In a brand new interview with Antihero, MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson 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.
"Speaking for me, I have been a bass player since I was 11 years old," he said. "When I moved to Hollywood in 1983 upon graduation was my real… That was me really diving in the deep end of the big-boys club, and then Dave [Mustaine, MEGADETH leader] and I secured our first record deal with Combat Records in 1984. So, since I was about 19 years old, I've always had a record deal and I've always been under contract to write and record original music. I'm very blessed because there are many people who want to do that. At the same time, in today's world, you probably make more money being in a tribute band or a cover band and playing on the weekend, because unless you got in the game many years ago, and I'm talking 15, 20, 30 years ago, and built a name for yourself, it's really difficult to be able to make a living at this."
He continued: "When you're young, you can do it because your expenses are low and you've got nothing to lose. It's everything you live for. As you get older and you want to improve your quality of life and your standard of living, like we all naturally do — buy a home, have a car, maybe raise a family — doing that exclusively with a music career is very difficult. And I've been able to do it my whole life. I'm very blessed."
Ellefson admitted that things haven't always been easy, especially during his time away from MEGADETH.
"I went through a transition in the early 2000s when MEGADETH disbanded and ended," he said. "And I feared that day because I was really not prepared for it. As much as we were very successful, our businesses were earning a lot of money, when it stops, it stops. So does the money and I mean, it all shuts down. That transition was something I was not prepared for. So, I spent, really, 2002 until I came back to MEGADETH in 2010 really hustling and working hard, probably working the hardest I've ever worked, while already a well-known and kind of hallmark artist and bass player. I was working harder than I ever had before in my life. And so when I came back to MEGADETH [in] 2010, I made it my mission that MEGADETH, it's great to be back home and playing those songs for our fans, but only a fool would just put all our eggs back in one basket again, knowing the frailties."
Ellefson added: "That's one of the things when you're in a group setting when you rely on each other to keep the doors of your business open, is, boy, if one guy goes down, the business is over. Most businesses aren't like that, you know. Apple computer, when Steve Jobs died, had a transition process and the company survived. Rock bands aren't usually like that, because they're very personality-driven and that's a big part of it. So I think for me in the last decade especially has been while I'm still in MEGADETH and enjoying great success, having a lot of fun doing that, I've learned that there are other things that I want to do with my life, and there are other things that would be wise for me to do with my life. And quite honestly, it's always more fun to build your future while you're currently active and busy, rather than being behind the eight ball, scrambling and hustling.
"So, this last decade of me doing all this stuff that I'm doing, which I spoke very openly about in [my latest book] 'More Life With Deth', comes from real labor of love. It's not a dire necessity. I'm not grasping at straws. I'm not desperately trying to do things. These are all things that are very fun. The record label, the coffee company, management company. Even making records with [ANTHRAX's] Frank Bello, with METAL ALLEGIANCE, these things, these are all born out of passion and just a real love of music and all the things that it provides."
Mustaine reformed MEGADETH 15 years ago after disbanding the group in 2002. 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.
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."