Megadeth's Dave Ellefson Is in a Good Place — Arizona

Grammy-winning Megadeth: Glad Jethro Tull didn't record a heavy metal album in 2015.
Grammy-winning Megadeth: Glad Jethro Tull didn't record a heavy metal album in 2015. Courtesy of Megadeth
UPDATE: The October 8 Megadeth and Scorpions concert has been canceled.

The iPhone X has facial recognition, but some musicians have to toil in bands for decades before getting stopped on the street to get more than the perfunctory "Didn't I know you in high school?" glance. Of course, bands with mascots on their album covers like Megadeth do their own facial recognition no favors.

For bassist and co-founder Dave Ellefson, that moment of instant recognition came not while walking around with a life-size cutout of Megadeth's skeletal talisman Vic Rattlehead but when winning the Grammy for "Best Metal Performance" in 2016 (for the title track of the album Dystopia).

"I've noticed that since winning the Grammy, I get noticed more at restaurants, airplanes, cafes, and in the general population," Ellefson says. "More than being in an already famous heavy metal band. It's funny how winning the Grammys puts you straight into the mainstream."

Apparently, the general population must be watching these awards more keenly than generally believed. Or maybe it was seeing Ellefson and company in the Grammy audience the 11 other times they didn't win their nomination. Otherwise known as "The Susan Lucci Factor."

But win they finally did, and it couldn't have happened at a better time for Megadeth, whose recent album was hailed as a return to form, and they didn't have to pair with Rhianna or Katy Perry to do it.

"When you do get recognized by an outside source for the work you do, especially in heavy metal, a genre that's always been very anti-establishment, anti-mainstream anti-corporation," he says, "and when those entities recognize you and say you matter, the success is genuine and truly sincere."

When Ellefson is getting recognized around town, it's in Scottsdale, where he and his family have lived since 1994. That year, Megadeth moved to Arizona en masse as a band to write and record their next album, Youthanasia.

The decision stemmed from a conversation in the back of the tour bus in Barcelona, where the band, itchy to leave Los Angeles, mused on where else would they want to live. "And three out of four guys said Arizona," Ellefson recalls. "Fast forward to a year and a half later and we'd all relocated to Scottsdale."

Megadeth played some of their earliest gigs at The Mason Jar (now The Rebel Lounge) in Phoenix.

"On the Killing Is My Business Tour with Flotsam and Jetsam opening and Jason Newstead still in the band," Ellefson says. "And then we came back on the Peace Sells Tour and played with Flotsam again. These shows were a couple of the reasons why me, Dave and Marty talked about relocating to Phoenix."

You say you want more Arizona-Megadeth connections? Megadeth's first big arena tour was opening for Alice Cooper on the Constrictor Tour in 1987.

"Alice (Cooper) was one of the first real believers; he always related to Megadeth because of his own history. Musically it was different genres, but the spirit of it was very much the same.  Nothing but praise for Alice to take that chance on us because we were a wild, out-of-the-cage heavy metal band, and Alice was extremely sober. And we were anything but."

Then there was the Megadeth AZ website, dreamed up by Capitol Records. That became the first-ever official band website.

"I remember they came out to talk to us about this new thing called the World Wide Web," Ellefson recalls. "And they said 'We don't really know yet but it's going to explode, we would like to build the first musical artist band website. And we want to call it Megadeth AZ.' I remember me and Dave were at a hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, calling the front desk and them sending the janitor to rip the phone line apart so we could plug our laptops in the phone line with the 56K modem line and do web chats with our fans. We were definitely willing to go to any length to make this web thing work."

Megadeth stopped working when they disbanded in 2002, and Mustaine's decision to carry on Megadeth without Ellefson resulted in lawyers and courtrooms.

The two Daves finally settled their legal differences in time to tour for the 20th anniversary of the Peace Sells album. Despite the unpleasantness of being away from Megadeth for eight years, Ellefson says, "It made me a much better Megadeth member in 2010 than I was in 2002. I always knew that you can't go back to something, but sometimes things from your past can come around to your future. And that's what it did in 2010."

The same could be said for Mustaine, who made his peace with Metallica around the same time, appearing in the Some Kinda Monster documentary, which paved the way for The Big Four in thrash metal concept (along with Anthrax and Slayer).

"That was historic," Ellefson says. "We're a musical genre where all four corner pillars are all still alive, still making records and touring. I don't think there's another genre around, all the founding-father groups still active. Look at grunge; sadly most of the grunge acts have left us. And that was 10 years after we came out. They're not even bands anymore. We were the first generation to grow up with Black Sabbath and Sex Pistols records. We were the first fusion of punk and metal because of our age group. And to be able to do stadium shows together now as The Big Four, it really shows that even though the mainstream didn't believe in us early on, not only did we survive, we thrived."

Megadeth were scheduled to perform with Scorpions on Sunday, October 8, at Talking Stick Resort Arena. However, the show was canceled.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic