Dave Mustaine says that “there had been enough stuff that had led up to” his decision to fire bassist David Ellefson from MEGADETH last year.
Ellefson‘s exit from the band came in May 2021, just days after sexually tinged messages and explicit video footage involving him were posted on Twitter. At the time, Ellefson released a statement on Instagram denying all social media chatter that he “groomed” an underage fan. He also filed a report with the police department in Scottsdale, Arizona alleging unlawful distribution of sexually explicit images of him by unknown offenders.
Mustaine ended up hiring TESTAMENT‘s Steve DiGiorgio to re-record Ellefson‘s bass parts on MEGADETH‘s upcoming album, “The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!”, before inviting MEGADETH alumnus James LoMenzo to rejoin the group as permanent bass player.
Speaking to Kerrang! Radio at this month’s Download festival in the United Kingdom, Mustaine stated about LoMenzo‘s return to MEGADETH: “The bass is important, and James LoMenzo is by far, I think, one of the deepest bass players that I’ve had a chance to play with, including [late METALLICA bassist] Cliff [Burton]. Cliff was fantastic, and he was a very deep bass player as far as talent goes. And James has a wealth of knowledge — he’s played with a lot of people: Ozzy [Osbourne]; he’s played with me before — and he’s not a slouch by any means. He’s been to the top of the mountain. And the one thing that he has that we really haven’t experienced a lot of is superb singing.”
Regarding the decision to re-record Ellefson‘s bass parts on “The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!” and LoMenzo‘s absence from the LP, Mustaine said: “It’s really unfortunate that [James] wasn’t on the record, but at the time when everything happened, all I wanted to do was just move on. The time had come. And there had been enough stuff that had led up to where it just was time.”
Dave previously touched upon his decision to fire Ellefson in a recent interview with Metal Hammer magazine. Asked whether dismissing the bassist from MEGADETH was a difficult move, given the longtime friendship between the two men, Mustaine replied: “I have made mistakes myself and so I know what it feels like to have people gunning for you. But what we had to remember is that MEGADETH has a lot of moving parts to it. There are four bandmembers; you’ve got their families, their management companies, the agencies, all of their technicians and on and on and on.
“I can tell you I’ve made decisions in the past that were detrimental to the security of the band and I know what harm that caused,” he continued. “But I don’t want to be saying anything about anyone who is unable to defend themselves.”
“God, it’s so hard to tap-dance around this…
“Let me just say this — it was a hard decision that had to be made,” Mustaine added. “There were a lot of people involved and I had to make a decision, because unfortunately, when you’re the leader, you’re the one that has to suck it up and face the music.
“All I wanted to do was make a clean break, and not hurt anyone, not hurt the fans and not hurt him. I just wanted to move on, and I hope the gentleman concerned is doing okay. I imagine there was some adjustment that had to take place when it happened.
“It was hard for me when I lost my job,” Mustaine said, apparently referring to getting kicked out of METALLICA in 1983. “But I’ve forgiven him before when he sued me and I’ll forgive him a thousand times. I just won’t play music with him anymore.”
In the police report that Ellefson filed in May 2021, he admitted that he had been exchanging sexual text messages with a Dutch teenager, who captured a video of several of their virtual “masturbating encounters” without his consent and shared them with friends. (According to Ellefson, the woman was 19 at the time of their first virtual sexual encounter.) Ellefson, who lives in Scottsdale, first became aware of the video on May 9, 2021, when the claim “David Ellefson of MEGADETH is a pedophile” appeared on Instagram. Ellefson told police he was notified on May 14, 2021 by MEGADETH that the band would be parting ways with him. Three days later, he was fired.
During an October 2021 appearance on SiriusXM‘s “Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk”, Ellefson opened up about the circumstances that led to his dismissal from MEGADETH, saying: “I ran toward the bullets and dealt with it right away. The night [the messages and video were leaked online], a couple of people said, ‘Hey, don’t say anything.’ In particular, the MEGADETH camp didn’t want me to say anything. But my legal [advisers] said, ‘Hey, I think you should say something. I think some people have done some really shitty things here and made some false allegations about you, and you have every right to defend yourself.’ And I did. Ultimately, that led to my dismissal from MEGADETH. But I have every right, as anyone does, to defend yourself, especially when somebody is making false allegations about you like that. So I dealt with it that night, and quite honestly, that was it — it was over, and it was really kind of done. But then, as the MEGADETH camp in particular jumped in and had addressed it — and not that they shouldn’t, but they did. That pretty quickly led to them making the decision to part ways with me and to move away from it.
“We had originally talked about doing a joint statement of sorts, and, of course, that was not what happened,” David continued. “So I was disappointed in probably the way it went down.
“Ironically, things are fine between [me and MEGADETH]. We parted ways, and they took their road. And there’s not ill will between us, believe it or not. And I think any fights and those things, that was 20 years go — lawsuits and all that crap.
“Look, they moved forward [with ‘The Metal Tour Of The Year’],” Ellefson added. “I wished them well in my [original] statement to them, and I mean it. It’s a group I helped form almost 40 years coming up here for the band. And the songs that are on the radio that I see come up are songs that I had a participation in, and we built a big legacy. I still consider them family, and my DNA is all over that. I don’t think you build something of that size together and then suddenly you’re just out and that’s it.”
Ellefson also talked about the statement Mustaine — who formed MEGADETH with Ellefson in 1983 — released on May 24, 2021 announcing the bassist’s departure from the band. In the statement, Dave said: “We do not take this decision lightly. While we do not know every detail of what occurred, with an already strained relationship, what has already been revealed now is enough to make working together impossible moving forward.” Asked if he was aware of any tension between him and Mustaine and whether he “felt like the ice was getting ready to break again,” Ellefson said: “I did not. I think one of the things — and this probably started 20 years ago, when MEGADETH was disbanded in 2002 and then put back together in 2004, it was very clear in 2004 that it was gonna be reframed around Dave unilaterally, one hundred percent being the boss and running the show. Gone were the days of the partnership, the ’90s, where it was me, Nick [Menza], Marty [Friedman], Dave — kind of ‘the four horsemen ride again’ kind of mentality… That day was done; it was not gonna be that anymore. And that’s where we fell apart in 2004 and I wasn’t with the group through those years. Coming back to it in 2010, now we’re a few years older, [with] a little more maturity in the situation, realizing that we’re better together, that even though it’s not, on paper, a partnership, there’s a kind of visual partnership — the optics of it are kind of, like, ‘Yeah, this looks better as MEGADETH with me and Dave together. We’re one of those bands that, although Dave is the quarterback and the quarterback still plays, the overall feeling and likability and I think everything about it just feels better when it’s Dave and Dave together, because we’ve been together from the beginning for so many years. And I think that worked really well for the last decade. At the same time, Dave and I are grown men, and we have opinions. It’s not the thing where it’s just Dave and three side guys when it’s me and the band. And apparently, they didn’t want that anymore — they wanted it to not be that. And I can’t speak for them, ’cause I don’t know. I’m not trying to put words in anybody’s mouth about that. But it just seemed like ‘there’s just too much history here, and let’s just part ways now and let MEGADETH move forward on a new day with kind of a new marching order.’ So rather than fight it, which is what happened 20 years ago, ’cause we were dissolving a partnership at that point, we’re not dissolving a partnership [this time]. It’s, like, ‘Hey, we don’t want you here. There’s the door. Don’t come to work on Monday.’ So, it’s, like, ‘Okay. Fine.’ And that’s just how I viewed it, and that’s how I view it today. I don’t have any sour grapes over it, and I’m not bitter about it.”
Ellefson told “Trunk Nation” host Eddie Trunk that he initially “didn’t even know what” the word “grooming” was, adding that he “had no idea” about the meaning of the term experts use to refer to the actions that sexual abusers take to get close to and gain the trust of those they are interested in. “And any allegations of anything being illegal [are false],” he said. “There was nothing. And that’s why I immediately hired a criminal lawyer. I went right to the police department. And just for the record, the bad guy doesn’t go to the police department. Okay? So, just to be clear. The guy who didn’t do anything wrong, he goes to the police department. That’s why I went to the police department and filed a police report and let them deal with it.
“I think there was a big fear of — there’s always this talk of cancel culture and all this stuff,” he continued. “And I was, like, ‘Listen, that was not me.’ And I had every right to stand up against that and defend myself against it. And I just turned that over to the lawyers and police department and let them deal with it, and they did.”
David also addressed his decision to step away from social media and stop doing interviews for a few months while things settled, both personally and professionally.
“Look, certainly time heals wounds in these things, which is good,” he said. “And that was the thing — I was, like, look, I didn’t do anything wrong; there was nothing illegal here; and you let it go. And for me to just kind of take some time away and go dark. I got off all social media. I have one Facebook account that I don’t even run, just for kind of professional purposes and everything, but I’m off of that. And I think that helps.”
When Trunk brought up the point that the only apparent “illegality” in this case lies with the person who actually leaked the above-mentioned video, Ellefson said: “A hundred percent. That’s why I didn’t hire a civil lawyer to sue people for a million bucks. I hired a criminal lawyer, and what they do is prosecute to put people in jail. ‘Cause those were the crimes. You can’t just go do shit like that — put stuff out there, content — and not have a penalty. That is the crime. And I think people just think they can — and not everybody; I’m not saying all people — but there is a faction that they just think that that could be just done as a joke and for fun, and it can’t. Of course, it’s the Internet, so people live in foreign countries; there’s all this stuff. That’s why the best thing, I think, is to, first of all, just get away from those platforms because that is a breeding ground for that society to do that.”
Asked by Trunk if there are still ongoing legal proceedings in the case, Ellefson said: “It’s been resolved. We took the steps necessary, walked through that process, which was necessary to do, and that’s all landed and, as of now, that’s fine.”
David, who studied for a year at Concordia Lutheran Seminary in St. Louis a decade ago, also wanted to address one specific “misconception” about him that has been repeatedly raised in the months since his masturbation videos were posted online. He said: “There’s a misconception that I’m a pastor. I am not a pastor. I did a year of seminary, and they made it real clear, ‘If you are gonna continue at seminary, you need to quit MEGADETH,’ so I quit seminary to be in MEGADETH. And I remember telling my mom that, when she was still alive — God rest her soul. I said, ‘Hey, I withdrew out of seminary,’ in good standing, to continue being in MEGADETH. And she was actually very disappointed. She was, like, ‘You know what? MEGADETH is holding you back. That’s too bad. You should have stayed in seminary.’ Turns out maybe I should have listened to my mom; I don’t know. [Laughs] Of course, mom wants the best for you.
“Who knows? Whatever,” he continued. “I’m a rock and roller, man. I’m a founding member of MEGADETH. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. It’s part of my life. It’s part of my existence. So I have no regrets about any of that. But I think that was a misconception. People started throwing that around. And so I’ve never been an ordained pastor. Yes. I did explore that world for a time.”
David went on to say that there is a perception that people of faith must set a higher standard of how they live with and treat others. “It’s almost like you’re this entity that’s floating up toward the heavens: ‘Oh, he’s such a wonderful man. He’s a man of faith. He’s got his family. And then this happens.’ It’s, like, ‘What the hell is this?’
“I mean, look, admittedly I’ve sort of trained the public to think that I’m one of the more well-behaved rock stars out there, and for the most part I have been,” he continued. “But at the same time, and this isn’t to claim anything other than just, oops, shit happens. That is what it is.
“In the season that I was away from MEGADETH, in the 2000s, I got involved in other things in church, and raising my family, and blah blah blah, these things, and so by nature, I kind of became more of a suburban homebody — the dad guy,” David added. “And then I went back to MEGADETH in 2010. And the thing is to try to reconcile that you’re not one guy at home and another guy on the road, that you’re the same guy. And I think for anybody who spent any time on the road — whether you’re a rock star, a traveling salesman or whoever you may be — that is the challenge, and it’s a real challenge, to keep your life in order when every day your toothbrush is in a new zip code.”
In 2004, Ellefson filed an $18.5-million lawsuit against Mustaine, alleging the frontman shortchanged him on profits and backed out of a deal to turn Megadeth Inc. over to him when the band broke up in 2002. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed and Ellefson rejoined MEGADETH in 2010.
Ellefson was in MEGADETH from the band’s inception in 1983 to 2002, and again from 2010 until his latest exit.