If Nick Bowcott were asked to compile a dictionary, the illustration he'd give to the workaholic' would be the subject of this article. The devotion David Chastain has shown to his chosen calling. Nick discovered was unparalleled...
DTC: Maybe I'm suffering from a rare disease, but music is my life and I have to be involved with it all the time--24 hours a day, seven days a week, 364 days a year! I've been playing the guitar for nearly 18 years now and I've practiced every single day of that time. Each day of my life is totally career orientated--I normally wake up at about 1 pm-- I'm basically a night person you see--and from that time until about seven in the evening, I deal with band and record company business. I then practice, write and arrange until three and then I spend a couple of hours answering fan mail before going to bed. Obviously if I'm on tour or in the studio my schedule is different, but it's still all work. To be honest, the only time I really go out is if there's band playing nearby that's worth checking out. The trouble is, once I've been at the concert for a while I end up feeling guilty because I start telling myself that I could have been spending the time working on some new songs.
NB: David's dedication is verging on obsession, but what makes it even more remarkable is the fact that his efforts are more than easily matched by his output which can only be described as prolific. David leads two bands simultaneously--CJSS and Chastain--and between the two of them has released five albums within two years. Impressed? Well, you ain't heard nothing' yet. Somehow the guy found time to record his debut solo album-- a guitar based tour de force entitled Instrumental Variations--which hit the stores at the tail end of last year. What's more, by the time you read this the fourth Chastain album, 'The Voice Of The Cult', will have been released in this country on the Roadrunner label. Aside from being the guitarist involved in the aforementioned glut of projects, David is also the songwriter, producer and leader for all of them. But whilst CJSS is based in his home town of Cincinnati, the line-up of the Chastain outfit is scattered across America and this means that he often has to travel from coast to coast in order to oversee and record the band's latest albums. Quantity doesn't automatically imply quality and, bearing in mind the fact that most artists only release an LP every 12 to 18 months (or in some cases even longer), the adage is certainly understandable in this case. Having said this, to this writer's ears at any rate, Chastain's writing/arranging skills are maturing in the same way that a good wine does--he certainly isn't spreading his talents too thinly over the multiplicity of pies his fingers are planted in! He seems to have a musical creativity on a par with his industry's output. As a result, the high quality of his compositional work is consistent and I recommend you give his sixth vinyl outing a listen, 'Instrumental Variations', on the Black Dragon label, catalog no. BD 029, and let your ears decide. It's also worth considering the fact that David's recorded efforts have generated sales in excess of 140,000 units in the last 18 months alone--a feat that becomes even more impressive when you realize that all his albums have been released by independent labels. If you're into the Yngwies and Vinnie Moores of this world then one listen to either Capriccio In E Minor or Wild and Truly Diminished from the aforementioned 'Instrumental Variations' album will leave you frothing at the mouth and begging for more. So how old was he when he first started playing the guitar?
DTC: That's a tough one to answer. My mother gave me a guitar when I was really young but I'm not sure how old I was when I 'officially' started playing. All I know is that for the last 17 to 18 years I've dedicated most of my life to the instrument and as far as I'm aware I haven't missed a day's practice yet.
NB: Can you recall what inspired you to start on the guitar?
DTC: Well, when I was really young and used to listen to the radio or my sister's records or whatever, the lead guitars parts were the things that got me most excited about a song. I'm not really sure about the reasons that lay behind me focusing on this particular aspect of the record, I suppose it was a built-in homing instinct. Then as I got older, some of my friends started to play in bands and I used to pick things up in from them.
NB: Was your first guitar an electric or an acoustic model?
DTC: Like I said, my mother bought my first guitar and it was one of those really cheap acoustic guitars--you know, one of those that had the strings about an inch off the fretboard and was virtually impossible to play. So, even though that was my first guitar so to speak, I didn't ever play it because, well, you couldn't play it. Once my mother realized that this guitar was a piece of junk she went out and bought me a cheap electric guitar that wasn't that much better but at least it was playable. So, I banged around with that for a while and then traded it in for a bass guitar and played that for a few months. I then traded the bass in for a Gibson SG and I figure that was more or less when I started taking the guitar seriously. I was well and truly hooked on the instrument.
NB: Tell me, was the guitar your first musical instrument or had you studied piano or something earlier?
DTC: Well, when I was really young I played trumpet in the school band (laughs). That was a long time ago though I can't remember anything at all about the trumpet now--if someone handed me one today I wouldn't have the slightest idea what to do with it. Also my parents had a piano at home and I used to bang on that but I couldn't really do anything of any consequence on it apart from maybe Chopsticks. So to be quite truthful, the guitar was the first instrument I played and got anywhere near competent on. Since then though, I've spread a little into playing keyboards and the flute. Actually, approximately ten years ago I was really into the flute as well as the guitar and I used to practice on it every day. Unfortunately, once I started to travel around a lot, it became pretty much impossible to keep practicing on the flute and that caused me to lose interest in it pretty much. Nowadays, I practice on my flute about once or twice a year. I still play keyboards though and I'm good enough on them to be able to do all the keyboard parts on my albums. The guitar is definitely the main thing for me, next in line is bass, then further down the ladder is keyboards and right at the very bottom is flute.
NB: Are you a self-taught player or have you taken lessons at any stage of your playing career?
DTC: I've never taken any lessons in my life. What happened was someone showed me the basic open position chords and I took it from there. When I first started playing, myself and some friends used to get together and jam and I think that experience really helped me in the early stages of my playing. As I said, it was basically a big jam session and I learned a great deal by trial and error.
NB: You must have studied music theory at one time or another though, judging from your playing and songwriting...
DTC: You're right. Even though I'm totally self-taught I am quite knowledgeable on the subject of music theory. When I was growing up I used to read a lot of music books and I studied compositions well. I also used to drop in on theory classes when I was at college. As far as I'm aware, I know most of the modern scales available and I know all about keys and their relationship to scales, transposition, modulation etc. as well...Yeah, I'd like to think that I was pretty well educated in music.
NB: You mentioned earlier that you haven't missed a day's practice in the 18 or so years that you've been playing guitar seriously. How many hours a day do you practice on average?
DTC: In the early stages of my playing life, say the first two or three years, I was probably doing an hour or so a day. Then after that, from say the third year through to the ninth year, the practice sessions got heavier and I was probably doing five to six hours a day. Since then I guess I've been averaging two to three hours a day. I'd like to do more actually, but as I try to take care of almost aspect of my career I don't have the time. By the way, the hours I've mentioned don't include the time I spend practicing with bands, I've just told you about the number of hours I put in by myself.
NB: What sort of approach do you adopt when you sit down for a typical practice session then?
DTC: Usually, what I do nowadays is pick up the guitar, put on the drum machine to some specific beat and then jam over that. This normally results in me coming up with some ideas for songs and I keep them if they're any good. I don't have a set routine for practicing like some players do, I more or less jam with myself to come up with songs and solo ideas. Having said this, if I feel I'm falling into a rut at any time then I go through the 90 or so exercises I've devised for myself. Doing this stops me stagnating.
NB: So, unless you feel that your standard is deteriorating, you don't work on scales and the like?
DTC: Yes and no, my last answer was touch misleading I guess. For example, over the last 18 months or so I've become quite involved with the full diminished scale--not the half diminished scale--not the half diminished scale that everyone seems to be using in rock. Actually, there is a track on 'Instrumental Variations' that is called Wild and Truly Diminished and that is my answer to all guitar heroes out there who play scales which they believe are diminished when in reality they're only half diminished. No one seems to play the half tones. The full diminished scale is a very odd scale. It's a cool scale, and too many people are leaving out half of it. I also use the full diminished scale in the last part of my solo on the CJSS track Don't Play With Fire (this track can be found on the CJSS album, 'Praise The Loud'.) To be more specific, for the part of the break in question, I tuned a harmonizer to a minor 3rd and then played the section through it--the result sounds pretty cool! Sometimes when I'm practicing I make a point of working on a particular scale form that I don't use that much and try to work it into my solos and also my songwriting if possible.
NB: When you first started playing the guitar, which players or bands influenced you?
DTC: Obviously, when I first started out, the big guitar gods at the time were people like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and all those guys. The funny thing was although I thought all those guys were great, for some reason what they were doing was never my aim--even when I was just a beginner. Then all of a sudden I heard John McLaughlin with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and I was really amazed by the things that this group of individuals were doing. Consequently I got more into that style of music and then Allan Holdsworth came along and he became the ultimate guitar player as far as I concerned--he still is actually. I've loved all the work he's done over the last 12 years or so.
NB: I hope you don't mind me saying this but his influence is quite noticeable in some of your lead breaks...
DTC: Thanks, I'm glad to hear that it comes through, I try to attack some of my breaks using his type of mentality--by this I mean coming from more of a fusionistic standpoint than a classical one. As a result I employ some chromatic type stuff and try and execute it with this type of feel, which is more in the metal vein.
NB: So, correct me if I'm wrong, but I get the impression that you've never actually sat down and ripped off one of Holdsworth's runs note for note, but you've absorbed his point of view at regards to soloing...
DTC: Exactly. You may find this hard to believe but in my entire life I've never picked a lead guitar break off a record. I probably could if I wanted to with certain solos but I've never done that. Even when I was playing in 'cover versions' bands I would use the lead break as an excuse to take off and do my own thing. I certainly haven't ever tried to copy any of Holdsworth's work which is something I probably couldn't do anyway! If I hear a player I like then I'll listen to him and try to utilize his interpretations in my own style somehow.
NB: Quite a few rock magazines have put you in the same category as Yngwie Malmsteen and Tony MacAlpine. Does this form of pigeonholing bother you in any way?
DTC: Obviously, to be mentioned in the same breath as those guys is a huge compliment, but I definitely don't think anyone can seriously claim that my style relates to either of those players, especially Yngwie. If you listen to his work you can hear a strict classical influence in a lot of what he's playing to the same degree. Sure, I use harmonic minor scales and stuff like that, but I don't employ them in the classical sense as rigidly as he does- I think my playing is a little freer than his. My approach is more modern or aggressive, whatever you want to call it; I'm more rock influenced than Yngwie, I guess. As for Tony MacAlpine, well, I don't feel that he is strictly as classical as Yngwie is. I also think that he's got some of the Holdsworthian blood that I have! Having said this, I still feel my roots are more rock based than his. My material is a lot heavier--in the metal sense--than Tony's.
NB: Do you feel that guitar playing should be treated as some form of bizarre competition?
DTC: In my opinion, once you reach a certain level of proficiency it comes down to taste- it depends on what the listener actually likes. There are certain aspects of the profession that could be measured competitively though. For example, maybe Yngwie's the guy who can play scales the quickest and Tony is probably the best musician in the field, because he can play keyboards as well as he can play guitar. Basically I think each one of the top young guitarists has got an aspect of their playing that they can do better than the other guys. Then again, in six months it's highly possible that someone will emerge who blows us all away in every department! I definitely don't think any guitarist can claim to be the best, though, because musical taste is so subjective.
NB: You are the driving force behind two bands, Chastain and CJSS. Furthermore, you're songwriter and producer for both projects. Would you mind giving us a brief history lesson to explain how this unusual division of labor arose?
DTC: I used to be in a band called Spike, which was basically a commercial type metal band. We were based in Cincinnati and stayed together for a couple of years in which time we put out an album and also appeared on two radio station compilation LP's. After some time, myself and two of the other members of the band (Mike Skimmerhorn on bass, and Les Sharp on drums.) decided that we were tired of being so commercial so we split from our singer and formed a new less commercial band. This happened in the summer of '84 and that was when Spike became CJSS. We found a new vocalist, Russell Jenkins, and then recorded some demos and sent them to Mike Varney (the head of Shrapnel Records and the Guitar Player magazine columnist who is responsible for discovering Yngwie Malmsteen and Vinnie Moore to name but two.) Anyway, Mike really liked my guitar playing but wasn't in love with the whole band. Because of this he put together a group for me and that was basically the birth of Chastain! Actually, Mike Varney does this with most of his signings because he feels that nearly every group has one or two weak members and he is a great believer in having strong players in every position. The first person Mike put me in touch with was a girl singer named Leather, and we hit it off straight away. Leather has an amazing voice and Mike had been trying to build a project around her for some time without much luck. Anyway, it just so happened that she liked my material and my playing and I thought her singing was incredible. Also, as soon as I heard her I knew that her voice was perfectly suited for the Chastain project. The two of us were joined by drummer Fred Coury (now the multi platinum Aerosmith clone band Cinderella.) and the CJSS bassist Mike Skimmerhorn, and we recorded the debut Chastain album, 'Mystery of Illusion', during November/December '84. Actually, the band didn't meet face to face until we all got to the studio! Initially, the Chastain project was a one-off type of thing and as soon as the recording was over I went back to working with CJSS. When 'Mystery of Illusion' came out in March '85 it did fairly well and because of this I had a number of labels inquiring about signing up Chastain for another album. I told them that Chastain was already under contract but I had another band that wasn't signed and sent them all the CJSS tapes. As a result of this I started getting offers for CJSS and before long we had secured a contract. So CJSS went into the studio and recorded the 'World Gone Mad' album (available on Black Dragon records in this country, catalog no. NR 335 BD 007.). By this time the line-up was Leather, Skimmerhorn and, because Coury had been recruited by glamsters Cinderella, the drummer stool was filled by on Ken Mary. Actually Ken (Mary) is also the full time drummer for Fifth Angel and who plays for Alice Cooper as well. Once this was done I went back to CJSS and recorded their second album, 'Praise The Loud' and then it was back to Chastain for 'The 7th of Never' record and so on.
NB: Tell me a little bit about your recently released solo album, 'Instrumental Variations'...
DTC: Believe it or not, I'd been planning to do an instrumental album for nearly six years. It's something that I've always been too busy for because of Chastain or CJSS. I've always enjoyed performing instrumental songs and to introduce my fans to this aspect of my writing I included an instrumental cut on CJSS's 'Praise The Loud' album and also did one on Chastain's '7th of Never' LP. Actually one of the main reasons behind me calling my solo album 'Instrumental Variations' is to let everyone know that it is an instrumental album right off the bat. The material on the record is pretty diverse because I wanted to make sure that no two songs sounded alike: even though the stuff on the album is mostly metal orientated, there are definite traces of fusion, classical rock, blues and even thrash present. These elements have combined to form quite a unique sounding record and, even though I say it myself, this mixture has helped make this LP a lot more varied than most other instrumental records out now.
NB: Aside from being your sixth album release in 30 months, the other thing that makes 'Instrumental Variations' somewhat unique is the unusual way it was put together. Could you tell us a bit about that?
DTC: I have a small studio set up in my house and I demoed all the material there with me playing all the parts over a drum machine track. We then went into Counter Part Creative Studios in Cincinnati and transferred my recordings on to their machine. I then replaced the bass track and a lot of the guitar parts but we did keep some of the ones I'd recorded at home. Once we'd finished all the guitar and bass work, we flew to Seattle with the tapes and went into Steve Lawson's studio and Terry Date (who has also worked with the Elektra Recording artists, Metal Church.) did the mixing.
NB: Do you intend releasing an instrumental venture on a regular basis from now and then?
DTC: Not at present I don't think. I only really plan to do an instrumental LP every now and again. I'm certainly not aiming at making every third record an instrumental one...unless of course it outsells the others massively! If that does happen then I'll reconsider, but right now I can only plan on doing one every two to three years.
NB: Judging from your description of your activities over the last three years or so it's obvious that you've spent the bulk of your time bouncing from one recording studio to another. Do you get much time for live work with either band?
DTC: Not really, no. I've done more gigging with CJSS than Chastain so far through. CJSS is amazingly popular around the Cincinnati area--we can sell out a local 1,200 sear venue once a month, at the drop of a hat. Although Chastain hasn't done much gigging, we've played some pretty prestigious concerts recently. Last New Year's Eve for example, we supported Kiss at a sold-out concert at Hara Arena in Dayton and it was a truly memorable occasion. Just before we went on stage, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley popped into our dressing room to say 'Hi' and to wish us good luck. That means a great deal to me because they're both superstars and the fact that was quite flattering because certain other supposed stars wouldn't bother to give you the time of day! After that they both stood on the side of the stage and watched our first few numbers. I think Paul almost had a heart attack when he saw Leather cut loose and run up and down the ramps, set up as part as the Kiss stage set! Also, Chastain are scheduled to support Alice Cooper at Cincinnati Gardens soon and that should be great (the show in question took place on January 13th 1988, ten days after Nick talked to David..). Unfortunately, because Ken (Mary) was playing with Alice, he won't be doing our set as well--that would be too much to ask of anyone. As a result of this, Les (Sharp) will be sitting in with us on that night. I'm very aware of the fact that live work plays an important part in building a band's reputation and following, and for this reason Chastain will be doing some serious road work once our latest LP has been released. I also hope to do some touring with CJSS this year too.
NB: Will your English fans have any chance of seeing you over here with either band this year then?
DTC: I'd dearly love to play in Europe and England, but because both acts are signed to independent labels, finances might not allow us to come over. CJSS has got quite a following in certain parts of Europe but we have a large stage show and we aren't prepared to scale it down in order to do a low-budget tour; it wouldn't be fair on the fans. Playing in your country is a big ambition of mine and hopefully I'll be able to do so in the not too distant future.
NB: Do you ever have trouble writing new material in view of your extremely tight schedule?
DTC: Not at all. For the last six years or so I've been writing an average of an album's worth of material every four to five weeks. For this reason, recording a new album every six months is nothing to me. If you think about it, an LP will contain between eight and ten songs, so when you break it down it's not as tough as it may sound. I'm totally dedicated to my musical career and because of this I put everything I've got into it. Luckily there's always a massive quality of original material flowing through me and I'd say that I've probably written over 600 songs to date! Obviously for every album I make there's a throw-away factor--for each record we probably have 30 to 40 songs prepared and from them we choose about nine. In the future I'll probably review all the stuff that didn't make it onto vinyl and use the good ones somewhere else down the line. I guess when it comes to songwriting you can either write a good song or you can't. It takes some artists two years to write an album of good songs, but not me. It all boils down to quality of your output and also the amount of time you devote to your art. With me it's my main priority and for this reason I could write three or four songs a night. I've never had a problem coming up with a quantity of new material although some people might not like the quality (laughs loudly)! For example, if I had to have an album's worth of material by this time tomorrow then I could do it--I wouldn't get any sleep, but I'd get the job done! Basically my whole existence is based around writing songs and putting out albums.
NB: As you are such a prolific writer, how do you store your vast back catalog of songs? Do you write them out on manuscript or in tablature, or do you merely tape them?
DTC: To be quite truthful, although I consider myself to be pretty much 'up' on the technical and theory side of music. I cannot really read or write music very well, and because of this everything I do is from hand to tape. My house is full of cassettes containing new material. At present, I think I've got something in the region of 25, 90- minute tapes that are full of song ideas I haven't used yet.
NB: I've seen several pictures of you playing different guitars--a red Kramer with Floyd Rose tremolo, a BC Rich, a Flying V, a Les Paul and even a transparent Plexiglass 'Strat'! What are you using at present--do you have a main guitar or do you chop and change?
DTC: Firstly, the transparent guitar you mentioned is the one on the cover of the CJSS 'World Gone Mad' album which I personally have never seen. It was just used for the photo shoot. In my earlier days I was a 100% Fender user but for some reason I got to the stage where I just couldn't handle them any more. I then moved on to an early 70's Gibson Les Paul before buying a 1982 Kramer Pacer from a friend because I wanted a guitar with a Floyd Rose system on it--that's the red one I'm pictured with a lot. Although this guitar has got a couple of dead spots on the neck where the notes don't ring properly, I keep going back to it--don't ask me why, there's just something about that particular instrument I guess. Actually, I signed a deal with BC Rich a while ago and they've made me some really nice custom guitars--I keep creeping back to that faithful Kramer though! The Flying V you mentioned is something that I used to use a long time ago but I keep it around 'because it's good for press pictures!
NB: I take it you're a Floyd Rose man when it comes to tremolo set-ups, judging from the pictures I've seen...
DTC: Yes sir, I like the Floyd Rose system a lot more than the Kahler alternatives.
NB: How do you have your Floyd bridge set up, is it floating or not? DTC: I have my Floyd bridges set up so that I can take a note up quite sharp if I wish. Actually all my bridges are on a forward slant and for this reason I have to physically band my tremolo arms in a vice in order for it to sit comfortably relative to my picking hand. If I leave my bars bent in the way they come from the factory then the end of the tremolo arm lies too close to the guitar body.
NB: What make and gauge of strings do you use?
DTC: I use Dimarzio strings call 'DD Ultra lights', and the gauges are 008,.011, 014, 022, 030, 040.
NB: From the photos I've seen it looks like you use Dimarzio pickups too...
DTC: Yes I do, they're not stock models, they're custom ones. Larry (Dimarzio) sends me a bunch of pickups every time I need one and I pick the best sounding one and then send it back and ask them to alter it so it has more treble, less bass or whatever. This process carries on going until the pickup sounds exactly the way I want it. Dimarzio have been really helpful to me and they're great people to work with.
NB: So what sound does your 'perfect' pickup produce then?
DTC: That's an easy one to answer, my perfect sound has that old Holdsworth tone, similar to the one he achieved when he was in Gong.
NB: Once again, judging from pictures I've seen, I'd guess that you're a Marshall man when it comes to back line. Am I right?
DTC: To be quite truthful, no! I know why you've made the mistake though, because a lot of live shots show me playing in front of something like 27 Marshall cabinets and 24 Marshall heads. Most of those are dummies through which we use to create the illusion of power. Believe it or not I use Lab Series amps, although having said all this I do use Marshall cabinets.
NB: Do you use Lab Series amps in the studio as well?
DTC: Pretty much all the time, yeah. I will occasionally experiment with other amps if I'm after a slightly different or unusual sound though.
NB: How about effects?
DTC: I don't use any pedals but I do use a couple of rack mounted Ibanez delay units, one of which is set up as a harmonizer.

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