David Ellefson Recalls Biggest Challenges of Recording ‘Dystopia’ in Megadeth, Explains What Dave Mustaine Was Like to Work With

Now playing with Dieth and Kings of Thrash, David Ellefson was let go from Megadeth in 2021. Although he recorded some of the parts of what would become “The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead!,” those were discarded and, technically, his final album as a Megadeth member was 2016’s “Dystopia.”

While appearing recently on the podcast of Avenged Sevenfold bassist Johnny Christ, called “Drinks With Johnny,” Ellefson recalled how his recording process went for “Dystopia,” offering (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“I went in the studio in Nashville and recorded ‘Dystopia,’ the Megadeth album. Which was funny because I recorded that album — it was me and Dave — I’ve sat there and basically recorded the bass to a click.”

David Ellefson: Enough Said | Drinks With Johnny #182

“I didn’t have any guitars, I didn’t have any drums. We hadn’t rehearsed the song. He was literally showing me the parts. And I was sitting down, just grinding it to the fucking click.”

“I would say [it] is a pretty good testimony not only to my pillar in that band and that sound,” David added, “but also to me and Dave’s ability to finish each other’s musical sentences.”

This came with a whole new set of challenges, like trying not to repeat themselves. As he explained further:

“We would play something, and we would stop and go, ‘Fuck, it sounds a lot like something we did on ‘Black Friday.””

In the STUDIO with DAVE ELLEFSON (ex Megadeth, Dieth)!

“Because in Megadeth, after a while, you make so many records the real challenge was to not repeat yourself. We don’t want this to sound like something we did in ‘Rust in Peace’ or something. So it’s always challenging.”

Although a difficult process, Ellefson admits that it was still incredibly fun to record “Dystopia”:

“So I recorded that, which was fun, very painstaking, but it was great. I walked out of that going, ‘I can’t believe it. I think this is the first record ever in the history of the world where the bass player cut to a click track.’ And again, I didn’t know the songs, didn’t rehearse them. It’s not like we were a band.”

Megadeth - David Ellefson Bass Solo (1995)

While talking about the album and his general experience in Megadeth, some of the songs can be pretty tricky. Jokingly oversimplifying it by saying that “all Megadeth songs are basically eighth notes or 16th notes with triplets in between,” Ellefson pointed out how there’s some serious math going on with the band’s music. Recalling one of the sessions, he offered:

“As I was sitting here, I had probably played every fucking algebraic combination of geometry. I mean, it was like a math project. I’m not gonna lie, my brain was smoking and hurt.”

During the interview, David was also asked if he felt like he would have done something different with the “Dystopia” album. He then explained:

“Here’s the thing: there’s certain lines like ‘Holy Wars’. There’s only one part to play that.”

Megadeth's David Ellefson - Top 5 Megadeth Bass Riffs

“That’s what you’re playing. We’re all jumping in. We’re all f***ing doing this together. So a lot of ‘Dystopia’ was similar, where the [bass] lines are the riff, and there’s not a lot of room to deviate there.”

Going more into the details, he added:

“There was a couple of things — ‘Poisonous Shadows’ was fun. It’s a ballad, so you could kind of hold some big whole notes and do some things that were fun, do constant passing tones, and a bit of little movements.”

“‘Dystopia’ was pretty set, kind of a ‘Hangar 18’ model, same sort of thing where it has this down-picking intro piece, and then the verses, and then at the end, it’s sort of guitar-shred-mania, sort of a duel. So I think I felt pretty good about it.”

Megadeth - Dystopia (Audio)

The whole thing about this or any other Megadeth album is that it’s all about Dave Mustaine putting his vision into practice. It’s no secret that this is his band and that he wants things done his way. Ellefson continued:

“When you’re working with Dave, he’s got the whole thing in his head. And I remember Chris Adler [Megadeth’s drummer at the time] told me Nick Raskulinecz was in there for a while — who’s obviously a killer producer and has made great records with the Foo Fighters, Rush, and everybody.”

“But I guess they decided they weren’t going to work together pretty early on because Nick wanted to hear, ‘Give me the chorus, where’s it? Where’s the money shot of the song?’ And I think for Dave, he’s like, ‘It’s fucking up here! [Points to head] I got it up here!'”

“Dave is the kind of guy where he’s ended up producing most of his stuff by himself — him and Chris Rakestraw — because, in more recent years, he knew what he wanted. He knew how he wanted to put it down.”

Megadeth - Dystopia (Vic and the Rattleheads - Live at St. Vitus, 2016)

“You can’t live in someone’s head. It’s like, ‘Look, put it out here so we can discuss it and meet terms and work on it together.’ And that wasn’t how he wanted to make records. He wanted his ideas.”

“I think in the early days, he always felt maybe a bit compromised by other people that wanted to have a go, managers and producers. So what I saw especially with ‘Dystopia’, and even the last record, was that he needed to self-produce. It was the only option to do that.”

Photos: Carter Sterling (David Ellefson), Selbymay (HF2022Megadeth 2)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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