The last time we covered Megadeth must have been in archive zine issue #1, back in 1991. A cleaned-up version of our interview from that issue is below.
Megadeth certainly has gone through its fair share of lineup changes, personal problems, et cetera. The band has a long history, but it’s still around, to its credit. A testimonial to that is the new tour in support of Megadeth’s fourth album, Rust in Peace. There since the beginning is the bassist, David “Junior” Ellefson.
In a November of 1990 phone interview, D.U. asked Ellefson, who was speaking from a hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico, how the band got its first record deal with Combat Records circa 1986. Combat wanted to sign Megadeth back when the band sent its 1984 demo to the labels.
There was even a couple labels interested before that. Like, Johnny Z with Megaforce was totally into what we were doing even back in ’83. Obviously he wasn’t the kinda person that we were really interested in, first of all because of the whole Metallica thing. There were still a lot of bad vibes there with Dave [Mustaine] and that whole thing. And y’know, it wasn’t the kinda thing where we wanted to, like, play second fiddle to Metallica on a record label. And that’s why we just proceeded to go ahead and do the demo.
I mean, in those days, demos, as much as they were for the record companies, it was also good because everyone was doing tape trading. So the tape trading thing was very cool, and it’s like, your demo, you record it today, mix it tomorrow, and it’s around the world the next day.
D.U. asked if Combat had offered them a sweet deal.
Combat? Hah! I would hardly call it sweet, but it was a dea! [laughs] Fuck, I mean, now major labels’ll pick up metal bands no problem. Not that they’ll fuckin’ have any career, but back in ’84, that was the way that it was done. It was like, you’d have to do a demo, you’d have to go through the stepping blocks of starting on an independent and going to a major label. And that’s what we did.
Actually, Combat had offered us the best deal that we could get at that time, y’know? I don’t think that they had any idea as to what they were in for. Combat is the kinda label, as with a lot of independent labels, that just fuckin’ signs bands left and right. Like what they say, throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks. I don’t think they knew that we actually had a plan, that we were more than just some fuckin’ kids drinking beer and playing in a thrash band. ‘Cause that’s what a lot of the bands that they were signing at that time were, basically.
The thing is, we played and toured before we even recorded [the second album] Peace Sells […But Who’s Buying? released by major label Capitol Records]. We were playing Peace Sells material because that was kinda like our pre-production. And it was actually pretty cool, because in those days we couldn’t afford pre-production. We didn’t have fuckin’ Capitol Records there to loan us money to go in a studio and fuckin’ record stuff. So it was the best way to rehearse and the best way to see if our songs are happening is to just go on tour and play ‘em, y’know? It really worked out pretty cool.
The next subject was how Megadeth got on Capitol Records.
We did a tour for [the first album] Killing Is My Business […And Business Is Good! released on Combat], right, and almost all the songs for Peace Sells were comin’ together at that time. Anyway, we went in and we recorded Peace Sells for Combat, and it was recorded, mixed and ready to be released. What it was is the seven major labels were all interested, and then it turned into like a bidding war. So it was pretty exciting, it was pretty cool. And Capitol, they gave us a sweet deal; now that I would call a sweet deal. So we went with them.
D.U. asked Ellefson: Did Dave Mustaine have the complete and only say in kicking drummer Gar Samuelson and guitarist Chris Poland out?
No, definitely not. You know what? It’s like, I know a lot of shit is perceived like Dave is an asshole and he’s hard to work with and this and that. This is just the shit that I read. And Dave and I are completely together in all that stuff. I mean, there’s a lotta things that I wanna do that we don’t do because they’re just not right, or that we do do because they’re right, and it’s the same thing with Dave. We’re a team and we work together.
And that was the problem with Gar and Chris; it wasn’t like teamwork. ‘Cause Dave and I are doin’ our thing and we, like, had the direction of how we wanted our band to go, and then there’s Gar and Chris off on a whole other plane, y’know? Basically what we wanted to do and how we put it to those guys is, “As this lineup stands, it’s over.”
Then Megadeth had Chuck Behler on drums and Jeff Young on guitar, and they got kicked out too.
Well, I tell ya, with Chuck, we had jammed with him a couplea times. We’re not the kinda guys that are gonna throw out the dirty water before we have clean water, you know what I mean? So we knew that Chuck was gonna be able to work out with us. Jeff, on the other hand, came in pretty much the last minute while we were recording [the third album] So Far, So Good … So What! Played a few guitar solos and that was it. Um, I think the mistake we made with Chuck and Jeff is that we tried to replace Gar and Chris, y’know? And that’s why I think with Marty [Friedman, guitar] and Nick [Menza, drums], it’s no longer about replacing anybody; it was about just trying to find the right guys for the band, period. And I think that we’ve definitely fuckin’ struck gold big time with these guys.
D.U. went on to ask Ellefson about playing bass.
Well, I started playin’ when I was 11; about 14 years I’ve been playing. And I wanted to play bass from the very start—I’m not a reject guitar player—and the day I got my bass I was totally into it. That was what I wanted to do right from the get-go. I like bass players that have licks, y’know? Someone like Geezer Butler; he’s got kinda like his little patented licks and shit, and I’m into that vibe.
At this point right now I really want to play more new songs. None of these songs are really easy. It’s not like I’m just up there fuckin’ breezing through these songs. It’s like, I pretty much go out of my way to make sure that every song at some point or another is a challenge to play.
We asked about the different instrument brands Megadeth plays.
The B.C. Rich thing? Y’know, it was kinda funny, ‘cause I had a B.C. Rich Mockingbird bass when I moved to California, and when I met Dave, he had his Rich Bich, and we played those. We had already started workin’ with B.C. Rich, not really an official endorsement thing; it was kinda like, “Alright, well, we’ll see what happens.” So then we get Gar in the band. Actually, Gar used to work at B.C. Rich; he used to be the fuckin’ manager. So he was fuckin’ bringin’ guitars to us every day. “Dude, check out this double neck fuckin’ four-string eight-string bass!” and shit like that. Personally, I really liked B.C. Rich a lot when they were hand made, and the instruments that both Dave and I had, his Bich and my Mockingbird, they were the hand made ones. Then they got on the production line thing and all their quality just went to shit.
And at that point, that was when—I guess we were on the road for Peace Sells—I went into a music store, and I wanted to try out a Jackson, and the guy just by mistake fuckin’ plugged me into a Harkey speaker cabinet, and it was just like, “Fuck, this is it, right here.” So that’s what I’ve been using now for the past four years. For the most part I think across the board, Jackson makes some kill instruments. It’s kinda like, if you’re gonna endorse something, endorse it ‘cause you use it and you really like it, not because it’s free.
Ellefson explained exactly what possessed Megadeth to record the Alice Cooper cover of “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”
Hah! Fuckin’ demonic possession. Personally, you know what? I could go on and on about how much I hate that song and about how much it’s fuckin’ bullshit, but I did play on it all the same. That was right when we got Nick in the band. I mean, Nick was in the band for, like, two days, and all of a sudden it was like, “Alice Cooper can’t do this, they would like us to do it, Desmond Child’s gonna [record] it,” and we were like, “Oh, holy shit, what crap this is!” And we just knew that Desmond was just fuckin’ [pauses] hey, he may be good for some people, but y’know. In all honesty we didn’t make fuck-all on that, so it wasn’t even about the money. It was kind of a thing to hold us over.
And that was the end. Ellefson had to get going to do another phone interview.
You know what? It was cool talkin’ to ya, man.