Let The Music Do The Talking #2 : Dave Ellefson

#interviews #megadeth

"As a culture and lifestyle, rock 'n' roll sometimes reinvents itself but just as often it actually repeats itself"

In one of your blog posts, you wrote that an original track (as opposed to a cover) must allow a bass player to take some liberties and put his own creative spin on it. In terms of your own bass parts, do you always make an original track your own or are there too many other factors: how creative you're feeeling that day, how you feel about the song, how you get on with the other players, your mood, etc.? In other words, are there original songs which you know that, no matter how inspired your bass part might be, you will never "make your own"?

Ultimately I think it depends on who writes the song. In some instances a bassist is called in to lay down a part for someone else's creation and that writer may or may not want the bassist to take many liberties on creating a bass line. For me, the most rewarding sessions are those when you do have some room to create your own part, whether you were a writer on the song or not. Certainly the producer and other musicians will have an influence on the part as well, especially the drummer, who is the usually the right hand man for most bassists.

Believe it or not, as I write this I'm listening to "Rust In Peace... Polaris" (a pretty complex number, especially the outro if I'm not mistaken) and this immediately suggests a question: when you write a song (or a part of a song or even a bass part) is there any competitive edge involved? I mean, not necessarily competitive with other musicians (or bands) but simply with yourself? In other words, putting the creative process to one side and always with the good of the song coming first, is there sometimes a part of you which says "Hey, let's see if I can play this", just to step outside your comfort zone?

Years back I was probably more inclined to write or play a part that was difficult just for the sake of proving to the myself that I could play difficult stuff. I was young and still wanted to know that I could create something musically off-the-hook and pull it off! While that was fun, I learned through that process that if the part doesn't enhance and serve the song then it's really just an exercise in self-indulgence. Therefore, I've learned to just be in the moment and create bass lines that sit well in the song, whether I'm the featured musician or simply playing a supportive bass line to the tune.

How do you feel about the bass parts you wrote two, ten or even twenty years ago? Are they very much connected for you to a particular time in your life (and probably a particular personality) and when you listen to them, do you sometimes catch yourself thinking "I wouldn't do it like that now"? Do you think that a bass player's approach to playing can develop while keeping the same style? (All right, too many questions!)

Fortunately most all the records I've played on over the years had expert producers involved in them who helped ensure that the parts from all the players were the best and most accommodating for the song during those sessions. Sometimes I'll listen back and wonder if there might have been other lines I could have created but to me the past is the past and I trust that I played the right line at that moment.

I've read and listened to all the advice you have given on bass playing. Playing for the good of the song takes priority of course, but I was wondering what you think of bass solos in thrash metal in particular and in rock in general?

I'm cool with featured solos and in MEGADETH we used to do them in our live shows in years past. If you headline and do a 90-120 minute show it is good to give your listeners a break from the sonic onslaught and sometimes featuring an individual solo s a great way to spotlight a player's talents AND give the audience a break, too.

... I wouldn't be surprised if you had the Charlie Watts approach (i.e. no solos, bass and drums are just there to support) but then again you do solos... (This might well be the first time that you've been compared with Charlie Watts - those crazy French people...)

Serving a song doesn't mean having to always play less. In fact in Thrash metal it can mean having to learn very detailed riffs that the bass should follow rather than just plunk along next to. So, I think it is more a matter of musical instinct on what to play in any given song.

And last, something a bit different. What do you think about the "classic" 70s rock culture, its swaggering mythology and its excesses, which people tend to associate with acts like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones or Deep Purple? Is it something you can relate to in any way, musically or otherwise ?

Well, the 1970s bands were the formative years of what we then did in the 1980s, refined in the 1990s and are now once again experiencing a rebirth of in the 2000's and beyond. In other words, as a culture and lifestyle, rock n roll sometimes reinvents itself but just as often it actually repeats itself.

As for the bass playing styles, the 1970s are probably my all time favorite. This is in part because that is an era that I learned my early vocabulary of licks and also because there was a real groovy, bluesy sound and movement to the bass lines back then. In many ways, the 1970s had some of the best guitar riffs, which then led to some inventive bass playing that worked really well in and around those parts. At the same time, some of those songs were simply playing around chord changes and to me that is a very open manner in which to create some melodic and catchy bass parts.

Dave Ellefson's official website : www.davidellefson.com