually get to leave the gate!” 

Published in Metal Hammer #346