DAVID T. CHASTAIN “Metal Knight” 

By Theron Moore

David T. Chastain is one of the unsung heroes of the American metal scene and has been for over 30 years. No one has worked harder to keep metal alive than he has. He has released over 50 separate recordings under his own name and other names like CJSS, Zanister, Spike and Southern Gentlemen to list but a few. A guitarist who can shred in neoclassical style or with plenty of bluesy feeling, the records he did as Chastain and CJSS remain influential to this day.

Not only that, but he is the owner of Leviathan Records, where he produces much of the label’s output. He runs another label called Diginet Music, which specializes in rare and unreleased music.

There have been quiet periods in Chastain’s long history, but never complete silence. Now his name is starting to surface more and more as people realize the impact he’s had on heavy metal here in America. It was a real honor for Wormwood to catch up to this Renaissance Man for a chat…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  You’re from Ohio, correct, where CJSS was originally located?  Where does the conversation start when we talk about the history of Midwest hard rock and metal (1985 to present), whether it’s a national act or a local band.  Who are the stand out acts and who paved the way for today’s musicians, yourself included obviously?

DAVID T. CHASTAIN:  Originally and currently I live in Atlanta but during the 80s and early 90s I was based out of Cincinnati. During those days most of the major cities had pretty decent metal scenes and local bands. Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland all had good metal venues to play. Detroit had the bands Halloween and Seduce. Toledo had Damien. Dayton had Arch Rival. Cleveland had Shok Paris. Columbus had the The Godz. Chicago had Enuff Znuff and Michael Angelo and his bands. In Cincinnati I guess my bands ruled: Chastain and CJSS. However there was another good local band called Lethal and quite a few more that are forgotten with the passage of time. I am sure I am forgetting many bands both large and small. 

WC:  The Midwest seems to be a mecca of sorts for rock N roll, especially hard rock and classic rock.  Why is that, do Midwesterners just appreciate music a lot more, is it a geographical thing, what’s your take on this?

DTC:  No matter what the current musical flavor is the Midwest always seemed to support heavy and hard rock. Those people are just not that influenced by what is going on in New York and LA…. Or at least not as quick to jump on every musical fad that comes along. Heavy rock is just a way to let off stream that other music has a hard time equaling. 

WC:  You’re now in Atlanta.  What’s the rock N roll scene like there, is it alive and well or is it over shadowed by hip hop and pop music?

DTC:  To be quite truthful I have no idea what is going on with the Atlanta scene. I could care less. I never go to shows unless it is some act I am affiliated with one way or another. I’m just not a fan of live music. As a producer I listen to music differently than most people. One reason I don’t enjoy touring is that I know of all the parts that are missing off the CD. Most tracks have 6-8 guitar parts a song. Unfortunately live I am only 1 guitar player playing 1 guitar part… so I miss all of the other parts. It always sounds extremely empty to me.

WC:  In a much broader, maybe national sense, is rock N roll dead or has it just been buried underneath a garbage heap of pop culture?  Is this a problem or a “perceived” problem because of the presence of the internet and social media and how easy it is to get product into the public eye?

DTC:  Rock is nowhere near as big as it was in old days. If you look at Billboard’s Top 200 albums each week, you will be lucky to find a handful of albums that can even be categorized as heavy rock music. Today just about anybody can record a decent sounding piece of music and get it on the Internet in short order. So there is a glut of music that makes it hard to be heard above the noise.

WC:  In the 80’s / 90’s we had major music scenes in L.A. (commercial metal) and Seattle (grunge).  That was prior to the internet existing.  Do you think the presence of the internet and social media today have grown so large and so powerful to maybe negate such scenes happening, again today, as they did back then?

DTC:  Absolutely. In the “old” days you had to create a local following by playing live shows and releasing usually self-financed demos to create a fan base. In today’s world you can put up a video on youtube and if it becomes viral you can get a million views in short order… no matter where you live. As far as I know there are no longer any super musical cities in the US with a lot of great rock bands and venues for them to play.

WC:  Where do you see metal and hard rock right now, especially as the label owner of Leviathan Records?

DTC:  I decided quite some time ago not to release any new CDs that I wasn’t personally involved with in one way or another. It is very hard to sell CDs in today’s world so if I am going to put all the time and effort into a release, it is going to be one of mine. When you sell CDs you make dollars, when you sell downloads you make pennies and when you sell streams you make fractions of a penny. The world moves more towards streaming music as its main revenue source every day. So it just isn’t worth it for us to release new music. There are many great new bands out there but I feel sorry for the ones that they are trying to break into today’s music business. I would have never survived if I started out in today’s world.

WC:  Tell me about Leviathan Records – why did you start it and was there a musical void you were trying to fill with it?  What’s the musical mission of Leviathan Records?

DTC:  I had released a few records before Leviathan Records was formed under my Starbound Records label. They were all recordings with my band SPIKE. After the first Chastain album came out on Shrapnel I was able to make a lot of contacts in the music business. My other band CJSS had just recorded their first album and I figured why not just release it myself. In those days it wasn’t that difficult to release an album and have it be successful. There were far fewer bands trying to get a slice of the pie. I only released product on Leviathan that I personally liked. If Nirvana had shopped their first demo to me back before they became known I would have passed on it. Unfortunately running a label is time consuming. When I started Leviathan my time was split 90% music 10% business. In short order it became 90% business and 10% music.

WC:  Going back to the 80’s with this question, what were you able to do with your label, Leviathan, that, say, Roadracer (whom you were signed to back in the 80’s) or another indie label couldn’t do for you or another artist?

DTC:  When you are on a bigger label such as Roadrunner you are the small fish in a big pond. Whereas if you try to do it yourself you put all of your efforts into it. We definitely sold more albums on Leviathan than Roadrunner in the United States. However if you are a bigger label’s main concern then they will be able to sell a lot more CDs than a small independent. We gambled on going with Roadrunner and in the end it wasn’t a wise decision financially.

WC:  Let’s talk about Chicago band Stygian for a moment.  As I understand it, you produced and released one record of theirs on your label Leviathan. Who discovered who and what did you see in them that led to a record deal happening?

DTC:  The leader of their band James Harris was very persistent about wanting to be on Leviathan and he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. I actually produced a demo for the band before they released their actual Cd. I thought the band was good and wrote some excellent material for the time. Unfortunately, we couldn’t really make them successful. Of course that is par for the course. Almost no band really makes it, maybe 1 in 50,000 at best.

WC:  Was there any talk of you and Stygian going out on tour at all back then? 

DTC:  Not really. Chastain toured on our own and the opening bands were added at the local venue by the promoter. Chastain was a fairly known band at the time and it was a struggle for the band to make a profit touring. We would make a small fortune playing in Cincinnati and use the money made from that show to pay for the losses of going to other distant cities. I remember one weekend was in Cincinnati, then next weekend Boston, the next Houston, then next San Francisco and the next back in Cincinnati. Of course there were cities in between but obviously the travel expenses on that tour were enormous. 

WCs:  Looking back on their record, to the best of your recollection, is it still strong, does it stand the test of time?  With hindsight being 20/20 is there anything now you’d do different with Stygian or their record now? 

DTC:  They would have been better off on a label such as Metal Blade. Leviathan was known more for the shredder guitar types whereas the band really should have been on a thrash metal label. If the Stygian CD was remixed and remastered and released in today’s world it would sound pretty contemporary. Good traditional metal will always have an audience.

WC:  How did Mike Varney find you?  

DTC:  I sent him a tape for his column in Guitar Player. We decided to put together a band around my music. It was an exciting time for all concerned.

WC:  I saw ads for “David T. Chastain” and “CJSS” in every magazine (it seemed like) I was reading back in the 80’s but, with all due respect, it seemed like you couldn’t escape cult status while bands around you, many with less talent, were getting MTV exposure.  What do you think was behind that, because your music has always been nothing less than just amazing,

DTC:  Thanks. I guess I am my own worst enemy. I follow my own path and don’t really worry about the commercial ramifications. I turned down numerous tours because I refused to open up for musicians/bands I considered “inferior.” I also would rather play before 500 Chastain fans than opening for 5000 Megadeth or similar bands fans. I turned down major label recording contracts because they were rip-offs that I refused to sign. Becoming famous was never high on my list. I felt that I was already “too famous” for my local area. I couldn’t go anywhere in public without fans approaching me or showing up at my house… which of course is an honor and flattering but I am a private person and I never felt that I was better than any other person. All I do is play guitar in a band, I am not curing cancer.

WC:  How did you discover Leather Leone?  She was a quite an integral part of CHASTAIN.  And why the split?  But I noticed that you and her did a Cd in 2013, so is she recording with you again in a band?

DTC:  When Mike Varney and myself were putting together the first Chastain band I mentioned to him that I liked female vocalists and he said “I know of an amazing vocalist here in San Fran.” Leather and I did a few demos and we found out we had similar tastes in music. She always did a great job. We did 5 albums and numerous cross-country tours but we just got burned out on the process. We parted ways on good terms… no big fights or anything. We both just wanted to try something new. I invested more time in my solo instrumental career that was outselling the Chastain band stuff at the time. We reformed another version of Chastain in 2013 and have released 2 new albums: “Surrender to No One” and the most recent “We Bleed Metal.” Response has been very favorable.

WC:  Your guitar playing is phenomenal.  Have you ever had conversations with guys like Marty Friedman, Steve Vai or Joe Satriani about collaborating on projects with them?  Maybe doing a tour, like a G3 type of thing? 

DTC:  Actually I hate playing for “musicians” and much prefer playing for normal fans. Musicians are only interested in being impressed… if at all. When Chastain use to tour the radio ads would say, “Come watch David T Chastain blow away Yngwie.” First off it isn’t true and secondly it just made the show uncomfortable for me to play.  I would rather play for fans that know the songs and hot rocker women. Playing for a room full of male musicians is a nightmare to me.

WC:  It’s 2016.  What do we need to know about David T. Chastain and Leviathan Records?  What’s the year looking like so far?

DTC:  As I mentioned we released the new CHASTAIN album “We Bleed Metal” a few months back. I will probably play 1 concert this year in Cincinnati. The second annual “Last CJSS show on planet earth 2.” Last years supposed “Last show on earth” did so well we may make it an annual event. I am always getting tour and concert offers but it is just something that I prefer not to do…. Unless it is too appealing to resist… and so far it hasn’t been.