David Ellefson Discusses Altitudes & Attitude, Metal Masters, Megadeth + More
Megadeth bassist David Ellefson is a busy man. Along with holding down the low end for the thrash legends, Ellefson is currently lending his talents to Altitudes & Attitude, a project just launched with Anthrax‘s Frank Bello and A Perfect Circle‘s Jeff Friedl. The bassist is also appearing at the much-anticipated Metal Masters 5 clinic.
During our exclusive interview with David Ellefson, the metal legend speaks in-depth about all of the topics above. Ellefson praises Frank Bello’s vocal work on A&A, conveys that Megadeth is “playing the best the band has ever been” + much more. Enjoy our interview with Megadeth’s David Ellefson!
How did you come up with Altitudes & Attitude as a band name? It makes me think of a bad-ass drunken pilot.
[Laughs] The summary is, the two words came to me one day and I thought ‘Altitudes & Attitude’ because we’ve been through them all. One day we were in the studio finishing this record up and we talked about it — “What do you think, Altitudes & Attitude?” And it kind of describes the dynamic between me and Frank’s personalities too. Some days I’m the altitude and he’s the attitude and some days I’m the attitude and he’s the attitude, with a little levity. [Laughs] So between the two of us, it’s a pretty cool working partnership.
Were you surprised when you witnessed Frank’s prowess behind the mic?
Yeah, you know what’s funny? I’ve worked with him on these Metal Masters clinics and he would jump up and start singing. So I already knew he had a great voice and just as much as he’s got the confidence to stand up there and sing. To me, that’s a big part of being a singer, is confidence, but he’s got a great tone and a great style. He really wanted to do it. In fact, I kept bringing up if we should have any guest musicians on this, he said, ‘Man, I really want to sing everything,’ and he wanted to keep it in house. He really wanted to do it. ‘Here Again’ was the song that took a little more time because we didn’t have any lyrics and Frank kind of came up with the concept for it, then I went in and wrote lyrics. Then he sang those.
I think when we put this out, when we let everyone hear these tunes, that was the one thing Frank was the least confident on, his singing. This is kind of his debut as a vocalist. There’s a little bit of roughness about it, he’s not a lead singer every day. It’s not a skill that he’s used every day, but it’s genuine. And to me, I’d rather hear genuine over skill any day. The real true essence of Frank came out through the microphone. It was a really cool process to be in the room and experience it because it was this whole other side of Frank, finally being realized and recognized and validated.
Metal Masters 5 is coming soon. What are you looking forward to most this time around and what are your best memories of past Metal Masters clinics?
I wasn’t able to do Metal Masters 4 because we were on a Megadeth tour. I was down in South America. I think it’s kind of cool because Billy Sheehan was brought into that one, made it a different lineup and did some different songs. Metal Masters is very organic, the setlist changes and the people who are involved with it kind of expand. That, to me, is kind of the spirit of what that is set out to be.
Having been there since the beginning, what’s it like to see Metal Masters grow in to such a unique event?
You know what? What I like is it’s community. It’s bringing everyone together. It started largely with the ‘Big 4.’ That was really where, the biggest of the big, we all got together and did it for the spirit of our fans and just celebrating the genre. I think Metal Masters is just a continuum of that. Of course, we can now spread it a little wider with Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan. The door is open for more and more people to be a part of it.
I think this one coming up, we’re going to start to break out a few of the songs that go even wider in the genre. Even though a lot of us play and listen to thrash metal, our influences were pretty wide — everything from KISS and Cheap Trick, to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, to what eventually became Megadeth, Pantera and Slayer. I like the saying, ‘Instead of just learning what your hero plays, study what your hero listened to.’ Then you’ll start to understand how he created his style. I think there’s always something we can learn, not only from the generation before us, but also the generation before that.
With Megadeth, you recently said that you think whatever comes next will probably sound a bit different from ‘Super Collider.’ It made me wonder, is there any older material in Megadeth’s past you’d like to re-hash?
I think for ‘TH1RT3EN’ we broke out the last of the older material. Particularly ‘New World Order,’ ‘Millennium of the Blind’ and then ‘Black Swan,’ which was, as I understand, the song that was left over from ‘United Abominations,’ which I love and I’m glad we put it on the record. There’s always bits and pieces and riffs and things. There was a riff tape that Dave and I were listening to. There was some stuff from Europe in 1995, I mean, little bits and pieces of things. There’s always some stuff out there. I think our attitude is, you never say ‘no’ to an idea. But sometimes you have to say ‘not right now’ to an idea. That leaves the door open to maybe work some other way out at another point in time.
How has your time in Megadeth right now been different than your near 20-year stint at the beginning?
I think there’s a good camaraderie right now. It’s been that way since I came back. The lineup is great. The lineup, I think, is playing the best that the band has ever been. Because we’re now focusing more on some production of a show rather than just four guys in front of a stack of amps playing the songs, it’s a fun era now. You go, ‘Okay, how can we push the envelope here and do something not only new for Megadeth, but something that none of our contemporaries are doing so we are unique in what we do. More than anything, it’s about the spirit. When the band plays great, it makes it fun to be on stage together. It inspires everyone to dig deep and bring your best to the table. That’s a pretty cool scenario. That’s not something every band gets to experience, especially this many years into the game.
Altitudes & Attitude’s debut EP is now available. To buy a copy, click here. Also, if you’re not able to attend Metal Masters 5 in person, be sure to watch the clinic’s live stream on Jan. 22 at 11PM EST.