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Interview with guitarist, songwriter and head of Leviathan Records David T. Chastain

Interview conducted by MetalMike

Date online: November 8, 2018

David T. Chastain was a force during the golden age of heavy metal back in the 1980s. He was putting out music via his bands Chastain and CJSS, his solo albums and collaborating with other artists, lending not only his skilled playing but his prolific songwriting abilities. In the latter half of the decade, he branched out to form his own record label, Leviathan Records, which led him to sign a deal to release Manilla Road's Out of the Abyss album. It also brought him into contact with the driving force behind Manilla Road, Mark "The Shark" Shelton. The two began collaborating on some songs written by Chastain and enhanced with Shelton's vocals and lyrics. These tracks have been unheard by the public for 30 years and even though they are still in "demo" form, they've been dusted off and released by Pure Steel Records as The Edge of Sanity: 88 Demo Sessions. The Metal Crypt reached out to David to learn more about his career and these Shelton/Chastain tracks.

MetalMike: Hey, David, thanks for taking some time out of your always busy schedule to answer a few questions. How are you?

David T. Chastain: My pleasure. Things here are generally the same. Write a song. Record/Store song. Forget about song. Write another song and the cycle continues.

MetalMike: You've been around the Metal scene for a long time, going back to at least the early '80s. What made you decide to pick up the guitar in the first place? You're known for your highly skilled playing and even started out with Mike Varney's Shrapnel Records label where guys like Jason Becker and Marty Friedman rose to fame. Are you a natural with the guitar or has it simply been a lot of hard work?

David T. Chastain: I was always attracted to the sound of the lead guitar even before I picked up the guitar. Once I did, I became pretty serious about it. I never was all that interested in playing other people's songs and immediately began composing my own songs. Of course, they weren't the greatest but it got the ball rolling. I definitely have passed the "10,000-hour rule" practice threshold. With that said I always considered myself a songwriter foremost and a guitarist secondary.

MetalMike: Most Metal fans are familiar with your band Chastain and classic releases like Ruler of the Wasteland and The 7th of Never. Fans may not realize you also had the band CJSS and a string of solo releases as David T. Chastain. Today, it is no big deal for musicians to be in multiple bands but back then it wasn't so common. What was the reasoning behind so many active recording entities?

David T. Chastain: As I mentioned above composing music is as easy to me as breathing. So there is always music around. No joke, I am sure I have 1000 hours of unreleased musical ideas in my closet right now. Chastain, CJSS and my instrumental stuff were all metal but quite different to my ears.

MetalMike: Another thing that has changed since the '80s is the increased inclusion of women in Metal (though there is still plenty of work to do) but you were one of the pioneers, employing Leather Leone in Chastain. How did her participation with the band come about and what was it like back in the '80s touring with a female singer?

David T. Chastain: Mike Varney introduced us to one another and the rest is history. Back in the old days many metalheads did not take female vocalists seriously. Yes, it is much more common nowadays, so it is no big deal.

MetalMike: By time of the CJSS debut World Gone Mad and Chastain's The 7th of Never, you'd formed your own label, Leviathan Records, which expanded beyond your releases to include other artists. What prompted you to create Leviathan? What were some of the highs and lows of being the head of a Metal record label?

David T. Chastain: Starting a record company is as easy as saying, "I have a record company." I learned some things from Mike Varney by observation and realized back in those days it was fairly easy to get it up and running. It is much more difficult today because there are so many more acts and far less audience for metal. Unfortunately running a label is a big-time hog. Before the label my time was 90% Music and 10% business. Once the label took off it became 10% of my time for music and 90% for business.

MetalMike: Leviathan Records was the original label for Manilla Road's Out of the Abyss album back in 1988 and that partnership was what ultimately led to the songs recently released by Pure Steel as The Edge of Sanity: 88 Demo Session. Had you met Mark Shelton prior to signing Manilla Road, perhaps via Shrapnel Records? They did contribute the song "Flaming Metal Systems" to the U.S. Metal Vol. III compilation Shrapnel released in 1983 which wasn't long before you released the first Chastain album.

David T. Chastain: To be honest I don't recall how Mark and I first met. Once we did, we had mutual respect for each other as musicians. I assume they approached me about releasing "Out of the Abyss" as at the time Leviathan Records was doing quite well in the US.

MetalMike: You were listed as Executive Producer on Out of the Abyss. What was it like working with Manilla Road and what were your responsibilities as Executive Producer?

David T. Chastain: I don't think I did a lot other than finding them a good studio and making a few suggestions here and there. That was a long time ago and many, many releases past. Mark knew how to guide his band, so I didn't really have to make a lot of suggestions.

MetalMike: As we now know, you and Mark collaborated on the songs that have finally seen the light of day on The Edge of Sanity release. Where did those songs originally come from? Did you and Mark write them together or were they tracks brought in by one or the other, possibly leftover/unfinished Manilla Road or Chastain/CJSS songs?

David T. Chastain: As I said above, I am constantly writing music. Generally, one song a day. I probably sent him one song just to see what he could do with it. Once I heard it, I knew we needed to do more. I don't recall writing the music specifically for Mark. Just like when I had CJSS and Chastain after I wrote a song I would go, "That would be a good Chastain song or CJSS song." It was probably the same on Mark's songs. I just "knew" he would do a great job on a particular song. I have no idea where he would get his inspiration for the lyrics. Mark was a deep thinker and very intelligent lyricist.

MetalMike: According to Pure Steel, these tracks were found in Mark's vault. Were you aware the recordings were still in existence and what was your reaction upon hearing them again after 30 or so years?

David T. Chastain: Of course, I knew of them. I have had the master tapes all these years. As much as there were "master tapes." Actually, a couple of years back I posted a couple of the tracks on Facebook when I spent a month posting an unreleased track a day. I just never considered them release worthy because they were just demos with a drum machine. I knew the actual music was incredible. Mark and I discussed just posting them somewhere and letting everyone have them but a couple of labels wanted to release them, so we tried to get them to sound as good as possible with what we had. My band Zanister actually recorded a version of "The Edge of Sanity" on our first album around 2000. That was always one of my favorite songs I have ever been involved with.

MetalMike: What was the experience of working with Mark on these songs like? Your playing styles seem like they would be from different schools. Did you each learn things from the other and were there times when you or Mark had to put your foot down about the way you wanted something to sound that the other didn't agree with?

David T. Chastain: I don't recall any sort of disagreements on anything. The only thing I can think of is that he liked to spell the word Magic "Magik" in his lyrics. I had to ask him earlier this year if he was sure he wanted it that way as my spellchecker was always complaining! HA! We both respected what each other and brought that to the project. I recorded the music and he had no real say in it. He recorded the vocals/lyrics and I really had no say in it. We each did our own thing and it just happened to work really well. I am not sure why we never did anything with it. I imagine it is because of what you mentioned above. I already had three different recording projects and I was getting criticized for already have too many CDs. I believe we were just doing it because we enjoyed it. We had no real plans for anyone to ever hear it. We were just doing what we did. Mark has comments on the release at that he sent me literally the week before he passed. I am so glad I received those.

MetalMike: Are there any additional songs in your archives from this collaboration?

David T. Chastain: Actually there is a 16 minute "Orpheus Descending" to go along with the 12 and 21-minute versions on the CD. Mark also recorded a "Guitar Master" album for my label Diginet Music back around 2000 that he plays guitar on and I am the bassist. We may reissue that at some point. Mark and I were discussing that earlier this year, but our main concern was getting out The Edge of Sanity. Guess we both thought time was not an issue.

MetalMike: I would guess that you were already working on this release when Mark tragically passed on July 27th of this year. What were your thoughts on his passing and did it have any impact on The Edge of Sanity? What makes this release important?

David T. Chastain: I was shocked as I was in touch with him a day or two before it happened. We had been planning this release all year ever since Phil heard the music and he wanted to put it out on his cassette label Postmortem Apocalypse. After it happened, I wasn't going to release it but Phil and Pure Steel thought we should to honor Mark since he was all for it to be released. So I feel it is a tribute as well as a gift to his fans. Mark was very happy with his vocals on this release. We discussed about maybe going into the studio and rerecording it, but Mark didn't think he could sing the songs any better than is on the demo.

MetalMike: How has the reception been for The Edge of Sanity? Has it been better or worse than you expected?

David T. Chastain: I have heard nothing but positive comments on the release. But then again who is really going to talk bad about someone who just passed away? I know the music is top notch. It always has been. I guess people could complain about the recording quality, but we are letting everyone know that it is a demo and not to expect a studio quality release. I guess I would rather have a below par recording with great music than a million-dollar recording of crappy music!

MetalMike: What is next for you? It's been a few years since the last Chastain album and even more since you put out anything under CJSS or a solo record. Do you have anything in the works? Leather Leone put out her second solo record this year; will she be a part of Chastain's next effort?

David T. Chastain: I spent 2018 getting out a lot of things I had lying around that needed to be heard. Lots of remasters. I think that will continue. I actually have a demo of CJSS playing Chastain songs that is quite interesting. In the old days CJSS would demo up everything and Mike Varney and myself would decide where the tracks would go. I do have numerous albums of music written for Chastain. Just takes getting the energy to go thru the process of finishing them up. In today's music business it is very hard to make any money for bands on our level. So you work 100s of hours and make .004 cents per play on Spotify. In the US CD sales are miniscule. LP sales have increased but they are less than CDs. So we will see... I have quite a few more demos similar to "The Edge of Sanity" with other musicians.

MetalMike: As someone that has been in the business for a long time, you've obviously seen a lot of changes. What do you miss about the '80s and what has changed for the better?

David T. Chastain: As I tell people in old days when you sold CDs you made dollars. With downloads you make cents. With streaming you make fractions of a cent. Today's marketplace is saturated, and it is difficult to be heard above the noise. What is easier is that you can post something on the internet and reach a very large audience for basically no cost.

MetalMike: With all your experience, is there any advice you would give to young musicians today?

David T. Chastain: I must admit that I can't really give any advice to a young musician of today because I really don't know the "modern tricks" of the business. As far as musically I would tell them to try to be as original as possible and don't emulate anyone. Be yourself, if possible. If you are writing music and it "sounds" like someone else ... delete and move on.

MetalMike: I want to thank you again, David, for taking some time to talk about your career and your collaboration with the now sadly departed Mark Shelton. Thank you for making sure fans got to hear the Shelton/Chastain tracks. All the best to you and your future endeavors! If there is anything we didn't cover, please let us know and don't forget to let the fans know where to go to find out about your music. Cheers!

David T. Chastain: Thank you. Enjoyed the intelligent questions. People interested should visit as that has about everything I have ever recorded ... that I haven't pulled off the market!

Other information about Shelton/Chastain on this site
Review: The Edge of Sanity - 88 Demo Session

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