Megadeth Bassist Dave Ellefson Shares Rock Solid Advice at Clinic
Standing before a crowd of students that was born long after his band Megadeth came to life, bassist Dave Ellefson took the stage at the Berklee Performance Center on July 27 and treated the audience to some hard rock before getting down to the brass tacks of metal.
“Are you ready to rock?“ he asked more than 200 Berklee and Five-Week Summer Performance program students, many of them decked out in T-shirts from Megadeth, Iron Maiden, and other iconic metal bands. Then Ellefson, backed by Berklee faculty Henrique De Almeida on drums, and Don Lappin and Ethan Brosh on guitar, invited the students to surround the stage as he powered out some of his own tunes.
After a few songs, Ellefson took off his bass guitar and talked about everything from what guitar pick he uses (a Jim Dunlop .88) to stage presence and the genesis of his band.
Raised on a farm in Minnesota, Ellefson left for Los Angeles right after high school, lured by a city that was producing the likes of Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, and other rock pioneers. He happened to take an apartment below a guy named Dave Mustaine, who had been playing in an up-and-coming band called Metallica. Ellefson and Mustaine started jamming together and soon formed Megadeth, a band that went on to sell 50 million records and garner 11 Grammy nominations over its 33 years.
For most of that time, Mustaine and Ellefson composed the core of the group, though Ellefson took a break from the band from 2002 to 2010. During that span, he earned a business degree and did artist relations work with clients that included Slipknot, Kid Rock, and Nickelback.
Since Ellefson returned to Megadeth, he has written a book, My Life with Deth: Discovering Meaning in a Life of Rock & Roll, and the band has released four albums. Below are some edited and abridged excerpts of Ellefson's remarks at the clinic.
On staying together as a band:
“Don’t die and don’t break up. The reality of it is, sometimes you’re going to play music you don’t necessarily like and you might have to play it with some people you don’t like.”
On being open to opportunities:
“Just show up to your gig. Whether it’s this gig here, or to your classes. Just say yes, and life happens. That’s part of the reason why I’m at Berklee. You just say yes to enough stuff and eventually all roads lead to Berklee, and here we are.”
On stage presence:
“If you’re going to be on the stage, be different. Growing up, KISS was my band, and they looked different. I didn’t see KISS walking into Walmart and I didn’t see KISS hanging out at normal places. They were cool. They were set apart. They were extraordinary. Audiences want to see something different. They see normal every day in their lives.”
On playing the long game:
“Our best music comes when we’re in a place where we can be relaxed and we can be creative. Part of our careers as musicians is learning to deal with those times when it’s stressful, when it’s chaotic, when we’re tired, when we’re not in the mood, but we have to push through those things to get to the other side. Because behind a certain situation that may be a bit of a struggle is usually another opportunity. As long as we don’t just quit and go home, as long as we stay in the game, there’s always another inning to be played for us.”