David Ellefson Discusses Coffee, Combat Records, Megadeth And More!

By Andrew Catania

Megadeth is one of the all-time favorite heavy metal bands of music lovers.  I you know who the backbone of Megadeth is aside Dave Mustaine? You’re already getting the idea which personality I’m talking about.  Yes, I’m talking about David Warren Ellefson. He is one of the longest-serving members of Megadeth. David Ellefson is also the co-founder of the Megadeth, and he was the leading member of the band from 1983 to 2002, and then he again joined the group in 2010.

Megadeth is not the only project of his life. Although Megadeth was an essential part of his life and he has also written many songs for the band and performed as bassist for the group. The F5 band is also a significant achievement in his life. A Drug for all Seasons was the first album by this band, and David Ellefson was the leading bassist. Ellefson played five tracks for the Soulfly album Prophecy and also played on one track on Dark Ages. He also worked with underground Emcee/Record producer Necro for his album entitled Death Rap.

In 2015, he launched a company and record label by the name Ellefson Music Productions. Since forming in 2015, EMP Label Group has secured distribution from eOne Distribution in North America, and SPV GMBH in Europe, with the roster, spread among several imprints including EMP Label Group (Ellefson Music Productions in Europe), and EMP Underground. We spoke with David about Megadeth and his new successful Ellefson Coffee.

How did Ellefson Coffee begin?

DE:  Mcdonald’s is still the number one coffee seller in the world. They sell more coffee than anybody. It’s always been right in front of us. It just meant disguised as a cheeseburger.  It felt the timing was right.

I was introduced to a small little artisan roaster, and that was about two years ago.  That’s what started the whole thing; it just became another little creative stable for me to create fun rock and roll titles and essentially now to be a premier rock and roll coffee company.

How is Ellefson Coffee selling?

DE:  As you start to get into brick and mortar and to get into retail distribution, that’s when everything changes with the economies of scale. The more you sell, the more you make, there are more people involved in the process. From a business side, that’s also part of the fun for me is I’m helping manage and oversee a growing business. The good news is that the coffee seems to be in demand. People are asking for it everywhere around the world. So that opens up different opportunities for international sales as well as having several roasters and using certain roasters for different facets of the business.  With having this growing supply chain, that’s networking itself around the world now.

How is the rebirth of Combat Records coming along?

DE:  Great. That’s one of those things we secured over a year ago, and we wanted to wait to do the launch properly. We figured let’s wait until we launched in late 2017 recognizing we had two releases in the queue for 2018 and it’s a particular style genre that we’re putting out. EMP Label Group is the broader overview label that houses it all.  At Combat, we specifically want to restore the branding and the image of what it was. It was a terrific thrash, punk, kick-ass young, firebrand young label. That’s precisely how we’re relaunching it.

Photo by Renee Jahnke

How did EMP Start?

DE: The label started mainly as artist development, a continuation of my Ellefson Music Production company that I had that established 15-20 years ago as a artists development, pre-production company producing and such. EMP Label Group spun out of that as really a way to just bring some of my production work to market. Once we started doing that, we notice that we have this whole opportunity here to help other artists continue to put their music out. As we know, the record industry is in a fascinating transition. 

Some artists are going to TuneCore and CDBaby, and they’re selling some records, and making some money. What I find is that you still really need to be on a record label, a proper record label with distribution into the retail outlets to be taken seriously by agents and getting the appropriate publicity to go to radio and all the other kind of traditional elements of the industry.  Those rules haven’t changed. That’s what we found is that with the EMP, we have an opportunity here to grow up some young artists. We’re one of the last record labels doing artists developments. 

You have some established artists on your label.

DE:  Yes, we do.  We’re very helpful to some established legacy artists who are looking for their next home. Such as, what’s our next step? Guys who are my age and have had careers in the past and now looking how to keep their train moving forward.  We’ve had success with that. Mark Slaughter just had his second top 20 Billboard Classic Rock Hit. Autograph has gotten in the top 10. We’re putting out Ron Keels record next month.  We these other guys, friends that I grew up in the business from years ago and I’m still at work and making records,

Classic rock artists are the ones that still sell tickets and make promoters money.  You have to be able to assist them in getting a new release out into retail.  I feel excellent about that I’m ready to help be the pipeline and the channel for that.

You signed Mark Rizzo and his excellent album that he had a hard time getting signed. 

DE:  You know, it’s funny, I consider Mark a new artist.  He’s established as the guitarist for Soulfly and Max Cavalera endeavors as a solo artist, I find him to be a relatively new artist, and that’s why we put him over on combat because it’s a shredder record. 

How do you divide your time up between your business endeavors and Megadeth?

DE:  We just announced a couple of weeks ago the 35 years of Megadeth campaign, and that’s what we’re going to celebrate, the 15 studio albums now over the course of the next 12 months.  We put up a whole list of summer tour dates in Europe.  I think Megadeth is at the point now where the phone is always going to ring for new opportunities and to do new things.  Megadeth is like a big ocean liner that’s just kind of always on its course.  That’s great because we’ve done a lot of work to get it there and not its up and running.

Is Megadeth going to do another record?

DE:  We’re looking to do another record. At the same time, we learned with Dystopia; we need to make an excellent album. Especially with this lineup right now, we want it to be something that’s a continuation of Dystopia. By our standard, we have set the bar very high.  So with that, we learned, you don’t just push an album out.  

Was the bass your first instrument to play as a kid?

DE:  My first musical weaving was learning how to play the Wurlitzer Organ.  My mom had one in our home.  Learning on the Wurlitzer Organ taught me how to read and play bass and treble clef. So that got me some early musical education is ironic is that is from a Wurlitzer, Organ.

Then I moved into the tenor saxophone, which is a treble clef instrument.  I learned if nothing else at a very young age, I learned how to play well with others.and to understand ensemble kind of performance.  I continue to play the saxophone all the way up through my senior year in high school.  I did marching band, pep band, I did all of those things, and a lot of things that I learned in the music business is that you end up doing a lot of things that you don’t want to do.  You think are ridiculous and completely irrelevant and one day, many years later, and you’ll sit down and go, oh, that’s how that applies here.  Learning how to play well with others in an orchestra or band suddenly plays well to being able to play well with three other guys and Megadeth, musical relationships to other instruments, playing with dynamics and all these different things. I often will be playing a song like Conquer or Die tomorrow, and just various songs and I’ll be on stage remembering my high school band teacher. Him coming over to me and saying, you know, to like keep it down. Play with dynamics here at Crescendo. Pull up the dynamic,  and it’s funny how those memories that have in my earliest musical education still apply all these years later in 35 years of Megadeth.

 How is it to work with Dave Mustaine?

DE: Dave is very focused and, and knows exactly what he wants.  That is indeed an admirable thing about Dave.  You’ll be in the room with him because a thought or an idea will come to him and I’ll give you a couple of examples. One day we’re driving down the street, going to rehearsal and Dave just out of nowhere says, what do you think about Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying? And just out of the blue, I’m driving my van and Dave’s riding shotgun. We’re heading over to pick up Gar (Samuelson) and go down to rehearsal, and that’s how the title came about  Within an evening we’d create that song at rehearsal. Dave just kept coming up with riffs, and we sat there, me, Gar, Chris(Poland) and Dave, and we wrote that song. 

Another interesting dynamic was we’re coming off the World Needs A Hero Tour and we knew we were going to be coming into making a live album. I’m sitting on a bus, we’re kicking around ideas, and all of a sudden out of nowhere Dave says Rude Awakening.  That’ll be the title of the album. Those are the things that I’ve seen with Dave from the first day I met him; It’s that right there, those two instances are a snapshot of why Dave and I work well together. I understand him; I get him. I’ve been in the room when Life-Changing moments of genius will come out of him, and I’m honored to be there.   It’s just such a cool thing to be around someone.

Now, with that said, when an idea comes out of somebody like that,  they want to see to fruition, and as an artist, we all do, we want to see it to fruition. Then when people don’t get it, they don’t understand it. They try to talk you out of it. They tell you that’ll never work. When they get in the way, those are the people that ended up having ended up bloodied by the side of the road.   If you examine any of the great titans of business, JP Morgan, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs. They’re all like that, and I’m fortunate that I get to work with one of them and his name is Dave Mustaine.

Do you have a favorite Megadeth album?

I go back in time to moments of things that were great. It’s incredible how the human mind, we tend to remember the good days more than the bad days, at least. At least I do.   I assume people are like that. At least that’s how I’m wired.  The moments that weren’t so pleasant fade away in favor of the good and the fun moments. The Countdown To Extinction was not an easy album to write because we were hard on ourselves and we pushed each other just really to bring our best.  At the same time. It’s one of my favorite albums because of the group collaboration and everybody being in sync, and I mean the four band members, our management, Capitol Records. We were a juggernaut of a team.  Same could probably be said with the recent Dystopia album.  Being in sync and be a synergized and focused team.

For more information about Ellefson Coffee, please go to their website at https://ellefsoncoffeeco.com/

Combat Records at https://combatrecs.com/

EMP Label Group at https://www.emplabelgroup.com/

Megadeth at https://www.megadeth.com/

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