He’s a rock god in his own right, and also one of the nicest guys in the music business. Founding member and bass player of legendary metal group Megadeth, David Ellefson has had anything but a by-the-numbers career in the music industry.
Besides his highly success musical projects, David is a published author, lecturer, and has an extensive series of videos he has created, aimed at helping up and coming musicians.
His latest project has just been released, in the form of a music app for iPhone/iPod/iPad, which is a collection of music tools and resources for fans and musicians alike.
I caught up with David on the eve of the app’s launch, to get all the details.
So David, let’s kick off by going back to where this particular project began. Tell me how the idea came about for your new app, the David Ellefson Rock Shop?
David Ellefson: Well Pocketlabworks had sent me out a couple of iRiffPort cables and their existing iPad apps [PocketAmp and PocketGK]. I tried them, loved them. My daughter wouldn’t give my iPad back after she tried it…(laughs)… She’s 13 and is turning into quite the accomplished little guitar player.
So both of us were having fun with those apps, and the thing we really liked about it was, you could not only dial up your own tones, but you could access your iTunes library.
So I reached back to Pocketlabworks and said you know, I’d like to develop something that could do both guitar and bass, where you had a nice set of tone controls for both instruments, because obviously some of my fans are bass players, but I think it only makes sense to include guitar players, especially for the whole rock and roll thing.
So my real concept, after discussing it, was to create a digital workstation app. So, something that starts with what we have right now, where you get a variety of bass and guitar sounds. You can access the iTunes library and play along to songs, and you’ve got pitching and looping. And these are things we can continue to expand upon, and continue to develop on in new versions of the app.
What do you think is the real appeal of guitar apps like these?
DE: I really liked the shell of what Pocketlabworks already had, and I just thought maybe I can bring my expertise as a user to the table, and I know I like to have something I can travel with in an iPad see, because nothing is more aggravating for all of us than dragging around a bunch of cables and different AC adaptors and power convertors when you’re travelling the world.
To me, doing it on the iPad or iPhone just makes it simple. It’s plug and play, and anyone can enjoy it.
Considering your raw rock and roll heritage, and your involvement now in cutting edge music apps, do you confess to being a bit of a tech head?
DE: I’ve always been into computers. I got my first Mac back in 1991. You know, Megadeth has always been really tech savvy. We had the very first website for a rock and roll band, which was called ‘Megadeth Arizona’ that our label Capitol Records built for us at the time, and it was pretty extensive actually. And it was cool that the people at Capital Records wanted to be on the cutting edge of this new technology called the Internet. So Dave Mustaine and I have always been very active using computer technology to create music and especially to interact with our fans around the world.
Your app was unveiled at NAMM 2012, what stage was the app at back then?
DE: From NAMM we figured out all the things we thought were going to work, and we realised there were a few more things we definitely needed to tweak, and a couple of features we wanted to add to it. So kind of the intention of NAMM, is like you show a card, but you don’t have to show the whole deck. So that then gave us a couple of months in the lead up to April, which was the time we were aiming to launch the app in the App Store. That gave us enough time to really get all the main components right. And I think, you always get these things as developed as you can, but you also need to develop these things so can always add features to them later.
What sort of features are you thinking about including in the future?
DE: Well my goal here is to have a complete digital workstation that is useable for not only me as a professional musician, but is something that is useable for fans and other musicians who just want to have the simplicity of accessing their iTunes music library and playing along to it.
I think where I’d like to see it continue along to, is to be more of a creation tool. Because I think that now GarageBand is available as an app, and more and more digital recording apps are starting to become available in the simplicity of app rather than these cumbersome large computer software programs.
So when you were throwing around early ideas for you app, what was the single most important feature you wanted Pocketlabworks to nail perfectly?
DE: As far as on the bass side, my main one was as soon as someone plugged in, I wanted it to sound like David Ellefson…(laughs)… I didn’t want people having to go fishing for tones, because I get a lot of fans especially that take up the bass and they say how do I get your tone, and I mean obviously a big part of our tone is in our hands and that’s what makes our sound personal to us, but as far as the amp settings go, I wanted to be able to just plug in and have a ripping metal bass tone.
So how did you go about working out that ideal bass guitar tone in the app?
DE: We referenced a couple of records, I believe Countdown to Extinction was one, but Rust in Peace was really the benchmark of it. And then from there, we continued to develop it. In fact, with the Megadeth album, Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?, that was tuned down, not quite to an E flat. It’s actually 50% flat on a Peterson Strobe Tuner, and so it was Pocketlabworks concept to make a setting in the app that would instantly bring the Peace Sells album up to proper pitch, so you don’t have to keep tuning your guitar. That then opened up the Pandora Box of how cool would this be to be able to pitch any record, which you can essentially do without having to change tempo. And that lead to, well as long as we’re at it, why not add a tempo shift so you speed things up and slow things down for when you’re actually learning songs, and also to be able to create a loop, so if you’re a guitarist and you’re trying to learn a solo section, you want to be able to set it on maybe the 16 bar section with the solo and keep looping it over and over till you’ve got it. So I think we just tried to combine the best of all the different apps and processes that a musician goes through and really just put it all right there at your fingertips.
What about the guitar amps, what did you want them to sound like?
DE: You know for me, playing guitar, I like a clean tone, I like a dirty tone, and I like a full one sound. And I think clean tone isn’t a whole lot of fun unless you get to add a little grease to it, like putting some reverb, digital delay, or chorus on. So that was definitely a big part of that. As far as having a dirty tone, I didn’t really want to get into various amps and all these other things, because I think the fans of mine that are going to buy this app are gonna want to rock, so I want it to be just plug and play, and you can dial up some ripping tones. And while the options are available to tweak your tones, I don’t want people’s first experience to have to digress down into this massive tone tweakage, I wanted it to be plug and play and already sounding great straight up, and then you can tweak it from there if you want.
Your app, and others like it, are ideal for practising at home, and out on the road, but can you ever see the day when these sort of apps are good enough to consider for live gigging?
DE: You know, I guess possibly. You know one of the biggest expenses in touring is having to drag masses of hardware around the world, like large cabinets and production. And things that take up large cubic space and weight cost money to ship, and to make tours effective you really have to have an impressive production.
The thing with bass is, bass sounds good because of the weight. The bass is heavy, the cabinets are heavy. It’s an instrument that is all about being heavy.
So I’m certainly not opposed to the day coming when that might change, but I think at the end of the day, you still need to have that air blowing and kicking the back of your pants.
Besides your new app, what other exciting projects do you have on the boil at the moment?
DE: I actually have a book I’ve just self-published called, Unsung Words and Images, and that’s actually available on Blurb.com, which is basically a whole collection of lyrics that I’ve compiled, mostly in the last couple of years,. I went through a pretty prolific writing season of my life and I had all these lyrics, so rather than having to put a band together and put music around them, I partnered with a photographer, and we used her photographic images. So instead of music to listen to, you’ve got images to look at as you read the lyrics.
And of course the Megadeth tour is carrying on. In May we doing a co headlining tour in the States with Rob Zombie, and we’re going to Europe in June, and looks like a whole bunch of other dates latter in the year as well.
How important is it for you to still get out there and play live?
DE: I love it. To me, performing is the be all and end all. You know, I like writing, I like recording, I like the creating process, but to be able to take it out, and get that satisfaction and gratification that not only we get, but the audience gets, from that live performance dynamic, that can’t ever be equalled on the Internet or with any modern update. That really is social networking at its best.
That’s actually another really interesting aspect of your app, the whole networking side. Was that your idea too?
DE: Actually when I brought the idea to Pocketlabworks of doing the app, I think they immediately equated it with my Rock Shop Youtube series that I started, and about 15 years ago I wrote a book called ‘Making Music Your Business: A Guide for Young Musicians’, and as people have asked me to write a volume two follow up to that book, you know the publishing world is a lot like the CD and music world, you know physical manufacturing is starting to go away in favour of things being on Kindles, iPad and things like that, which is why I self-published the Unsung books that you can buy both a print version and also a really cool iPad and iPhone version as well through the iBookstore.
So I started the Rock Shop Youtube channel mostly as an instructional thing to continue talking to musicians on the web about the dynamics of the music business, about royalties, management, commissions, and the whole business side of the industry. And I also went through some instructional things and talked about tone and various playing things. So I found myself with a pretty vast collection of videos that I had and Pocketlabworks said if we’re going to call the app, Rock Shop, we have to be able to bring those into the app, and I think that was a very wise move because this app is not only for personal practise, but I love that you can bring the instructional aspect into it as well, so that people of all levels can have resources to go to when you’re already in the app without having to shut the app down.
So finally, what do the other guys in the band think about your new app?
DE: You know, with a lot of these projects we do, and the fact we’re all busy doing other things, it’s funny that you can stand 10 feet from each other for months at a time on a tour, and it’s nice that we all have some other things that we enjoy doing as well away from the band, because I just think that’s part of the personal creative process.
I know Chris Broderick our guitar player had checked it out and he really liked it. He thought it was really cool, and of course you know Dave Mustaine has an app that he has done which helps people learn how to play guitar by using Megadeth songs. So it’s cool that Dave and I each have our own app, and they do very different things, but can also be very complimentary to each other.
It’s been great talking with you David, and thanks for your time. Best of luck with the David Ellefson Rock Shop app.
DE: Thank you very much, I really appreciate it.