Chastain – Return of Miss Leather Part I

Wednesday, 20th November 2013

Before the internet, metal heads had to scramble to find out about the latest bands. Usually a combination of whatever magazines we could get our hands on, radio shows that may specialize an hour or two a week on the subject, or raiding our friends record collections would help clue us in on what we needed to buy with our meager money in record stores.

I remember reading a series of interviews on guitarist David T. Chastain back in my teenage years from Aardshock America and Faces promoting his third Chastain album, The 7th Of Never. Within days I went to my local Strawberries outlet, found said album and bought it. Then went back and bought the two albums with his other metal outfit CJSS, as well as the early two Chastain albums on Shrapnel Records. Chastain would be the more ‘Euro-centric’ of the two bands, fronted by the female vocals of Leather Leone. Never had I heard a voice so fierce, so gritty, yet so powerful- her tone and melodies rivaled any of the best metal vocalists going down the power pike at the time.

Twenty-three years beyond her last Chastain album, Leather returns to the microphone for the comeback album Surrender To No One. She hasn’t lost any of her chops during her self-imposed respite from the scene, nor her love for the genre. Her professionalism is outstanding, which made this interview on a Sunday afternoon a total delight. Read on to learn more about the history of Chastain, where she’s been in her downtime, and what the future holds for one of the best metal bands you need in your life if you love old school US power metal.

Dead Rhetoric: What influenced you in your early years to start singing and developing your talent? Did you look equally to male vocalists as well as female vocalists to shape your delivery and technique?

Leather Leone: When I was in 8th or 9th grade I remember somebody turning me on to Heart at a friend’s house of my brother’s, he was a drummer, and I remember going “Holy shit,” wow. Because I had been singing, but in upstate New York I was really into Elton John, Ambrosia, Boston, I was really into rock radio back then, REO Speedwagon. I did start getting into Stevie Nicks, but I always related to the male vocalists, that was just what I was introduced to. Led Zeppelin as well. I remember being impressed though by Ann Wilson’s power range. I went to a vocal coach a couple of times when I was really young and I told her I wanted to be better than Ann Wilson, and she taught me a really great lesson, that I can’t do that, you can never say you want to be better than anyone else, you just have to work on your talent and being the best you can be, and that made a deep impact on me.

Dead Rhetoric: With drummer Sandy Sledge you start an all-female metal band Rude Girl in the San Francisco area. Tell us about those early times sharing the stage with bands like Suicidal Tendencies and Megadeth, as well as your interaction with producer Sandy Pearlman and the seven year record deal offer with Columbia Records that was wiped out due to the band’s demise?

Leone: Oh god, you know too much. Rude Girl was an all-girl band, we thought that we were pretty tough. Megadeth wasn’t that bad, we used to play a series of clubs out here in the Bay Area, and they were called the Key Clubs, rock clubs that were in San Jose and Berkeley. Megadeth were cool, but I don’t remember having a lot of interaction with them. I was always blown away by Dave Mustaine, but that was back in the day when he was very wasted. The band that was really scary was we played a club called Ruthie’s Inn opening for Exodus. I thought I was this tough chick singer…wow. I think by the end of the set we got [the crowd], but the yelling and booing and throwing we took it all in stride. I didn’t care – somebody was talking about us, it was a great training ground. I learned that not everybody is going to like you, and learned not to take this personally. It always used to want to make me work harder, to make people want to check this out and that I could sing just like the guys.

Sandy Pearlman.. I was so young, I could kick myself because I didn’t understand a lot at the time. He brought us into S.I.R. Studios, and we laid down demos for him. The sense I got from people is they weren’t looking at us and saying “Wow- what a bunch of talent.” They were looking at us more from a chick promotional thing. I was at the office with my pen in hand ready to sign the deal with CBS, and the other girls were late so I walked out and never looked back. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Dead Rhetoric: Mike Varney put you and David T. Chastain together to record the first Chastain album- what do you remember about the offer that intrigued you, and did you mind the distance in terms of how the band would function with you being in California and David keeping his home base in Cincinnati, Ohio? You seemed to be one of the first bands recording in a ‘satellite’ way during the 1980’s that made it work- was it due to David’s meticulous pre-production demos or the professional aspect of all the musicians involved?

Leone: The thing that intrigued me is that somebody else actually wanted to work with me. I didn’t really visualize it that way, but back in time it was not a female friendly atmosphere in metal unless you were singing that mass popular rock style like Stevie Nicks. I loved Mike Varney, I trusted him and never really thought about the distance. I was available to run around. I heard Chastain, he sent me a bunch of demos for the material that would make Mystery of Illusion, I fell in love with it. I called David the “jig-master” – that European neo-classical stuff, I just loved it, and when I put my vocals on it I thought it really worked. I didn’t mind the idea at all of hopping on a plane every month, and then when I started looking into things I was totally gung ho about it.

David is meticulous but he always allowed me, even back then, the freedom. He would let me do my own thing, he was very open vocally. He would tell me to just go in and do what a singer would do. Him doing his guitar parts and hanging out with drummer Fred Coury back in the day, yeah he was very meticulous. I used to look at these people that were all these skilled, schooled musicians, and I was just this singer. I go by feel, I have no formal training, and if you asked me to sing in C I wouldn’t know how to do it. I really learned a lot from them, but I’ve never felt any restrictions from him.

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