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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews


Interviewed by Lisa Palmeno
Interview with Dave Ellefson of F5 from 2005

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 1 at

You've been in the business a long time now. How did F5 come together? Are the band members industry people you worked with in the past, or did you just meet?
I met most of them, but when I was producing demos, when I was doing artist developments back in 2002 for bands that they were in, I felt a slight frustration and a yearning to do so much more because I'm a writer and a performer and a recording artist myself, and that led to all the members of F5 getting together as our own band and putting together what is A Drug For All Seasons.
MSJ: A Drug For All Seasons seems to have a mixture of musical influences. Can you tell me about the different styles each member has brought to the table?
Well, I would say our guitar player Steve Conley is kind of a shredding guitar hero fanatic as well as a traditional metal player. Our other guitar player, John [Davis], is a modern rock guitar player. Our drummer, Dave [Small], comes from more of a funk and mainstream rock background, and our singer, Dale [Steele], has an almost vintage rock voice, but also brings a powerhouse rock sound, while still being melodic. And then from me, I just wanted F5 to develop into its own new thing and not be dictated solely by my past.
MSJ: That's right. It's your own project.
I felt it important that, moving forward, what I do in the future doesn't always have to be a replication of what I did years ago. fans have been totally insane. It's been awesome.
MSJ: Can you explain how the F5 project is different from the work you do with Megadeth?
Well, I think it quickly developed because everybody was into playing heavy rock be it modern, or more traditional like my past, but one of the things that was obvious right away is that it had its own unique sound, and even now that the album is out, I think it still has something very unique and captivating.
MSJ: Bass-playing bandleaders are rare in the business, especially in the metal rock world. What is your approach to band leading, in terms of the music?
First, I like everybody to bring ideas to the table, even though many of them in F5 I originated. I always like to feel like I'm in a band of brothers. It's something that if everybody feels like they can contribute, everybody feels like they have ownership and they're more passionate about the cause. So now from there, because I've got more professional experience than everyone else in the group, I'm sort of the leader de facto. It's okay, sometimes stressful but okay. Again, I try to just trust my gut and let the music lead the charge.
MSJ: How does it feel to be the lead man as opposed to following another bandleader on stage?
I work good in both situations. Like when I work with Soulfly. I show up and do my part because it's Max Cavalera's party. But in F5, I never really looked at it like my band as much as I encourage everybody to look at it as our band.
MSJ: When you perform, what kinds of effects are you striving for? What's your goal?
F5 has always been a very tight and powerful live band by the nature of the music. As we're rehearsing now for some live shows, we're still letting the music be the focal point, and because there's a lot of variety and talent within the band, our live show, musically, has a lot of dynamics to it.
MSJ: How many live performances have F5 had? How many are slated to promote the CD?
The band has so far only done about 10 shows, and we're looking to ramp up for some more in the coming weeks. The thing that I think is exciting about F5 is that we can play with a variety of artists because the band is heavy, yet the melodic side of it helps us branch over in to some other musical genres.
MSJ: You self-produced the CD, didn't you?
Well, actually my friend Ryan Greene produced the record, and as much as I was involved in the making of the album, I relinquished any production credit so we could go into the studio as five band members and not have to feel like we had to wear another hat and approach each other as "meets musician." I think it's better to let an outside person come in and help improve your musical world, which is why we let Ryan handle the production on his own.
MSJ: The lyrics on A Drug For All Seasons are very short but filled with metaphors. How does the group decide on the lyrics, what stays in and what gets deleted?
Dale Steele writes most of the lyrics, and he and I, together, go through them to make sure that they work well, and there's a few things that he and I worked on together like "Dying On The Vine," even my encouragement for him to write "A Drug For All Seasons" as a title; but I agree there's a lot of metaphorical verbiage in the lyrics. And I think Dale was just writing his life, which was full of a lot of turmoil, adjustment and change as he was moving from his home in Minneapolis down here to Phoenix. Now, I also want to add that there's an irony that Phoenix represents being born from the ashes of the old, because both Dale and I began a new musical journey together, which is, I think, captured in the lyrics on this album.
MSJ: On the CD, you play 4-, 5-, and 12-string basses as well as rhythm guitar. Which basses did you use on which songs and why?
Every song had a different bass. I have some Fenders. Hamer is the 12-string, who is actually out of Illinois. I used a Spector and a Modulus, and the only one that I can really remember for sure is that I used a Hamer 12-string on [Forte] "Sonate" and "Look You In The Eyes," and then I used the Modulus 5-string on "Fall To Me."
MSJ: What's your all-time bass of choice?
I use whatever bass works best for the song. To me, instruments are like paint brushes in an easel, and they all have a different brush stroke, and I like to be able to pick whatever color I want to paint the picture I'm painting.
MSJ: Who were your main musical influences when you were growing up?
It started with KISS, and even before KISS, actually there's a Canadian group out of Vancouver called BTO. They actually started it, and then I became part of the KISS generation. And then, I was a fan of American hard rock like Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, old, old Styx records, and even some other things like Sweet, Bad Company, some of the British '70s bands, Montrose. And then I really liked the new wave of British heavy metal, which included Motorhead and Iron Maiden, and then from there, I was fortunate enough that the torch got handed off to me, that I was to be part of the thrash and speed metal generation.
MSJ: How have audiences changed since you first got started in the business?
It used to be that the stage was sacred ground, and then with thrash metal, there was a fusion of punk rock and heavy metal, and to some degree, the bands were just providing entertainment for the audience to mosh and thrash in the pit. So it became a night out for the band and the audience. Today, I think, it seems to me, a bit more like the bands perform for the audience, which is fine, and even with F5, it seems to follow a bit more like the traditional hard rock from the '70s, where the audiences are there to listen to the music, which is always a cool culture for the music fans.
MSJ: How popular is heavy metal in the new millennium? Have you seen a rebirth with Goth fans picking up where '80s metalheads left off? If so, how has that affected the type of music you write and play?
I try not to be too affected by the music that's out there right now, which is why I like to think that F5 has created its own sound. I like, actually, the influence of female singers like Lacuna Coil, and Evanescence because they're heavy, powerful bands, but sometimes the female influence has given a rebirth to music that was starting to sound stale. Along with that, there's been a whole new vitalization of thrash metal with new bands like Lamb Of God, Chimera, and Trivium, who have grabbed the baton from my generation of thrash metal.
MSJ: What's your best all-time on-stage experience?
Probably Rock In Rio 1991. That's just one that comes to mind because it was so huge, but there have been many small, intimate club shows that have been just as fun as some of the festivals. And there have been even some acoustic performances that have been hair-raising and spine-tingling, which just goes to show that you don't have to play balls-out full-volume to feel the full effect of a song.
MSJ: What's your worst all-time on-stage experience?
Probably when I tripped and fell down when we were playing at some bar, some club in Canada back in about 1986. It was just embarrassing, that's all.
MSJ: What is the last CD you bought? What have you been listening to lately?
U2. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. What I've been listening to lately is mostly the things that I've had to learn to go out and play, like Soulfly and Sepultura and also a lot of F5. Other than that, I usually just listen to the radio just to chill out. I've also been to a couple of concerts lately, like El Nino and Static-X.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Jeez, let me think. There have been a lot of them. Let me start by saying that. Probably, I remember one time doing a show in 1994, where the curtain didn't come down on the intro. of a show, and I felt just like the bass player in Spinal Tap stuck in the cocoon, but as they say, I was a professional and rose above it!
MSJ: In what ways have you matured as a player throughout your career?
I think that being somewhat formally educated as a kid and through my teens has allowed me to work with a lot of different artists in a lot of different musical settings, which I find very rewarding, even though I'm known mostly as a heavy metal guy. I think that part of being in the music business, as in any business, is being able to get along with people. As long as you can always bring your best to any musical setting, it seems like you'll probably enjoy your career, you might even make a couple of dollars, and most importantly, have a lot of fun playing music.
MSJ: What are your short- and long-term goals for your career at this point?
Short term, I'm really happy that all the records that I've either written, recorded, or played on, or produced are all being released right now. Long-term, I just want to keep doing more of what I'm doing now. And, I am looking forward to getting back out on stage and playing now that I've planted a lot of seeds in the studio the last few years.
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Metal/Prog Metal
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