David Ellefson, the legendary bassist for Megadeth, is gearing up for some special tour dates with his all-star group Metal Allegiance. Metal Allegiance’s core members are David Ellefson (Megadeth), Alex Skolnick (Testament), Mike Portnoy (Ex-Dream Theater) and Mark Menghi. Guest vocalists have included Phil Anselmo, Randy Blythe, Troy Sanders, Chuck Billy, Mark Osegueda, Cristina Scabbia, Doug Pinnick, Jamey Jasta, Chris Jericho, Tim “Ripper” Owens, Alissa White-Gluz, Steve “Zetro” Souza, Max Cavalera and Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth”. Their latest album, Volume II: Power Drunk Majesty was released by Nuclear Blast Records in September of 2018 and has been receiving rave reviews. David was excited to tell us all about the album and the friendship that he has with the other guys in Metal Allegiance, as well as recent Megadeth recording news and how KISS inspired him to be a rock musician. Check out our interview with David below:
XS ROCK: Hey Dave! So, I understand you’ve got some news about your all-star band, Metal Allegiance?
David: What’s going on with me right now is a four-concert date tour across Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. It’s our five year anniversary tour. In every city were doing something special to recognize the metal celebration of that particular region. So, here in Phoenix, for instance, tomorrow night we’re having Max Cavalera, Flotsam & Jetsam and Sacred Reich all join us on stage. In San Francisco where we’re ending, we’ll be the house band for the premiere of the film Murder In The Front Row which is the thrash documentary of the Bay Area thrash metal scene that’s being premiered and there will be a screening of it and then we have the show that night. So yeah it’s really kind of a big thing going on. It’s an awesome week and ironically I just saw last night online… I kind of forgot about it… but it was actually 35 years ago today this week that we were actually doing our second round of shows with Megadeth launching the band in the Bay Area, literally 35 years ago this week, so it’s been a long journey. So it’s kind of ironic the timing of all this. We’ve got two albums and an EP out. Our last album Volume II: Power Drunk Majesty came out back in September so part of this is going out to perform songs from both of our records, as well as some metal classics and just rally the troops and go out and have some fun this week.
XS ROCK: Who do you have lined up as vocalists for these shows?
David: So it’s the core four of us on music, Me, Portnoy, Skolnick and Menghi and for singers, we have John Bush, Chuck Billy, and Troy Sanders.
XS ROCK: That’s a great line up! Switching gears to Megadeth for a minute, tell me a little bit about those tour plans. Megadeth was scheduled to open for Ozzy, but those dates have been pushed back almost a year because of Ozzy’s injury. When that tour starts up again will Megadeth be the on the bill or is that too far out for you to know?
David: You know, I don’t know. We’re going to take things as they come. It’s just to far out to know right now. We’ll be pressing forward on recording the new album. So that’s all systems go. And we’ll be ramping up for Rock In Rio and some other concert dates. On new albums, we take the time that we need to make them great. We’re not looking at just pushing out an album to just put another tour together. It’s more important that the albums are really something significant and strong. We’ll be in working on an album and I think we’re just going to take it from there.
XS ROCK: Let’s talk about your bandmates in Metal Allegiance. What’s it like working with all of these guys from different bands?
Dave: It’s good. We come from very different backgrounds in so many ways, yet we’re all so much alike. We’ve all traveled on a similar path. You know Portnoy being a prog musician, Skolnick and I are thrash guys, although I venture over into rock like I’m doing with Frank Bello in Altitudes and Attitudes. Skolnick ventures over into jazz and Mark Menghi who’s being kind of steady ballast down the middle between all of us to keep the vision and what Metal Allegiance was always designed to be. It’s been fun and it’s great to work with other people and be inspired by friends. To see how they work….the dynamic inside their bands. We’re all also so similar because you know we’re all in the metal genre and our music is kind of similar in one sense, because we’re all from a similar sub-genre with thrash metal, but yet it’s fun to sort of see how each person works.
XS ROCK: So when you’re recording an album, take, for instance, your latest one, Volume II; Power Drunk Majesty, Do you guys record in the studio together or send working tracks back and forth?
Dave: Well we all write the album together and for that part, we’re very much in the room together. Then Mike Portnoy tracks the drums and then from there, we split it out into whatever respective studios that we work at. Menghi and Skolnick generally work pretty closely together because they’re both in New York. I mostly work remotely out here in Arizona where I’m at, but we style our own individual parts and you know that’s kind of personal exploration. Once we get everything set, we pass it over to the vocalists and that becomes kind of its own process. With Max Cavalera we let him go in and just do what he does. Blitz wanted to have a little more creative latitude with what we gave him so he can make it his own. John Bush said, “You tell me what to sing and I’ll do whatever you want”. So everyone’s different you know. Everyone has a different approach. We write from a music point of view first, we’re always thinking about it and Skolnick is really good at phrasing melody lines and phrasing lyric lines over things to give the singers that space.
XS ROCK: So give me a little insight as to how you got involved with Metal Allegiance.
David: Well, actually, it started with me. Me and Mark Menghi. He was an artist relations rep for Hartke bass amplifiers and he initially during the Big Four shows back in 2010-12, he put me and Frank Bello together to do some bass clinics and then he put together a little bit bigger look called Metal Masters which was me, Frank (Bello), Charlie Benante and Mike Portnoy and I was kind of more of a Clinic / All-Star thing which then grew into a much bigger thing There was a point where Menghi moved on past the artist relations position and I called Mark and said “why don’t we keep this going”? We already had everyone together and had so much fun doing it so he chose the name Metal Allegiance and literally within a couple of weeks later we had an opportunity to debut the band on Motorhead’s Motorboat maiden voyage in 2014. And that’s when we rolled it out. We were only playing cover songs at that point. But we had so much fun doing that Portnoy said: “Let’s go to my house and write an album”. After that, a rep from Nuclear Blast came down to hear it and he loved it and offered us a deal. And now here we are with these three releases now.
XS ROCK: What advice would you give new bands starting out today?
David:You know, as much as the industry has evolved, changed and the way music fans listen to music through iPhones and streaming all these things as much as that component is changed, at the beginning of the food chain it’s still just people creating music and you should never get into it for money. If you want to get in the music business for money, go be a lawyer. But if you enjoy playing and you like creating and you like that feeling, always do it for the fun of it. Even in Metal Allegiance, we do it for the fun of it. We get together under the spirit of just enjoying our friendship and our music together. So I think that’s always at the core of it. It’s a lot of work and it’s certainly not for everybody and I think, first and foremost you need to be realistic about it and enjoy the music and enjoy the friendship.
XS ROCK: Being in a band of all-stars like this…Is it challenging sometimes to get everyone’s agenda to be on the same page? Since everybody works in another band?
David: Yeah, yeah it can be. I mean scheduling thing with Metal Allegiance is probably the most challenging part of it. We missed a lot of great opportunities because of scheduling conflicts. With that said, we try not to get frustrated over that. We try to remember what it is, why it is and the place that it’s meant to reside in our lives. Otherwise, you can lose focus, get resentful and say “Why can’t we do this or that?” you know I have a full-time position in another band and that has to be the priority. You don’t want to risk a friendship over a gig.
XS ROCK: Which do you prefer most writing songs and recording or playing in front of a live audience?
David: I like both, you know. I grew up playing cover songs initially. I started writing when I was twelve years old. Even in my little band, I’d always write one or two little songs and sing them. It’s fun to play a new song. And yet at the same time, it’s fun to get together with my buddies and jam some cover songs and some favorites along with our original songs that we play. With Megadeth obviously, we play original music and with me and Frank Bello we play originals but we also colored it in with some KISS and Cheap Trick and other fun things that we like also. It’s important to me now more than ever. Up until 2002 when Megadeth disbanded, all I had played was Megadeth stuff for eighteen years. As a young kid, we formed a band, always had a record deal and performed original music. So it was fun during the time that I was away from that, to get me back to what got me into music in the first place. Playing some cover songs and just playing music for the fun of playing music again. And then that led me to new endeavors of writing new songs writing new things and you know that really got me kind of balanced. Now, I write and play original music, my own or other peoples and then also be able to go out and play some cover tunes and just enjoy music for music’s sake.
XS ROCK: You seem pretty eclectic which I would think might be more interesting instead of just making music of one particular genre.
David: Yeah, exactly. It’s nice to have variety. I think in the beginning when you start a band you need to be one hundred percent focused on that mission to build something and since I’ve done that for a good portion of my life it’s, now it’s okay to go out and experiment a little bit and have some other creative seasons and work with other people. I write a lot of music that doesn’t necessarily fit into one specific bucket. It’s nice to be able to take these things and go out and perform in other areas and have music experiences with other people. You know, I think I always come back to my main gigs much stronger when I step out and have some of these other musical experiences.
XS ROCK: It seems like you pretty much knew early on what you wanted to do for a career. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
David: Greatest accomplishments… I mean maybe having survived all these years. You know, it’s kind of funny and we laugh about it, but in the music business that’s not always easy. It can be very challenging, so that’s one. I mean certainly obviously winning a Grammy. There are those moments that are fun to get those accolades. I think just staying in the game. When it’s something you really like to do you know you never really did it for the rewards and the awards you did it for the satisfaction. So to be able to do something all these years later that still brings me satisfaction and enjoyment, to me that’s a blessed life
XS ROCK: What artists or bands did you see, early on, that made you think this is for me?
David: Well, I’m from the KISS generation. They were my Beatles and they were the band that did something just so cool, so big and in such an enormously impressive way that it really glorified everything about rock and roll. I’d sit in school and just wish I could be them. So when my turn came up to go pursue that…with Megadeth, for instance, looks very different. We didn’t wear makeup and platforms and we didn’t have drum risers that went twenty feet in the air. We were more of a basic stripped-down version of that and the impact to our generation that followed us was equally as impressive because we were singing a song and speaking the language to our generation, the same way that KISS sang songs for my generation. It wasn’t so much that we did what KISS did, but they impressed us with the power in this voice that they had to rally everyone together under their flag. You know we’re always looking for where do we belong. Am I a biker, a jock, what team am I am on? What tribe do I belong to? Mine was always rock and roll.
XS ROCK: You’ve been playing music for quite some time now. Are there still any musicians that you stand in awe of or would still like a chance to work with?
David: I’m thankful that I grew up a fan of other groups ahead of me. KISS and many others like Cheap Trick, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath. I mean there’s so many of them that influenced me. KISS certainly got the ball rolling. I’d love to write songs with Paul Stanley. He’s an amazing writer with so much great material. It would be great to go jam with Eddie Van Halen or Steve Lukather. Also, Stanley Clarke, the jazz bass player.
XS ROCK: Is there anything that you’d like to say to your fans? Just that. Thank you for supporting this journey that I’ve been on. I’ve been fortunate to have this creative journey and I’m glad that I’m not on it alone. It’s with many of my friends as well as all the fans who have been so kind to support us and support me and it’s been a blessed life and thank you for letting me share it with you and thank you for sharing your life with me.
XS ROCK: Thanks for taking the time out to talk with us today. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
David: Absolutely! You’re welcome
Order the latest Metal Allegiance Album here