David T. Chastain is an iconic and highly acclaimed metal guitarist, one of the longest standing in the United States. Having released countless albums including masterpieces of Heavy Metal music, he stands among those few respected metal musicians with common acceptance. Just few months before his upcoming new album “We Bleed Metal”, I had the chance to discuss with him about his music career and to present to you a great interview. Enjoy!
Back in the early 80s, what made you start the band under your name and how did you gather the members of Chastain? A rumor says that the band was put together by Mike Varney (Shrapnel Records) for a solo David T. Chastain album.
David T. Chastain: Mike Varney had heard my solo instrumental music as well as CJSS but didn't like either enough to invest in an album. He suggested I put a new band together. I brought along my CJSS bassist, Mike Skimmerhorn in the band. Varney knew Leather and Fred Coury and we liked each other's style so we did a few demos that rocked and decided to record the album "Mystery of Illusion". I still continued CJSS and my instrumental recordings just not with Mike Varney.
However, you had the band Spike from the late 70s if I am correct. What do you recall from this band?
David T. Chastain: Yes, there were numerous lineups over the years. The last lineup morphed into CJSS. The best Spike lineup to me was when Stephen Fredrick (Keznier, Kinrick) was handling the lead vocals. We did a short tour with Black Sabbath (with Ronnie James Dio) that probably was the band's high point. Spike released one album "The Price of Pleasure". I would call it commercial metal. About 1/2 of the songs are good the other half are too commercial!
The first two Chastain albums, "Mystery Of Illusion" (1985) and "Ruler Of The Wasteland" (1986), were released by Shrapnel Records. Give us a few words for those albums and your first years as a band.
David T. Chastain: The first album "Mystery of Illusion" was a very exciting record for all of us as it was our first so called "real record". There are lots of problems on that record as far as performance and meter but the energy is on 11! "Ruler of the Wasteland" is a much more "professional" record... everything is there: songs, performance and production. Considering each of those albums were on very low budgets (100 hours in the studio to record and mix), they both have stood the test of time. I think if both were released today for the first time with modern production they would still sound contemporary.
From that moment and on, after the first two albums, you started your own label, Leviathan Records, and the majority of your next releases were issued by you. How did that came and how easy or difficult was to start running a label back in those days?
David T. Chastain: I had already released the Spike album on a label I ran so starting Leviathan Records with a friend, Steve McClure, was not that big of a deal. In those days it was MUCH EASIER releasing an album. Far less competition than it is today. Whereas there may have been 100 metal albums released a year in those days it is probably 100 a month now.
Your next albums (almost all in Leviathan from that moment, as mentioned) were "The 7th Of Never" (1987), "The Voice Of The Cult" (1988) and "For Those Who Dare" (1990). That was a very strong period for the band, and also during 1990 you had your first video clip of "For Those Who Dare" on air. Again, give us a few words for those albums and that era.
David T. Chastain: Actually Roadrunner released "For Those Who Dare" worldwide. "The 7th" and "The Voice" were released on Leviathan and did very well. During those old days Roadrunner had released our albums in Europe for the most part so we felt if they had the whole world they would do a better job... however that was not the case. We sold more Chastain albums on Leviathan than Roadrunner. The problem with Roadrunner was that we were one of 50 bands and we were not their main concern. On Leviathan we only had 3 or 4 bands so Chastain was the top dog. Obviously Roadrunner can take a band big time if you are their main concern.
What about live shows back in that period? Which are the most memorable moments you had on the road?
David T. Chastain: For Chastain I guess the biggest live show was playing with KISS in a huge arena. However playing a venue in Cincinnati called Bogart's were the most enjoyable shows for the band. We played all over the US numerous times and there were some great shows and some not so great shows.... depended on the promotion.
During that period, there was a kind of partnership with Black Dragon Records from France and Leviathan, where each label licensed some releases to the other for European and US release. What do you remember from that co-operation?
David T. Chastain: Black Dragon was a good label during that era. They sold a lot of CJSS, Chastain and David T. Chastain albums. However once the Lp became extinct they sort of lost how to do business. I am still in contact with the owner of the company Agnes Desgranges. We released the Candlemass album "Epicus Doomicus Metalicus" for them in the US and it did pretty well.
What about the CJSS project that started in 1986 with the albums "World Gone Mad" and "Praise The Loud"? What made you start another band and what your goal was with CJSS?
David T. Chastain: As I mentioned previously CJSS was born out of Spike and was formed in the summer of 84... so it came before Chastain. I always considered CJSS an American Metal Band and Chastain more of a European sounding metal band.
Also, during those years, you released your first solo albums. Leone also released "Shock Waves" (1989) and before that she had a single with Malibu Barbie. How did you managed to do all these stuff and also having a label running? It seems that you have huge creativity in song-writing.
David T. Chastain: Every time I pickup the guitar I write music. I can literally write an album's worth of music in short order. So quantity was never a problem. Of course some people will argue the quality. Usually an album is just what I was writing at that moment. I have at least 1000 hours of music that has not been used for public consumption. The fun part for me is always writing the song and making a demo... everything after that becomes "business".
And then, when you entered the 90s, Leone left the band. Why this did happen and how was that period for metal music in the States?
David T. Chastain: After the "For Those Who Dare" tour Leather and I just went our separate ways. There was no big fight, no one quit or was fired. We were just burned out. We had been recording one album a year and touring since ‘85 so we needed a break. She tried to find something new but never could for one reason or another so she just retired. I concentrated on my instrumental career. Around ‘94 I decided I wanted to do a vocal record with a male singing. I tried out numerous people but none fit the bill.... so I became the lead vocalist. I did a short tour with me doing vocals... then I met Kate French.
Three Chastain albums followed later with Kate French (vocals). "Sick Society" (1995), "In Dementia" (1997), "In An Outrage" (2004). Give us few comments on them and what was the reaction of the fans and the press for those albums?
David T. Chastain: "Sick Society" shocked a lot of people They expected the same music with a new voice but what they got was different music with the same voice. The music on Sick Society was actually written for my vocals so Kate really didn't get to shine on that Cd. Strange as it my seem that Cd is one of the most profitable Chastain Cds because music from that album was used in numerous TV shows over the years. In quick order we released "In Dementia". For me, that is one of the top 2 Chastain albums of all time. Everything clicked on that one. Kate did an amazing job on writing and recording the vocals. It is a joy to listen to that one but you really need to listen with headphones to hear all of the vocal ear candy. Kate then married Larry Howe and had a son so music became a secondary matter for her... of course that is understandable. It took her forever to write and record her vocals for "In An Outrage". Therefore there was a 7 year break between albums. "In An Outrage" is a very good album but it is hard for me to enjoy since it was such a labor to make public. How did the fans and press react? It was mixed. Of course when Leather was in the band it was also mixed. During those old days, female vocalists were not given serious respect and it was an uphill battle.
If you should name the best 5 albums you participate in, which ones would you chose and why?
David T. Chastain: Hard question and if you asked me tomorrow it would probably be different but today I feel of the ones I played on (in chronological order.):
Chastain "Ruler of the Wasteland" - The best of the early Leather era Cds
David T. Chastain "Instrumental Variations" - My first instrumental album and my biggest selling album of all my releases.
David T. Chastain "Next Planet Please" - Where I finally got to venture out into metal fusion which is really a favorite style of music of mine
Chastain "In Dementia" - The best of the Kate French era.Southern Gentlemen "Exotic Dancer Blues" - Strangely my best reviewed Cd of all time even if I did the vocals! Also probably the most profitable because it was placed in 100s of TV Shows over the years.
As far as the ones I produced:
Leather "Shock Waves" - A chance for Leather to shine
Kenziner "Timescape" - Jarno Keskinen and Stephen Fredrick really made a great Cd.
Firewind "Between Heaven and Hell" - Getting Gus G and this band together was an exciting time. Gus G is always fun to work with.
Which are the guitar players that you admire more and which ones are your inspirations as a guitar player and composer?
David T. Chastain: There are so many that I admire but I have never tried to copy any of them: Hendrix, Page, Holdsworth, Dimeola, Van Halen, Rhoads, Malmsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughn to name a few. I guess Iommi for his metal compositions. I was never good at imitation so I always tried to do my own thing. For the last 10 years the only thing I listen to for enjoyment is classical music… preferably solo piano pieces.
During that period you had more solo albums released and some productions done, right? Give us a brief bio of those days outside of Chastain, until 2013…
David T. Chastain: Once again too many to list. Instrumental, Chastain Harris, Zanister, Southern Gentlemen, Kenziner, Kinrick, Firewind and more. There is a list at www.leviathanrecords.com/chasdisc.htm. Even I don't remember them all!!
And in 2013 the album "Surrender To No One" is released with Leather Leone back in vocals. Powerful and aggressive, that was a cool comeback. Was it planned or just came? How all this happened?
David T. Chastain: Leather decided to come back and I offered to produce a solo album for her. However she wanted to try to do something else, Sledge Leather. It did fairly well but everyone was always asking her about a new Chastain. I had quite a bit of material backlogged so I let her hear some and she was excited about it. We demoed stuff for about 6 months before we decided we would record a new Chastain album. I knew Stian from his work on a couple of records I had produced: Firewind and Kinrick. I think the addition of Stian helped bring the band into a modern sound. I brought Mike Skimmerhorn back in the band to try to make Chastain as "original" as possible. The reception to the reunion was very positive. www.chastainmetal.com
You haven't played any live shows the last years, right? Why?
David T. Chastain: I much prefer the studio. While I enjoy the hour on stage I don't enjoy the other 23 hours involved in touring. Fortunately I have been able to make a living off of albums and TV placements so that I wasn't forced to have to tour. I have only played a show here or there over the last 20 years. Chastain received some very nice offers to play festivals, both small and large, since the reunion but I haven't seen anything I couldn't resist.
A new album is on the works. Give us all the details, please.
David T. Chastain: Chastain "We Bleed Metal" will be released worldwide on November 6. It is the same lineup as "Surrender To No One" Leather on vocals, myself on guitar, Mike Skimmerhorn on bass and Stian Kristoffersen on drums. The music is in the same ballpark as the last album. Definitely my most "shredtastic" guitar playing on a Chastain album since "The 7th of Never". Leather thinks it is a better album than "Surrender To No One" but I am too close to it to make that judgement. I usually don't formalize an opinion on one of my releases for at least 5 years after release. www.webleedmetal.com
David T. Chastain: Thanks for the support through all of these years! Hopefully the new album will not disappoint. WE BLEED METAL!!!
You can visit www.leviathanrecords.com for further info on all of my releases.