Anthony Morgan of Metal Forces recently conducted an interview with David Ellefson about the MEGADETH bassist’s new book, “Unsung: Words And Images”. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
On how “Unsung” came about:
Ellefson: “The idea of obviously writing music around them and going into the studio seemed a bit daunting, especially at the beginning of a whole world tour for MEGADETH. A friend of mine — Brent Nelson — had written a poetry book called ‘Out Of Darkness’ and he had done a similar type of thing, putting some really dark, intriguing images next to poetry. That’s what really spawned the idea for this book, so Brent actually helped me… I was actually working with Brent on co-writing a couple of pieces anyway, so the idea came together really quickly. I wanted to create this book using the photographs as a way to add depth and thought-provoking impact to the lyric, much in the same way music would do to the words if they were in a song. We got our editor Libby [Calaby] out of London and Raffaella, we used her photo images out of Italy. Very quickly everybody came onboard, and we hussled. Within the course of a couple of months we were able to compile all of the lyrics, find the appropriate images to go with it, and the book was born and done.”
On his favorite lyricists:
Ellefson: “I think growing up, the one lyricist to my age group that probably rocked all of our worlds was Neil Peart. RUSH suddenly became this band that was not only musically progressive and really spoke to our musical sensibilities, but his lyrics added a whole other dimension and also a whole other intellectual dimension to RUSH‘s music. I also liked Steve Harris‘ [IRON MAIDEN bassist] lyrical writing, and then out of the more rock genre I always loved how Bernie Taupin wrote lyrics for Elton John‘s songs. You hear Elton sitting down and playing these songs and they come across the radio, and I couldn’t imagine that that was two separate people. That’s how perfect that co-writing team works; for Elton to write that music and for Bernie to write lyrics for it was just amazing. Even further than that would probably be Tim Rice writing lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s music, and one of my favorites is ‘Evita’ (1978).”
On Nashville songwriters:
Ellefson: “To me, great lyrical writing is story telling. It’s one of the things that I really like about Nashville music; I guess by and large that would mean country music, but not necessarily. Years ago when MEGADETH went down to Nashville to make the ‘Cryptic Writings’ (June 1997) and ‘Risk’ (August 1999) albums with Dann Huff, Nashville all of a sudden seemed like it had embraced pop and rock ‘n’ roll music. I think that made country music so popular in the mainstream, because all of a sudden it had this real kick-ass guitar playing. It became something that was less twang and more rock, and that appealed to me. As we went down to Nashville, as a composer, I was really listening and paying attention not only to the instrumentation but especially the lyrics. I still to this day admire how Nashville songwriters can tell such clever stories in such simple and clear ways, and often using very few words. More recently is probably Taylor Swift. [laughs] That’s only because I hear it every day in the car when I drive my daughter to school. There’s such innocence in her songwriting, yet I watch her connect with my daughter. With the songs that Taylor Swift writes, she is the voice of this entire generation of young girls. It reminds me of when I was listening to my KISS records, KISS singing ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ and ‘Rock Bottom’ (both from March 1975’s ‘Dressed To Kill’), and ‘Shout It Out Loud’ and ‘Detroit Rock City’ (both from March 1976’s ‘Destroyer’). Those were the soundtrack to my life when I was 13 to 15-years-old, and now I’m watching someone like Taylor Swift do that for my daughter.”
On faith affecting his lyrics:
Ellefson: “Faith runs concurrently with life, and by and large it’s the seed of life. If you try to live without it, then life becomes empty, shallow, and meaningless. When I was 25 I had this ‘come to faith’ moment where living life the way I was living wasn’t working. To me, it’s been more about a constant opening of the door and looking deeper into the room. There’s one song called ‘Fallen Is Babylon’ that I actually took out of ‘Revelations’ 18 and 19, and I think it’s pretty obvious what that is about. I also wrote another song called ‘How Long’, and it was actually inspired by something out of the ‘Old Testament’. I think it’s a universal cry which we all ask. ‘How long must I call for help Lord? Why don’t you save me? Why don’t you help me?’ It’s that desperate cry that we all have at various times where we feel like, ‘Why has God forsaken me? Why am I here by myself?’ As the story goes on, we find that the master plan is not always one that we’re supposed to know. That comes back to the fact that God doesn’t need our help running our lives; he’s asked us to do other things, helping other people and helping them enter his kingdom. Meanwhile, he takes care of our lives, so sometimes it’s a matter of getting ourselves out of our own way.”
Read the entire interview at Metal Forces.
“Manuscriptum Regius” video: