Scottsdale’s David Ellefson knows a little something about the music business.
The rhythmic force behind Megadeth, the bassist is an accomplished author as well as founder of Ellefson Coffee Co. But there’s one thing he’s particularly passionate about: the arsenal of acts that are part of EMP Label Group.
“People have been asking me for help in the music business since I wrote a book in 1997 called Making Music Your Business… A Guide for Young Musicians,” Ellefson explains.
“My real engagement on the record label side began with my band called F5, which began my understanding of the new model of the record business with license deals. Fast forward to 2015 and a friend urged me to take local female band, Doll Skin, into the studio to produce some tracks.”
Ellefson and his son, Roman, discovered Doll Skin at a high school talent show in Scottsdale two years prior.
“As I shopped them around to friends in the industry, the typical responses came back such as ‘keep me posted,’ ‘love to see how they develop,’ blah blah blah,” he laments.
He understood that if something was going to get done, he needed to do it himself.
“I quickly became their producer and their manager, but also their cheerleader and the guy who believed in them,” Ellefson says.
“Bands who don’t have a firm believer never get off the ground. We did a single through a relationship we had with Megaforce Records in New York. It started to get the band some traction. This led to Thom Hazaert and me moving forward to start EMP.”
Hazaert also says Doll Skin was the impetus behind EMP.
“EMP was started as a vehicle for Doll Skin, who David manages as well,” Hazaert says. “It’s fair to say they were the absolute genesis of this whole thing. And while we’ve signed tons of other amazing artists, and already have over 40 releases, they are still very much at the forefront of what we do. We’ve had tremendous success together, from this great new record to getting on Warped Tour, it really has been amazing to be a part of.”
Ellefson and Hazaert make a solid team with complementary skills. Hazaert runs the day-to-day operations, covering marketing, retail, production and press. Ellefson’s years of experience in the business helped the bands focus. Together they have been aggressively going after new talent.
“In 2016, we quickly set forth to signing almost 20 bands along many genres,” Ellefson says. “It’s a matter of being able to develop tomorrow’s talent while being able to support current and legacy artists as the record industry continues to change.”
Hazaert started out as a fan of Ellefson’s music. However, he has quickly become a believer in his business acumen.
“David was literally one of my idols growing up; he was my favorite guy in my favorite band,” Hazaert explains. “We are both from the Midwest and moved to California to pursue music. He was a huge inspiration for me to do what I did, and that was before I even met the guy.”
The mutual admiration the two men share is apparent in the way they talk about each other and the meteoric success the label has found.
“He rarely second-guesses me, and trusts my instincts,” Hazaert explains. “Honestly, the kind of trust and relationship we’ve built is extremely hard to come by. David is my partner, and my best friend, and I think that relationship shows in all the things that EMP has been able to achieve as rapidly as we have.”
Doll Skin bassist Nicole Rich shares a similar admiration of Ellefson and EMP.
“David has always been our biggest fan,” Rich says. “Since day one, he’s always been behind us no matter what, always boosting our confidence and letting us know that through hard work, we can do anything. He’s such a hard-working person and has instilled that in us, as well.”
The results have been positive. Doll Skin released its sophomore effort and first full-length album, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, on June 16, in conjunction with its appearances on the Vans Warped Tour.
“Warped Tour was single-handedly the best experience we’ve ever had as band, one of the hardest, but also the most rewarding,” Rich says. “We met a lot of fans and made so many new friends on tour; it was like a dream. We can’t thank (Warped Tour founder) Kevin Lyman enough for bringing us on and being the catalyst for our time on Warped.”
EMP has also inked local artists Co-Op, featuring Alice Cooper’s son, Dash, on lead vocals. Its self-titled debut EP was released earlier this year. Dopesick and Green Death are other up and coming artists on the label. EMP’s roster boasts legacy acts such as Mark Slaughter, Doyle (formerly of The Misfits) and Broken Teeth, the new group fronted by Dangerous Toys’ Jason McMaster.
“We are willing to work as hard as our artists are,” Ellefson says. “The avenues by which you sell music have changed big time. We always tell artists that it’s a partnership. Bands who tour and are willing to work will have the most success.
“If, after 35 years I’m still willing to roll up my sleeves and go to work, then no one is above it, and that is a daily mission statement of our company. We do it for our passion of the music and our love of the game.”
Rich appears to buy into the EMP work ethic.
“We honestly would be nowhere near where we are today without David and EMP,” she says. “He’s done so much for us and we can’t wait to see where the future takes us.”
Scorpions and Megadeth, Talking Stick Resort Arena, 201 E. Jefferson Street, Phoenix, 1.800.745.3000, talkingstickresortarena.com, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, October 8, tickets start at $40.