Updated: Mar 4, 2021
By Scott Roos
"I have many fond memories of Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?. They were struggling times for (Megadeth)," reminisces Megadeth bassist David Ellefson in a recent interview with NSMZ.
It's been 35 years since Ellefson, along with drummer Gar Samuelson, guitarist Chris Poland and, of course, the oft imitated but never duplicated Dave Mustaine on guitars and lead vocals, went into the studio to create their seminal work: Peace Sells... but Who's Buying?. It's been cited as not just a key influencer for many bands moving forward but also an important and essential touchstone for metal fans worldwide. It's won universal critical acclaim, and set the bar for Megadeth high moving forward.
"That was our big major label debut and some would argue one of the great records from our catalogue. Obviously the title, the logo, Vic Rattlehead our mascot on the cover, the artwork; it was pretty much an all in package. It said this is what Megadeth is and this is what these guys are about," continues Ellefson.
Ellefson's exploits in and out of Megadeth have been well documented over the years with the release of two poignant and powerful autobiographies entitled My Life With Deth (2014) and More Life With Deth (2019). His music business savvy was also on full display with the 1997 release of Making Music Your Business: A Guide For Young Musicians. In truth, Ellefson is a true entrepreneur not just in music but also in coffee with his Ellefson Coffee Co. and in film with Ellefson Films on top of Ellefson Books.
"I find this with creative endeavors. First and foremost it's about the creativity. Then whether it's a book, a song, or a film regardless of how much money or any of the polish that's put on it, it's always about the story. Independent records will put up with lesser production because we love the material. We love the song. We love the storyline. Same with books, everything doesn't have to come out of the big major publishers. It's always about is there a story here," explains Ellefson of his book and film projects.
One such project that has come to light recently is a found footage horror film he's working on with collaborator Drew Fortier called Dwellers. It's drawing from what has become a popular and well used genre in recent years, especially in light of flicks like the Paranormal Activity series, Cloverfield and stretching further back, the proverbial founder of the found footage feast: The Blair Witch Project. Collaborating has been a key feature of everything Ellefson has worked on in recent years. His easy going approach and willingness to put his best foot forward in his various projects has been essential in moving forward creatively. This also holds true with his new "fictional autobiography" Rockstar Hitman: The Sledge Chronicles, which he also partnered with Fortier on.
The title of the book, doesn't hold back either. Sledge, the book's protagonist, without giving away too much of the plot, is literally a rock star unwittingly dragged into the dangerous life of a hitman. It's a tale of many twists and turns, and the collaboration with Fortier is on full display.
"I like to collaborate. I always say we are better together. I think 2 + 2 makes 5 and 6 and 7 and sometimes you're greater than the sum of its parts. Drew (Fortier) and I found a good collaborative narrative and (voice together)," Explains Ellefson of working with Fortier on The Sledge Chronicles.
Ellefson and Fortier's fictional work also serves as a veiled metaphor for the music business as a whole. It also, is loosely based on Ellefson's experiences travelling abroad with Megadeth. If a portion of the book is set in Berlin, Germany, it's vividly described because Ellefson has been there. But, more importantly, Ellefson understands the trials and tribulations of trying to make it in a very fickle, cold hearted business because he's been living that life for decades as well.
"Going out to be a hitman is a literal, obvious translation and story but it's also very metaphorical in how many of us run off to Hollywood or wherever to chase our dream. We are all sort of chasing this dream whatever the dream may be. And we chase this dream and sometimes in the chase we get so caught up in the chase that we sort of let our good senses and our nature pass," says Ellefson.
"Many times I felt like 'Oh my god. We took the money.' We took the advance and now I'm out here for the next two years in the yellow sub of the tour bus or in an airplane travelling the world having to recoup all this money we took and we gotta play the shows and all of the sudden now you realize you've mortgaged your future and I think there's a lot of similarities in the Sledge book. The dichotomy of lifestyles. Sledge goes through a lot of those things. There's this wild life on the road and then we come back home to civilian life and have to reenter the atmosphere of normalcy and a lot of us we struggle with it. I know I have over the years," continued Ellefson.
It's been great to see Ellefson whittling away at the different projects he's undertaken over the years. It shows a continues dedication to the entrepreneurial, and innovative spirit that made his work in Megadeth meritorious. Ellefson knows the risks, and no doubt counts the costs, but his hard work is continuing to pay off and his fans have been richly rewarded as a result.
"It's funny how creative ideas just fall into your lap out of nowhere. When you're least looking for it that's when it happens. Kind of like falling in love: When you're not looking there it is," chuckles Ellefson.
It's wise words from a man that has literally seen, since the release of Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? 35 years ago, and no doubt heard, it all.
*David Ellefson pics courtesy of Anna-Lisa Russo photography