David Ellefson says that MEGADETH's split in 2002 turned out to be "probably the best thing" for everybody involved.
Dave Mustaine reformed MEGADETH in 2004 ago after disbanding the group two years earlier. Originally setting out to record a solo album, Mustaine enlisted studio musicians to play on what ultimately became MEGADETH's 2004 "The System Has Failed" comeback album, subsequently recruiting former ICED EARTH bassist James MacDonough to take Ellfeson's place for the album's touring cycle.
In 2004, Ellefson filed an $18.5-million lawsuit against Mustaine, alleging the frontman shortchanged him on profits and backed out of a deal to turn Megadeth Inc. over to him when the band broke up in 2002. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed and Ellefson rejoined MEGADETH in 2010.
Speaking about MEGADETH's split and his time away from the group, Ellefson told the "Talking Bollocks" podcast (hear audio below): "In 2002, when MEGADETH had come to an end and Dave walked away from the band, and essentially we disbanded, I think everybody who's in a big, successful group, you fear that day coming. Because not very many bands are set up in a way where they're devoid of the personality and it only stands on the music and the show. There's very few. I mean, that's kind of how they put together Broadway musicals and things like that where there's always a star, but it's bigger than the star. Well, in these rock bands that we have, they're very personality driven. And if one or two personalities walk away, it's over. So what I saw as the day of impending doom that I always felt may happen finally happened, and when it happened, I had kind of two feelings. One was, 'Thank God that's over,' because it was so much work. But that was just a temporary feeling — like, 'Oh, my God. Thank God the pressure is off,' followed immediately by, 'Holy shit! How am I gonna pay for my life?' which is the reality of it."
He continued: "We all go through those emotions — if you're in any business, you're like that. But as things moved along, I realized, here I am in my mid-30s at the time raising a young family, having to work very hard to kind of recorrect the course of my life and pay my bills and everything else that I needed to do. In a weird way, MEGADETH going away allowed me to really just become my own man."
Ellefson also once again spoke about the importance of musicians exploring other avenues of creativity and different ways to generate income in an art form where most bands have a shelf life of just a few years.
"It's important, I think, that everybody in a group has their own identity, that they're able to stand on their own two feet," he added. "I see members of bands that they've kind of just been known for doing that one thing and maybe haven't stepped out musically to do other things, and I can only imagine the frustration. Because I've gotten to know a lot of other friends who have gone out and done other things, whether it be Doyle, Dave Lombardo… Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith had a season away from IRON MAIDEN and they actually opened for MEGADETH on some shows in Poland and Greece when they were in that season of their lives. Then we come back to our main bands that we're known for and we actually bring strength back, and our bands then become even bigger than they were before. And so I think sometimes that season out in the wilderness to sort of find who you are, when it's forced upon you, as it was for me through a series of circumstances there back in 2002, that season before I returned back to MEGADETH in 2010 was one of incredible growth for me. And then also realizing that, 'You know what? It's gonna be okay.' The good lord always provides a way — when there seems no other way [laughs], there always seems to be a path. I think those are the things I talk pretty openly about in my two memoirs, and I think 'More Life With Deth' really exemplifies the actions that I've taken and some very productive results that have come out of that."
Asked if he thinks the break away from MEGADETH did him a lot of good, Ellefson said: "Yeah, and I think it did Dave good. Dave got to recorrect MEGADETH to be what he wanted it to be and not always having to listen to advisors and managers and people he was getting frustrated with. So it's interesting how sometimes you get a little break away and everybody kind of finds their own way and then, in our case, when we came back together, we came back together better friends, better artists, musicians, and I think we kind of understood the roles that we each play maybe a little better. So it turned out to be, in hindsight, probably the best thing for all of us."
In his first memoir, "My Life With Deth", Ellefson admitted that he became a salaried employee upon his return to MEGADETH nine years ago. He told Metal-Rules.com in a recent interview: "Going from being a co-founding owner to just a sideman musician was initially why I didn't come back in 2004. I was not happy with the participations that were presented to me. In recent times, coming back, I found great joy in doing music with a lot of other people in other settings that helped me fall back in love with playing music. Now I can come back into or go into musical situations and be able to be there for a purpose and level of pay. Being a sideman absolves you from being involved in all the other stuff. At this point in my life, I would rather leave that stuff on the sidelines. Like American Express says, 'membership has its privileges,' being a sideman has its benefits. In my case, it helps retain a friendship too. In order to have a friendship, I had to give up some ownership."