It's really amazing at just how long I have been following the career of David Ellefson. For me it all started with the first Megadeth album 'Killing is my business...' and continues with his after Megadeth band F5. Ellefson's bass playing as usual is exceptional and the music has the capability of carrying this band a long way. I was very pleased to be given a chance to talk to Dave recently and really wanted to focus on what he's doing now, the band, the music, and other things. I had a really good time and enjoyed the information given in this chat. I hope you will find this equally worthy and if you haven't had a chance to check this band out, you are really missing some of the years best music!
Heavy Metal Resource: Hi David, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me. I really want to focus the bulk of this interview on your new band F5, so we may touch on Megadeth slightly, but not alot. I wanted to start off by just setting a timeline of sorts. The way I understand it is that Megadeth had basically disbanded. Where and how did the band come together after this?
David Ellefson: In 2002, my former situation had ended. I had moved forward with alot of music production and artist development. I went to Minneapolis and produced a project, a band called Numb, and that was when I met Dale Steele who is the singer of F5. Shortly around that time I was producing something for a group called Lifted. This band had our guitar player Steve Conley and drummer Dave Small. That was how I met all of those guys. Those bands either just disbanded or ended up parting ways so Steve, Dave, and myself got together in early 2003 and started writing some songs together just kind of on a whim. The songs just started flowing and the creativity was there and the vibe was great. we had a half a dozen songs or so and Dale was calling me and bugging me constantly for a gig or something, so I sent him up some tracks and he quickly sent them back and moved down to Phoenix. That was realty the birth of F5. The we brought in John Davis to be our second guitarist shortly thereafter. By mid 2003 we had without really any intention had a new band.
H.M.R. : Tell us in your opinion is different now with this band versus your longtime band Megadeth. You were in Megadeth for two decades and F5 is really fresh as a unit.
D. Ellefson: Well, musically I think F5 is a fresh new sound. It was really a process of continuing to write and working with Ryan Greene, who produced the album and Steve Smith who is the Executive Producer on it. I think between the two of them, they saw some really fine qualities in F5 and worked hard in the production of the record. This is the process where we really coined our credo which is 'F5 is heavy but always melodic'. We write on our guitars and from a heavy metal rock band fashion and the riffs in the music are heavy in F5, but we are always very cognoscente of the fact that without melody you really don't have a song. Our songs really, even though they originate with guitar riffs, they ultimately end up being finished with melody and vocals.
H.M.R. : I was going to tell you that the music on the album is just killer. I'm kind of an old school fan and followed Megadeth from album number one on. I think that fans going into this album and think that 'Hey, it's Dave Ellefson from Megadeth', are going to be surprised. This is not Megadeth. What they are going to get is what I perceive to be one of the best crossover albums I've heard in a long time. When I say crossover, I'm talking about the fact that this album is accessible to not only new fans that may listen to more modern metal, but also your more traditional fans as well.
D. Ellefson: Yeah, I would agree with that.
H.M.R. : With the album being as good as it is, I was curious to the fan reaction. I believe the album came out overseas earlier so I am curious about that reaction as well.
D. Ellefson: It did come out in Japan and Asia first and then Europe and now in North America. You know, it's funny because I thought the Europeans might react more harshly to it because it is a bit more modern sounding, but they loved it. The other thing is that I think more traditional metal fans and old school rock fans can appreciate F5 because there is some depth to the players, you know Steve Conley, Dale Steel and myself who are the primary writers of the F5 stuff. Most people know my history, but you can hear in how we play that we have been playing music for a long time and we have grown up on a lot of different things. Those influences come into F5. The Europeans like I said I though would probably not like it because they are more into a straight up traditional metal sound. I was pleasantly surprised that they really liked the modern edges and the incorporation of the modern as well as the old school stuff. Take songs like 'Bleeding'. This track is very much a traditional metal song. You take something like 'Defacing' or say 'Dissidence', those turn into a more modern type of song.
H.M.R. : It's kind of funny with the modern and traditional that we talk about, the modern is like with the way the album opens, that modern guitar riff that you hear in today's market. The thing that is missing in alot of these bands with the exception of a minor few is that melody that carries it.
D. Ellefson: Right, exactly. That is the thing that I liked working with Dale on when I produced his former band, is that Dale has a very unique sound and stood out from the rest of the crowd. He's a very prolific writer, he's witty and funny, and he has a natural rock and roll character about him. That's cool. To me that's more important than anything, a vocalist to carry this band. You know just a straight ahead cookie monster modern singer would have made F5 a whole different band.
H.M.R. : Yeah, there is alot of that stuff out there. As I listened to this album though and the first track 'Faded' starts, I was thinking Rob Halford. Dale was singing in the area of Halford's middle range and then all of the sudden it changed. Dale brought across his own identity and sound.
D. Ellefson: And again, what I like about Dale is that he opens his throat up and really sings, pronounces his words and you can actually hear everything that he is singing. He carries that melody from his gut. It's solid, it's powerful. To me, F5 stands for the force of five. It's the force and the power of the five of us playing together. That is F5. I think the album really captured that spirit and that feeling that we have when we play these songs.
H.M.R. : Listening to the album, I noticed a very interesting cover tune on it with 'What I Am'. I gotta be honest with you too, I didn't really care much for that song originally. I do think it is a really interesting take though with F5's rendition of it.
D. Ellefson: (laughs) You know it's funny. I think all of us metalheads hated music like that. That was the epitome of 1986 Mtv. I do have some metal buddies though that after hearing the F5 version of that, they kind of whispered to me that 'I always really did like that song'. Some of these tough guy metal guys do have a sensitive side after all. With that song, we stumbled on to it by accident. Steve Conley played a riff and it sounded something like that. I said 'Hey, is that that Edie Brickell song'. We all laughed. Next thing you know, we all figured it out and were pretty close to what we thought it was. We started playing it and by the time we hit the chorus and Dale was singing it, it was like oh man, hate to say it, but we may have found our cover. It was one of those things that just kind of fell right out on to the floor of the rehearsal room and it was undeniable that it was a road that we ended up going down.
H.M.R. : (laughing) Some of the people I have played it for that knew the original song do like your version better.
D. Ellefson: (laughs) Yeah, we got the more modern powerful version!
H.M.R. : Hey just curious, in the past with Megadeth there was a fair amount of political material. With the new album you have titles like the album title 'A Drug for all Seasons', where do you pull this subject material from and what does it mean?
D. Ellefson: You know, most of the stuff Dale wrote initially the first batch of lyrics. It was funny because some of the first songs we wrote were 'X'd out' even though it had a different title with different lyrics. That music was something that I wrote right out of the gate. I put that song together that eventually became 'X'd out', and 'Faded' and 'Bleeding' are three tunes that made it to the final cut. I think initially that Dale was going through some hard personal struggle, he was leaving Minneapolis to move to Phoenix. Phoenix is an odd place. Phoenix means 'rising from the ashes'. I think for him it was just that. He was sort of cutting ties to the past and moving into a new era of his life that was really centered around F5. I think lyrically for Dale, F5 was a very cool springboard for him to begin his next creative journey and alot of the stuff that he sang about was about some of his strife and dissatisfaction with his former life that he had when he was living in Minneapolis. It's certainly nothing against Minneapolis because I am a Minnesota guy. It's just that his whole former life was passing away and he basically wrote out his life at that period of time in 2003 and 2004.
H.M.R. : As far as the album title itself 'A Drug for all Seasons', what can be derived from that then?
D. Ellefson: Well, 'A Drug for all Seasons' is ultimately music. In this case I would like to think F5's music. As humans, we're always looking for something to make us feel good. Whether it's drugs, religion, money, gambling, sex, you know, going to the beach, we're always looking to derive pleasure. Music is one of them that is essentially timeless. Take for instance the Edie Brickell song, you could enjoy it then and again 20 years later (laughs).
H.M.R. : All though you may get asked this alot, I'll ask it anyway. Tell us what are your favorite tracks on the album and why they are.
D. Ellefson: I love the intro of the album with 'Faded'. It's something that we created in the studio. It was one of those moments. I remember sitting there with Ryan and talking to him about panning the guitars and those kind of things. I thought it was a really cool intro. I always liked the song 'Bleeding'. I really like the version that is on the album. I also like things like 'Look you in the Eyes'. It has that real dark ambiance big kind of cavernous sound to it. It's kind of cool to do 'Forte Sonata' because I just bought a 12 string bass that I used on the record. It was a piece that I came up with thinking it would be an intro to a song. It was kind of ironic that it ended up being the outro of the album.
H.M.R. : So tell us how the heck a 12 string bass works.
D. Ellefson: Well, a 12 string bass is just a 4 string bass, but next to each string is a couple of smaller guitar-like strings. It has a sound similar to like a mandolin meets an acoustic meets a glockenspiel meets a bass guitar. It has this really cool chimey ringy sound to it. I write a whole different thing when I'm playing it. It's really an awesome instrument.
H.M.R. : I haven't seen alot of musicians playing those. I saw that in your album though, that you were playing a variety of bass guitars on the record.
D. Ellefson: Yeah, it's been fun for me. Most of the stuff I wrote with F5 I wrote on guitar because I play alot of guitar. There was one section, maybe two on the record where I actually ended up playing rhythm guitar. There was something new and I knew how the part went, so I jumped in and played it. Musically, F5 has been a fun, exciting process for me. It's allowed me to showcase alot of different sides and types of music than people have been used to hearing me with.
H.M.R. : I wanted to put you into a hypothetical situation. Lets say that someone comes up to you and asks you who F5 sounds like. Who would you tell them to maybe be able to describe your sound a bit?
D. Ellefson: Sounds like F5. Well, you know, I would say... It's interesting because you could add some of the modern bands in there. One reference we hear alot is that we sound a bit like Disturbed or Sevendust. I can understand. Those are both great bands. To me I think that's a compliment. The other thing too is that I also hear some classic metal elements like Judas Priest maybe just from the vocals and guitar riffs. At times I hear something almost like Pink Floyd in there too.
H.M.R. : I definitely agree from the modern side with Disturbed. Not totally in the vocals though as Draiman has an edge to his vocals and Dale is a little cleaner sounding. Guitar-wise there are some definite similarities though. I think anyone that is into Disturbed is definitely gonna like your band.
D. Ellefson: Yeah, you know, it's one thing to be in a similar vein or genre as somebody else, but it's not like we sat around and ripped off a bunch of riffs from somebody (laughs). This album is really a very honest display of the music that we create when we are in a room together.
H.M.R. : And that's really where a band succeed's or not. F5 is very solid and delivers the goods and will definitely stand out among the rest! I was kind of curious about something. Everyone knows that you have been around for a long time now in the spotlight. Looking back at it all would you change anything or do anything different?
D. Ellefson: I don't know if I would change anything. You could change one tiny thing and it could alter the course of the whole thing. One of the things that I learned early on is that you have to know your place. Knowing how to operate in different organizations and different situations. At times I have gotten to be the boss. At times I have been an equal partner. At other times I am just required to show up and play my part and keep my mouth shut and just get on with it. That's probably the hardest thing that rock bands go through is that someone feels that they are being held back or that someone else is getting all of the attention. Maybe that someone else is making all of the money. There's always an opportunity in any rock band for people to not feel satisfied and that causes bands to break up. Members leave and things happen, that's just the nature of it in any business. Certainly when you are dealing with a creative issue, it gets magnified. I think my ability to sort of weather the storm and know that you have your moments to be in the spotlight, especially as a bass player, is to be there just to hold it together. It's not for me to always be the guy in the spotlight.
H.M.R. : I was looking at the F5 website last night and noticed that there are no tour dates up. I'm sure that the band will be touring at some point. Is there anything in the works for touring at this point?
D. Ellefson: This week we just started talking about that. We just had to wait until the album came out here in America and it's only been out for a couple of weeks. Now that radio stations around the country are playing it and obviously websites and magazines are talking about it, people can now find out about the album and hear the music. There is a reason to go out and play. We are just talking about that now and some offers are starting to come in. I think it will probably be a couple of months until we get it all rolling. Everybody's excited about getting out and playing.
H.M.R. : That's cool, that gives us a timeline anyway of when it all might happen. As far as promotions, one of the tools that bands use is videos. Is there any plans at this point to shoot a video for anything on the album?
D. Ellefson: You know, that is actually part of the same discussion.
H.M.R. : Okay, I guess those questions are just a bit premature at this point.
D. Ellefson: Obviously videos do help. In this day and age it's not enough to just hear a band. People want to see them too.
H.M.R. : Just out of curiosity, tell us what you have been listening to.
D. Ellefson: Right now I have been mostly listening to all of the stuff I have been working on. There's been so many things that I have been working on and alot of albums are coming out. To be honest with you, I haven't listened to too much music lately. I did a couple of shows with Soulfly last month so within a couple of weeks I had to learn about 20 songs or so. Then I did this benefit thing where I had to learn another bunch of songs. Mostly the stuff I have been listening to is the stuff I need to listen to to learn the songs to play them. As a fan, I have been listening to the Therion record with the Stockholm Symphony Orchestra. I like those guys, they are cool. That's really about it. Sometimes I turn the radio on just to hear some stuff in the background. I have these other couple of records with Avian and War Machine. I haven't listened to those because I produced and worked on them a year or two ago. Now I am listening to them again because they are being released and coming out. It takes me back in time a little bit and am appreciating all of the work everyone did on it.
H.M.R. : I don't have alot more, but I do like to ask each artist that I interview this question. The current scene seems to be getting better and much kinder to the music that we know and love. What from your perspective do you see happening in the future?
D. Ellefson: We'll, it's funny. With Judas Priest reforming and Iron Maiden out on Ozzfest and with new bands like Chimera and Lamb of God carrying the torch on from my generation, you know the stuff that we were all creating. Slayer's just relentless which I think is great. What I have found in this game is that if you don't quit and walk out of the arena, you always have a shot at being in the game. That's been my mentality. I'm passionate about metal and rock music. This is what I do. When 2002 came and I was dealt a new card, I just rolled up my sleeves, I'm staying in the game. It's a different way to operate now then what I am accustomed to from the past 20 years. I'm now starting to see the fruits of my labors with the Soulfly records and the F5 record and the other one's that are coming out now this year. I've worked my ass off over the last few years and some of these things take a while. Brand new bands and brand new endeavors. There are no guarantees and there is no history behind them. Everything we do, we have to put our best foot forward first or it's gonna fail. So what I have been doing is taking my time to make sure these projects are done right and that they are the best that they can be so that when I roll them out for the fans to see them, they will like them.
H.M.R. : In closing, is there anything that we may not have covered that you want to add?
D. Ellefson: As I am moving forward, and with all of my fans from my past work, the door is always open for them to come check out all of the new stuff. I am really happy to be a part of a community that we have all grown up in over the last 20 years. Those fans are my people too and I appreciate everything they have done for me and maybe I can give back some great music to them now.
H.M.R. : Sounds great! Thanks again David and good luck with the record!
D. Ellefson: Thanks!
Be sure to check out the new album from F5, 'A Drug for all Seasons'!