(PCM) As the bassist for metal giant Megadeth, David Ellefson has certainly reached rock god status, however did you know that he happens to be quite the coffee connoisseur as well? He has created his very own coffee company, Ellefson Coffee Co and they have just recently opened their very first brick and mortar location in Ellefson’s hometown of Jackson, Minnesota.
It is truly amazing just how well coffee and rock n’ roll go hand in hand, especially when it comes to some of the Ellefson Coffee Co brews. I had a chance to sample Ellefson’s “She Wolf”, “Kenya Thrash” and “Roast In Peace” blend and they are excellent. Nothing like starting my day with rocking brew and being a dark roast coffee fan, the “Roast In Peace” blend was phenomenal. I seriously can’t wait to get my hands on some more!
I recently caught up with David Ellefson to chat about the launch of Ellefson Coffee Co, the opening of their first retail location, and his plans for the brand in the future. Being a huge rock festival junkie, we joked about the severe lack of coffee at many of these large summer events. Ellefson revealed that he would love to branch out at some of the rock festivals, and while people may not want a steaming hot cup of coffee on a sweltering summer day, a good brew over ice would work perfectly and I couldn’t agree more!
Also be sure to keep an ear out for some audio clips from this interview on an upcoming episode of the Coffee & Conspiracy podcast hosted by PCM’s Kristyn and Stephen!
Q: Two of my major passions are coffee and rock n’ roll, so we were super excited to hear that you were opening a brick and mortar location for Ellefson Coffee Co.!
David Ellefson: Yeah! First of all it’s really something that just fell into my lap. My label partner Tom, who also does my business strategy for coffee, and when we did a coffee brand with Susan Reiter back in my little town of Jackson, Minnesota. A discussion came up back in November about flipping the store over to Ellefson Coffee Company. It was the right thing at the right time and Susan, she knows how to run retail and I know how to market and brand coffee, so we just have a nice little synergy going between us.
Q: Would you like to see Ellefson Coffee Company expand to additional brick and mortar locations or is it special to have it there in Jackson?
DE: No, I am definitely open to the expansion. Our company started as a simple little mail-order based company and it was wonderful because it was profitable from the first bag we sold because we had the roasters do the roasting and the shipping and we created some nice labels with a nice little story around it. We came up with some nice names for our roasts and kind of preached to the choir right into my heavy metal fan base, so it was originally this fun little boutique project. Sometimes you start things and they get wings and they go to new levels which is exactly what the coffee has done. I think in a lot of ways having a retail location gives some validity to what we’re doing and I think it also provides for the local economy and it brings the brand back home to where I was born and raised. I think on every level this one just feels really good all the way around.
Q: What was amazing to me as I was doing research was just how many rockers have gone into the coffee business such as Charlie Benante from Anthrax, Green Day, Styx and even Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde. It works on such a great level.
DE: It does. In this day and age, that which doesn’t kill you only helps you live longer. (laughs) Those of us who have survived the treacherous roads of rock n’ roll, now at this point, we have other lifestyle interests and it’s fun to bring those in and have them be part of our overall brand, like who we are and what we do. I also think it is fun to bring the fans along on that journey, so we can all enjoy it together. For those of us that like coffee there’s kind of a head space around it all where we are probably of sober judgement which is good and it’s a nice feeling. There is a good synergy of our lifestyles, how we interact and we’re family guys despite the fact that we play some of the most menacing rock n’ roll out there.
Q: When did you first develop a love for coffee. It seems travelling around the globe with Megadeth would lead you to quite a few interesting locations to try some interesting brews.
DE: It really started when I first moved out to L.A. in 1983 in Hollywood. Our first drummer in Megadeth, Dijon Carruthers, he was a coffee drinker so he and I would sit together over at his apartment and drink a lot of coffee and try different things. We used different sweeteners and honey and all kinds of different stuff and that’s what really kind of prodded the inkling into my taste for coffee. I went on to travel the world through Europe and visited various cafes and even down into Latin America and into the area near the Sumatra Islands. Coffee really grows around the equator belt region of the Earth, so I started to become much more interested in it ironically from a farming point of view.
I grew up on a corn and soy bean farm in Minnesota so farming is something I know, as it was in my blood growing up. It’s funny because now I am getting hit up by growers down in Colombia and other areas of Central America as a lot of them are fans and they are also growers and they are sending me beans to roast. Guatemala sent me some stuff and it’s kind of fun that once I put it out there just this last year with my coffee company that it has really now gone to a whole other level of having the trading and export mindset with the whole thing too.
Q: You have four different brews right now. Are there any plans to expand the offering?
DE: Yeah. I think with the retail shop now I’m looking to get much more into iced coffee and the different iced beverages especially as we get into the summer. Back in Jackson, it’s a cool time of the year out there where summertime requires some cold drinks as well as hot drinks. I think we can also get into some other things that we can sell there. I’m going to have a lot of memorabilia there, I’ve got a line of clothing with the Puck Hockey brand and of course hockey in Minnesota is right there at home. So, a lot of the things … rock n’ roll, coffee, summertime, hockey … all of those things that I already have my name associated with are going to work really well out of that retail location.
We can also have it as a destination where fans can go and also a destination for shipping and ordering all kinds of different things. There is a lot we can do there!
Q: I have been thrilled to watch EMP Label Group grow with its roster. Doll Skin are amazing! Can you compare running the label with running a coffee company, even though they are kind of under the same umbrella?
DE: (laughing) My life is kind of like a big mutual fund. Everything that I’m into are sort of high risk ventures, as certainly forming Megadeth and playing rock n’ roll is as crazy as it gets, so I’m certainly used to that. It’s funny that I can see a parallel between Megadeth and my Minnesota farming upbringing being very similar. It’s very much feast or famine. You always have the stuff stored away from the cold, dark and rainy years and it’s always nice to enjoy the bumper crop years too. When you are in it as a life long profession, you tend to treat it a little differently than just sort of a one-hit wonder. I’ve been very lucky with that in Megadeth and also getting to be involved in a lot of other musical ventures as a result of that too.
With the label, it’s interesting, because there was a season when Megadeth was not operating and I think in a lot of ways that was an era … I was in my mid-thirties, I was married, my kids were real young … and it was a season for me to go to college, get educated and I started doing artist relations for Peavey and I really enjoyed being part of the business community. I think it’s kind of a thread that runs in the blood of the Ellefson’s. The Ellefson men were always astute businessmen, they were educated, so I feel business is in my bloodline and it was kind of a fun season to kind of put the bass in the background for a little bit and get involved in some other business ventures. So, here I am and we’ve done all this great stuff over the last six or seven years with Megadeth and especially “Dystopia” has been an incredible year musically for us with all the successes that we’ve had and it’s fun now to also have a hand back over into creating the record label, creating the coffee company, managing and producing the things I’m doing with Doll Skin and its super fun to widen the horizons.
I remember on one of my report cards as a kid, my high school jazz band teacher said ‘David needs to broaden his horizons’. (laughs) Don’t just be a rock n’ roll bass player! Broaden your horizons! I feel like now in my fifties I’ve finally kind of been able to parlay that sage wisdom into practical reality.
Q: Major congrats on the Grammy nomination for “Dystopia” by the way! I’m sure you guys are super excited about that!
DE: Yeah! For sure! We’ve been nominated for a lot of them over the years and I say every year when you get nominated again it’s that pinch me moment. The Grammy’s are the biggest music recognition in the world and you really feel that you are just a small part of a much greater community, so it’s always a thrill and very humbling to be invited back and be honored by them.
Q: Definitely. I’m always thrilled to see that they still have a rock and metal category and they have not just let that fall by the wayside.
DE: Yeah, Yeah, definitely!
Q: Can you share with me what is your ideal cup of coffee?
DE: Well, I like drip coffee. As I’ve traveled the world I’ve realized that drip coffee is predominantly a North American fancy. It’s not something throughout Europe and definitely not Latin America. Japan has embraced it, of course England has some of it. I love drip coffee probably because I grew up with it and I like that we invented a machine … I don’t really like percolated coffee … and it’s funny that something as simple as the Mr. Coffee is pretty much in everyone’s kitchen and even hotel rooms is really a marvelous machine. It’s simple to create the coffee and it’s pretty much an exact replication from pot to pot and I’m pretty good an eyeballing my own coffee. I like to do two tablespoons for every cup. In the morning I like kind of a medium roast, which for us is our “Kenya Thrash” and in the evening, I have a second cup around 4:00pm everyday, I like that coffee to be a darker roast, such as French, Italian or Sumatra and for me that would be our “Roast In Peace” that we have with Ellefson Coffee.
I like the dark a little later because it is a little less caffeinated generally and it has a darker smokier flavor. If you get a sweet tooth later in the day, which I do sometimes because I go the gym in the mornings, so when I crave something to take the edge off in the afternoon a cup of dark roast and a little sweet treat tides me over well.
Q: Are you a cream and sugar kind of guy or black when it comes to coffee condiment preference?
DE: I’m a cream guy. I don’t like sweeteners generally. I try to stay away from them because what I find with sweeteners is that it’s one of those evils that once you start putting it in your diet you begin to crave it more and more, so I try to keep it out. Usually if I do have it, I actually try to do it with honey. That is one of the things me and Dijon back in ’83 in Hollywood tried putting honey in black coffee and I really enjoyed it. So, if I do ever have a sweetener, I definitely like to stay away from high fructose corn syrup and I also try to stay away from all of the other artificial sweeteners such as stevia and all that stuff. I tend to go no sweetener or a touch of honey.
Q: I’ve never tried it with honey before, so I definitely want to give that a go now!
DE: It gives kind of a nice thick smoothness to it! I like half and half, as cream to me, is a little too much and milk is a little too thin so I like half and half which is another very arrogant thing. In fact when I travel the world I always carry a french press with me just because life is too short for bad coffee! ::Author’s note: We totally want to print that on a t-shirt by the way::
So, I always have to protect myself. Often times when I’m away from home, like in the dressing room for Megadeth, we always make sure we have a drip coffee maker, you know some of the comforts of home. (laughs) But, I’ll get back home to America and I’ll be like I can’t wait to just use my own coffee maker, go in and get my own half and half, use my own grinder because I know how well it grinds the beans to a certain consistency I like, you know what I mean? So, as much as I have a place I record and make music and my bass is my axe, my coffee maker is also my axe. I’ve got my little coffee studio of things that make the perfect cup for me.
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