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Rock Today


Kings Of Thrash - David Ellefson talks about the band’s desire to celebrate  the early music of Megadeth - Summer 2024 

Celebrating Megadeth's early music 

Megadeth, along with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax as ‘The Big Four’, are credited with not only pioneering the thrash metal movement but also inspiring countless metal bands that would emerge over the next 40 years. The incredible core musical partnership between Dave Mustaine and bass player David Ellefson would ensure Megadeth’s stratospheric rise to success with albums such as Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good!, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?, So Far So Good… So What! and Rust In Peace. Fast forward to today, Kings Of Thrash is a band put together by David Ellefson to celebrate the band’s early music. With a cast of stellar musicians including Megadeth alumni Jeff Young and Chris Poland, Kings Of Thrash play the hidden gems alongside the singles, creating a very special experience for fans. The wonderful news is that Kings Of Thrash will be touring extensively throughout 2024 with a US tour scheduled for June, quickly followed by an Australian tour in July and of course very excitingly, their Anarchy In The UK Tour in October and November. We catch up with David Ellefson at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona to find out how Kings Of Thrash came together. We are given the warmest of welcomes and enjoy a brief tour of Dave’s ‘man cave’, essentially his home studio adorned with gold records, guitars, vintage tour posters and of course countless Jackson basses. We take a seat and our conversation begins…

Kings Of Thrash is an amazing project involving yourself, Jeff Young and a cast of stellar musicians (Chaz Leon – Guitar/vocals and Fred Aching on drums) that have come together to celebrate the music of Megadeth and especially those early albums ‘Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good’, ‘So Far, So Good… So What?’ and ‘Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?’. Now, Kings Of Thrash was born nearly 2 years ago at an Ultimate Jam Night at the Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood. Tell me about how things went from a jam night performance to this incredible project that we have now that’s embarking on shows around the world.

Well, truth be told, the idea really came to me in October 21 when I appeared in New Jersey at the Chiller Theatre Horror Convention. It’s one of the big ones there. Megadeth had just started to go out on the road, they had just come through the area, and obviously I was no longer participating in the band at that point. So a lot of fans were coming to me obviously expressing their feelings about me not being in the group and then they would lay down their Killing Is My Business, Peace Sells, So Far So Good… So What!, So Far So Good… So What! and Rust in Peace records in front of me. So they’re kind of the main ones but it’s funny up there - it was a lot of Killing Is My Business. We had started the Killing tour there in 1985 when we started. I think we started at Hammer Jacks in Baltimore and kind of worked away up in New York, New Jersey and then started across: the Ohio Valley and into the midwest. So a lot of the original fans, if you will, the concertgoers from Megadeth, they were there and after the convention I came home and I called Chris Poland. I said “Dude, do you want to go out and play Killing and Peace Sells as just sort of a retrospective?” and he was really into it and said “Man! That’s a great idea!”. And then he called me back half an hour later and said “There’s no way I can do it, I can’t play those songs, I’ve got too much going on!”. I just said “Time out! It’s time will come! I’m just putting it out there!”. I think we kind of put things out into the universe and somehow the universe answers you back, either yes, no, maybe, not now, in a little while, and that’s kind of what we got back. Turn the page into January 2022 we started working on the Nick Menza documentary (This Was My Life: The Story Of Nick Menza – Ed) and Jeff Young was a part of that. I came in originally just to narrate it and I ended up becoming one of the executive producers of the film. So that just started the rapport with me and Jeff and we started to write some songs together capitalising on some of the riffs that he’d had from 1998, which I guess would’ve gone on to become what became Rust In Peace. So that was where Jeff and I connected as friends and as sort of historians for Nick Menza’s movie and then now a musical partnership again. So when he called me and said “Hey man! Do you would want to come out for this Ultimate Jam Night? They’re doing this tribute to The Big Four.” I just said “Yeah! Fuck it – I’ll book a flight!”. So I did but I said “There’s a condition: we’ve got to play Mary Jane!”. Jeff’s got such a great participation in that song, and In My Darkest Hour. I just wanted to make sure that we could play some deep cuts, and it’s funny because Chaz, the organisers and Jessica Chase who also manages the Bulletboys, it was her idea to bring Chaz in. I knew Chaz because of a couple of years earlier I’d done a book signing down in La Jolla California for my book More Life With Deth, and he had a Megadeth tribute band Woke Up Dead and they were out on the sidewalk jamming. It was part of the fluff to get people in the door and to entertain, and I actually went out and jammed a few songs with them on the sidewalk. So here I am, reconnecting with Jeff and reconnecting with Chaz. Fred Aching plays in the Bulletboys. He didn’t play with us but he played later that night. Jeff saw that he had played some Slayer songs in The Big Four tribute and he said “Man, this is our guy!”. So Jeff struck up a friendship with him and that’s how it happened. I called the manager and we got an agent and we booked some dates later that year in October. At that point we didn’t really know what it was. Is it tribute band? I guess, kind of in a way, but it’s not a true tribute band where people go out and do AC/DC and Van Halen or whatever. We are the guys from Megadeth! It’s kind of Hollywood Vampires, or you know when Duff McKagan and Billy Duffy had Camp Freddy. It’s an amalgamation of some of these things. I didn’t think about any of that. All I wanted to do was go and play Killing Is My Business, stuff off Peace Sells and in particular So Far, So Good… So What!?. That’s why the first tour we did was Killing and So Far, So Good… So What! in their entirety. We went out and took that around the world .

Just for a moment I’d like to go back to the 80s and reflect on the development and release of those early albums because I think a point that simply can’t be overstated is that these weren’t just great albums. You were creating a whole movement. Take me back to that time – did you know you were creating a movement and what were the sort of signs that told you were onto something big here?

Dave was very bold in his salesmanship. So when he tells you that we’re changing the world, apparently we are! (Laughs!) That was one of his finest qualities, he was very confident in himself, he was very bold in his statements and as we were creating this music he had very deep convictions. These are epic orientated songs. These are songs that are like almost film soundtracks, and he was unwavering in his identity of what we were creating. Honestly, that was fantastic leadership because I bought into it. I said “I’m in!”. Everything that we did we were very aware of what was going on around us, and there was a lot going on around us: everything from Mötley Crüe and the Sunset strip bands that were all over MTV to the thrash movement that was happening around us. In Europe there was also the power metal movements. So we were very aware of everything, and we didn’t have to be careful to not copy any of it because our sound was never like that. And that’s what I’ve learnt over the years: to have a sound that is identifiable is the ultimate win. It’s nice to get Grammys and it’s nice to get platinum and gold records, it’s nice to have millions of fans. Those are all wonderful but I think the reason you get the fans and the reason you get all this stuff is because you have a sound that when people hear it they go “Oh yeah, that’s Megadeth!”. My son just told me that David Sanborn the saxophonist died. I could tell it was David as soon as I heard him and I played tenor sax in elementary and high school bands. So as a sax player, Kenny G you know as soon as you hear him that it’s him, right? Regardless of the music, when you hear Madonna, you know it’s her. So there are people that as soon as you hear their music you know exactly who it is. In fact you hear the first couple of chords or the first notes of a song and you’re like “I know exactly who that is!” and that I think that is the ultimate win, to have that global voice that is undeniable and instantly recognisable.

Kings Of Thrash

Kings Of Thrash

Musical development and sound

Kings Of Thrash Australian Tour 2024

Kings Of Thrash Australian Tour 2024

Well let’s talk a little bit more about the sound because you are such a distinctive bass player and it was wonderful to read in your autobiography ‘My Life with Deth’ how you always wanted an Ampeg SVT amp but you simply couldn’t afford it, but what that did afford you was the opportunity to create your own sound, with you even choosing to use a pick instead of a two-finger plucking approach. I would love to hear more about how you developed your sound which I think was so absolutely critical to the sound of Megadeth and those early albums, and what made them so great.

Thank you for that, and I 100% agree! We just posted a Mary Jane from Detroit performance and it was on the Peace Sells tour. So we would write songs at soundcheck and that was one of the songs we took onto the stage because, like Holy Wars, they wrote themselves in their entirety. We played it at Harpos in Detroit on the Peace Sells tour before we went in and recorded it for the So Far So Good… album. One of the things that really is identifiable is the bass tone and I’m playing one of my Jackson basses. The bass and the amp help of course but it’s really right here (shows how it’s all in the hands - Ed). I grew up an educated musician, through my high school years and playing in jazz bands, taking lessons and even going outside of school to get educated to really understand the language of music, how to read it, how to write it, how to play it and all that kind of stuff. When I met Dave I was in this ‘fingers’ approach. For instance, Devil’s Island (demonstrates a finger playing approach to bass – Ed). So we got in the studio and it wasn’t working. So I picked up the plectrum and I played it. I learnt to play guitar when I was growing up and that was one of my advantages in Megadeth, that I learnt all the guitar riffs. So when new members like Jeff came in I could show him the riffs. When Marty Friedman came in I showed him most of the Megadeth stuff. He’d already learned a lot of it but I showed him the rest and then Dave would polish it off. So with Devil’s Island I go (demonstrates pick and palm muting approach– Ed). So that was sort of a technique we adapted in Megadeth, and part of it was I could play the exact guitar riffs on the bass, like Holy Wars (demonstrates Holy Wars bass riff – Ed). I hear stems from other well-known musicians who are finger players and their stuff is not spot-on, it really isn’t, you know? And to me, I didn’t want to be close, I didn’t want to play half as much – the pick just fucking nails the whole thing! You can really play it how it is meant to be played, totally in time with the click. The execution of the part is just indisputable and it has a tone. I listen to my favourite rock players and the plectrum just has a tone. When I listen to some of Tom Hamilton’s stuff in Aerosmith, I can tell when he’s playing with a pick and when he’s playing with his fingers. I’ve learnt over the years that some of my favourite singer songwriter bass players like Phil Lynott, Paul McCartney, Gene Simmons and Lemmy Kilmister, these guys are plectrum players because it’s almost like it’s easier for them to maybe write this stuff on guitar. Lemmy is basically playing acoustic guitar on bass - it’s just really loud. So I’ve kind of come to find that a lot of singer – bass player – songwriter guys, they’re plectrum players, and I think there’s something where you’re just able to do more of all this together, and maybe rhythmically it makes more sense.

I think one of the really fascinating things is how as a young player you were steeped in Iron Maiden and that was a band that really helped to reinforce your passion for music and also to play that newer style of metal music. But you didn’t emulate Steve Harris – or anyone else, you took it further and created an even fresher sound, taking inspiration from rock and jazz (bassists such as Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke). To what extent was it important for you to present that individuality as a bass player and to sound unique?

Well I will tell you the exact crossroads of that. I’m on the farm and I’m growing up and I’m gigging. I’m missing school and I’m staying up late. My parents were writing notes ‘David’s going to be playing gigs’, you know? I was a working musician in my junior and senior year of high school, I graduated and the plan was for me to go to the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. And here’s the reality: I didn’t go to LA to be a musician because I was already a musician. I went to LA to go and be a rock star. Very different skill sets. And to be a rockstar you might have to actually be a musician too! (Laughs!) Like in my case, I really did! It’s not required, especially in today’s world, but the truth of it was that I was a skilled and educated musician. So I showed up in town with my chops in tow, I could play fingers, pick and slap and pop a little bit. I had a bag of tricks. So Dave and I meet, we are starting Megadeth and it’s becoming real. This is the next big thing after Metallica for Dave so it’s got a lot of attention on it. There were natural comparisons: is Mustaine‘s new bass player like Cliff Burton? Is he as good as Cliff? Cliff was the hot shot, he was the guy, especially with Metallica blowing up as quickly as they were, all eyes were on them. Now all eyes were starting to be on us: what’s Mustaine‘s next move? What’s with his new band Megadeth? So we worked really hard and I give credit to Dave that he included everyone as a lead performer, and in fact we talked about it: lead drums, lead bass, lead guitar, lead vocals. So as much as we all had a rhythmic side to us, we also had a shining moment. As Dave was composing the early music, I sat with him and I kind of envisioned him similar to what I would’ve been playing in an orchestra band from the Mozart and the Beethoven’s and the Bachs. Tenor sax in an orchestra setting, you’re kind of right in the middle. You’re kind of the last of the woodwinds right before the brass, right? And then behind the brass is the percussion. So I had a pretty good perspective of what was going on around me. The smaller the instrument the more shredding they did: piccolos, flutes, right? The bigger instruments like the bass would play less notes. So I realised as the bassist I would be back probably by the sousaphones and the tubas and all that. So there were times for me to be the sort of rhythmic holder of the band and there were times to step forward and really shine. And Steve Harris was of course great because I think what Steve did for metal is that he wasn’t only the bass player. He was the writer and he was a front man. He was a front man with a singer in Paul Di’Anno and later Bruce Dickinson. I think that sort of gave us permission, all the rest of us bass players, to be up on the front line and not just stand in the back. He gave us permission to be upfront and rocking which I liked. My tendency is to be an upfront performer. So all these different things came together but it was when I was standing there in Hollywood and I’m going ‘Right up the street is Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, and Eddie Van Halen is out here in Malibu, Al Di Meola probably lives up the street… My heroes are literally my neighbours and I’m no longer in Kansas - as the Wizard of Oz saying - I’m no longer in Minnesota - I’m really here now and it’s now my turn to make my mark’, and by partnering with Dave and starting Megadeth I had a vehicle to make a mark. I will say this openly: my musical partnership with Dave was a fantastic magic carpet to make that happen because he set the tone as the writer of the band which I would then fall in line with by So Far So Good. This was the template and ‘this is how we write’. What I brought, and every other writer brought to the band, were different things to Dave and that expanded our sound during the 90s which was much appreciated. As music styles changed we became a very collaborative band during those years. To be able to have a blank canvas and to create my own sound where I really find my own voice and my own path, that was a real gift that I am forever grateful for.

Album production and success

Just focusing on the music and specifically the debut album Killing Is My Business…, it was really interesting to read when you said that you felt that the sound quality wasn’t great – because you had little money to make it – and that you wished that some of the tempos had been a bit less extreme. Surely it was that raw energy that made the album so great?

You’re right! It is what it is and it landed the way it was supposed to land and that’s what made it be the record that it was. Killing Is My Business… in particular had this kind of cult classic, this little sleeper album that sort of grew an infamy over the last 40 years. And yeah, you’re right – had it been any slower, had it been any more affordable, had it been any more deliberate, it would’ve probably destroyed some of the charisma. For all of us, that was our very first record we ever made. Dave had made the No life ‘Til Leather demo and I’d made demos with my bands back in Iowa and Minnesota, Gar and Chris had done demos with their band The New Yorkers. So we’d all done demos but we’d never actually made an album for a record company. This was our first record for Combat and for all of us it was equal. We had our experiences but we all came to the table bringing some different experiences. It was unbridled, it was untamed, it was wild and it was rowdy. We’ve made it very clear our lifestyle at the time was not for the faint of heart. And that was also part of it, that brings the punk rock. It’s like if you listen to the New York Dolls or Johnny Thunders or The Sex Pistols, if they weren’t on drugs you’d be surprised! (Laughs!) We weren’t annihilated, it was just our young, wild, rowdy lifestyle that certainly captured the essence of who we really were at that time.

I think in another really interesting fact is that whilst those early albums would go on to become absolute classics and ones that helped define an entire genre of music, you didn’t have overnight success. When you were recording Peace Sells, you had a job selling appointments at a solar energy company and you were essentially homeless. Your desire for success and the sacrifices that you made to keep Megadeth alive are massively inspirational. How did you keep yourself motivated when so many others would’ve given up? Was it your desire to be a rockstar and how you knew you had this opportunity to make your mark?

That was it. I came from a pretty affluent family, a farming family and that farmer has been in our family for over 100 years. I was comfortable growing up and to move to Hollywood and just jump into complete musician destitute almost says everything! (Laughs!) I could have called home for money and I never did. My dad sent me a Visa card out with me, I cleaned out my $700 in my savings account and my dad gave me the family van, and that was a vehicle that we would drive to shows in, to rehearsals in and live in when we needed to! That credit card basically supported the Killing Is My Business tour. I never did hit my dad for any money. Somehow me and Dave figured a way to pay it off. We did it on our own. Dave didn’t have a Plan B, he didn’t have any options and honestly, I didn’t have a Plan B. It’s not like I was like ‘I will go to law school just in case’, and I think that’s what makes you who you are – there is no Plan B. Your back’s against the wall, this is it, it’s do or die. I guess we all have options in life but the fact is we don’t go for the easy road, we don’t go for the easy option – we stick to plan A at all times. Maybe that should be my next motivational book: Plan A! (Laughs!) This is it, we are who we are and this is what I’m meant to do. The partnership with Dave and I, even though we are two very different people from two very different backgrounds, we have the same common goal, the same passion. He needed a partner like me and someone who can play and someone who’s had their own experiences as a musician, and I needed his boldness. That’s what made the partnership work. Once I was there in Hollywood, it was a case of ‘this is it’. There was no other path. I guess that goes back to our earlier conversation living in Scottsdale Arizona in ’93. Once I was able to get out of Los Angeles – LA is a weird place because it’s like I get there and I hate it and then you just kind of fall in love with what you hate about it and then comes a moment where you can leave and you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I want to leave’. It’s a weird mindset. Getting out of LA in 93, you can even hear it in the Megadeth music. You can hear our sound change, you can hear breath and life and new topics. All of a sudden there was life beyond LA and I think that charted and shaped the course of what would come for the next couple of decades as well.

What’s also really special about those early Megadeth albums is how I feel they have a timeless quality. It’s a real surprise to be reminded that some of the songs are nearly 40 years old Because they continue to be as fresh and relevant now as well they were in the 80s. I think what also reinforces this fact is how multigenerational the audiences are at Kings Of Thrash shows. When you’re looking out from the stage, as well as seeing people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, there are teenagers and people in their 20s! How does it make you feel to know that there is this strong love and support for your music from the next generation of fans?

You know, right before I went back to Megadeth in 2009, I went to see Iron Maiden and as I looked into the audience there was a dad and he had like four sons all in a row, and they all had Iron Maiden T-shirts on. And I went ‘Here we are – we are now the classic rock bands’. A few months later I went back to Megadeth and we’re playing in 2010 and performing the 20th anniversary of Rust In Peace and I saw the younger fans in the front looking at us like ‘Oh, my God! There they are! The mighty Megadeth! These of the guys we always heard about!’. It hit me because I see the new audience by the barricade, going back towards the soundboard is the previous generation and up in the seats is generation number three, right!? And now it will be decade four! As we started doing Kings Of Thrash, I was wondering whether it was just going to be the old school guys coming out, but it’s funny because when we played here in Phoenix a friend of mine, a little younger than me, he brought his teenage son and they’re standing right up in the front. When I saw him a couple of days later he told me that his son had said that that was the best concert he’d ever been to and he’d just been to seei bands like System Of A Down and Disturbed and all these more kind of modern bands that are sort of the Metallicas of his generation. And that speaks to what you’re saying, that the music is timeless. That was another pre-requisite and a benchmark when we were writing this material as far back as 1983, that it’s music that’s not only epic-orientated but that it’s timeless. I noticed it on The Big Four back in 2010 and 2011, that the four of us were stood here and the we’d stood the test of time, all still friends and playing our songs, and I really felt like our music had this timeless quality.. So with Kings, as we go over to the UK, we’re even going to tap a little bit into Youthanasia because on November 1, which is almost the last day of the tour, it’s the 30th anniversary of the album. And that’s a really fantastic record! I started listening to it more over the last 10 or 12 years and what amazes me is how great it’s recorded because we recorded those tracks live in the room together. Dave overdubbed vocals and solos and things but as a band, those bass, drum and guitar parts were all recorded together simultaneously as a band and we hadn’t made a record like that since Killing Is My Business. So you listen to Killing… and how rowdy and raw that was, and then go to Youthanasia and that’s how the band had developed so that we could make that kind of record in that fashion, I guess 10 years later.

Let’s talk about live shows because 2024 it’s proving to be an amazing year for Kings of Thrash with extensive touring. You have the Summer of Thrash US tour in June, the Wake Up Australia tour in July and the Anarchy In The UK tour in October. I love the way you are doing something very different on each tour to really mix up the set list, and just focusing on the UK shows, you’re going to be playing early songs from ‘Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good’, ‘So Far So Good… So What?’, and ‘Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?’. Not only that but as you said, you will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of ‘Youthanasia’. It just seems to me that you’re putting the fans at the very centre of all these shows. To what extent is that a fair thing to say?

It’s 100% true! The reality is that I don’t ever have to go play another Megadeth song ever again for the rest of my life if I don’t want to. I’ve done it, I don’t play in that band anymore and I could just close the door and put the whole thing away. But the reality of it is I know how special these songs are to so many people and we play a selection of the catalogue that may never be played again. To me, as a fan, like when I went to see KISS I went to the sound check party because my friend had a ticket, and they were playing Plaster Caster and Christine Sixteen, and I was like ‘Come on! These are awesome!’. These were songs that they weren’t going to put into the live show but I thought it was great. They were putting forth the effort and they were taking the time to do something really special, and for me I’m off that mindset. When you get into the tour mode and you’re grinding and you’ve kind of got the same set list, that’s one approach that most of us take for the long tours, but what we’re doing, this whole thing exists only because of the fans. It’s not because of us. In fact, we really aren’t the Kings Of Thrash - the music is the Kings Of Thrash, the audience is the Kings Of Thrash, the genre is the Kings Of Thrash, you know? That’s really what this is about, and as much as we could go out and play Testament, Metallica and Anthrax, there is a correlation relatable thing because it’s me and Jeff. We were at the centre of this so many years ago. That’s why I really love it when we do the So Far, So Good stuff because that’s also Jeff’s record. The fact that he takes the time and is such a skilled musician that he can learn all the parts of all the other players is mind blowing! And I know this about him because we lived in the yellow submarine together back in 87 and 88 for a year. And it’s the same with Chris Poland. Chris is of an age where he didn’t have a thrash metal career after Megadeth. He did Return To Metalopolis but he plays the stuff he’s passionate about like his fusion stuff and his jazz stuff. Those are his passions. So the fact that he is willing to come back into the spotlight of this again, to lend his talents and for him to stand up and be one of the heroes of the music and the songs, I just have great admiration for Chris for doing that.

Kings Of Thrash UK Tour 2024

Kings Of Thrash UK Tour 2024

Our closing thoughts...

As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what an incredible band Kings Of Thrash really is. The music of Megadeth was pivotal in defining an entire genre and movement of music that continues to inspire and enthrall music fans of all ages, and it’s especially heartwarming to see the intense appreciation that’s coming through from the next generation. As David pointed out, fans having the opportunity to hear some of the songs that simply don’t normally feature within a Megadeth setlist makes their shows something incredibly special. To find out more, head over to and in the meantime enjoy the video to tour promo video below. 

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