[As part of MetalReview‘s ongoing series The 100 Most Essential Albums Of The 1990s, members of bands whose records are included in that list consented to interviews. What follows is Part One of the interview series.]
MetalReview: So, after a rigorous voting and arguing process, the MetalReview staff members have just finished selecting the 100 Most Essential heavy metal albums of the infamous decade of the 1990’s, and we are thrilled to let you know that Rust in Peace was one of our picks. We know that we are not exactly the first ones to laud the album’s excellence, but, still, how do you feel about this nomination?
David Ellefson: Thank you! It’s always good to be in the top picks. At the time, we were just making our next album. Who knew it would become a classic?!
MR: Speaking of Rust in Peace, what is your relationship to the album nowadays? Do you feel that it’s worthy of the recognition?
Ellefson: After having just played the album live for the past year, I certainly appreciate the intricacies of the material and better understand what the fans seem to like about it. It really brought back many memories of the band at that point and even re-invigorated the album’s appeal for me, too. So many times in your career you make an album and play some of the songs on subsequent tours, but then you never really spend much time ever listening to it again from top to bottom. I think the 20th anniversary tour got me completely back into the 1990-91 thrash headspace again, which was really the pinnacle of the genre.
MR: As somebody who had been in the band right from its turbulent formative years, how do you recall the “Rust in Peace era?” You would think that it wasn’t any less turbulent before entering the studio with you and Dave trying to clean up off drugs and the whole shifting cast of band members…
Ellefson: Well, most all of the album was written as a three-piece while we were in some of our darkest days, but we recorded it stone cold sober as a four-piece in early 1990, which is probably why you can hear so much angst in the record. It also explains why the tempos were so fast, too. We were pissed off and you can hear it!
As for lineup changes, it’s more like we completely reformed the band rather than just replace former members, even though that wasn’t really the mindset behind it. It just sort of happened that way. The RIP lineup had a good feel to it, like we all wanted to play the same and really hone everything about the band to be the best it could be. It was a great feeling to be a team, and that’s why it was so productive for so many years.
MR: Well, turbulent or not, the actual recording of the album must have gone well, because Mike Clink got the honor of being the first producer who survived the recording process of a Megadeth album without being fired. What kind of memories do you have of you guys trying to create the album inside the walls of Rumbo Studios?
Ellefson: Mike was on hiatus before starting the next Guns N’ Roses album (Use Your Illusion I and II) so we were able to utilize him for co-producing the tracking and overdubbing. Then Max Norman came in and mixed the album once Mike had to get onto GN’R world. Ironically that little turn of events started a very productive creative journey for us and Max, including the next two studio albums and several one-off soundtrack songs. Max was a really good hard rock / metal producer, and he really helped us craft some great songs and take the overall production of our albums to the next level, a sound that became truly our own.
As for getting into arrangements and song structure, Clink didn’t really have much to do with that as it was all done by the band in rehearsals prior to him coming on board. In fact, Marty had just joined the band only a couple weeks prior to the initial tracking of the album, so we were as much concerned with integrating him on the material, too.
The drum tracking, editing and bass dubs took most of the first three to four weeks, due mostly to the complex arrangements and how time-intensive it was. Clink was very masterful at that part of the production. From there, Dave did the rhythm guitar overdubs, and Marty spent most of his time honing his solos.
Vocally, Dave sang his lead vocals and there were several cool moments of what we call ‘gang backup vocals’ where all of us and our crew were in the studio shouting the lyrics to create this big backing vocal sound. Those were in songs like “Take No Prisoners,” “Five Magics” and “Lucretia.”
It’s interesting to note that “Dawn Patrol” was the last song added to the album, while we were in the studio. Mike Clink and our management kept raising the question that we were really one song short for the album. Nick and I each recorded a scratch idea we had while we were finishing the drum and bass tracks, and then we presented those to Dave as options for a final song. He seemed to like my bass/drum idea and then wrote lyrics over it, which became “Dawn Patrol”. Listening back to the album now, that tune became a nice break in the onslaught of the other songs in the running order of the track listing…a nice transition and final reprieve for the listener’s ears before battering them with “Rust In Peace…Polaris” as the closing song.
MR: It’s kind of amazing to think about some of the guys you auditioned for the lead guitarist’s position before the Rust in Peace sessions, like for example Dimebag Darrell and a young Jeff Loomis. In retrospect, have you ever thought something in the vein of: “Shit, we basically had all of the upcoming Hall of Fame metal guitarists applying for the gig, and we had the balls to turn them down?” Would you have any interesting stories you’d like to share with us in regard to these auditions?
Ellefson: Well, we called Dime in early 1989 to see about his interest and availability but we never auditioned him as he was committed to Pantera. When I met up with him a year earlier in Dallas, he told me that the Peace Sells… album changed his life. He was definitely a fan and obviously a ferocious guitar player, which is why we reached out to him in the first place. At that point, we had not done an open audition call, and Marty had not yet thrown his name in the ring for an audition either. The auditions that year always came up futile, and it really was a God-send that Marty was available and so interested in the gig. He had a great metal history and a shredder background, so he probably best understood how to play our music more than the others who auditioned.
MR: Rust in Peace was also Megadeth’s final breakthrough in terms of commercial success with all of the Grammy nominations and such, solidifying the band’s spot as one of the most successful real metal bands in the history of the genre. Also, last year’s Rust in Peace 20th anniversary celebration tour marked your return to Megadeth, so, all in all, the album must hold a fair bit of nostalgia for you. How did it feel, after twenty years, to come back to these very songs that ultimately made you immortal in the world of heavy metal?
Ellefson: Honestly, the songs were very difficult to play when we first released the album. I’m really glad Shawn Drover has the sense of feel in his drumming because it really laid a nice pocket for the band this last year while we performed the album live. For me, that made the journey very fun because, years back, we were still growing as musicians, and sometimes we were a bit unbridled in our tempos. (laughs)
MR: Overall, looking back in time, the 90’s has often been seen as an interim that brought heavy metal to its knees for a short while, but at the same time, that decade produced some of the most revered classics of the whole genre, and also, many important chapters of the history of metal were written during the 90s. Anyway, how do you remember the 1990s as a metal musician? What do you think were the highs and lows of the period?
Ellefson: The 90’s were definitely the last bastion of rock ‘n’ roll excess in the USA, that’s for sure. Once the Seattle scene hit by the early 90’s, it no longer seemed fashionable to present big rock shows with the same bombast and fervor that really made it a viable form of entertainment. To me, that’s what made rock ‘n’ roll something people wanted to go out and see, not the depressing and introspective lyrics of grunge, and that whole ‘shoe-gazer’ motif. I guess it was a sign of the times and the voice of that generation. Personally, I’m glad we’ve all moved beyond that….
MR: And finally, from your point of view, what kind of heritage do you feel the 1990’s left for metal music as a whole?
Ellefson: I think the 90’s will always be remembered by metal fans as one that was not so kind to our type of music after about 1994. Even though many of us did survive it, it was only because of our fans. Those portals and mediums that supported us so well in the late 80’s and early 90’s were only too quick to turn their back when the next fad came along. But, that is what is so cool about metal music is that it is not a fad and the fans listen to it and support it regardless of trends because we genuinely like the music and what it stands for…not because it was the ‘in’ thing to do at the time.
Thanks to David for taking the time to answer our questions, and a hearty congratulations to Megadeth for their well-deserved inclusion on MetalReview‘s 100 Most Essential Albums Of The 1990s! Stay tuned for more Essentials, coming soon…