He may be known best as the renowned bassist for Megadeth, but David Ellefson has plenty of other irons in the fire. Curating a music label with Southwest talent? Check. Opening coffee shops and releasing a hard cider? Take a sip. Producing a horror film, writing books, relaunching a legendary thrash metal label, releasing his first solo album — on it.
Ellefson is building an empire, pulling ingredients from his past and present to make his mark in the industry.
First and foremost, there’s the music. The aptly named Sleeping Giants, his first solo album, features new tracks by Ellefson and his business partner, radio personality and music journalist Thom Hazaert, plus a collection of demos and unreleased material.
“There was what Thom called ‘sleeping giants’ — a season of writing demos I did in ’93,” explains Ellefson. “Songs that have been sleeping in the background all these years and now their day has come.”
They finally began to record the songs during Ellefson’s Basstory Tour in December 2018. The two entered the studio at 11 p.m., Ellefson wrote the riffs in an hour, Thom wrote lyrics and melody, and the end result was Sleeping Giants' “Vultures.”
Megadeth’s upcoming album has also brought Ellefson into the studio. With 2016’s Grammy-winning Dystopia — their highest-charting record in over 25 years — and a two-year touring round in the books, the band have started on the next record; a process that requires a lot of faith.
“It’s not an internet album, where you work on it separately and phone it in. We’re very engaged — four guys in a room throwing around ideas,” says Ellefson. “Dystopia won our first Grammy after 12 nominations since 1991. So, that was a huge moment. But more than the awards, creatively, finding your center again is like writing a book. You find the story, then the narrative. Then your voice.”
Ellefson was in Megadeth from the band’s inception in 1983 until leaving in 2002. In 2010, he rejoined. His path of faith, hope, and music back to one of the world’s biggest heavy metal bands was detailed in his memoir My Life With Deth. Six years later, Ellefson is releasing the follow-up, More Life With Deth, picking up where the 2013 memoir left off.
Released on July 16 to coincide with Sleeping Giants and the Basstory Tour’s summer 2019 leg, Ellefson and co-writer Hazaert touched on events like Megadeth’s “Big Four” shows while delving into the origins of Megadeth, a largely undocumented period.
“From 1990 on, media coverage was captured on video. But from ’83 to ’89, those years are folklore. That’s why I had so many guests contribute to the narrative for their perspective.”
Those guests include the likes of Judas Priest’s K.K. Downing and Disturbed’s Dan Donegan, fellow musicians who were in the audience at Megadeth shows, inspired to make their own music.
“I’ve realized that the Peace Sells and So Far, So Good period was important for many of today’s younger musicians,” says Ellefson of two of the band’s late-’80s albums. “That era of Megadeth inspired them.”
The narrative that developed wasn’t only the history and Ellefson’s continued journey of spirituality, but of course, the new things.
Ellefson goes into more than the music. He discusses his and Hazaert’s successful EMP label, with over 40 signed acts including Doyle and Bumblefoot, and Ellefson Coffee Co., where flavors like “Roast in Peace” signal his mentality that, like the melody of a good song, the enjoyment of coffee brings people together. While Ellefson searches for a place to put a Phoenix location, his coffee has made its way into Scottsdale’s Desert Rock Winery. The two businesses recently collaborated to create Combat Cider, a new drink based on the Combat Records imprint recently re-established by EMP.
“I love the collaboration with Desert Rock right in our backyard,” says Ellefson. “As much as I’m a sober guy, when we launched the Combat brand, I said, ‘Thom, man, this has to be a full-on heavy metal lifestyle brand: skateboards, CBD, wine, beer.’”
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
For Ellefson, the Valley of the Sun has felt like home since Megadeth played The Mason Jar in ’85. Now, he enjoys the diverse and eclectic music offerings coming out of Arizona, but while many artists live here, there isn’t necessarily a “scene.”
“Arizona has had its scene — the thrash metal scene with Flotsam and Jetsam, Sacred Reich, Sepultura, Megadeth,” he says. “At the same time, you’ve got Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks, Rob Halford — we’ve called Arizona home because we love living here. A place is always about the people first. The architecture, mountains, and desert skies are awesome, second to none in the world. But a town is always about the people.”
So, what else is simmering in the metal master’s empire? There’s film: After Ellefson was approached to appear in the film Dwellers, he and Hazaert decided to start a company, Ellefson Films, to produce the flick. Speaking of which, his imprint Molten Music offers a curated collection of heavy riffs, grooves, and other sounds that can be used for film, TV, radio, and other media. Ellefson says he’d love to do his own film score someday as well. There’s also the David Ellefson Youth Music Foundation, which aims to provide instruments to underfunded public school and youth music programs. Not bad for a rock star.
David Ellefson. Saturday, September 7, at Joe’s Grotto, 13825 North 32nd Street; 602-992-1007; joesgrotto.com.
Sleeping Giants will be released Friday, July 19, via Combat Records.