Last week, Dave Ellefson and Frank Bello released an album of thirteen original songs entitled Get It Out under the moniker Altitudes & Attitude. While working together on some bass clinics for amp manufacturer Hartke, Ellefson and Bello got the inkling that they would craft good tracks together. When the two busy band members could carve out the mutual time, they started working on songs two or three at a time and wound up with the bounty of material that comprises Get It Out, just released via Megaforce Records on January 18th.
The two bassists worked closely with producer Jay Ruston (Anthrax, Stone Sour, Steel Panther) and utilized drummer Jeff Friedl (A Perfect Circle, Devo, Filter) to realize all of these songs. Guest musicians on Get It Out include the likes of Ace Frehley, Gus G., Miki Black, Jon Donais, Nita Strauss, and Steel Panther’s Satchel (Russ Parrish). The album itself is unlike anything Ellefson and Bello have commercially attempted before; heavy hitting rock n’ roll songs that pull from both guitarists’ favourite albums from the 1970s onwards.
With a string of current U.S. dates followed by a short run in Europe opening for Slash, Ellefson and Bello hope to support this release with live performances whenever they can fit shows into their already busy schedules. Dave Ellefson was able to chat with us about working alongside his good friend Frank Bello on the afternoon of January 14th. The audio of this interview is embedded here via SoundCloud for anyone interested in hearing Ellefson’s answers real-time.
So, I’ve been listening to this album for the past couple of days. I’m pleasantly surprised by how easily accessible it is.
Dave Ellefson: Nice. Thank you. I appreciate that.
I’ve never heard either of you do rock material like this before. Not that I can think of anyway. This is pretty straight-up rock n’ roll music.
Ellefson: It is. I mean, you can definitely hear… I call it modern classic. Because you can definitely hear our influences in there. You can hear Cheap Trick in some of that stuff. And yet it definitely sounds modern. It’s definitely not a thrash metal band. It’s not. And yes there’s even these throwbacks to Joe Jackson, The Clash. We kind of went back to these other influences (the Ramones) you know other things that Frank and I had inside of us. And that’s why we called it Get It Out.
Feast your eyes (and ears) on the Altitudes & Attitude “Late” video.
So, how early on into doing some of those Hartke clinics did you and Frank start talking about maybe writing together?
Ellefson: We had done probably maybe a half a dozen, if that. Maybe not even that many. And I remember specifically where we were; we were in London before we played Knebworth. The night before Knebworth and I leaned over to Frank, and I said, “Dude, we should really write some songs.” We did enough to have some backing tracks that we could play to in a clinic fashion rather than just only having to go to the Megadeth and Anthrax catalog. Certainly, everybody knows when you do a clinic people like you play to your strengths. Everybody knows us from Megadeth and Anthrax clearly they want to hear us digging into that material for sure.
But at the same time, I know Frank and I are both astute writers. We’re very capable players. So, to me, there are two jazz musicians who are friends of mine, Steve Bailey and Victor Wooten and back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s they began doing something very similar called Bass Extremes. I saw the same concept with Frank and me. It was like, you know, how cool it would be for the two of us in our spare time (what little of that there is) you could develop this into something more than just a bass clinic. And that was where the idea started.
The first idea that I had for that was the song “Here Again.” When first started we put out three songs. Frank brought in “Tell The World” and “Booze and Cigarettes,” and I had the music for “Here Again” that I’d written and completely composed on guitar and bass. And so I brought that in, and that’s why even in the background you can hear these filler licks that are in there. That’s basically if you stripped the vocals away there is a bass clinic behind that. (laughs) Or at least the template and backing track for a bass clinic.
This music was meant to be – when initially started was sort of this backing-track concept and what we also realized that we could both write really well. Frank brought in these really great little three-minute storyteller songs that I just loved and what was cool about it is that be we are both artists on this one. And we’re both sort of musicians FOR each other, and we’re also both collaborators, so there’s kind of this triangle that we get to have of roles between the two of us.
Can you describe if possible the steps that you took to realize these thirteen songs? And by that, I’m asking more or less how many writing sessions? How many times you stepped into the studio to try to put them to master?
Ellefson: Sure. Well, the first one Frank was coming through Phoenix here. They were going around the country on the Among The Living anniversary tour, and that’s when I went down, picked him up, and we came over to my house. We sat around and tightened up “Tell the World” and “Booze and Cigarettes” and “Here Again.” We took those in the studio, recorded them, and we realized “wow this is this is just effortless. It’s so much fun. There’s such wide variety of material, yet it all sounds cohesive.”
It came together really seamlessly and pretty effortlessly. And that was it, that inspired us to continue to get together. I think probably the remaining tracks for the LP were compiled over the course of about four more sessions. On each session we would bring in… we would try to always bring in at least three songs. Actually, I’d say that four of those were at Jay Ruston’s studio out in L.A. Jay is the producer for the record. And we also did one other session over at Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
They brought us in to do a songwriting session and we actually composed songs. There’s a version of “London Calling” that we did. That we still have kind of tucked away as a B-side. There’s a bonus track somewhere. So that one fell out, and there was another original song that we did as well, and I forgot which one we even did on that thing. (laughs) So, I guess it’s gonna be a total of about five writing and recording sessions brought together the remainder of the songs.
Did you lead into those sessions with some file sharing or were you like you know you have a box where you’re sharing files and listened to stuff in advance?
Ellefson: You know, Frank would send me his little GarageBand demos that he had of his songs, and they were just crazy, Frank singing and playing doing acoustic guitar maybe a very kind of crude GarageBand drums and him playing guitar and singing. Just really simple stuff. And the songs are simple, so that was all that was needed. The stuff that I brought in tends to be the more kind of harder hitting stuff like “Hear Again.” I had “Leviathan” which was just this bass composition that we developed with Satchel from Steel Panther playing guitar on it.
“Out Here” and “Part Of Me”… “Part Of Me” was pretty hard hitting riffs that I that I brought in. And on those things, I would usually bring those into Frank and say hey here’s the music idea. I’ve got a bit of a concept started with the lyrics – help me finish this up. I find that when writing lyrics things are always a little… I leave them a little loose because you know that the singer has to be able to fit the words into his mouth. And it has to be something that the singer can sing with conviction. So, it was fun to collaborate lyrically with Frank on things.
And then like when Frank brought songs in I just naturally grabbed my bass and started playing bass to them. Which was really cool. Frank was like “Dude, I love what you’re playing to my songs.” And I had fun with it because again it’s not a thrash metal setting, so it allowed me to be very melodic in my bass playing. I always say there’s this bass player from Joe Jackson’s band back in the late ‘70s that I just absolutely admired (Graham Maby) and was just such a great player. Very aggressive pick playing. Even on The Tubes Completion Backward Principle. You know that bass player (Rick Anderson) just played these aggressive pick bass lines that were very melodic and really took the songs to a whole other level, so that’s the approach I took when I was playing bass on these tracks.
Here’s the lyric video for “Out Here,” another big track off of Get It Out.
I find Frank’s vocal delivery reminds me a lot of Dave Grohl and I think he’s probably going to get tired of hearing that by the end of calendar year 2019.
Ellefson: Well look, not a bad comparison. Both Grohl and Frank actually have other roles from other bands. Grohl being the drummer from Nirvana. Frank being the bass player from Anthrax. And they both switched to singing and playing guitar and fronting the band. So I think absolutely a complimentary comparison.
I’m so happy to see that you’re doing tour dates for this. When I went onto the website, the record release party looks phenomenal. I wish I could get down for that, but the European dates also very cool that you can find the time to do that.
Ellefson: We have this little window. Obviously Fran’’s busy with Anthrax. Megadeth’s in working on a new album and then we’ve got a big summer ahead of us as well. So, you know, we just really were selective in finding this little season here that we could put this record out and go out and support it live both in the U.S. as well as over in Europe. Our goal here is to fire it off and shoot it up into the sky as high as we can put it up there. Then it’s going to be out there. From there as time may permit hopefully, we can find another little window where we can go out and do things with it.
Will those dates see Jeff Friedl touring with you on drums as well?
Ellefson: No, Jeff, unfortunately, is going to be busy with A Perfect Circle. But we have a couple of drummers, Opus (Christian Lawrence is his name). He plays in a band called Dead By Wednesday on my label, EMP. He’s in Connecticut. He just did the Basstory with me across New England and Florida. So, he’s going to be joining us, he and Bumblefoot (Ron Thal) will be joining us for the New York dates. And then on ShipRocked John Tempesta will be on drums along with Bumblefoot.
And actually, at the Musician’s Institute, Sebastian Bach’s son Paris is going to be joining us on drums as well as Miki Black who actually plays guitar on some of the record and did some backing vocals for us. She’s going to be joining us in Hollywood. Then over in Europe. We’ve got my friend Andrea Martongelli out of Italy will be playing guitar and our drummer Joe Babiak who lives in Germany. We actually did a date with him at Reggie’s in Chicago about four years ago. So he lives in Germany now. He’ll be joining us to play drums for the Slash dates.
Now the guest musicians that you’ve bought into work on this album with you, were they in a studio with you doing these songs or did they provide their bits via the Internet?
Ellefson: They did their bits in their home studios and then sent the tracks into us. You know Gus G obviously lives in Athens, Greece. (chuckles) But Nita and all these guys are professional touring musicians. So, it was just a matter of grabbing them at a moment when they were available we were so fortunate of course to get Ace Frehley right at the very end. He was available for us. Which is a super kind of cool musician and fanboy moment for Frank and me. But everybody who played on this record just did an incredible job. Just so very accommodating to just step right up and make it happen.
You’ve obviously known Frank for decades now but could you maybe zero in on something new that you learned about him working on these songs together?
Ellefson: You know, I didn’t really know his life story. You know I’d always see Frank over the years. He was the happy-go-lucky, smiling, big hugs, you know he was always that guy. I just knew him as happy Frank. And I realized in doing this record that there’s a lot of kind of heartbreak, sorrow, and sad times in Frank’s life. And I think that’s what really came out on this record through his lyrics, through his storytelling, and through his songs. And you know I think by our age you know that no one’s had a perfect life. There are good times, there’s bad times and everything in between. And I think that this album really encompasses that for both of us through the lyrics and especially you know a lot of Frank’s personal stories that he shared with us.
Now the preamble that I was fed along with the advance MP3s of the album toted the eight-string ESP Bass that you used at least on Get It Out as the “secret weapon of the album.” Did you use that axe on the majority of the songs on the album or just on that one?
Ellefson: I did. I used it on a ton of stuff. You know, I initially started to use it when we did the first EP. I have a Hamer twelve-string here in my house, and it’s a short scale. It’s quite hard to play. It needed work, the neck was bowing. I’ve had it sitting in the closet for a long time. I bought it because I’m a huge Tom Petersson fan, he had a Hamer, so I wanted a Hamer. That’s sort of my fanboy moment.
I’ve been trying to use that on Megadeth records and different things over the years, and nothing’s really presented itself. You know, my first exposure to that was I actually wrote the song “Dawn Patrol” on Rust In Peace. I wrote that on an eight-string Yamaha bass that Jimmy Bain had loaned to me after we did the DIO tour back in the late ‘80s. And I realized that different instruments kind of have songs in them, you know? So, I asked Frank to bring anything he had that was kind of unusual and peculiar, kind of anything not thrash metal. Let’s bring it into the studio and see what we see what we find.
And ESP sent us a bass to the studio, to Jay’s studio in L.A. and as soon as I got it I plugged it in and I started playing licks and riffs all over that night. I called them up, and I swiped the credit card, and I bought it immediately (laughs) and now that’s the bass which is still at Jay’s. We just leave it out there for whenever Frank and I want to do something. We plugged it into a Kemper, and I mean it just basically acted as a guitar in a lot of ways. “Here Again” was the first time I used it. I think I used that also on “Tell the World” and then as we went through the record I mean I use it on the intro of “Out Here.” “Part of Me.” “Leviathan” you know, it’s all over the record. It kind of became this “if in doubt let’s grab the eight-string and sweeten up the track” order.
“Part of Me” is another hot track off of Get It Out.
Would you describe yourself as a busier musician now than say 15 or 20 years ago?
Ellefson: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. I love it. I love all kinds of music. I mean I’m primarily a hard rock and heavy metal guy for sure, but I love all kinds of music. I’ve played on a lot of records a lot of little singer-songwriter records; Christian records; folk records. So, I’ve done all kinds of things you know over the years, and obviously some of them are very high profile and big records, and you know like Megadeth stuff and obviously Altitudes and Attitude and Metal Allegiance and stuff. But, you know, I’ve got quite a bit of experience just working as a bass player playing on a lot of different records. So, to me, every day that the phone rings and someone says, “Hey you want to come over and play?” I just automatically say yes because there’s no downside to being in the studio working on songs.
Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like to be a veteran musician in this current climate of file sharing and social media feeds? Are you into all of that or does it just boggle your mind?
Ellefson: No I am. Megadeth has always been a band that’s always been on the cutting edge of technology. You know we were that we’re trying to use Pro Tools on the Youthanasia record and it would glitch, and it wouldn’t work. So we ended up going back to digital – Sony 48 track digital tape. But by the time we got to Cryptic Writings, Pro Tools was up and running. Because Pro Tools initially started as this two and four track editing tool and then it since transitioned obviously into multi-track recording software. And and you know obviously negative had megadeth.com or actually, megadeth.arizona which was the very first band website ever that Capitol Records created for us with a launch for the Youthanasia album. So you know we’ve been a band that has always embraced leading-edge technology.
I think being an early adapter with technology you know when obviously Napster and file sharing and all that stuff started happening years ago you know my only thing was; look this stuff costs a lot of money and it takes a lot of time to make records. So you can’t just steal it. You know, you can’t walk into a grocery store and take milk because you want it? Some farmer had to raise a cow and milk it, and it had to be pasteurized and homogenized and trucked. There are costs that to go into this stuff you know? So if an artist wants to put something up online and share it give it away for free, then it’s free. But you know otherwise be respectful and pay for things.
I think the public is kind of aware of that now I think we kind of went through that a little bit. But you know just as a musician, you know, look, there are two sides of it. One is just the enjoyment of being a creative person and enjoying the process of making and recording music, and then there’s the other side of it which is the process in the business of marketing and selling music, and I’ve always worn both hats through my whole life. Even when I was just a kid growing up in bands you know in Minnesota you know, I was always the guy putting together the press packages and calling the booking agents and settling with the promoters after the show. I was always the guy doing that, you know what I man? So, to me, I’ve always had I think a pretty realistic grip on “if you want to play your music and get paid for it then you have to sharpen up – and welcome to the music business.”
I’ve got one last one for you – it’s a bit of a fluff question. I’d love to know what your favourite soundtrack album is and why?
Ellefson: I would say probably, off the top of my head, I’d say Jesus Christ Superstar. And I would say that because it was my very first one I ever heard but I was probably eight or nine years old when my mom and dad bought a Wurlitzer organ. It had this brand new cutting edge technology of the cassette player in it. We had Jesus Christ Superstar on cassette. I grew up a Lutheran guy. You know, we’d go to church on Sunday, and that was all nice and everything, but I listened to Jesus Christ Superstar and went “Somehow this feels a little dangerous,” like maybe this isn’t so much like church, you know?
And I’ve read the lyrics and the book. I’ve just bought it on vinyl, and I started listening to it last year, and even when I watched the Andrew Lloyd Webber production that was on TV that Alice Cooper starred in, I think it was with John Legend, and it was just incredible. I just thought it was so cool, you know? So, I’m a big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber and his work. And probably right behind that, maybe Avita, one of my favorites.
Well, I really wish I lived closer to New York and I could come to see that St. Vitus show. I think that’s going to be awesome. Fingers crossed to maybe do a couple more dates and bring that from that act up to Canada and open for something here or do a club show. That’d be awesome.
Ellefson: I agree. I think it would be super cool. I agree.