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22nd February 2010
METAL DISCOVERY: Hi, how you doing?
DAVID ELLEFSON: Good, yeah, everything’s going good. What’s going on?
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(David Ellefson on the Angels of Babylon moniker)
"...Babylon obviously being the ultimate city of dysfunction and the one that was torn apart; I thought it was kinda cool. Not that we’re all a bunch of angels by any means!"
David Ellefson - uncredited promo shot, 2010
Photograph supplied by, and used with permission from, Mike Exley at M.E.P.R.
Interview by Mark Holmes
The brainchild of ex-Manowar drummer Rhino, new metal ensemble Angels of Babylon also features legendary thrash bassist David Ellefson, with vocalist David Fefolt and guitarist Ethan Brosh completing the lineup. Recently releasing their debut album, 'Kingdom of Evil', the four men have forged a predominantly classic metal sound with sympho-infused epic arrangements, all born from Rhino's melodically catchy songwriting. Just a few days after the UK/European release of the album, it was announced early February that Ellefson had rejoined Megadeth after an eight year absence from the band, an entirely unexpected announcement but news that was welcomed ubiquitously within the scene. Taking time out of his busy schedule, David spoke to Metal Discovery about the Angels of Babylon project, his Rock Shop journalistic exploits and, of course, one of the year's biggest stories in metal thus far - his return to Megadeth...
MD: Yeah, everything’s cool over here. ‘Kingdom of Evil’ is quite an amazing album - I gather it was Rhino who came up with ideas for the songs quite a few years ago…
DE: Yeah, some of ’em, and I don’t know how long ago. I think he had a handful of ’em that were in the works and, like a lot of songs we write, once you get focussed with a vision and a mission for ’em, that helps complete ’em and also, I think in his case, got him inspired to continue writing, and then of course led to the full length album. So he and I, and Dave Fefolt met at a studio in Phoenix about…at least two years ago, maybe almost three years ago, and we just really got on with each other well, and that’s when Rhino said “look, I’ve got some songs, it’d be great for us to work on something together”. That was the impetus of it, and that was the beginning of it.
MD: Great, yeah. How did you actually hook up with him in the first place?
DE: I got a call from a studio owner here in town, Don Salter who owns The Saltmine Studios, I’d done some work with Megadeth here in the past and I did the two Soulfly records at his place. He called me up one day in summer a couple of years ago and he said “there’s this project going on, this record, and Rhino from Manowar’s here, and a great singer, and they need a bass player to play on the record”. So that was how we met, and Rhino said “look, rather than you play bass on this, why don’t we look to start something completely new”, which is how it happened. [laughs] So I don’t even know what the record was! I ended up not playing on the session, but I went down to say hello to everybody, and that is where we met, and low and behold out of that we formed the Angels of Babylon entity, and now we have this first record here.
MD: Did you have much input on the song writing for the album?
DE: You know, not really, and to be honest with you I was fine with it. I mean, I really looked at it like it was really Rhino’s creation for the most part, and once I started hearing the vocal melodies and the ideas that Dave was laying down I was like wow, this sounds great. You know, and Rhino’s a fantastic writer, and I think a big part of it for me is, first of all, I love the music and that’s got to always be a requirement before I get involved in anything. I liked the music, I liked the people involved in it, and I was like “look, I’ll participate in this”. Obviously we live in four different states so we’re scattered around - the idea of us trying to get together and getting a room and write songs, you know, why go through that hassle? What Rhino’s doing sounds really good; it’s working really well and let me just jump in with this where it’s at and go from there.
MD: How pleased were you with how the final recordings actually turned out?
DE: I think they’re okay. You know, again, we didn’t all meet at the record plant in New York and spend half a million dollars on a record! [laughs] I mean, this is the way a lot of records are made in this day and age. Knowing that it was going to be a metal record, it needed to sound a certain way, but when Ethan played guitar on it, it really took it up to a whole other level because he’s a great shredding guitar player. I just think I’m happy with it. You know, I think for the idea of it, most of all the spirit of the music and everything, I think it really came out quite good actually.
MD: Yeah, definitely, an amazing record, like I said. Who actually came up with the name Angels of Babylon and is there any significance in that name, or was it just chosen because it sounds cool?!
DE: To be honest with you, I don’t know who actually came up with it! [laughs] I don’t know if it was Rhino or Dave who came up with it, but I ended up jumping in once we had the name and we got with the graphic guy to make a logo, and get that whole thing moving forward. I love it - Babylon obviously being the ultimate city of dysfunction and the one that was torn apart; I thought it was kinda cool. Not that we’re all a bunch of angels by any means! [laughs] I think the general spirit that Rhino liked was that everyone’s a gentleman, obviously a fantastic player, well respected by our peers in particular things that we’ve done at that point in the past, and so I think there was just a really good energy, and a really good attitude around it, and I really wanted to see Rhino step out on his own and do something, because I’ve been through that. That, to me, was kinda my transition I went through years ago with some of the groups that I had like F5 and Temple of Brutality. I think everybody needs a moment to shine on their own and step out away…you know, Rhino had been in Manowar and, at that time, I’d been in Megadeth for many years. So I know that transition and it’s healthy, I think, for all of us as artists - not just as musicians, but certainly as song writers and artists to sort of find a voice of our own, and I saw Angels of Babylon as really being that for Rhino. Just for him to step out and not be the guy in Manowar, the guy from Manowar, but just to step out and be his own song writer, his own artist, and for a lot of levels I just really championed that with this record.
MD: And he was really pleased with how the results turned out considering it was his baby, I guess?
DE: Yeah, pretty much, yeah. I think he’s very happy with it. I mean, it’s something that we initially kept on bugging him, like “hey, send us some songs, let’s keep hearing what’s going on” and, out of nowhere, we’d hear some ideas, and Dave would sing on ’em, and it’s like wow, this is really, really cool. It’s just one of these things where it’s like let Rhino germinate the seed and send us things as they were developing.
MD: Do you have any plans to take the Angels of Babylon project out on the road for any live dates, or is that now not even a consideration now you’re back in Megadeth?
DE: You know, well, even prior to the Megadeth rejoining we didn’t have any plans. Of course, again, it’s a brand new band; it’s a brand new record; it’s all that so these things are very difficult to get out on the road - especially in this day and age. In fact, the bands that only seem to really have a shot on the road are the bands that have been around for quite a while! [laughs] So we’re obviously open to it. We’re securing a release for over on this side here in North America, and those things come into place that might help a little bit more with doing that, but I think the first step with all these things is create some music, originate it, put it together, start it, and then you just be open to see where it goes from there.
MD: Hasn’t it actually been released in the States yet then?
DE: It has not, no. We’re finalising that as we speak actually. We’re just trying to work at getting that done. It’d be nice if we could get it out by the summer here, but I’m not sure what the release schedule is on it.
MD: Do you think rejoining Megadeth could prove beneficial for ’Kingdom of Evil’ because there’s so much buzz about you in the press right now or, the converse of that, are you worried the album might get a little lost under all the media attention for yourself rejoining Megadeth?
DE: Ahhhh, I think, to be honest with you, I’ve done a lot of things here in the last eight years away from Megadeth and that was part of my creative journey. I mean, when I was in that group I didn’t do any solo records. I did one little writing session with Flotsam and Jetsam; I did a little producing for Helstar. My biggest thing that I did as a side project was I wrote a book! [laughs] Musically, I didn’t interfere with anything so, you know, for me, to a large degree, these last bunch of years have really been a huge expulsion of a lot of music and working with a lot of different people, and that will probably always now continue to be a part of my life moving forward. To be honest with you, it’s made the experience of going back to Megadeth…I think all those experiences have made me a better Megadeth bass player quite honestly. I think I’m a much more advanced, and a much more proficient musician now than I was even years back. So the Angels of Babylon record is something that hopefully will get as much, or even more, attention because of it, and I think there’s a lot of the Megadeth fans who’ve checked out the things I’ve been doing over the years…I think waiting for the day that I would return back…[laughs]…but now that has happened I think, if anything, maybe a lot of those things, including Angels of Babylon, might maybe get a look at ‘em that maybe they wouldn’t have had had I not come back to the group.
MD: Yeah, definitely. You mentioned your book, and I understand you also give lectures on the business side of the music industry - would you say that side of things is fundamentally the same as when you started your career as a musician, or are there any noticeable differences nowadays?
DE: Well, obviously the internet’s changed a lot of it for everybody. It’s changed it for the artist; it’s changed it for the record companies; and it’s changed it, I’d like to think for the better, for the end user which is the consumer and the music fan. And a lot of it is just the marketing…because home-based recording has gotten so affordable and reachable now that, essentially, almost anybody can make a home recording and put it on the internet and do their own marketing and in some way, shape or form, live a small part of the dream of rock stardom. I think, if anything, the best of the best rise to the top and the rest go away, and the other side of it is that I think the concept of a record label and someone being there to help beat the bank, and also be the distributor for your music, those are components that have not gotten figured out yet. Everybody wants to say how mean and evil the record companies are but the truth of the matter is that without them being there to fund your dream, at least initially, most people never get to live the dreams. I think there’s gotta be a win-win scenario for everybody and, certainly at one point, it got lopsided where the artist was probably on the short end of the stick for too many years, and that’s probably the backlash that’s happening right now. I think it’s still a work in progress to get sorted out to where it really becomes probably the most favourable for both, you know, the record label/distribution side of it and also the artist/songwriter.
MD: So apart from major labels, do you think the smaller and middling record labels are becoming more redundant since the advent of the internet with MySpace and things like that?
DE: Yeah, I think so and, again, a lot of it just comes down to the old idea that the old motto where a record company signs a band and they actually have to go and manufacture a CD, or cassette, or LP or something - that’s just gone away now. Now, stuff is placed online and you can purchase it online. It’s virtual music, you know! [laughs] And it goes into an iPod, or an mp3 player, or your phone or something and you actually never physically touch the music anymore. So that’s a whole new mindset that, even though it’s been around for a few years, we’re probably just at the beginning of what that’s ultimately gonna become and develop into, I think. So there’s a lot of unknowns out there, and I think with artists right now, we’re just trying to make sure that the music publishers, and the record labels, and the people that either hold or own the licences that control our music, that we are getting the placement where it needs to be, and also that we’re getting paid for these things.
MD: Personally, I do both - I buy the music, like a physical copy, and then rip it to my iPod, but it’s very rare that’s I’ll actually put on a CD these days, I’ll usually just hook up my iPod. I think that’s a generational thing though as I’m from a music buying generation where you had to buy physical copies.
DE: Yeah, exactly. I haven’t bought a CD now in probably a few years. Everything I do, you know, I’m online the whole time, go over to iTunes and buy it, it hits my credit card and, bang, it’s mine. Yeah, so again, I think even if we’re talking about a new record like Angels of Babylon, and we’re talking about a release date, it’s really more about who’s gonna put up the money for the marketing, promotion and the distribution. More and more of it is gonna be online, and less and less of it is gonna be at a physical store as we move forward.