DAVID T. CHASTAIN interview by Kai Wollwert of That's Metal Magazine
Introduction: I am for many years a huge Fan of the CHASTAIN Albums, but I am NOT a Musician. So please excuse me, if some of my questions are maybe a bit stupid for you :)
01. How does it feel to be back with a 75% Reunion of the Classic 80's Chastain Line up with Mike Skimmerhorn, Leather and yourself after so many years?
David T. Chastain: It has been fun. I knew the musical end result would be good. Everyone is still in fine form... albeit a little more experienced and not as flamboyant. It was really just a matter of narrowing down all of the songs we recorded to choose the ones that went well together. We actually recorded the music to 2 Cds worth of material.
02. When do you think about to reunite with Leather for the first time, after so many years of no musical collaboration with her?
David T. Chastain: When Leather decided to return I offered to help her with a solo Cd. Instead she went and started SLP. She wanted to try to do it on her own. Once we decided to work on a new Cd it was really as if we had only taken a few months off. I picked her up at the airport and we went to my studio and just started recording. Personally and musically it was as if it was a few months after the "For Those Who Dare" tour had ended. We have always got along great... or as well as a guitarist and vocalist can!
03. Did you had contact with Leather and/or Mike during all those years?
David T. Chastain: Yes. We stayed in touch all through the years. I was still paying them royalties from the old days. We reissued Leather's Shock Waves album at some point. Mike and I played a few shows here and there as either CJSS or Spike reunion specials. We never had a falling out back in the old days. Leather and I both were just burned out after the For Those Who Dare tour. We had been putting out basically one new album a year and touring for 6 years straight. We just needed a break.
04. Where does the members live today? Far away or in the neigbourhood?
David T. Chastain: I live in Atlanta, Georgia. Mike Skimmerhorn lives in Cincinnati, OH. Leather lives in San Francisco, California and Stian Kristoffersen lives in Norway. So in other words we all live far away from one another.
05. How do you manage Songwriting and or rehearsals today?
David T. Chastain: I write the music and send it to the others for them to learn their parts and/or embellish what was written. On "Surrender To No One" Leather had a big hand in writing of the lyrics and melodies. I don't really recall who exactly wrote what so we just said "All songs by David T. Chastain and Leather Leone." There were no band rehearsals. Everyone was expected to learn their parts and be ready to record when the time came to do so. It worked out pretty well all things considered.
06. Do you remember your very first rehearsal as a complete band?
David T. Chastain: If you are talking the first Chastain band rehearsal it was in the studio in San Francisco for Mystery Of Illusion. That is where we met for the first time. We were all "babes in the woods" and very excited to be recording our first "real" record.
07. What about with Spike, or another School Band?
David T. Chastain: That is a funny story. My first band I was in I only had been playing for a few weeks. However we were still mainly playing original material. I was writing songs as soon as I picked up the guitar. In any case, we played about 3 songs and the promoter came up and said, "We will pay you if you will please just stop!" I am sure it was horrendous!!! I don't remember the name of the band. Just friends from school. However I soon became decent fairly quick. It just came natural to me.
08. How do you get in contact with Rock/Metal Music for the first time and when do you decide to learn to play guitar?
David T. Chastain: I had friends growing up who played guitar so I just picked it up from them eventually. I would say the first blast of Metal I heard were the first 2 Black Sabbath albums.
09. What were your idols and influences?
David T. Chastain: I was never overly influenced by any one band or guitar player. I had a diverse musical beginning. Everything from Sabbath, Yes, Kansas, Allman Brothers, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Hendrix, Deep Purple, early Zepplin, Uli Roth and the Scorpions, and many others. Fortunately there were a lot of really good original local bands/musicians in the Atlanta area when I was first learning that I could go see play and those were probably bigger influences on me than the big bands.
10. What was more important for you as guitar player, to be good on your instrument or be a Rock Star with a lot of Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll?
David T. Chastain: All I really cared about was the music. Practicing, writing music and expanding my knowledge. I never did drugs or drank to any degree. As far as I know I have never been high... maybe once I was in a room where everyone was smoking pot and I may have gotten stoned through secondhand smoke. I was always the one with the responsibility of the band so I had to keep it together while everyone else was drunk or stoned! Of course they fell along the wayside long ago and I have had a very long career.... So I guess my decision was wise. As far as the sex part... that is a wonderful perk of being in a rock band. You get women you wouldn't normally get if you were just walking down the street. Your attractiveness suddenly goes up considerably once you walk on stage and start playing.
11. You always are the leader in your projects. Wouldn't it be interesting for you to play in a Band like Chickenfoot or Black Country Communion just as a part of an equal Rock Star Band, or do you prefer to be the leader in your musical outputs.
David T. Chastain: Yes I would enjoy that. Guitarist Michael Harris and I had a couple of bands together: Zanister and Chastain Harris where there were other strong opinioned members. Would I like to play in a super group and not have to worry about everything?? Yes!! You know of one? Although I do have to admit I don't enjoy playing other people's songs... so I guess that would be big problem.
12. Do you never been asked to join another Band as a guitar player?
David T. Chastain: Yes! However I can't tell you the name of the bands. Confidentiality. It also came down to I didn't want to play their songs.
13. In 1984 the CHASTAIN Band was formed with Leather, Mike and Fred Coury, how do you find the other members and what can you say about the era?
David T. Chastain: Mike and I had been in Spike and CJSS. Mike Varney didn't like the CJSS sound so he offered to put a new band together around my songs and guitar playing. I mentioned I liked a female vocalist and he said, "Well I know one here in San Francisco that is incredible." So I sent Leather some of my songs and she loved them. As far as Fred Coury, Varney knew of him through demos and I heard them and thought he was a good fit at the time. That band had a lot of energy.
14. Do you record a Demo Tape or how do you get in contact with Mike Varney?
David T. Chastain: I caught Mike's attention with an all instrumental demo I had been working on. I then sent him some of the CJSS material and that is when we decided to do a Chastain band.
15. MOI way, in my opinion a very strong debut. What I think is very interesting and impressing is, that the unique CHASTAIN sound was already found on the first LP. Was that a natural process or a masterplan?
David T. Chastain: I write the way I write and it just comes out sounding 'Chastain.' Then you add Leather's distinct vocals and you have a unique sound right from the beginning. At the time I was one of the few, if only guys, playing heavy metal music based around harmonic minor & Phrygian scales. Add Leather on top and you have a "new" sound that didn't sound like all of the other bands falling from the sky. Plus it was pretty damn heavy!
16. How do you think today about songs like Black Knight, Mystery of Illusion and the mighty We Shall Overcome? Are you still happy with them?
David T. Chastain: Yes I think all of that old Chastain material holds up well. As I said, since we were original sounding, it didn't really fall into a certain timeframe musically. If we came out with those songs today with a modern sound I believe they would fit right into the metal world.
17. How were the reactions for your first LP in- and outside the States?
David T. Chastain: As far as I know the reviews were 95% positive. Of course there are going to be people who are automatically against a female vocalist. That was definitely the case back in that time. However we were smart that on the first album Mystery of Illusion, we didn't include band pixs and only the name Leather as the vocalist. Most people thought that was a man singing so we blew their minds on Ruler of the Wasteland when we included pixs.
18. Ruler of the Wasteland was released one year later, which is one of my personal favorites. The Music was harder and also faster, as on the debut. How does it come together?
David T. Chastain: The same as all. I can sit down and write an album in short order. I literally have 1000 hours of unreleased material sitting around. In that same year, 1986, I also released 2 CJSS albums. There was no conscious effort on my part to do anything on Ruler other than put together the songs that I thought fit best together at that moment in time.
19. Which influence did the other musicians had on this record?
David T. Chastain: In truth, very little. I consider Ruler of the Wasteland the only pure "Chastain" album. That is the only Chastain album were I wrote all of the music, lyrics and melodies. Jokingly I refer to it as Chastain "Uncontaminated." Although Mike Varney and I did get together right before we went into the studio and rearranged a few parts here and there. The Co-producer Steve Fontano also added some cool vocal part ideas here and there.
20. Ken Mary of Fifth Angel was the new drummer, who did a great job on Ruler, did he leave Fifth Angel for Chastain or was he a member of both bands at that time?
David T. Chastain: Ken was more a member of Fifth Angel than Chastain. He played on the 3 Chastain Cds and 2 solo Cds over the years. He was a great drummer who agreed with my ideas of what the drums should be. Ken, as with most all of my drummers, I would ask them to play more stuff than they originally planned. I like a lot of drums on my records. Keeping it too simple is always boring for me as a listener. I want to hear them step out and go for it!
21. Did the sales and critics get better for that record?
David T. Chastain: I don't know about critically as both records were well received. I assume the sales moved forward on the second album as it generated a lot more buzz in the United States for sure.
22. How many Live Shows you played at that time?
David T. Chastain: On the first 2 albums we did shows in the Ohio area mainly. Not a lot. Our serious touring started more after "The 7th of Never" hit. We played all across the US on that tour. We added Pat O'brien, now of Cannibal Corpse, on second guitar and Les Sharp, of CJSS, as the drummer. Mike Skimmerhorn was still the bassist and backup vocalist.
23. What do prefer? Playing Live or playing in a studio?
David T. Chastain: The studio for sure. In the studio, you can get close to a perfect performance and add many additional parts. Live it is one guitar and one shot at getting it right. I have never heard a live show that I thought was better than the album. There is just too much missing live for me to enjoy it. My Southern Gentlemen band is really the only band of mine that could sound as good live as in the studio. On many of the Southern Gentlemen tracks there is only one guitar whereas on some Chastain songs there could be a dozen. No way I can replicate that live!!
24. Also one year later "The 7th of Never" was released, but not at Shrapnel anymore, so it was at your own label Leviathan. Was it a problem to leave Mike Varney at that time?
David T. Chastain: Not really. I had already released 2 CJSS albums on Leviathan Records, World Gone Mad and Praise the Loud. Those 2 albums sold more than the first 2 Chastain albums at the time in the United States. Back in those days it was SO MUCH EASIER to release albums than today. Back then there was maybe 100 metal albums released a year. Now there are probably 100 metal albums released every couple of weeks. So it is much harder to get noticed in today's environment. Plus with all of the illegal download sites that exist today it is very discouraging for any musician to know their work is being constantly stolen.
25. Mike Varney released nearly all US Guitar Heroes of the 80s, how important was/is his work for the global metal scene?
David T. Chastain: Mike cornered the market on the mid 80s neoclassical shred guitarists. He had a column in Guitar Player for unknown guitarists and everyone sent in tapes so he had the "pick of the litter" so to speak. Mike helped raise the bar of what was considered a "good guitarist" during that era. Of course many of those high flyers weren't exactly great songwriters and in the end that caused the scene to implode on itself. Even myself, a so called shredder, was bored with all of the arpeggios and speed of light notes that were coming at you.
26. Why do you decide to found your own label? That was not the normal way to do it, at that time...
David T. Chastain: Actually I had put out a Spike album before the first Chastain album. I guess I was blind to the fact that I didn't know how difficult it was to be starting a label. Fortunately all of the first albums released on Leviathan Records were profitable so I never new the bad times most labels have to go through. Not to "toot" my own horn, but I am not a stupid person, quite the opposite. So I learned pretty early on what worked and what didn't. Of course those were different times. Now I don't have a clue how to sell a Cd In 2014!!
27. Was it not more difficult to be a Label Manager and also had the time to be creative as a Musician?
David T. Chastain: Well.... As I like to say, "When I started Leviathan Records my time was devoted 90% to music and 10% to business. However in quick order it became 90% business and 10% music. In looking back I would have loved to have been on a bigger label and not have to worry about the business. However once we tried working with Roadrunner in the United States for 3 albums: Chastain "For Those Who Dare," Leather "Shock Waves" and David T. Chastain "Within The Heat," and for some reason we sold more on Leviathan Records so I went back to that again.
28. Do you had and have help for the office work of your Label? If yes, who is it?
David T. Chastain: Leviathan Records was originally started by myself and a friend Steve McClure. Basically he provided the capital and I provided the sweat. Almost all work was done in house. I have the unfortunate sickness of thinking I can do every job better than anyone else so I usually do 100 jobs half assed! We occasionally hire outside PR firms, radio promotions people and the like. Would I like a fulltime staff? Of course!!
29. The songs for 7th were great also. Especially Paradise, It's too Late for Yesterday, Forevermore and the blistering The Wicked are Restless. How do you put those songs together and which feelings do you have about them today?
David T. Chastain: That album was during a spell where I was pretty torn up about a death of a friend. So she inspired a lot of the songs. I think the lead guitar playing on that album is the best lead guitar playing on any Chastain album before or after. I was also recording my instrumental best seller "Instrumental Variations" around the same time so lets just say "I was playing all the time, distressed and on a mission."
30. I can't say any band, who sounds like CHASTAIN, what do you think about that? Was it important for you sound unique .... And can you remember any critics, who wrote that Chastain sounds like Priest, Accept, Rush or whatever???
David T. Chastain: I don't remember people comparing us to other bands often. Of course someone would say something about this band or that band but no one ever accused us of being a clone of another band. Leather was referred to as the "Female Ronnie James Dio" at times, which I think she took as a compliment. People who didn't know better threw my name in with Yngwie's from time to time. I think any guitar player who plays fast gets lumped in together with the other fast players no matter if they are similar or not.
31. The Voice of the Cult was the next masterpiece, again with a great fantasy cover artwork. With which intention do you select the artworks and do you make any directions, what you would like to see on the Cover of the Albums?
David T. Chastain: Well... I usually suggest an idea but the artist always takes it and comes up with something totally different. Now days we can look at an artist's catalog and just choose a cover we like. Almost like going to a store.
32. In Europe your partner was Roadrunner at that time. How was this cooperation for you?
David T. Chastain: Well.. I am sure they did a good job in Europe. We were never in Europe to really check on the ground and to see if the albums were in the stores.
33. Do you see, that more money came around, as you start your own label?
David T. Chastain: Yes, owning your own label is more profitable on a big selling record. The most money I ever made on a single record was my instrumental album "Instrumental Variations." I was the guitarist, bassist, songwriter, producer, record label and music publisher. So instead of only getting 1 piece of the pie I received 6. I read horror stories about bands selling a million copies of an album and never receiving a cent because the big labels are "recouping" every expense imaginable. That is why I never signed with a major label... the major label recording contracts offered to me where highway robbery. They told me to strike out the paragraphs I didn't like and I literally struck out 90% of the agreements. Legal theft!
34. Did you never had a chance to play in Europe at that time? Maybe at the Dynamo in Holland?
David T. Chastain: I am different than most. I refused most opening slots on shows/festivals. I would rather play before 1000 Chastain fans than 15000 Metallica fans. I know the arguments for playing in front of the Metallica fans... but I really didn't care about the repercussions. I wanted to play in front of people who knew the music. I was never really worried about being the biggest band in the world... guess you could say I went out of my way to avoid getting too "popular" as I was already too "popular" in my area and I had to move away to get some privacy. I can't imagine the life of a really popular celebrity of any ilk.
35. After Voice Mike and Ken left the Band, why?
David T. Chastain: As mentioned previously Ken was only a studio musician for me and never played a live Chastain show. Mike Skimmerhorn had local business interests that he wanted to exploit. So I needed some younger guys who were ready to hit the road.
36. Their replacements ware John Luke He'bert and David Harbour, how do you get in contact with them?
David T. Chastain: David Harbour had played bass on my solo instrumental album "Within The Heat" and wanted to tour. John's band opened for us in Louisiana and I flew him up for an audition. Once again he was young and wanted to tour so it worked out.
37. Why does For those who dare had just a simple artwork with the bandpic?
David T. Chastain: You need to ask Roadrunner about that. We had no say so on the matter from what I remember. Obviously it wouldn't have been my first choice.
38. The songs of For Those were not so fast anymore and more Mid Tempo, there was also a Cover tune of Barracuda? Do you remember why do you left the path of the first four records at that time?
David T. Chastain: Once again it was a problem with Roadrunner. They wanted to turn Chastain into something it wasn't. They remixed the album after we had already done so without any band member being there. It was the final straw in the Roadrunner situation. Obviously they know what they are doing in some cases but not in the case of Chastain. That situation caused disillusionment for both Leather and myself.
39. For the Title track you shot the only official CHASTAIN Clip of that time (as far as I know), was it worth the work and the money?
David T. Chastain: Yes it was worth it. It did cost a lot of money for the time but since we never recouped it just added to the bill. However it still gets quite a few plays on youtube even after all this time. It is a good song and shows the band's music at the time. It is kind of funny because we used Pat O'brien's brother Danny as the bass player in the video. Harbour couldn't make it up for some reason or another.
40. Especially the time between 1985 and 1990 you released five awesome CHASTAIN records and also two masterpieces with CJSS, beside a lot of instrumental Solo LPs and produced also the Solo LP of Leather. What was going on with you at that period of time, and why do you drop down after For Those Who Dare for so many years?
David T. Chastain: The 90s was the decade of grunge so metal had a very hard time in the US. I still released at least one Cd per year during that decade. You can check out the discography at www.leviathanrecords.com/chasdisc.htm You are right in that I didn't release as much material to the public during that span as I did before. People were always complaining that I put out too much stuff... which is strange when you think about it.
41. Why did the Band fall apart at the beginning of the 90's? Not enough success? Trouble Inside? Or what???
David T. Chastain: As I mentioned previously Leather and I were burned out with all the work we had done during that span. I was looking for a different band/sound with a male vocalist. Not necessarily as Chastain just something different. I auditioned numerous people and no one worked out... so I became the lead vocalist. Actually did a tour where I was doing the vocals and was heading into the studio to do a new Cd with myself on vocals. Then I met Kate French.
42. With Kate French you did 3 albums between 1995 and 2004. But with a different style, very 90ies, bulky and with less crazy guitar attacks. How do you see that era with today's point of view?
David T. Chastain: Sick Society was actually written before Kate came on board and was the material I was touring and singing. Obviously that record really isn't the normal Chastain music. Kate redid a few of the songs and people were shocked. They were expecting the same sounding music with a different sounding voice. What they got was different sounding music with pretty much the same sounding voice. We had Drummer Dennis Lesh (Trouble) and Bassist Kevin Kekes (Damien) join the band around that time. The next Cd with Kate "In Dementia" to me is one of the top 2 Chastain Cds ever. Of course I am the supreme Chastain expert so I should know. That Cd is excellent all the way around. Kate did an amazing job on the vocals and lyric/melody writing. The next Cd with Kate, "In An Outrage" is another good Chastain album but not as good as "In Dementia." We brought on bassist Dave Starr and drummer Larry Howe from Vicious Rumors. Overall is was 3 albums in 9 years. Surprisingly "Sick Society" has made the most money of the three. The music from that album has probably been used on 100 TV shows over the years.
43. With the great Surrender To No One you've created a good comeback, not just as great as the 85/90 era, but also very good and classical Chastain stuff. Why Ken Mary isn't involved in the CD right now?
David T. Chastain: Thanks. We think we accomplished our goal of a classic Chastain record but with a modern sound. Ken Mary is more of a producer now days and I didn't even contact him. I had produced a couple of albums Stian Kristoffersen had played drums on (Firewind and Kinrick) and knew he was a killer modern metal drummer. I knew that is what we needed to bridge the new and old metal sounds. I think it was a very wise decision. Stian plays some very intense drums. I told him before he started to play as much stuff as he wanted to play and if he did too much I would let him know. I only had to tell him to back off a couple of times. If we had used one of our old drummers I think the music would have sounded dated. Leather came in a did an amazing job on the vocals. She is a pro!
44. I think it is very interesting to release an Uncut edition, which is 9 minutes longer as the regular edition. But why didn't you release the Uncut edition in the beginning?
David T. Chastain: Actually it is only about 5 minutes longer. The European version has a bonus track. As a producer I want the music to sound as "tight" as possible so I edited out things that either bothered me or I thought were repetitive. The Uncut version is the original versions of the songs as they were written and recorded. More or less like the Director's Cut of a movie. All songs on Uncut are slightly different and 2 are very different.
45. How are the reactions for the new Chastain CD? Any country with very enthusiastic response?
David T. Chastain: The response has been very positive. I don't think anyone has said "It was the best release of year" but certainly I haven't heard anyone say, "It was the worst release of the year." We definitely gained some new friends. I think people were surprised that the album sounded very modern and yet like a continuation of the previous Chastain/Leather albums.
46. I think it is very remarkable that Leather can sing like 25 years ago and she looks also very fit. What is her secret?
David T. Chastain: Well... one of her secrets is she hasn't been blowing out her vocals the last 20 years or so. In other words she was fresh and ready to go. She is also a health nut and keeps in good shape.
47. I know that Oli weinsheimer wants you to play at that Keep It True, but you don't want that? Why?
David T. Chastain: At this point I don't want to play live except under certain controlled circumstances. As far as KIT goes, I wasn't about to go through 1 month of rehearsals just to play a show in Germany for free. While we were offered a nice sum of money, after expenses, Leather and I would have been playing for free. Money isn't the bottom line and I told Oli even if he offered us $100,000.00 I didn't want to do it. Being a perfectionist is maddening in a live situation. I sincerely don't think I have ever played a song live perfect. Always some little mistake. Even if it is only 1 note out of 1000, it is the one note I remember.
48. Wouldn't that be a great venue for the very first show in Europe/Germany?
David T. Chastain: I don't know. We have been offered numerous festivals throughout Europe... many much larger than KIT. I really have no interest in playing a live show at this moment. Leather is going out in the US and South America as Leather- The Voice of Chastain. I hope that tour goes well because she would love to tour non-stop. I may change my mind and play a show or two but not on this Cd. I have no interest in going out and just playing songs that are 25 years old and 1000 songs back in my catalog. While I wouldn't mind playing a song or two off of an album I am certainly not going to play a whole show of old songs.
49. What about reissues of the old CHASTAIN works?
David T. Chastain: Shrapnel reissued Mystery and Ruler a few years back with bonus tracks. There has also been a reissue of For Those Who Dare maybe 4 years ago. Another label is re-issuing The 7th of Never and The Voice of the Cult in early 2015 with a couple of bonus tracks. They have all been reissued digitally over the years.
50. Beside CHASTAIN you still have a lot of projects in and out of the metal scene. What would you say is your most preferred project/musical style and why?
David T. Chastain: I enjoy them all. I really like whatever I am recording and writing at whatever moment in time I am doing that style. I should clarify: I enjoy the writing and recording of the demo. Once you start actually recording a Cd, that becomes work and can be very tedious. I have heard the song 100s of times before it finally comes out. By then, I don't want to hear again for a good while.
51. Any scheduled for the Future? Maybe a Live DVD of an old 80's Show?
David T. Chastain: Earlier this year we released a live concert of CJSS from 12/31/1986. The concert is up on youtube under CJSS Live at Bogart's. That was a concert that was professionally filmed. It was shot for a TV show. It shows CJSS in top form. No live Chastain videos are planned for release. While we have quite a few concerts from those days recorded they quality is extremely low. Too bad cellphones weren't around during those days!
52. Any unfulfilled wishes with CHASTAIN?
David T. Chastain: Of course there are 1000s of things I wished happened differently. However in looking back over the band's albums I think they hold up well. You can't really go back in time so they are what they are. I am not ashamed of any Chastain album with Leather or Kate. They all have their good points. Musically they are all strong.
53. Anything else to say?
David T. Chastain: Thanks to everyone!! For all the info on the new Chastain albums go to
For info on my stuff personally go
For general info on all of the music go to
The band makes the most $ if you buy and especially if download direct from CD BABY!
Here are 2 full tracks from "Surrender to No One" for everyone to check out!!