As the saying goes, you can’t keep a good man down. Legendary bassist David Ellefson is a busy dude. With several bands on the go at any one time, his latest one will have released their debut album by the time you read this. Maybe an unlikely combination, the former Megadeth bassist has joined forces with ex-Decapitated drummer Michał Łysejko and Entombed A.D. guitarist Guilherme Miranda in Dieth, and the album To Hell and Back. MetalTalk’s Paul Hutchings catches up with David before the main man heads to Europe for the band’s maiden shows.
David is at home in Arizona, looking healthy and relaxed. He’s a joy to chat with, genial, professional, and engaging. For a man who has been through his fair share of ups and downs in his career, there’s a real joy and energy about him. He’s got several projects rolling at any one time, with The Lucid and Kings Of Thrash currently vying for space with Dieth. How does he do it all?
“You know it’s funny,” he says. “I just say yes and go. Look, I’ve already done the big band and been to the top of the mountain, got the Grammy, you know, did all that. And so, these things are never motivated by those types of things. They are motivated by the pure joy of the music, the friendship, and the room between us. And look, if we get to take it out and perform for the fans, all the better. So, I kind of take every one of them in stages and let them go where they’re meant to go.”
As well as those three bands, David reminds me that another recent release was the album he did with Jeff Scott Soto (Vacation In The Underworld). “It wasn’t really so much a band,” he explains. “It was a moment. But I think a good moment was with Jeff Scott Soto. I did the Soto record that came out on Rat Pack Records, and I think it’s a super strong record. I just couldn’t wait for that to come out last October, but you know, knowing that the Dieth record was coming here in June, I had to carve a path in the schedule here too. You know, for things not to get too crowded. Fortunately, I’ve been able to do that.”
It’s incredible to listen to David talk about the schedule he has. “This month now is definitely Dieth,” he laughs. “I’m going down to Australia with Kings Of Thrash for some shows in July, and then it’s back to Dieth world. And it’s funny. I just got a thing from Drew from The Lucid about Loudersound, saying one of the four bands you need to hear this year is The Lucid. Who knows where these things come from? I mean, they’re just random. Sometimes you can roll a heavy rock up a big hill, and other times when you’re not looking, it just falls out of the sky right into your hand.”
With so many bands, I can’t help but ask if David has ever been on stage and forgotten which band he’s playing with. He laughs. “No, I’ve been lucky with that. It probably helped a little bit by Covid because that shut out all of us down there for a while. It’s like how they talk about Super Bowl babies here, right when you know, it’s the wintertime, people are getting cosy, and suddenly, we got a lot of babies coming in the autumn. I think Covid may have helped my creative spark. You’re at home and working on things and not going out.
“I think there was this desire to get out in the world again. Look, I’m in bands, and then I’m not. And then I’m back in bands, and I’m not. And so, I’ve learned none of these are forever. You can’t take them to heaven when you die. So you may as well just enjoy them while they’re working and viable. Right here and now.”
Whilst most of the music world was able to reboot during the pandemic, and I’m sure David did value that, he’s also got a lot of other pieces of work going on. A quick glance at his Wikipedia page lists Ellefson’s label, Coffee Company, Book, and Film company, not to mention the other work. And if you’ve read his books, you’ll recall all the other work he did. I laughingly say that I was exhausted just reading about them, and at the same time, I was wondering, this guy’s only five years older than me. Where does he find the energy?
“Well, look, putting down the drinking and drugs 33 years ago helps you, if you know what I mean,” David explains. “I’ve spent my adult life clear-minded, sober judgement. That has helped. I take good care of my health, and I’m ambitious.”
David reveals that he’s studied the Ellefson family history. There is a strong history of long life and good genes. “I remember my aunt, my dad’s sister, sharp until she died at age 91. The brain just sharp as a tack. I guess I come from some good stock. Some good German and Scandinavian heritage. So that’s probably part of it too.”
Obviously, whilst we could spend hours talking about all of David’s bands and projects, we are meeting to talk about Dieth. The album was due out the day after our interview. It’s an interesting connection with musicians that one might not necessarily expect to find together. How did Dieth get together? As well as being extreme music musicians, David points out that they are also far away (Poland and Brazil).
“Not only extreme music but extremely far away. I think that a big part of the fun of this is the cultural experience that we get to share. They’re playing with a celebrated American musician known for my genre, of course, and I get to be fully steeped into theirs, and what I like about it is that. We were introduced by way of an e-mail in early 2022, and that led to the first track, In The Hall Of The Hanging Serpents, the video and putting it up online.
“That got Napalm Records attention. That led to the record, and really within one year, we had it. We were returning an album to Napalm literally within a year. By the end of December, we were done. We had shot music videos. I mean, we had the whole package.
“I did a lot of travelling, for sure. Well, we all did, you know. Guilherme travels a lot too. But basing the band in Gdansk for me, I’ve never been there before. I’ve played in a lot of cities in Poland, but never there. And we shot our last video, Walk With Me Forever, just north of there. So, you know, really getting a cultural lesson. I mean, us Americans, we’re only a couple of hundred years old. We’re kind of newbies over here,” he laughs.
“To go back to where our heritage is because most of us come from European descendants. For me, it’s a great way as I get older. I appreciate my descendant’s bloodline even more, and so to be there, to live it, to eat the food, to just be absorbed into it, that’s what makes the fabric of the music what it is.
“And we also don’t have to just do what we used to do either. All three of us now in the new band are free from a lot of the working conditions and working models of how things were done in the past. We don’t have to do that anymore, and that’s so liberating. The song Free Us All, every time I hear it.
“We didn’t write it about that, but I always think about that, and I like the irony of the title of this song, that here we are, we’re free to start a new adventure. The random chance that a Polish man, a Brazilian and an American are together. There are three guys driving the bus on this. It’s pretty unlikely and certainly uncanny.”
If you haven’t had a chance to listen to To Hell And Back, then the style may shock you a little. The opening three tracks are heavy as hell. But there is a lot of variation hidden within the album, which includes David’s solo vocal performance on Walk With Me Forever, which is a powerful ballad. The video is great to watch, and it’s a solid song. Inevitably, we get onto how David came to sing the song.
“It’s funny how the right age, the right tone of my voice in the right tuning with the right lyric and the right story and the right group of guys,” he explains. “And yeah, here I am now. A singer, you know. And I always sing. And I’m pretty good at writing vocal melodies and all this kind of stuff, but to really be the singer and to be the one telling the story, selling the song, if you will. That’s a whole other skill set. I never grew up wanting to be David Lee Roth. I wanted to be Eddie Van Halen, and I probably became more of a Michael Anthony, but that’s OK.”
“The truth of it is, this band has just unlocked, in a lot of ways, a very necessary key to each other’s life and the opportunity to unlock some doors that really needed to be opened. Some new rooms have some new discoveries, and I think that’s what you hear on the record. Like you say, you come out of the gate. We gently lead you into it, then we punch in the face pretty hard, and the first three songs are all in. Then we start to go out in this exploration, and I think it really is an album, (my emphasis), not just a collection of ten loud Death Thrash Metal songs.
“It really is an album. It’s a listening journey. It’s an experience. It’s a completed thought and a completed story. I think To Hell And Back isn’t just a song. It’s a story, and it’s one that encapsulates a period for all three of us. To come out the other side, and to get the Free Us All, Heavy Is The Crown, through to Walk With Me Forever, and then to finish it strong. You are putting these things together.
“It’s like a Broadway play. You’re not laughing the whole time. And you certainly don’t want to cry the whole time, but that’s all part of the journey of the life story you’re seeing on the stage.”
David explains further. “It was the same with the Symphony Orchestra. I used to play tenor sax in the Symphony Orchestra in high school, and they had what they called movements. And movements are kind of what we would call a song on an album, right? It captures an emotion. It captures a period of the journey.
“This record wrote itself. I’m not going to lie. We didn’t preconceive it. We didn’t go into it with any notions. We just wrote songs, and it’s like the next one appeared, and then the next one appeared, and they laid out almost in the order we brought them into the studio and to the band. That’s how it just laid out, and you’re going, wow. If it were a hand of cards, then we got a full house here. This is freaking awesome. It’s truly divine. I mean, it really is. It’s how it just laid itself out. It’s really something special for sure.”
As we all know, David has been involved in some iconic albums over the years. He’s earned the right to be called a legend, and he’s a veteran when it comes to album releases. But for every musician, it is the newest piece of work that is being laid open to all. Does he still get nervous the night before its release, or is he comfortable with the whole process?
“You know, some (albums) more than others. In fact, there’s a thread going around this morning. I’m West Coast, some of the label publicity is on the East Coast, and most of the label operates over in Europe and Germany. So, there’s this global clock that we’re working on. You realise when do we announce that the album is out? Because technically, it’s going to be out half a day earlier over there!”
Maybe surprisingly, though, this one is slightly different. David explains further. “But this one feels exciting. I mean, it really does. When you put a song out, or you put an album out, I always say when you’re in the studio, you’re making that record for you. But once you release it, that record is now for you (the audience). So, the record is for us, the record is for you, and so tomorrow, it becomes your record. And that’s when you sort of must release it and take your hands off it and let the ship go where it goes.”
It’s very possible that you’ll have watched bands at festivals that you were unaware of, only to look up and recognize the musicians on stage. Dieth are going out with Testament, and then later in July, they play a few European festivals, including Grasspop and Motorcultor. Has David been in this position before, when he looks out into the crowd and sees them blinking in recognition that it’s David Ellefson on stage but with another band?
He laughs. “Yeah, they have, for sure. They’re like, wait, what is this guy doing up here? Yeah, right. And especially at the festivals because there are so many people, there’s so much activity through the entire weekend, and then suddenly, we show up, and it’s like, oh, yeah, we heard about these guys. Or maybe you haven’t heard about us, and there we are.”
David explains that he sees everything as coming in stages. First the idea, then the meeting, and then getting a deal and then the studio. “It all comes in phases, the build-up of it and then now taking it out onto the stage. This band’s made a record. We want to take those songs onto the stage. In our rehearsals, we realised that this is not a band that we have to go in and play the three minutes exactly as it is, especially things like Free Us All. There are some liberties we can take, and now the band goes to the next phase, which is developing the live show.
“You could only rehearse that so much because you just have to get on stage in front of people. I guess I grew up, certainly, with Megadeth. We were as entertained by the audience as they were by us, especially in those early days in the Bay Area Thrash Metal and all the stage diving and everything. We were just the backdrop for their insanity, you know? We had as much fun just watching them as I’m sure they did watching us.”
It’s evident that David still has as much enthusiasm today as he did back in those heady days with Megadeth and the Big 4. He’s clear about it. “It’s the fun thing about this kind of music that’s so energetic and has so much bombast and dynamic to it. Metal fans are pretty much Metal fans everywhere you go. The reaction in Australia is going to be like Germany is going to be similar to Poland, similar to America.
“We speak a common language around the world, but you know, different cultures respond differently to things, especially the grooves. We sing in English, so obviously, that has a different translation for different audiences. There are all these different things, so it’s kind of like, let’s really let the fun begin because the record is out. At least there’s an awareness of the band, and now we get to take this to the stage. And we get to have fun. Really. And the way I see it is we’re building a show together with the audience because we’re feeding from each other”.
Although the album is only just being released, is the music still fresh in David’s head? Although it was recorded within a year of Dieth forming, it’s usually some time before the band can tour it. David is honest about the march of time.
“Yeah, the time goes by. And let me tell you, by the time you do it, sometimes you’re recording, forget, and you move on to the next one. And then you go back, and oh My God, what the heck did I play. We have the luxury with digital that we can break out all these stems, and you can go back. I mean, I’ve literally had to relearn my own bass lines. I’m impressed with how clever some of it is, and I don’t take full credit for that.
“We were working in Germany with Kristian Khole at the Kholekeller studios. He was a great producer. He worked on about half the record with us, including my vocal stuff and my lead vocal stuff. I connected well with him. Of course. I’ve been in the studio with some of the best producers on big major label budgets and stuff, so I’ve been through that ‘time is money and money matters, and you know, we got to get this right and it needs to be great.’ And that isn’t just playing the bass part.
“This is a performance that will live forever and we’re trying to capture the best performance. So really to show up, rested, in good shape, aware, not only just performing great but together collectively as the composers with the producer really putting down a timeless performance. So, it was fun to go back and learn those bass parts six-seven months after I put them down.
“It was pretty freaking cool. That was a good part right there. You know what I mean? And just as much to how they’re kind of woven together under the guitars because the guitar drive is very loud. They’re very in your face. To go back and revisit how much the dynamics and I think that’s what resonated with it outside of just the Metal audience. I think these people are hearing it and are going, ‘there’s a lot going on here for three dudes.’ For a three-piece, it’s a big sound here. It’s ambitious.”
As we finish, I wish David all the best with the album and the tour before adding with a smile that he probably doesn’t need it. He’s as generous as he has been all interview. “I’ll always take it. Thank you!”
Dieth certainly fulfils the definition of a power trio. As we close, David assures me that UK dates are in the planning. It will be great to see this band over here. If you are at any of those dates with Testament or those festivals, then Dieth needs to be on your watch list.
Dieth – The Hell And Back can be ordered from https://napalmrecords.com/dieth.