DAVE ELLEFSON On Why MEGADETH Managed To Stay Relevant During The Early 90s: “We Weren’t A One-Trick Pony, And We Weren’t Really Threatened By Grunge”

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The release of Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in September 1991 marked a seismic shift in the music industry, signaling the end of the glam rock era that had dominated MTV and radio waves. Some bands succumbed to the arrival of grunge, while others showed the ability to adapt to the upheaval and embrace the changing music scene, allowing them to continue their success into the 1990s and beyond.

Former Megadeth bassist David Ellefson has shared his insights on the perennial debate about the so-called “impact” of grunge music on the hard rock scene in the early 1990s. In a recent interview with Greg Prato of Ultimate Guitar, Ellefson discussed how the rise of Seattle’s grunge scene disrupted the dominance of 1980s heavy metal, affecting radio play, MTV exposure, and album and tour sales.

Ellefson revealed, “I loved grunge music. And I know that was not cool for a heavy metal guy to say that, especially a thrash metal guy. Because a lot of careers were pretty much upended because of Seattle music.”

Ellefson noted that Megadeth had to adapt to the changing musical landscape: “We had to make some transitions. ‘Cryptic Writings’, in particular, was an album that was designed to reinvent the band at American Active Rock radio. Or we’d just go tour, tour, tour, and, like some of our contemporaries, took us back down to clubs and theaters. Whereas with ‘Cryptic Writings’, it kept us as an arena rock band. We got to headline radio station events, which were big festivals at that time. So I’m glad we did what we did because I liked the direction that we went in, as opposed to, ‘We’re just going to stay true to the old school.’ We kept the old school and then did what we did, which was add all the other flavors and layers that our band was capable of doing.”

He continued to explain that bands like Megadeth and Metallica not only survived the grunge wave but thrived, maintaining their positions at the top of the charts and major concert bills.

“So, Megadeth, along with Metallica for sure, not only survived it, but we thrived in it. And it still kept us at the top of the charts and the top of the bill, as young bands like Creed, Godsmack, and Disturbed, and the new generation of nu-metal stuff was coming up. Because I think that was as much of it for us. It wasn’t just grunge.”

“Grunge may have affected MTV, but I think overall as a hard rock, heavy metal genre, the grunge thing didn’t affect us as much as you had to be aware of what was coming up behind us.”

Ellefson reflected on Megadeth‘s foresight in embracing new acts like Korn, whom they toured with in 1995. This adaptability and willingness to tour with emerging bands like Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots helped Megadeth stay relevant.

“We saw it because we took Korn on tour with us on the ‘Youthanasia’ tour in 1995. We saw first-hand on stage that Korn, was either going to go away tomorrow or it was going to change the world. And it changed the world. Just like when we took Alice In Chains out, when we took Stone Temple Pilots out. We took bands out with us in the ’90s that were ‘tomorrow’s music.’ We took a chance on those and we probably ushered them into their careers, which I thought was great. Because they weren’t really ‘heavy metal bands.’ They were bands of a different flavor. I think, for us — we were able to see it coming, so we sort of adapted a bit. But we also weren’t a band that was a one-trick pony. We weren’t really threatened by grunge, to be honest with you.”

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