Readers of Demolish know that I often mention how many great bands and or talented musicians who are from the Midwest and are insanely under rated or somehow managed to fly below the mainstream radar. David T. Chastain is no exception.
As a matter of fact, he may be the defacto reigning “king” of underground Metal guitar. Why underground? By choice! You see Dave decided to take things in his own hands and started Leviathan Records (his own indie record label based in Cincinnati) early on in his rather prolific career. In addition to creating + playing some of the best riffs in Metal, he also produces, writes and promotes the material!
I totally respect Dave for doing his own thing and for staying independent. This choice has given him [and the other bands on his roster] the freedom to create as they wish without any major label pressure. It seems he has always valued producing the music he wants over commercial success. Hats off…
My first taste of his guitar virtuosity was on the excellent début studio album called “Mystery of Illusion” released a couple of years ago on Shrapnel Records (Dave can easily hang with any of the other well-known “shredders” on that label —ed).
Although I was very aware of another Midwestern Metal project of his called C.J.S.S. The name “CJSS” comes from the [last] names of the band members: Chastain, Jinkens, Sharp, and Skimmerhorn respectively.
Having seen this band several times live in his hometown, I can certainly vouch for their kick-ass concerts and energetic performances. I would say between his two projects, he practically wrote the book on straight up American “Power” Metal. No gimmicks, no lipstick, no silly stage props, just straight up/well-crafted Metal songs delivered with impeccable musicianship by all members. These gents are the real-deal.
Welcome to the Midwest!
Join us as Demolish Mag. catches up with David as he is set to release his new instrumental project and candidly provides us with this simple, but intimate glimpse of his life.
You are based in Cincinnati, Ohio—is that where you are originally from? Can you tell us when you started playing guitar and or how long have you been playing?
I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia but I live in Cincinnati now. I’ve been playing for about 17 years now.
Did you ever have a “teacher” or take guitar lessons perhaps?
I am totally self-taught.
Some folks have music “in their blood” and were surrounded by music at an early age, did you come from a musical family?
My sister played piano a little, but it’s pretty much a non-musical family otherwise.
What made you want to pick up the guitar and start playing?
I was just drawn to the music and my friends had already started, so it was just the natural thing to do.
When did you play out for the first time, what was that like?
I had only been playing for about a week and we were playing all original material…we were pretty terrible. The place we played told us to quit playing and they would pay us!
Is there any particular musician or guitarist that has influenced your playing or style?
I’ve always enjoyed the guitar playing of Alan Holdsworth.
Who are some current guitar players that you admire?
Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert, Tony MacAlpine, Yngwie Malmsteen.
You have two different bands: C.J.S.S. and CHASTAIN, how in the world do you find the time to balance these projects?
Presently, most of my time is playing on the CHASTAIN project. In the past two years I spent most of my time on C.J.S.S. I go with whatever project has put out the latest LP.
What do you like to do in your “spare time”. Do you have any hobbies or anything you like to do? Tell us a bit about your personal life [outside of music] please?
Presently I am single with no time really for even a full-time girlfriend. I am really interested in sports and the daily happenings around the world. I like chess when I get the chance.
It seems many guitar players also play other instruments, do you play anything besides guitar and or have you ever tried?
I also play bass fairly well. I play keyboards and the flute adequately.
Being a “shredder” – do your hands/fingers ever get sore from playing so much?
The only time is when I play bass for long periods of time— such as recording.
When creating your music, how do you go about it as far as the song writing and or approach? Also do you write the music or lyrics first and how does your “mood” affect the writing process if at all?
The music always comes first. After that is created, I “feel” the mood of the song and try to create lyrics that match the mood of the music.
Do you write down your scores or guitar tablature?
No. I record them as I write.
You’re all over the fret board in your songs, is it ever a challenge to come up with new songs/riffs or even solos that you haven’t already played before and how do you avoid playing certain leads more than once since your compositions are so intricate and or “complex”?
It is not that hard to come up with new songs but it is a little more difficult to keep coming up with new solos that are totally fresh! There is no way to not repeat yourself to some degree. There are only so many notes and so many combinations. You just have to watch it as close as possible.
Many guitar players seem to rely on speed and not creativity [which make’s their solos sound very repetitive to me], your style has a lot of feel to it as opposed to just quickness, is speed important and how would you describe your style of playing?
I think feel is very important. I think that I have shown that I can play as fast as anyone but I think I add a little more depth than most. I played some blues when I started off and I think that comes thru with my string bends. I really enjoy a lot of different styles of music and I think that comes thru in my sound.
You have just released your latest solo LP, which is an instrumental album entitled “Instrumental Variations”. Can you tell us about this release and was this something you’ve always wanted to do?
No, originally, this was to be my first release with Mike Varney [Shrapnel Records] about four years ago, but we did “Mystery of Illusion” (85’) instead.
Two of these songs were actually supposed to be on that LP.
You played [and even produced] everything—except the drums tracks, which were handled by Ken Mary correct? Tell us about how you selected Ken for the job.
I think Ken is one of the top drummers in the world! We get along well and we work very well together. We also think along the same lines about most things.
It must be a real challenge to create and all-instrumental LP, are there any specific scales or notes that you like to use for creating certain moods?
Yes, all scales create their own “moods”. Most of my stuff is based around the minor scales (and all their variations), which create a “mystical” sound.
Which do you prefer—creating instrumental projects and or albums that feature vocals?
I enjoy both equally and hope to continue to do both in the future.
Your next release will be from your band C.J.S.S. correct? Can you please tell us more about this LP and how is this release going to be different from earlier C.J.S.S. material?
Actually, we are preparing a new CHASTAIN LP.
C.J.S.S. is “on hold”. The new CHASTAIN will be more vocally oriented. I think Leather is the greatest and I want to showcase her a little more. Also with the release of the instrumental album I don’t feel I have to prove myself with a lot of guitar solos. The LP will still be very heavy but just a bit more Leather and a little less me.
Leather and Dave
Do you have plans of touring to support this album?
The CHASTAIN band toured the U.S. over the summer and fall. We will probably do the same next year.
I’ve heard [or read] that you do not like to tour and prefer to stay at home and work in your own studio…
I enjoy playing but I prefer recording because you can usually get a perfect performance on tape. I don’t like travelling in a tour bus all day long when I could be home practicing and writing. I do enjoy the actual playing but not all the torture that goes with it.
Maybe by playing more live gigs or touring abroad you might be able to broaden your fan base. I am sure there are many fans that might get to see you live who would then pick up the album from that experience or vice versa.
Yes it definitely helps sell records. I try to find a middle ground.
You have a local (Ohio) following, I wonder why you haven’t been snapped up by any larger record labels yet? Obviously you have the talent and with each new release, your audience grows that much more—does that bother you in any way?
I am talking to major labels all the time. I just haven’t seen a deal I can’t refuse. I am doing very well on independents and am doing better than a lot of people on majors.
Plus I have the total freedom to do what I want.
Is it true that you hold the attendance record at Bogart’s (Cincinnati) night club? That must feel good as there are some pretty big bands that also play there.
Yes – we have the top five crowds at Bogart’s. We play there once a month and this has been going on for three years and we still draw very big crowds! It makes us very happy plus we make very good money when we play there, which helps support our other dates.
C.J.S.S. at Bogart’s
Describe a typical live show for someone who has never attended such and do you ever get stage fright before you go on?
I never get stage fright.
We just put on a very high energy show where the music is the most important thing.
What goes through your mind right before you hit the stage?
I just make sure that my road crew has all of my equipment set the way it is supposed to go.
Being the only guitarist in the band, does it ever prove difficult to be able to play the songs live just as they were recorded in the studio, or is that a non-issue for you?
Certain songs can’t be done live the same way as in the studio. I think the live songs have much greater energy. I think solos are usually better on record (at least to me).
Tell us about one of your best-ever shows?
I don’t really have a favorite show. Most Bogart’s shows are enjoyable.
You are considered somewhat of a “guitar hero” overseas, are there any plans to tour there and promote your music?
No, not at present.
Your records are released via Roadrunner Records, hopefully they are behind your projects with regards to promo/press?
Yes, both Roadrunner and Black Dragon are very good.
What’s the main difference between C.J.S.S. and CHASTAIN albums? Is it ever frustrating being a full-time member/founder with two bands?
CHASTAIN is heavier and more mystical sounding, where C.J.S.S is a little more aggressive and commercial. It does get confusing for some people.
How would you decide what route to take if one of the bands were signed by a major label, would you stop one of the acts possibly?
I could live with either CHASTAIN or C.J.S.S. and an instrumental project.
What are some of your favorite songs or compositions?
That is a very difficult question. I like different songs for different reasons. I can’t really give an answer to that question.
What project of yours has been the most successful in terms of sales?
The new instrumental album is the most successful. Every record outsells the previous LP, which is good news.
There was song on your 85’ demo called “The More I Get” that did not make it on any albums. That was a personal favorite, will that ever resurface one day…hopefully?
I think that song is too commercial. I know one record company who love’s that song though. Also Fred Coury [drummer] of Cinderella loves the song.
What’s your definition of a “good” song? What does it need?
Since you produce your own music, would you ever like to produce any other bands or projects in the future? Can you tell us about your progression as a guitarist since your release of “Mystery of Illusion”?
Yes, in 1988 I hope to introduce some other acts.
I think I am a better player now. I can do many more things with the guitar .
Have you ever thought about making a video for a song—if so, in what way would you like to represent the band for fans to be able to understand what your all about?
Basically a live video.
A “real” video is very expensive to make. C.J.S.S. did a very good live video that was supposed to be for sale but it got tied up in litigation.
I’ve been to several of your shows recently and noticed you were playing some B.C. Rich guitars live, do you endorse their products? If so, how are they customized for you or do you play them stock? What other guitars do you play?
I did until recently. I have gone back to my Kramer. I just play that guitar better than any guitar. My B.C. Rich’s were customized to some degree.
Is there any type of advice you could give to younger musicians who are just starting out?
- Learn music theory
- don’t copy anyone else
- Try to create your own songs
For the many guitarists reading [and aspiring guitarists], would you care to divulge info about your pickups, the strings you use and what tremolo system you prefer? What about other gear, such as amps, effects etc.?
- I use DiMarzio pickups and strings.
- I use a Floyd Rose tremolo.
- I also use Marshall cabinets,
- Lab Series amps and many other devices.
Do you use the same equipment in the studio to record with? What about guitar synthesizers, do you think they will ever appear on your future recordings?
I don’t think so. I play real synths when I have to.
What are your future goals and or what do you see yourself doing in five years?
Only instrumental LP’s and being more involved with the business and production side of the music business. I still will be playing forever!
Thank you for allowing us to interview you – we really appreciate your time. Is there anything else you would like to add or say to the Demolish readers before we go?
Please spread the word on CHASTAIN!!
*David T. Chastain is a man of little words no doubt. I wanted to bring it to your attention that this was not a live recorded interview. Dave was cool enough to answer these questions via a typewriter! So that is why his answers were very “to the point”.
This also shows the integrity of the man. Not very many musicians of his caliber would even speak to an unknown editor at an unknown Metal ‘zine, much less [manually] type answers to over fifty questions!
He has released about 50 recordings under multiple names, including:
David T. Chastain
Georgia Blues Dawgs
The Cincinnati Improvisational Group
Ruud Cooty and Southern Gentlemen
(accompanied by female vocalist Leather Leone)
In more recent years, David has worked as a record producer at his own company, Leviathan Records. His label specializes in discovering and promoting new talents, specializing in guitarists and bands. He also runs Diginet Music, a company specializing in rare, unreleased or out-of-print music.