Leather interview by Stefan for Metal To Infinity 12/2013
At Metal To Infinity webzine, we have a close relationship with a genre called US Metal. We're based in Belgium but we're hooked on this type of music since the early 80s and we became more and more fascinated as time passed by. Our webzine has three employees (Patrick aka 'Sloof', Rico aka 'Officer Nice' and myself, Stefan), one by one hooked on the almighty forces of US Metal so the next following interview with Leather Leone, singer in the legendary Chastain formation means a lot. They just released their comeback album "Surrender To No One" through masterly, world wide famous shredder David T. Chastain's own label called Leviathan Records. Magisterial good effort to me, now I want to focus myself to Leather who left the Chastain ranks right after the album "For Those Who Dare" in 1990. What kept her busy for the next 20 years? What about her future plans? I hope to get an answer soon.
Q: I'd like to welcome you at MTI webzine Belgium and hope all is going good at the moment.
A: Thank you. All is well! I'm extremely excited about the new Chastain. Very happy to be here speaking with you!
Q: What encouraged you to become a singer in a Metal band?
A: I always enjoyed singing. Loved melody, but never found myself singing as a real young person. I played in a few cover bands and then I moved to California in the early 80's and was introduced to the voice of Ronnie James Dio. It was a huge revelation for me. I had found that thing! I realized somehow through hearing that type of power, that I too had that inside me. It took me years to perfect it, but it was the missing piece of me.
Q: Do you know exactly how Chastain was founded and how did you end up in the ranks?
A: David had been doing music in 2 bands called Spike and CJSS. That is only the part that I know. I am not sure when he decided to move forward with his namesake band. I only know he had been in communication with Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records, who of course back then was known for his work with guitar wizards. David for some reason wanted to move forward with a female front. I have never actually asked him about that time in his life! Hence, we were introduced via the 4-track tape! I then recorded the demos of Mystery of Illusion, Winds of Change and a couple of others!
Q: Before you entered the Chastain camp you were active in a band called Rude Girl. What can you remember of this period, what type of band was it?
A: It was a crazed time. I was young and was going full speed ahead. It was an amazing time in San Francisco! The days of early Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, a sick time. There were clubs to play every weekend. People came out to party and support the bands! Rude Girl was a basic, heavy metal band. Very Dio and Judas Priest influenced.
Q: How was your first contact with founder/guitarist David T. Chastain? What was your first impression?
A: I don't really remember anything but rehearsals. He was and is very quiet, expects the work to be done. He was always handling the business and practicing. My impression was "I better know my stuff." I was very green back then, so being around him made me work my ass off. I thank him for that. It's the same today. I adore him.
Q: Please introduce the rest of the members those who teamed up those days?
A: We had a different touring band every year. It kept us fresh and on our toes. I would prefer to not try to remember them, I'm sure I would forget someone. The years I really enjoyed were with John Herbert and David Harbour. I think they both went on to play with King Diamond. That was a good solid fun band. But all the musicians brought their game and rocked it for us. Now you've got me thinking, great times with Pat O'Brien before Cannibal Corpse, Russell Jenkins from CJSS!! I have had the pleasure of working with top guys!! I thank all of them.
Q: Line-up completed and ready to dive into the rehearsal room - can you remember the very first repetition of Chastain. Can I assume that David took the musical guideline for his account?
A: The first time Chastain got together in a rehearsal room it was David, myself, Mike Skimmerhorn on bass, Fred Coury (pre-Cinderella) on drums, producer Peter Marino and Mike Varney. There was a lot of energy in the room as it was the first "real" recordings for any of the band members. We rehearsed for a few days and then went straight into the studio to record.
Q: Before the official release of "Mystery Of Illusion" in 1985, did Chastain brought out a demo?
A: No, I don't believe so. Nothing official. I was never aware of a bootleg before the release but I know there are copies of it out there today. It wasn't so easy then to get hold of music without buying a record. Although I do remember cassette tapes being passed around in the underground.
Q: Finally the moment was on, that legendary and almighty great album "Mystery Of Illusion" appeared on the earth surface through Shrapnel Records. Has this record had an impact on your future musical career?
A: Well, it certainly was the beginning of my recording career. It made much more of an impact on people than I could have imagined. It's hard to talk about the impact. It's the path I chose. It gave me the opportunity to tour and keep recording. Who knows if Rude Girl had signed a contract where I would be today? It's just life. I am very thankful for that decision.
Q: Remarkable statement of David himself: "I could never work with these people on a full-time basis because they live all over the country. We just get together once a year, record an album and then go off and do our own things". What do you have to say about that Leone?
A: I agree with him. It may have been a different outcome if we did live in the same town. It's all we have ever known. It takes lots of travel and money to make this project work. I think we did ok. I think the distance may have inspired us, in the beginning anyway!
Q: The product was sold on a worldwide basis. Do you have any idea how many times MOI has been sold?
A: I do not. That would be a question for Shrapnel Records!
Q: What about touring to promote the album back then? Do you mind to give a summary of all those bands Chastain shared the stage with? What were the most unforgettable gigs with Chastain?
A: In the old days we would get together a few times a year to play shows around the country. Probably the highs for me were opening for Kiss at the Hare Arena in Dayton, Ohio and Alice Cooper at the Cincinnati Gardens in Cincinnati, Ohio. But I really just enjoyed being on stage, relating to all the people who enjoy your creation. I miss it. We played some great shows in New York City. Always had a blast in Texas. It's hard work, but we were young and living the life!
Q: It was obvious that Chastain has not missed its start, first album - first big successes, right?
A: We were fortunate to come out when we did with that first Cd. We had numerous major labels trying to buy our contract from Shrapnel.
Q: You teamed up with the band right from the start until the recordings of the fifth Chastain album entitled "For Those Who Dare". Five efforts with a high level of quality but according to myself, "Mystery Of Illusion" stays on top as absolute fave. May I ask for your favourite Chastain album and why?
A: I can't answer that. All the Chastain titles have moments for me. It's hard for me to listen to an album after it's done. I just hear what I want to do over. I always prefer to move forward when a project is finished. Although I have been listening to "The 7th of Never" lately!
Q: During this period of time, the band had to deal with a few line up changes, why some of the guys called it quits?
A: All of the musicians had many things going on, if the tours didn't fit into their schedule we would move on. We have never made a lot of money touring, so people needed to do what worked for them. And not everyone enjoys living out of a suitcase like me! It was never that dramatic to say someone actually quit or couldn't tour. As long as it was David and myself we were Chastain.
Q: Meanwhile, your solo album "Shock Waves" has been unleashed in 1989 which means that on a certain moment, you played with both Chastain and your own band called Leather? Was your intention to bring even more solo albums?
A: I was disappointed with the lack of interest by the record company. I was and am still proud of it. But the true intention was never to start a solo career. It was just another opportunity to make music. I can't say "No" to that!
Q: Shortly after the "For Those Who Dare Tour", also you decided to leave the core, what happened?
A: It was never a decision to actually leave, it just happened. The Chastain train just seemed to have run its course. The band didn't really seem to be growing at that point. We were tired I guess! I assumed I would take some time off and continue, but it didn't work out that way. I didn't have any great opportunity in metal at that point, so I walked away.
Q: Does this mean that you had stepped out of the Metal world, the end of a very special era to you I guess, right?
A: Yes it was the end of a way of life for sure. It was a weird time. Glad it's over. I needed to find some new inspiration.
Q: Have you kept in touch with former band mates?
A: Now and then I drop an email to them, yes.
Q: You were replaced by Kate French who have also so an incredible wide vocal range - have you ever met her?
A: I have not, we have emailed only. Yes she is an incredible vocalist. I am proud of all her work.
Q: Proverbially, you fell off the radar for more than 20 years... then the ultimate return of one of the best female singers in the world of Metal has been announced. In 2012, you were back on the rails with your new band Sledge Leather. How the band came to be?
A: Sledge and I had come together and just started talking, then writing, and finally recording. It was a process of around 1 year. It got me back in shape to work with Chastain.
Q: Debuted with the album "Imagine Me Alive" and a live performance at Keep It True Festival. Tell me all about this please?
A: We actually played KIT before the SLP material was written. It was an amazing experience, those German crowds are intense, I think of them always. I am trying to get back there. They were so into the Chastain music we played! I never wanted to come off the stage!
Q: What holds the future with Sledge Leather?
A: No plans this time.
Q: Finally we come to the climax of this interview, the new Chastain album "No One To Surrender", featuring Leather Leone on vocals. Twenty+ years ago, you left the band -now you take us all by surprise while a remarkable return to Chastain, where it all began actually. May I ask where this decision came from?
A: For me it came from the loss of Ronnie James Dio, I realized. I needed to sing to express myself. I felt I wasn't using a gift I was given. Plus a lot of you wonderful people were waiting.
Q: Is the proper understanding attitude between David T. Chastain and yourself still optimal. In fact, your friendship has never been lost, right?
A: It hasn't changed a bit. We are the same crazed musicians that enjoy making music together.
Q: Besides both of you it's good to know that also Mike Skimmerhorn returned to its home base. Mike left the ranks just like you did, right after the "For Those Who Dare". Did this happen by chance or not or did he stepped out of the Chastain ranks for some other reasons?
A: Mike had actually stopped playing with us before "For Those Who Dare". I'm not sure why. I was so wrapped up in the moment I don't remember everything. But he has always been busy doing his own music. I'm excited he's back in the fold.
Q: Afterwards, he played with CJSS and due to I always been a fan of this band I'd like to know about what happened with them as time passed by?
A: CJSS was actually a band before Chastain. David shopped CJSS to Varney who then offered him a solo contract. Mike has played in numerous bands in and around Cincinnati, Ohio. For the last few years he has concentrated on The Mighty Swine. I believe they are finishing up a new Cd in January. CJSS every so often still plays a reunion show but no new recordings.
Q: He was immediately willing to engage with Chastain again?
A: Yes, we all were ready! It was simply just the right time! The gods of metal were calling us by name.
Q: The guest appearance of Stian Kristoffersen will not go unnoticed, well known for his top notch drum works for the mighty Firewind band - how did Stian end up with Chastain.
A: I only know that David has been recording with him for a while on other releases. I'm not sure how or when David made the decision, but it was a perfect one. His drumming inspired my vocals beyond words. He added a modern sound that I believe added some edge.
Q: The drum recordings were carried out in Norway while the rest was done at the house of David T. Chastain called Leviathan Studios in Atlanta, CA where this grandmaster produced all of the songs. To make the story complete, the mixing duties happened in Germany. Conclusion: from one end of the globe to the other to make "No One To Surrender" ready for the listener... how long did it take to complete the entire album?
A: I believe it was approximately 3 months for all of it to come together. Again that is a better question for the grandmaster!! David shields me from a lot of the more stressful aspects of the music business. Thankfully!!
Q: What was your impression when you heard the album for the first time - fully satisfied?
A: As an artist I am never satisfied, I just hear things that should be done better. I think it's a common feeling. That's why I don't listen once it's complete.
Q: Matter what topic is the title subjected?
A: After we had taken a look at all the material we had written, it seemed a perfect title. To continue on your musical path no matter how many obstacles come your way. After all this time David and I have created again. It's very cool. It's a great message for life. Keep going and "Surrender To No One."
Q: Would you like to compare this new Chastain album with the older albums or not?
A: People have said it seems like the perfect next step, I'm not sure. David and I have grown and certainly changed while still maintaining a style. Thank god that 80's production is gone. I sang this Cd a bit dirtier. I was never happy with the clean vocal style on "For Those Who Dare" and "The Voice of the Cult." I am staying away from those higher registers that had become annoying to me!
Q: You're still one top of my all time favourite female singers, what do you do in order to keep your voice in such a good, optimal condition?
A: Thank you for that. I run, I drink a lot of water, I sleep and I try to do a vocal warm up everyday.
Q: How would you like to describe "No One To Surrender" - to what type of listeners you want to recommend this album?
A: It's a straight ahead metal Cd. It will take you on a journey of thought and wonder. You will basically enjoy each song individually. You need to listen from start to finish. It goes well in a fast car!
Q: In your own opinion, which song(s) do you prefer and why?
A: I prefer any song that I have completed and recorded. At this moment I'm enjoying "Evil Awaits Us". I think the chorus has a dark smooth melody. But as I have said before after the Cd is done, I don't really listen to it. My love affair with each song ends in the studio, when it's complete.
Q: Why there are no lyrics available? Which subjects were used during the song writing process?
A: The lyrics are available at the website, www.chastainmetal.com. Chastain's song writing is certainly centered around the destruction of man as David says. Myself as a recovering Catholic have always come from that obscure place of good and evil. It makes for interesting material as everyone of us can relate to those issues in life.
Q: Is there an international distribution provided? Please give an address where to purchase this killer album.
A: All the info is at Chastainmetal.com. It is for purchase all over the world, for sure!
Q: How the worldwide has reacted to date?
A: The fan response has been very positive, that's all that matters. I have never listened much to critics but so far most have been very enthusiastic! We are very proud of this new music.
Q: In what ways Chastain want to promote this new album, is there a Tour coming up in 2014?
A: We are doing a lot of press and getting great radio play in the states. No touring plans at this time but stranger things have happened!
Q: I'm very curious about the future of Chastain, do you want to tell us what awaits us?
A: I'm not sure; it depends on how well the new music does! You can ask Chastain that question, as he is the captain of the ship!
Q: What keeps you busy besides singing in a Metal band. How does the daily life of Leather Leone look like?
A: I work with pit bulls and enjoy nature. I enjoy driving fast and rainy days! Everyday above ground is a good day!
Q: What type of music will you prefer, old school Metal or nowadays so called modern Metal... why?
A: I like all aggressive music, although I do usually go back to old school. There is so much talent out there, got to love it all. But I have been known to listen to pop, so I check it all out.
Q: Well than, Thank you very much for your precious time. It was a real honour to have you here on Metal To Infinity webzine. We keep on supporting US Metal as good as possible and are well willing to spread the word of Chastain's new album "No One To Surrender" with dignity! US Metal still reigns supreme, right?
A: Thank you. Metal is an inspiration no matter where it comes from. I eat drink and sleep it. It is in my blood, Go to wwwchastainmetal.com for all information on the "Surrender to no one."
Love and metal.... Leather
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