I love how friggin dependable MEGADETH is. 2011 was yet another crushing year for the band culminating with the release of their latest album TH1RT3EN and the announcement that they’d be kicking off the new year with a new and improved GIGANTOUR (also featuring plenty of other acts like fellow legends Motorhead). This year’s GIGANTOUR kicks off Jan.26 in New Jersey running all across North America promising all the same Megafun you’ve grown to expect since Dave and Co. debuted it in 2005. The new album is getting all the accolades Dave and company have continuously received since the landmark RUST IN PEACE album but with an added bonus, the return of longtime bassist David Ellefson. The band has been on an absolute tear on these last 3 studio albums since drummer Shawn Drover joined the band and appears poised to continue doing more than simply living up to their massive legacy. I talked to Shawn about the significance of Ellefson reuniting with Dave Mustaine, the new tour, his trial by fire entry into the band and much more. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for calling Shawn. Your performances with the band seem to have really added a new fire to MEGADETH and I love the story of how you joined the band. Do you still recall those feelings of being thrown into the fire and joining the band? You had a gig FIVE days after joining (laughs).
Shawn Drover: Oh hell yeah I remember. It was 2004 and my brother Glen was in the band as their guitar player. They were in rehearsals for their tour and I was in contact with him every day and checking on him and stuff and seeing how things were going. The situation just came up where they didn’t want Nick (Menza, former drummer) in the band anymore so I came home and my brother got ahold of me and said “You better sit down” and I was like “Why? What’s going on” and Glen was like “Well, they want you on the next plane to come out here” (laughs). This was SIX days before the first day of the tour so to be honest with you that was quite a shock you know and I was just like “Jesus, man” because I was well aware of when the tour was starting. So I called my wife and filled her in real quick and I was on a plane bound for Arizona a few hours later to rehearse with the band. We rehearsed for four days, travelled the fifth day and the sixth day was the first show of the tour. It was quite a daunting task but looking back now I probably wouldn’t want to do it any other way. It was pretty cool and I really didn’t have TIME to freak out or be nervous or anything like that. I was SO focused on learning the songs that I didn’t know yet, they had just put out THE SYSTEM HAS FAILED and I hadn’t heard a note of it at all because it was just released. I tried to learn and cram as much material as I could in those four days of rehearsal. The first show was in front of thousands of kids and was off the hook, it was a great show. It’s funny because for some reason the barricades weren’t up at that venue and the kids were jumping all over the stage and going crazy. I guess nobody remembered to or whatever so it turned into an old school Megadeth thrash show with kids stagediving and the whole bit so I thought that was how it was going to be all the time which was fine by me you know because I am definitely from that era (laughs). Come to find out someone messed up and everyone was like “What happened to the barricade?” and I was like “Oh, ok….” (laughs). It was pretty funny and I have a lot of fond memories of that time. It was nerve-wracking of course but it was so exciting and I was just so focused on learning that it kind of all worked out.
LRI: The band then established its own festival show in 2005 that you are getting set to go out on again, the GIGANTOUR. Was that a pretty big responsibility for the band to try to undertake?
SD: Oh yeah man. Something like that is always a daunting task. You’re starting up a new festival from scratch and it takes a while for public awareness to build up and for people to take note of something like the fact that we were even HAVING a festival. Instead of seeing a banner or press release that says “MEGADETH” is says “GIGANTOUR” and at first it’s like “Well, what the hell is that?” Having said that, the first tour WAS successful and we had a lot of great bands on it so it did do well but in some certain circumstances there were some circles of fans that weren’t even aware MEGADETH was doing it. After the second and third ones came around we were able to generate more awareness about it , by the time the third GIGANTOUR came around it was the most successful one we did. We kind of scaled back the bands a little bit so things seemed to work a little better. We found that if it was four or five bands it was scaled down enough so that people weren’t too tired or too drunk or too hot or whatever by the time we were onstage. It’s kind of a trial by fire learning experience but it is ALWAYS fun and we’re looking forward to this new one for sure.
LRI: I love the UNITED ABOMINATIONS record and I know it kind of launched you guys back on the charts and was a return to form in a lot of people’s opinion. You recorded that album with your brother which I’m sure made that even more fun. Was the making of that album something that will always be special to you?
SD: Yes. It’s funny because we actually did all the drum tracks and bass tracks in this 16th Century mansion in the middle of nowhere in England which story had it was apparently haunted. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd used to live there with his family and I guess his wife had an exorcism performed on the house because she swore up and down there were spirits. I guess the exorcism didn’t take or whatever because they still saw more spirits or occurrences and they hightailed it outta there (laughs). It was then owned by Trevor Horn who was in the Buggles who did “Video Killed the Radio Star” and he turned it into this great studio and was there when we did the drum tracks. We were there for like seventeen days and cut all the drum tracks there and I had a great time. It was amazing doing a record with my brother and I will always have a lot of great memories of those days.
LRI: These last few albums going back to “The System Has Failed” have kind of reaffirmed my faith in the band and you’ve been a part of it since the new deal with ROADRUNNER. One of the misconceptions about the new album, TH1RT3EN seems to come from this idea that the band is simply mining a lot of old ideas and there’s some song credits that go a ways back. Is there any truth to the fact that it consists of a lot of stockpiled riffs from over the years and there’s a lot of old ideas on Thirteen?
SD: No, not really. You can’t go and write “So Far So Good 2″ or write “Peace Sells in 3D” or any of that in my opinion because it just comes off forced and disingenuous to me. When they wrote those classics that was where they were at and to go back and try to recreate that consciously in the studio this time around would be fooling ourselves. We just went in with a bunch of new tunes and new riffs and tried to make the best record we could which is what we’ve always done since I have been in this band. I’m sure that was the case before I joined as well. I think if you like a lot of the old stuff you will definitely find some stuff here on the album that you can relate to or enjoy, some people call it old school and that’s fine if that’s what you take from it. Between David coming back and the fact that Dave Mustaine does have tons of tracks and riffs saved on files on his laptop I can’t say 100% that some of the ideas didn’t come from some of his old riffs but I can tell you the majority of TH1RT3EN is new stuff we’d either written on the road or in rehearsals. It’s been called a modern sounding record but to me that’s a dangerous word because it implies different things to different people. To me, TH1RT3EN is just a great sounding record, whether you wanna call it modern or you wanna call it old-school is just a matter of opinion and word choice. The production, is to me what gives it that edge, I think it is the best sounding record SONICALLY that we have ever done which is saying something because they’re all pretty good (laughs).
LRI: I am so happy that you guys got back with Ellefson. As an old school fan I am always in favor of retaining as much of that chemistry as possible. Mustaine has said that TH1RT3EN probably has the best overall collection of developed songs that he’s ever put on a record. Do you think that reuniting with David and bringing some of that vibe back in helped as far as the overall QUALITY of the songwriting?
SD: I don’t know. That’s a really good question actually. We would just really go with whatever caught our ear, again, I can’t overemphasize we had SO many friggin ideas going into this record. Hundreds and hundreds of guitar riffs and ideas, new stuff, old stuff was all fair game and we would listen to the stuff and try to build from there. If something happened during rehearsals with us and it kind of caught our attention we would be like “Hey, THAT’S cool, let’s work on that or put that with this”. A lot of the stuff we heard was half completed songs, other things were just 10 second riffs so it really depended, one time we heard a practically completed song so there were just a LOT of different examples and ways that went into the songwriting for TH1RT3EN. We would often get into a room, three or four of us and be like “Okay, today let’s just listen to some riffs” and we would spend all day listening to stuff because we would have SO much stuff. That’s just how we went about things with this album because we had no shortage of great ideas. To us, it really didn’t matter if I wrote the whole song or David did or Chris or Dave did, the only thing that mattered was that it was a good song because we had so much to work with this time around.
LRI: Is it true that you were sort of the middle man or at least involved with Ellefson coming back into the Megadeth camp?
SD: Oh yeah, I was the catalyst for that to be honest. Once I found out that we were going to replace our bass player it was obvious and in my mind that it HAD to be Ellefson because James Lomenzo had been in the band for so long that a lot of fans had become attached to him as well so to make a change again and get someone nobody knew would have been bad. I think the fans REALLY would’ve screamed foul on that and yeah I DID contact David and say “Man, if you were ever even considering coming back now is the time and now not meaning next week but now meaning NOW.” So I was the one who made the phone call initially to him and then I had to kind of convince Mustaine of that too to gauge if he was open to that as well. I kind of spearheaded that whole thing and it wasn’t an easy thing to pull off let me tell you (laughs). The same thing really happened with Chris (Broderick, Guitarist) when I found out my brother Glen was quitting it was like “Ok, now what? Who would be a suitable replacement?” and we came up with a short list and submitted it to Dave and management and within a day of Glen quitting they were already talking to Chris about being in the band so I basically spearheaded that as well. I’m the talent scout for Megadeth (laughs).
LRI: Well, you certainly seem to at least have excellent interpersonal communication skills. Give me your amateur psychologist opinion….How do you view the chemistry between the two Daves and how things are going after all these years?
SD: I think they get along great. They certainly have grown up and obviously are more mature than they were 20 and doing the things that they were doing back then (laughs). That was a lifetime ago and people evolve and change, whatever issues they had in the past have been worked out and things are going great. It was all worked out pretty quickly and I think they realized the bigger picture of how great it IS to have the two Daves together. They’re the CORE of Megadeth, it’s always been like that, despite the various lineup changes over the years Dave and David have always been an integral part of the band. I realized the importance of that when we knew there was going to be a change. It was obviously clear that it would be the best for the organization to have David back in the band.
LRI: You have been a part of so many tours and live albums/DVDs with the band. My favorite was the RUST IN PEACE live album mostly because I was at those original Clash of the Titans shows for that album and your performance just kills. Do you have a favorite of any of the MEGADETH live releases?
SD: Yeah, I agree with you about the RUST IN PEACE-LIVE album, that anniversary DVD/CD was just a lot of fun to be involved in and again, to do that record in its entirety is not an easy thing to pull off or emulate. There are a lot of nuances on that album that if you don’t perform them right just messes it all up and makes it not sound right. That was a difficult thing to do but it was SUCH a big payoff when we executed that on a nightly basis. To me that album provides a lot of personal highlights and memories. Also, the “THAT ONE NIGHT” Live thing in Argentina was a lot of fun to do. Every one of our gigs and live albums are fun for me but if I have to pick I would say those two really stand out to me.
LRI: Over the years the band has kind of taken the bull by the horns as far as technology goes. Dave Mustaine may have railed against some of the demons of the techno world in the lyrics over the years but I think that it’s awesome the band makes use of new technology. Dave has a new app called “GUITAR PRODIGY” for the Ipad, David Ellefson has his own app “ROCK SHOP” and you guys have always been right there to contribute to the making of a lot of these video games for various platforms. It really helps expose the band to a whole different audience other than just the guys like me pushing forty. Has it been exciting to be a part of?
SD: We’ve always embraced technology but we don’t rely on it and we don’t hide behind it. When something like that comes along and it can aid our promotion or help our project we’re all in for it but we are aware that there’s the potential to abuse that stuff or take it too far as well. Now, technology is a beast stronger than all and some of it isn’t for the best artistic purposes, things like AUTOTUNE or all these dumb tricks in the studio to make the “perfect record” and then a band goes out on the road and can’t pull it off which kind of defeats the point right?
LRI: I think it’s really cool when I see a 14-year-old kid wearing a MEGADETH shirt it’s like something that I could never imagine since I was wearing a Megadeth shirt when I was fourteen (laughs). It’s pretty cool.
SD: It is absolutely cool and vital to the band. That’s another thing, like you said, where being able to BE a part of those video games and apps and all that helps. It exposes us to that demographic, there’s a lot of us adults that play those games too but it really exposes us to a much younger audience which is all good. If some of those kids see or hear that and it ultimately leads to them coming to our show or buying a record it leads to them being a MEGADETH fan which is fantastic. We’re always trying to find a way to reach new fans and that stuff is totally a good avenue to be doing just that.
LRI: What did it feel like to be a part of history when Kerry King joined you guys on guitar for the first time since he was in the band in the early eighties or to be a part of that Mustaine/Metallica scene in Sofia, Bulgaria that was captured for the BIG 4 DVD?
SD: To me it was just a BUNCH of fun. Having Kerry come up when we played the Gibson Ampitheatre show in L.A. was fun because that was literally the first time he had played onstage with Megadeth since he was IN Megadeth which was of course like 1983 or whatever. It was a LONG TIME coming but as the passage of time occurs we can finally have things like that happen. The Sofia, Bulgaria show was beyond cool, the jam with METALLICA and all that stuff just felt like one big party to me. I wasn’t there like Dave and David of course who were originally with the band for those initial moments of thrash metal but I was CERTAINLY there as a fan so it was awesome from that perspective. To see all that stuff finally happen after all these years is pretty special and I can see it from a different point of view than they can. There’s definitely a part of me in those moments viewing it from a fan perspective like “Wow, I’m up here on the drums with the best seat in the house!” It’s a great feeling and it’s a great thing to be a part of. All of those BIG 4 shows, every SINGLE show was really special and of course Yankee Stadium, I mean we were the first metal bands to ever play Yankee Stadium so that was historic in of itself.
LRI: The new album has a shitload of good songs on it. I know if I make it out to a show I wanna hear “Whose Life Is It Anyways” and “Wrecker” but obviously with the vast catalog at your disposal you can’t play them all every night. Is it a pain in the ass figuring out the setlist at this point?
SD: That’s the real problem isn’t it man? (laughs). The setlist is a real bitch at this point because we have so many records now and so many good songs including so many songs that people want to or expect to hear. Someone’s not going to be happy because one of the songs they wanna hear isn’t in there. Right now when we did these last few South American shows we were only doing three songs off the new album, we have to do those 7 or 8 songs like “Peace Sells”, “Holy Wars”, “Symphony of Destruction”, “Wake Up Dead” and all those songs that we’ll have to play forever because all those songs are just songs that the fans always wanna hear. We have to play those songs because they’re signature MEGADETH so long story short that doesn’t leave a lot of room for other material. We would love to play all of the new record of course because we’re promoting it but it’s just not realistic. We can only hope to keep playing and incorporating more of it into the show, like for instance we just started playing “Guns, Drugs and Money” which is a fun song to play and the fans really seem to dig it.
LRI: I am continuously amazed at not just the heaviness of the new material but also the melodic elements and the catchiness of some of the hooks. I know that might not be popular to say in a MEGADETH interview but it’s the truth. If you go back and watch some of the acoustic shows on the dvd ARSENAL OF MEGADETH it really stands out that there’s more than meets the eye with the compositions.
SD: It’s okay to have melodic components within metal. It can coexist. This band has proven that many times, not every song has to be ultra heavy or even ultra serious all the time and I am more than cool with that. Megadeth has always had that going back to COUNTDOWN TO EXTINCTION and even before that with “In my Darkest Hour”. I’m all for diversity as far as music goes and Megadeth is really one of those bands who can really do a lot of things within the parameters of metal and still not offend a ton of people, we’re very fortunate for that.