A man of many hats usually needs to have them or has experience in life in spades and chooses to do the important things himself.
July of 1983 for those who know, was a very special time. A small group of men came together and formed what would later be one of four kings in the world of thrash. And even through the ups and downs, David Ellefson has seen many of those struggles and peaks up close and personal with Megadeth. Megadeth is currently headed to the The Loudest Month in Music touring in support of their latest album, Dystopia. In addition to the tour and CD, we focused on speaking with David about his other very impressive career as a record label executive of EMP Label Group.
So, aspiring bands, take note. There may or may not be information on how to submit your music for consideration by a pretty knowledgeable staff for those good enough to make the cut. We’ll take photo passes in gratitude for our wisdom when you hit the big time, and you’re welcome. Head over to our Facebook page or Twitter and let us know what you thought. We get bored at the National Rock Review compound.
NRR: Thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for National Rock Review, it’s a pleasure to talk to you. What’s been going on with the new role of yours at Ellefson Music Productions so far in early 2016?
David Ellefson: Iâ€™ve had that company now for several years, mostly in a record producer capacity. But, as things developed with my production on the DOLL SKIN album In Your Face, it went to a new level in that I formed an imprint label called EMP to sign that record to Megaforce Records. From there, the EMP Label Group formed as a separate entity to officially become a record label. Iâ€™m the president of it and now we have a full staff of A&R, marketing, radio, publicity, video, tour marketing, social media and more. Itâ€™s become a full-fledged company now.
NRR: You have been busy with the label already. Doll Skin just hit the National Rock Review radar, but you have a few other horses in the stable as well. Who are some of the other bands and what plans for world domination do they have for us?
David Ellefson: We actually have ten releases slated for 2016, including a new full length of the DOLL SKIN record, ANOTHER LOST YEAR, SEMBLANT, ARISE IN CHAOS, CAGE9 and more. Weâ€™re also going to push out some sampler releases that will be able to include many artists who have great tracks but maybe arenâ€™t quite ready to push out a full length release yet. Iâ€™m really enjoying that the label is a way to offer so many artists an onramp into the professional recording side of our industry. It can be a tough nut to crack without the right opportunities and EMP seems be able to offer those ops to many new artists right now.
NRR: We, at the National Rock Review martini bar, are waiting on the young ladies mentioned a second ago to get back to with us on their own spot in the limelight. We asked if they knew who you were the first time they met you. What made you say to yourself, these girls have talent that first exposure to their band?
David Ellefson: I saw total star quality in them from the first time they hit the stage for their very first show. And quite honestly, either you have â€œitâ€ or you donâ€™tâ€¦ and they do! Their songs are great, they play like a band, they think and operate like a group, and they have a really charming and magnetic charisma to them. They really just knocked me off my feet and that inspired me to step up to work with them.
NRR: Just so we can have the Blabbermouth.net guys go scour the rest of the interwebs for drama, because we’re pretty boring, anything on the Megadeth front coming up, since the Loudest Month In Music is just around the corner?
David Ellefson: Megadeth front is great! The Dystopia record came in like gangbusters, the tour is doing great, and most importantly the fans are happy. From here, we are looking at the next single for radio but on a day-to-day basis we are enjoying putting more and more new songs into our live show for the fans to enjoy.
NRR: We’ve recently lost a few big names in music starting with Scott Weiland and Lemmy to Bowie and Fry passing as well among others. Do you have any fond memories of any of them by any chance?
David Ellefson: Megadeth took STP out on their very first big national arena tour back in 1992/93. I probably knew the other three members better than Scott, as he was quite offstage but really turned on the charm on stage. He had real charisma as a rock star lead singer. Lemmy was an icon to me and most of my friends in metal music. He was the first true Thrash giant in my opinion. He had such authority in his words, his music and his methods. They broke the mold after they made him, thatâ€™s for sure. I donâ€™t recall meeting David Bowie, but Megadeth played on the Howard Stern show with him back in 1998. It was so chilling to watch him perform because of his icon status. The first song I heard of his was â€œFameâ€ when I was very young and just getting into rock n roll. He was such an inspiration to so many of us.
NRR: You wear quite a few hats, not only in the rehearsal studio, but in life. I’m curious if you were to be permanently stuck on one side of the glass or the other, at this point in your career, where do you think you’d be the most satisfied sitting?
David Ellefson: I still love performing and touring. I still love writing, recording, and making records. More so now that at any other time in my life, Iâ€™m actually quite comfortable behind the desk doing day to day business for my bands under my management and record label side of life, too. I think they all have their place in my life and they all go hand in hand. Iâ€™m not sure you can separate them at this point.
NRR: My father was going through the seminary in late 60s in southern Ohio and by one account told to me, he got into hot water for playing a rock and roll song on the main pipe organ of a chapel. Have you ever caught yourself playing a little “Dawn Patrol” before a service out in the desert?
David Ellefson: (Laughing)! I have never played â€œDawn Patrolâ€, or even â€œHoly Warsâ€, in church! I think all music has its place. Rock n roll doesnâ€™t even feel right in church so I donâ€™t go there.
NRR: More bands seem to be doing VIP deals on tour or really being creative with their merch. How important are these things for your rooster not just as a revenue stream but as a way to interact with their fans?
David Ellefson: As a revenue stream they are important but more than that I think they create a really great â€œfan experienceâ€ if done properly. If youâ€™re just in it for the money, it would be a real drag to have to do that every day. But, if you do it for the love of connecting with your fans, which is our perspective on it, then it is really fun and creative for everyone. In some ways, itâ€™s kinda like a warm up for us to connect with our audience one on one before we hit the stage. I think it works on all fronts in a really positive way.
NRR: Is there a moment, that thinking back on it now, in the your career, with any band now, that you can’t help but still feel a tad bit embarrassed about, makes you laugh about despite yourself, or just still makes you shake your head in disbelief? A Spinal Tap moment if you will, that you’d be willing to share with me?
David Ellefson: Spinal Tap moments happen all the timeâ€¦ itâ€™s just part of this way of life. I think those are amplified when you take yourself too seriously. If you are serious about what you do, but donâ€™t take YOURSELF too seriously, you can find the happy medium. With that said, some of the funny things are interview comments from when I was young. Or, maybe songs I used to have to play in cover bands as a kid in order to get shows for my bands. But, itâ€™s all part of the learning curve.
NRR: If a band wanted to audition for EMP to possibly become your next signed act, is there a way to go about that officially yet?
David Ellefson: We have submission and contact info on our pages. (See links below)
NRR: You tagged a pretty experienced A&R guy to help you with EMP. For you, what made him the right hire and do you still keep an eye out for new bands yourself?
David Ellefson: His relentless energy and drive. Thom (Hazaert) is just like meâ€¦ he eats, sleeps, and breathes music and rock n roll. That to live in the business of it daily is the only life we know. Iâ€™ve been that way since I was eleven years old and he and I have the same tireless energy to help create and invest in tomorrowâ€™s music. That is how everyone on our team is. It really has to be a passion in order to be on the team and that is our corporate culture that makes it all work so well.
NRR: Does the ability to switch roles in the studio give you insight to what you can try out at a session with a band?
David Ellefson: Yes, for sure. Iâ€™ve been a band leader, a band member, a session musician, a songwriter, and a producerâ€¦ sometimes all at once! But, that wide spread of experience has taught me to be keenly aware of my surroundings and the role(s) that I may need to play at any given moment.
NRR: You have seen and done a lot of situations in music and now you’re in a position to be a mentor to new and younger bands. What’s the most sincere advice you’d give them the very first day?
David Ellefson: We are all blessed who get to even do this vocation and if the audience doesnâ€™t see us having fun, how can they have fun? The biggest thing is to overcome fear because 99% of our fears never even happen anyway. Yet those fears will stop us from becoming what we are really meant to become. Weâ€™ve all heard so many horror stories of the music business that now many young musicians are jaded and guarded before they even get started. I try to get them to let those guards down so they can relax and let their creative spirit thrive. I try to show them that there is another way to have fun, be profitable, get the work done, and most of all enjoy the journey. At some point you have to start to trust people as this is a team business. So, I always encourage young bands to just say â€œyesâ€ to things and just go for it and not spend so much time over thinking it.
NRR: Did the temptation ever get the best of you to pull a prank or two on the girls either on the road or in studio?
David Ellefson: Not to sound like a bore, but with the girls Iâ€™m in a trusted leadership role with them. So, for me I have to have my head on straight so they trust me and not be looked upon as a joker who they wonâ€™t take seriously. So, in this case I think itâ€™s best to let the band members play pranks on each otherâ€¦ itâ€™s part of the fun of them being in a band together!
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EMP Label Group
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Photo credit above: Clayton Lancaster
Photo credit below: Fly Bone Photography