ILL-Literature Magazine

Issue 11


interviewer: Marco Barbieri

I believe that guitarist David T. Chastain is truly underrated. I say this not only because he is a magnificent guitar player but also because of he is a talented songwriter, producer and a businessman running his own label, Leviathan Records, for the last decade. Personally, I feel like David has never received his due for any of the above despite a plethora of material that he's put together over the last thirteen years. After the release of the "greatest hits", Movements Thru Time, a few years back I wanted to do a piece on the man but was unable to actually get it together till now. Good timing, nonetheless, I think it actually worked out well considering that Chastain have just issued another album, Sick Society, their first in five years. I spoke with David from his home in Atlanta for ninety minutes about a variety of topics and I think we cleared up any stereotypes, misconceptions, and tried to make his confusing and myriad catalog of releases and bands a bit easier to comprehend.

:So you have a new album out, Sick Society, and it's your first as Chastain, in five years. Why the length of time in between releases?
DTC: After the last Chastain record, For Those Who Dare, in 1990 I had become a bit disillusioned with the Chastain band and its intentions to do another band record so I did several instrumental records. I was looking for a male singer to start a new project and after 2-3 years of never finding one I could work with or who met my standards, I got to the point where I became the lead singer and we did a tour down in Mexico. Then a week later I met Kate (French) at Foundations Forum '94 and she gave me a demo tape. I thought it was very good and I flew her into Atlanta and then I decided to resurrect Chastain band because she has a voice similar to Leather's (Leone-original Chastain singer). When people heard about the new record they thought it would be the same music with different vocals but instead it's different music with similar vocals.

When Kate approached you was she familiar with you and the band?
DTC: Yes, she was a fan of the Chastain band and obviously Leather was one of her favorite singers. She wasn't there to weasel anyone out of a job, she just gave me her demo tape. Obviously if I worked with Leather I was open-minded to working with female musicians.

It's interesting because I never knew you were searching for a male vocalist. Did you consider working with Leather again?
DTC: We had done five albums and we get along fine. Not that we were ever romantically inclined, but to use this as an example, you've been with a girlfriend so many years and the excitement is no longer there so I was looking for something different.

Is Leather completely out of the business?
DTC: I don't know because I haven't seen her since 1990. She's a great talent and very picky with who she plays with and a lot of people are hesitant to play with female musicians so that reduces her options. As far as I know she's sitting in the Bay Area not really doing anything.

How do you feel about the timing of the new record?
DTC: I was hoping the musical mood of the country would swing back to a more traditional style but I can't let the climate force me to wait or rush a record. Fortunately in the rest of the world it's not quite the same situation. I think there's an audience out there and we've been getting a good response. I still think people want to hear somebody play and sing on pitch. Even if the record didn't get released in the U.S. I knew we could do fairly well overseas.

Who has the record in those territories?
DTC: In Europe it's on Massacre and in Japan Teichiku. I know Massacre fell apart here, but they are a very good label in Europe. They brought us over for a week to do a promotional tour and response was very good.

You said the music has changed but the vocals are similar, what has changed about the music?
DTC: One of the reasons I did not enjoy Chastain at the end was that some of the material we were playing live was pretty sophisticated and you really had to be on the ball to whip it out all night long... everywhere we were playing it was 'come see the guitar whiz', most of the audience was musician-types and that's not the most fun audience to play for because you're constantly getting judged and they're waiting for you to mess up. I wanted to play something that was simpler for the band to play in concert and that would be much more enjoyable for me live and I wouldn't be under so much pressure. I've always enjoyed real straight-forward, heavy stuff and I am a fan of Black Sabbath, which is very simple stuff.

I can hear that influence on this record, even though Chastain has always had a dark and heavy feel, this one is even more brooding, heavier, crunchier than before. I think a lot of people would perceive it more along the lines of metal bands in the '90s, i.e. Pantera and White Zombie?
DTC: We were definitely looking for a more contemporary sound, not only musically but also in the production. I changed the amplification I was using to get a more crunchy sound, the guitars are down-tuned to C and I really wanted to maintain a heavy rhythm guitar sound and have it power the record. We wanted to attain a sound similar to a Pantera record.

Will this band tour, and who will play bass since you played bass on the album?
DTC: We are doing dates in the mid-west and we hope to do some on the East coast and in Europe. The bass player is Kevin Kekes from Damien--he's a big supporter and a good friend and we're happy to have him.
Maybe it's because I'm on the West coast but it doesn't seem that either you or the Chastain band has had much live experience, am I correct?
DTC: The Midwest has always been the strong area. It's least likely to jump on musical trends but we have played L.A. on three different tours. We haven't done any touring since 1990 so it's easy to get the impression that we haven't. It's been difficult for us to make it to the West coast but we hope to play some dates but we won't be out for nine months. We almost always do headline shows aside from the occasional opening shows. We've done arena shows with Kiss and Alice Cooper and we did three shows with Black Sabbath. We were never offered things that appealed to us, looking back we should have taken some tours... we were offered Megadeth back in '86 or '87 but we turned it down, which was probably a mistake.

I wanted to concentrate on your past both as an individual and the different things you've done because for the most part it's confusing with all the different bands and band members and various releases. How was it that you became interested in playing?
DTC: My sister had records around and I was excited by the guitar and eventually I picked it up and started jamming with friends.

You did a record, The Price Of Pleasure, with a band called Spike in '83, that's probably not your first band but the first you recorded with...
DTC: First band I did a full-length album with.
That's right because prior to that you appeared on a couple of 7"'s, can you tell me about those?
DTC: (Laughs) I don't think I want to tell you. There's three of them an I was also on some compilations from a local station in Cincinnati. It was all very local and they were all self-released. They were all recorded in the early Eighties and it was pretty commercial rock, some had some ripping guitars but the lyrical content was trite. The first real record was Chastain-Mystery Of Illusion in '85.

Who put out the Spike album?
DTC: It was a label we had ourselves and we have since reissued it on Leviathan (Records-David's own label) on cassette in '91. It was just for people in the area, we never even offered it to our distributors so it's available only through mail order.

Was the CJSS band Spike?
DTC: Three of the members were from Spike, myself, Mike Skimmerhorn and Les Sharp- Russell Jenkins came from a different band. I was in Spike and we had done a record and some touring and we were making a good living but we were playing cover material. We were going into clubs playing three sets a night. I have nothing against that, but I was tired of it and wanted to do all original material and live or die on that merit alone and that's what CJSS became. We were a tremendous draw in that part of the country, especially in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus, and we were making as much in one night as we were making a week doing covers. In the Midwest the best concert club is Bogart's, and CJSS still holds the attendance record. That was the band I tried to get a recording contract for, and Mike Varney (owner of Shrapnel Records) heard the CJSS stuff and did not like the singer or the drummer but gave me a solo contract and that's where Chastain band came from, and even though I never intended to have another band I could not pass up a national release. After that I got a lot of personal interest and I tried to swing that all to CJSS and we started getting some interest outside of the United States so we decided to start a label in the U.S. called Leviathan. I had a friend who was pretty wealthy and he would put up all the capital and I had a few contacts and that's how Leviathan was created.

So initially it could be said that CJSS was your real band and that's where your heart was at?
DTC: Yeah, Chastain was a studio project but it got such a good response that we had to create a band to do the touring. CJSS put out two records in '86, and both did pretty well but the singer (of CJSS-Russ Jenkins) got very religious and fell in love and the band was never the same after that. I'd book concert and call him up to tell him about it and he'd have to ask his girlfriend if he could play it, so I said, 'to hell with it.' I had Chastain and Leather was very gung ho and Chastain was a bigger band so I put all my effort into that and I also started releasing instrumental records at that time.

To clarify something, if you were in Spike and you wanted to play original material and you took two members with you, why didn't you just retain the name?
DTC: I wanted a complete break from Spike and originally I only wanted to take the bass player, Mike Skimmerhorn, with me, who in Spike was the lead singer and rhythm guitarist. When I went to CJSS he went back to his natural instrument and though I didn't intend to bring (drummer) Les Sharp into the band it worked out that way. Spike was a cover band and I wanted Russ Jinkens because he was probably the most popular singer in the area and we worked well together.

Mike Varney's involvement came to you simply as a player?
DTC: I had sent tapes to him in the early 80's when he had said he wanted to release a record. With CJSS he thought the material was good but he didn't like the vocalist or the drummer and we started looking for other people. He got Fred Coury to play drums, who later went on to Cinderella, and really played some great stuff on that record (Chastain's Mystery Of Illusion) and you'd never know it was him. (Varney) sent me a tape of a bass player who I didn't like but they had a girl in the band who I liked and he said if I wanted a girl singer he knew of a better one named Leather who blew her away. Leather and I started talking and we had the same influences and same general view and we turned it into a band and did the album.

I agree about Fred Coury because I think his playing on there is pretty good, yet what about all those stories of how he never recorded with Cinderella in the studio because of his meter?
DTC: When he did our record he was 19 and he had meter problems but the producer didn't give a damn about that because his high points outweighed his low points on that record. As far as Cinderella, he joined the band after the first record was recorded, the second record was produced by Andy Johns and he is psychotic about drums. The last Cinderella was recorded at the same studio I used, and he had gone through three or four drummers and forty master tapes reels. There was even some great drummers that came in and he wouldn't allow them on the record.

How did you justify at the time having the two bands and what would you say made each one different?
DTC: Chastain was the heavier and darker band where CJSS was an extension of Spike and was a little more commercial. CJSS had the potential to become bigger of the two, where I never thought Chastain had that ability. CJSS was intended to be the main band and Chastain the studio project but it just flip-flopped around.

You never thought after Russ' problems to continue with CJSS, instead you just put the band to rest to concentrate on Chastain and yourself?
DTC: To be truthful, when your band has initials you are kind of limited. To tell you the truth, we did search out singers with J's in their name. When Russell came back down to Earth in the latter Eighties we demoed some material. The first couple records were mine (the music) and I wrote half of the lyrics but at this point Russ was writing full songs as were Skimmerhorn and Sharp. People need to realize your first song is not your best and that you need to write ten or twenty before you write good songs, so instead of fighting that battle or putting out a record with inferior material I decided not to record another CJSS record. Originally Voice of the Cult was intended to be a CJSS record.

How did Mike Varney feel investing in Chastain when CJSS was your priority, since you even went as far as starting your own label and putting out two other records the same year as the sophomore Chastain release Ruler of the Wasteland?
DTC: He probably had some problems with it and he used to make fun of the CJSS band, but those first two records outsold the Chastain records in the US at the time. We were going through Roadrunner in Europe and I was in touch with them and they wanted the CJSS records but Black Dragon Records, had them and they had a lot of ads and the records did well. The main reason they did well in the US was we had a large loyal local following.

Both CJSS albums have different sleeves overseas?
DTC: Yeah, they just did not like our covers. They also did a different cover of the Chastain record The 7th of Never. I never took it personally.
The first two Chastain were through Shrapnel and then the next two through Leviathan was the deal only for two records?
DTC: Yes, I like Mike (Varney) but I thought he didn't give a damn about the fans and his only appeal was to guitar players. He never even released the Chastain on cassette until a few years later and he never released either one on CD. He didn't do anything to promote his records and I thought I could do it better than he could. I fell in with the same distributors he used and I thought I could do more for our bands and make more money. I have no regrets about that.

To ask you further about Leviathan you started licensing things from Europe like Manilla Road and Candlemass, both of which were on Black Dragon?
DTC: Actually Manilla Road was on Leviathan and we sold it to Black Dragon but they had the worldwide rights to the first Candlemass (Epicus Doomicus Metallicus). They offered it to us and we had never intended to release records other than the projects I was involved with but Candlemass had a good following and it did pretty well and is good catalog item. The basis for what we release is whether I like it and not if it's going to sell a ton. More or less what Leviathan does nowadays is release two to four records here in the U.S. and then we spend most of our time licensing bands to foreign territories and we do that for 20-30 bands a year. Every day there are bands who record their own CDs in good studios and they don't now what to do with them but from my years in the business and my constant research we get them deals.

It seems in the last few years you have taken the idea of establishing bands but many bands on the roster like Simple Aggression, Stygian and Full Circle despite good exposure with both advertising and press have not been able to make a name and each has been affected by line-up changes.
DTC: Unfortunately we are not able to get them on big tours and I think that's the problem. I think if Full Circle could have gotten a Machine Head tour it could have done better. It's a very hard marketplace. Eight years ago there were a hundred heavy releases a year and now there is that many a month and the market is shrinking. It's very hard to get noticed.

Returning to you, you followed all this group work with an instrumental album, Instrumental Variations?
DTC: Before Chastain and CJSS, while I was in Spike, I had recorded numerous instrumentals and Varney wanted to release those. In interviews I started talking about this instrumental album and people started asking me about it so I went into the studio and almost didn't release it but that record bought me this house I live in. It did very well worldwide and I got lucky because one of the songs became a theme song for a radio show in Japan. It still sells today and it got me the most acclaim of all my records.

That was also the time when Shrapnel was at its height and the whole guitar god, neoclassical thing was in and was that something you wanted to be a part of, and do you think you've ever received your due in that genre or the respect you deserve as a player?
DTC: Well, I've never been on the cover of any of the guitar magazines but I don't like that competitive situation. My music is different than that of a lot of those players because my records are heavy metal where I don't think theirs are and I believe that my songs are more structured and not just set up for guitar solos. Once again I always put out what I'm happy with and if other people like it, that's great, but I'm not out there to prove that I'm the fastest gun in the West.

Did you ever want to join any exciting bands?
DTC: No one notable, like Ozzy, has come up to me and asked me if I wanted to join their band. I had the chance to audition for those slots in that era like Dio and Ozzy but I wasn't that interested at the time. It may sound weird, even though Ozzy is a living legend, it would be hard for me to hear him sing those songs every night.

You said at the time, what about now?
DTC: The only job I ever actively pursued was when Adrian Smith left Iron Maiden. I thought that my style and songwriting could really fit but for me to join an established band, it would have to be... I don't want to use the word 'lucrative', but if I left Leviathan would fall apart. Obviously if Metallica offered me the job, I'd be there tomorrow.

In the late '80s Chastain wound up getting signed to Roadrunner?
DTC: Actually we were sill signed to Leviathan, but Leviathan signed the records over to Roadrunner. They were handling us in Europe and Japan and they wanted to buy the label or sign the group and we worked out a deal where they could have Chastain and the offshoots. We figured going from our operations of a couple guys to label based in New York with a staff, we'd sell a lot more records, but we didn't. We sold the same amount and if we just sell them ourselves we can make a whole lot more money so it wasn't a good situation and we had a lot of disagreements between how the records should sound. They wanted us to sound like we mixed at Morrisound, real rough, real raw like it was recorded in some garage and they had someone totally remix it without anyone from the band there and it does not sound the way it needs to.
Whose idea was it to do the Leather solo album: hers, yours or Roadrunner's?
DTC: All three. Leather is a different personality than me. It really bothers her that she's not on the cover of RIP magazine so she wanted to do something to get herself more noticed and obviously the way to do that was for her to have her own little project. We probably made a mistake by getting me too involved in that because it pretty much still sounds like a Chastain record. It was on Roadrunner and she was calling them up every day telling them they were idiots because she wasn't in Hit Parader, stuff like that, and there was a lot of tension.

How was it recording the Chastain records, because they were done at different studios with everyone in different places across the country, and why was it approached that way?
DTC: The way I record records, other than the first two Shrapnel records, I more or less record the entire record at my house. I play everything with a drum machine--bass guitar, rhythm guitars, lead guitars, and as time progressed I've been able to get some good sounds like on the new record as opposed to Within the Heat where the guitar sound isn't very good. I do it that way, I can record whenever I want to and don't need to worry about paying a hundred dollars an hour in a studio. The drums are the last thing recorded, everyone does their part to a drum machine and then you have to have a drummer who does have perfect meter who can play over it. You get a more perfect performance from the musicians but you may lose some of the spontaneity.
You've released a bevy of material over the last decade, if you could have done something differently what would it have been? Also, what are your favorite and least favorite albums?
DTC: The least favorite, not necessarily because of the material but because of the mix, For Those Who Dare. The favorite record, aside from the new record which you can't be objective about, would have to be The Ruler of the Wasteland as far as the group and material, as far as the guitar playing The 7th of Never. If I could do something over again I would have liked to have accepted the major label offer to see what path that would have led to.

Really? Tell me about that.
DTC: We were offered some major label deals for Chastain in the latter '80s, probably the most notable was Elektra Records. The agreements are just so ridiculously slanted towards the label's advantage that I could not sign in good faith. It's a well-known fact that only about 5% of the bands on major labels see any money because their deals are so lop-sided. They sent me the contract and I looked over it, without even taking it to a lawyer, and they said mark out the clauses you have a problem with and we'll negotiate and I said I have a problem with every clause.

Where do you see yourself headed?
DTC: Well, being a part of the record label I don't have the pressure most bands have of selling enough records to do another record. I know I can do another but I hope that this one will warrant another CD with this line-up because I'm really happy with it. But if we only sell 100 copies in the US it will do well enough in Europe and Japan regardless. As far as me personally I'd like to do another vocal record and I want to put more time into Leviathan Records to see where it will go. When I started I was putting 90% of my time into music and 10% into business but now it's probably flip-flopped. I literally work eight to ten hours a day just on business, mainly international.
Finally, can you tell me about the other David Chastain?
DTC: I've never seen the Dave Chastain Band personally but I saw a poster of them on the wall someplace and they looked like Lynyrd Skynyrd. The guy did call me, I get the feeling he's trying to be a Stevie Ray Vaughn type but I never heard him. He said that every time he plays someone shows up bringing in an album and wants a signature. I'll get a call here once in a while and someone will say 'I hear you're playing down at the Rusty Nail in Blaire, Nebraska?' I say that's not me! That is the reason for putting the "T." in the name.

The Band

Solo and other assorted bands