"Crisis presents opportunity," says Megadeth bassist David Ellefson.
It's not a bad way to look at 2020, a year when the Grammy winner has dug deep to produce art at a time when touring isn't an option.
On June 12, Megadeth were supposed to begin The Metal Tour of the Year alongside Lamb of God, Trivium, and In Flames. Pushed to 2021 due to COVID-19, the highly anticipated tour kickoff instead was broadcast via a streaming event that day, hosted by SiriusXM's Jose Mangin, featuring full sets from each of the acts, along with an exclusive interview with each band. They also launched new merch , with a portion of the proceeds going toward Crew Nation, a nonprofit for music crew members whose livelihoods have been affected by COVID-19.
But even before that, in May, Ellefson's eponymous solo band (featuring vocalist Thom Hazaert, former Guns N’ Roses guitarist/Asia vocalist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, guitarist Andrea Martongelli, and drummer Paolo Caridi) released a heavy reimagining of Post Malone’s R&B-tinged “Over Now,” which quickly hit No. 2 on the Billboard Rock chart.
“Posty writes some very heavy lyrics that are couched in with some very soft sounding music,” Ellefson says. “He’s a storyteller with a cool backing track to his narrative. Our hope was to retain the warmth of the original track and add a big wall of guitars and impact to it that rock and metal fans like to hear.”
Hazaert and Ellefson have spent quite a bit of time with Post Malone, a known metal fan; after all, he co-wrote “Over Now” with Tommy Lee, grew up in Pantera country, and is an admitted Megadeth diehard (who actually sports a SO FAR, SO GOOD, SO WHAT tattoo).
Ellefson adds, “He’s a pop, R&B and hip-hop guy who dips into rock and metal, and we’re rock and metal guys who have dipped into pop, R&B, and hip-hop. So, I think this really just pushes that whole idea of exploration forward.
“With Megadeth, we’ve done tons of covers. But to take something that’s current and do a reimagined version is a task I’ve not done before. You’re not trying to reintroduce young fans to a legacy track — in fact, it’s the opposite: I’m introducing a legacy fan base to a current track that they probably wouldn’t listen to.”
“Over Now” will appear on Ellefson the band's yet-to-be-titled October album, a follow-up to their 2019 compilation release Sleeping Giants, a collection of David Ellefson B-sides and rarities, which first showcased the collaboration of Ellefson and Hazaert.
“The songs were met with great fanfare because fans weren’t expecting that from me,” Ellefson says. “They are not thrash metal songs; there’s acoustic ballads, '80s rocker stuff. And that set the tone for the Ellefson solo band.”
Hazaert says, "Some of my stuff on Sleeping Giants was heavily influenced by beerbongs and bentleys, which I spent two months on tour last year driving around the country listening to on repeat, which was really where the impetus for the cover came from."
It was in November 2019, when Hazaert suggested doing a cover of “Over Now,” that they also wrote “Simple Truth,” another energetic single from the forthcoming album that hit No. 2 on the Billboard Rock Indicator chart. All proceeds of sales from “Simple Truth” were donated to the Italian Red Cross COVID-19 relief fund.
“Largely, my recording and touring band is from Italy. The Italian people have just been so wonderful to me, and they took one of the biggest hits globally with COVID,” says Ellefson.
A few weeks ago, Ellefson was in Nashville working on the 16th Megadeth album, the follow-up to 2016’s Dystopia. “Not being on the road has helped us finish this album,” Ellefson says. “We play the cards we’re dealt rather than lamenting about the cards we didn’t get. Years ago, on the Megadeth tour bus we were watching a Clint Eastwood movie, Heartbreak Ridge, and there’s the phrase: ‘Overcome, adapt, improvise.’ We’ve always rolled like that.
"We’ve been fortunate to stay productive, and continue to inspire people to grow and create in the face of an unprecedented situation. Just because we’re locked down, doesn’t mean we’re locked in.”
Back home in Scottsdale, Ellefson is focused on how his industry and art can benefit others during COVID — like giving displaced students free instruments and lessons from famous musicians through the David Ellefson Youth Music Foundation and its SCHOOL'S OUT initiative — and the protests and walks for #BlackLivesMatter around the world.
“Our industry has rallied to support that, so that’s the area I’ve been the most connected to. I’ve gotten to see so much of how the world really is, not just through the eyes of an American or any religion or ethnicity, but as a traveling musician," Ellefson says.
"I’m proud that I’m part of a platform that can be the voice to unite people in a wonderful way. The gift of lyrics and music together — you can emit a powerful emotion. That’s the beauty of music in general, but especially in a crisis.”