David Ellefson Metal by the Grace of God

By Jeb Wright

The bass player for Metal mongers Megadeth, David Ellefson, is a Christian preacher and recovering drug addict.  Yep, the guy who plays bass in one of the once more feared Metal bands of all time has more in common with the character in Adam Ant’s song “Goody Two Shoes” these days then he does orchestrating any symphony of destruction!  That said, Ellefson didn’t become a choir boy by happenstance.  No, he came to it honestly, pretty much a mixture of philosophical wandering and too many drugs. He came to a place, in his early twenties, where he could no longer go forward in his, then, current lifestyle.  Changes had to be made.

He ended up leaving Megadeth. He walked away, went to college, got a ‘real’ job and then began to seek answers to some of mankind’s most intimate questions.  Along the path, he found God, and then he joined up with him. Somewhere along the line, the unthinkable happened, he rejoined Megadeth, where he resides to this day, kicking in the low end with a big smile on his face and with grace in his heart.

David’s tale is rather unique.  He came from Minnesota, left the farm for the freeway and ended up in Hollywood moving in below a blond-haired rock guitar player who had recently been fired from a little old band called Metallica.  David was a noisy neighbor and Mustaine let him know that by heaving objects out the window!  Eventually they met, formed a band and the rest if history.  David’s tale, however, goes beyond that fateful friendship.

Ellefson’s story has now been documented in a fascinating book titled My Life with Deth: Discovering Meaning in a Life of Rock & Roll.  In the book, co-written with rock scribe Joel McIver, David takes us on the journey from the Midwestern cornfields to the gates of Heaven.  Unlike most books written by rock stars, My Life with Deth throws no one under the bus.  While light on sensationalism, the book is heavy with emotion.  This is the life of David Ellefson, complete with his ongoing journey of spirituality and recovery from addiction.

The book, like the interview that follows, is honest, open and full of integrity.  David is much more comfortable with the Big Picture of Life, God and the World around us than most, including this writer.  He comes off at best, inspirational and at worst, as a man who has chosen a path and is committed to his beliefs. 

David may seem like a lesson in complexity—he is a member of the God Squad in a band called Megadeth—yet, he is not a complex person at all. In fact, his humanity, and humility are two of his most compelling aspects of his personality.  He is true to who he is and what he believes in, making him a rarity, both amongst rock stars, and ordinary people. 

David Ellefson…life beyond Deth, indeed!

Jeb: Some people can’t get over the fact that the bass player for Megadeth is a Christian guy who does not drink or smoke. Are you far enough removed from all of this that you can see the irony?

David: Of course, the truth is I’ve been raised in a Christian household from the beginning. I was baptized at one month old and I’ve been in the fold since then, even though I don’t exactly remember the ceremony.

Jeb: All kidding aside, you have an amazing tale. And I, for one, appreciate that you had the balls to speak the truth about your addiction and your spirituality.

David: When I was asked to write the book, I had to be honest about what my life really is like and get behind the walls of what it is perceived to be like. Otherwise, someone else could have just written a biography of my life. When the story comes by your own hand, a certain type of journey lays itself out on the pages before you. So, that is what my book really is…the real story of my life, rather than just another tale of my life.

Jeb: When did you know you had to do this in book form and did you have any apprehension knowing that many people might freak out a bit?

David: Sure, I was apprehensive about putting a lot of stuff in it because I have teenage kids, as well as many friends and family not in the music business, those who would not appreciate the tales of decadence and debauchery. So, once I told my story to Joel [McIver] and looked at it on paper, there were certain things that became clearer as to what should be told, and what should be left out. I was not going to write this gruesome ‘tell all’ just to make a buck.

The most important thing was that it is a story of a kid who was “called” into rock ‘n’ roll. Not because I needed the approval, the girls, or the drugs, but because the genuine desire was put upon me, for some strange reason.

Jeb: We have talked about the fact that you and I have both overcome substance abuse issues. Now, in certain programs of recovery some frown on talking about it in a public forum. I think this is mainly because if you fail then you look like a hypocrite. Was that ever a concern?

David: There is nothing wrong with speaking of a changed life, or of lessons learned during your path. But, to bring other organizations, or people, into those conversations you should have their consent first. That is why I tried to tell my story, and not everyone else’s.

Jeb: When did first know that you could not continue to use drugs like your buddy Mustaine and survive? What made you fail faster, so to speak?

David: Everyone has their breaking point and mine came before I was 25 years of age. I had had enough and saw that if I kept going on the path I was going that my life wasn’t going to get better; it was going to get worse. For me, it was obvious that the party was over, even in rock ‘n’ roll. If I was going to pursue the things important to me, I was going to have to step up and change how I was living my life.

Jeb: I find it interesting how in the book you took a leap of faith and ended up in California at the right place and time, and how you took one with this book and it, too, seems to be the right place and time.

David: Thank you. I think that what you just said is the real message of the book. I was just a kid growing up in a cornfield in Minnesota and one day this music thing just came upon me. I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t seek it out…it just came to me. Rather than fight it, I went with it and it became my entire mission of my life, the reason to get out of bed in the morning. To this day, it is the thing that inspires me to create, take chances, meet new people, try new things and even gets me around the world to speak of my life to people who have suffered some of the same obstacles I have. To me, it is the real joy of living.

Jeb: In the book, there is talk about how you sued David M. In your words, why did this have to happen? I have never quite understood this part of the story.

David: The reason I don’t go into extensive detail on it is because it is settled and past. Dave and I are back onstage together and moving forward, not backward. If Dave and I can move on from it, so can everyone else.

Jeb: The bible has many contradictions, stories have been changed, purged and added for political reasons over time and translations into other languages can easily change meanings. Add to the fact all of the people that have been killed, murdered and prosecuted in the name of Christianity…Many would say the truth is, at best, shrouded in mystery and at worse used as a political agenda…despite all that is WRONG with Christianity why do you find it to be the path for you?

David: More than that, I think there are three fundamental questions we all ask: 1. Is there a God? 2. If there is a God, why is there evil in this world? 3. What happens when we die?

I don’t just walk up to people and tell them to read the Bible, but, to anyone who suggests these questions, I do suggest they read the Bible and find the answers for themselves, because that is what I had to do to find the truth on these matters. The answers are all in there, and there are no shortcuts to finding Truth. Just my experience…

Jeb: Do you find strength in prayer and meditation? Must you subscribe to a certain faith to find salvation or is God bigger than any one church?

David: I absolutely do. I was once told by a dear friend that I have three powers available to me at all times: the power of prayer, the power of example, or the power to jump in and make a mess of things with my own will power. Based on my own experience, clearly, he was right!

To me, faith isn’t about church; it’s about finding a strength that lies beyond our own finite abilities. Church is just a fellowship of like-minded believers, much like a rock concert is a fellowship of like-minded believers, plus, we all want to know where we came from. Scientists confirm we are all made up of atoms but who made the atom? I guess that is the answer we all seek at some point in our lives.

Jeb: Did you grow, emotionally and spiritually while the book was being created? It must have been quite and effort.

David: I did grow, but because I’ve processed this stuff over the last 25 years, it isn’t like I suddenly hit some epiphany while writing the book. It really was like just walking back through my life and telling the story.

Jeb: Long term sobriety mixed with a life in Heavy Metal make odd bedfellows. You must be around addicts on the road…how do you handle it?

David: Well, addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer and there are people in all walks of life who suffer its wrath. To understand it as an illness puts it in a much different light and takes the judgment off the people who suffer from it, much the same way you wouldn’t judge, or behold, someone with cancer, heart disease, or other life threatening illnesses.

With that said, rock ‘n’ roll certainly has applauded its decadence only to find it killing its own talent. I lived through some of that myself, so I saw it first hand. More than anything, I’m here to help if anyone reaches out. That alone is a good enough reason to stay in it, to actually be useful and contribute something good back to it.

Jeb: I am curious about this…in the book you left the music industry as a performer. You had a ‘regular’ job, so to speak. How did those years shape who you are now?

David: They were huge for me because I had an opportunity to really grow in new ways that just wouldn’t have happened if I was on the road touring and making records. Going to college and getting colleagues in other walks of life really opened my eyes to seeing the world from a new perspective. What a difference it makes to see the same world from a new vantage point, gained from new experiences.

Jeb: Have there been any unexpected consequences, either positive or negative, since releasing the book in your life?

David: I’ve had quite a few people open up to me about their own struggles with addictions and faith, which has been very therapeutic for them. If the book can help people feel comfortable about opening up those dark corners of their life to embrace change for the better, then the book was certainly worth writing.

Jeb: The bottom line in the book is that you still love Metal, you still love playing bass in Megadeth but you are happy with your faith and your life. What are the main life lessons you want people to take away from your life story?

David: I’ve found that faith, hope and Heavy Metal can all coexist...BUT, they have to be in that order. Sometimes, I myself, tended to look at things as an ‘either/or’ scenario…either you’re in, or your out, but, my own experience says that if God brought you to it, He’ll get you through it.

Jeb: This may sound goofy…but you’ve had an incredible life…so, David, what is the meaning of life?

David: I guess that could be answered differently by every person you ask, but, for me it’s about following that little God-given black box built into each and every one of our souls. It’s the quite voice that tells us when we are doing right, or if we are getting off the path. We have to listen to it. We each have a dream, which is part of our own personal mission here on planet earth, so go fulfill it; it’s our destiny to do so.

Jeb: We better talk music before we end. What is up with ‘DETH? New album? Giant Tours? What’s the scoop?

David: We are wrapping up the last leg of the Super Collider USA tour right now. Then, 2014 holds some great international tours including Sound Wave in Australia, the Pacific Rim, the Youthanasia tour in South America, and then wrapping up in Europe over the summer.

Jeb: You did some recent dates with Black Sabbath. What was it like to hang out with the guys?

David: It was way cool! I am lucky, we are fortunate, and together we rocked it.

Jeb: Last one: At the end of the day do you consider yourself more A) Lucky B) Deserving or C) Blessed?

David: To me, they are all part of the same thing. Obedience to that little voice inside opens unusual doors, which you could call luck, that gives us what we need to persevere, or deserve, and if we are thankful for those things we receive, and the people who walk with us, we will count them as blessings.

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