Chaz Leon of Kings of Thrash: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Chaz Leon Interview

Feature Photo by Black Rose Photography courtesy of Chaz Leon

An Interview with Chaz Leon of Kings of Thrash

By Andrew Daly

If you’re a metal fan – unless you live under a rock – surely, you’re aware of the cyclone surrounding all things Megadeth. To that end, you’ve probably become aware of the fact that former Megadeth alum David Ellefson (bass), Chris Poland (guitar), and Jeff Young (guitar) have teamed up to form Kings of Thrash.

For the uninitiated, aside from their common (past) struggle, the preeminent members of Kings of Thrash are bonded through the music of Megadeth, leading them to celebrate two of the band’s earliest records, Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! (1985) and So Far, So Good… So What! (1988). But the members of Kings of Thrash didn’t realize how well they’d be received, leading to a brotherhood that includes Chaz Leon (guitars) and Fred Aching (drums).

Leon is of focus, specifically, as he’s managed to stand out amongst the chaos, ably standing chest to chest with these legends of thrash metal. As a young shredder, Leon is something of a utility player in Kings of Thrash, doing what’s needed aka, riffs, solos, and more, all the while soaking up the immense songsmith and fretwork of the likes of Young and, at times, Poland.

As Kings of Thrash continues to rise, Chaz Leon dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to talk about his beginning on guitar, his early love for Megadeth, playing alongside David Ellefson, Jeff Young, and Chris Poland, as well as the latest on Kings of Thrashe’s forthcoming original music.

What first inspired you to pick up the guitar?

First inspired to pick up the guitar after seeing Slash in the Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” music video. Still beyond epic to this day! Once I started playing, my primary influences were Megadeth and Metallica. Of course, Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield’s rhythm style and all of the Megadeth lead players! Marty Friedman, Chris Poland, and Jeff Young are my personal favs. Also was a big fan of David Gilmour, Eddie Van Halen, John Petrucci, Alex Skolnick, and Dimebag!

Recently I’ve been on a bit of a Jeff Beck trip as well as listening to a lot of CCR and Opeth.

Take me through how you first became involved with Kings of Thrash.

It was a trip! The Whisky A-go-go does an Ultimate Jam Night every month or so, where musicians from all over will gather in Hollywood to pay tribute to certain artists. For example, they’ll do Eddie Van Halen, Sammy Hagar, Women of Rock, etc. It turns out David Ellefson was in town and had been in contact with Jeff Young about doing a few Megadeth songs for an Ultimate Jam tribute to the Big Four of thrash metal, and they needed a singer/guitar player.

One of the organizers of the event, Jessica Chase, was a mutual friend of the three of ours and knew I have a Megadeth tribute band called Woke Up Dead where I sing and play guitar, so she put me in touch with Jeff Young. Jeff and I talked on the phone and had maybe one or two Skype Jam sessions, and then we all met at the Whisky the day of the show, with Mike Heller stepping up to play drums.

We rehearsed a few times ‘unplugged’ in the back hallways of the Whisky, hit the stage, and Kings of Thrash was essentially conceived! The show went well, and right after David Ellefson told me about his idea to perform all of Killing is My Business and So Far… So Good… So What! and I said sign me up [Laughs]!

Describe your approach within the band. Have you always been a fan of Megadeth?

I am a huge Megadeth fan, particularly of the period that Kings of Thrash are covering! My approach when covering Megadeth is to try and pay tribute to Dave’s style from that era. No one can sing exactly like another person as no two people have the same voice, so I don’t try to copy him per se, yet I try to channel some of his aggression and attitude and put my own spin on some of the things. It’s a lot of fun!

What songs do you like playing most live? 

Ah, so many, but personal favs: “Skull Beneath the Skin” is just a crushingly aggressive song, especially when performed by our drummer Fred Aching. “Loved to Death” is also a ton of fun because it’s so wildly manic yet groovy at the same time. Looking Down the Cross is very challenging to perform but has such a sinister, moody vibe, especially during the intro. Those are probably my top three favorites to perform.

What have you learned playing alongside David Ellefson, Jeff Young, and Chris Poland?

What haven’t I learned!? So much about the business, about being tight with singing and playing, etc. David and Jeff have a lot of great songwriting tips. Jeff has shown me some things to clean up my guitar technique and a lot about sweep picking. Chris is the tone wizard and fretboard master! In particular, I am such a fan of Chris Poland’s humility. For such a monster of a guitar player to have his positive attitude is something that I think all younger guitar players can learn a lot from!

Which recording or recordings mean the most to you and why? Which best represent you?

Well, I am only on our one recording so far, Kings of Thrash Live from the Whisky A Go Go coming out on March 24 on Cleopatra Records. So, I guess that one means the most to me [Laughs]. For Megadeth albums, my personal favorite is a toss-up between Rust in Peace and Peace Sells.

Chaz Leon Interview

Feature Photo by Black Rose Photography courtesy of Chaz Leon

What new music are you working on? How has your approach to the guitar changed since your earlier years?

Kings of Thrash is working on the original material. We have a number of songs that I think the fans are really going to enjoy; in fact, one which we will be performing on our current Thrashin’ USA tour! Overall, as I’ve grown as a guitar player, I really try to pay attention to the overall song and how my playing can complement what the other band members are doing. Whether that’s adding a certain lead or harmony or some contrasting rhythms under a solo or even just laying back and not playing at all. There’s a time and a place for everything, so to speak.

Describe how you achieve your signature tone and vibrato. Do you feel vibrato is as important as it’s made out to be in terms of being a calling card?

I think it all depends on the player. I personally love vibrato, but I don’t think it’s necessarily important in terms that every guitar player must have good vibrato. If it fits within your style and feels natural, go for it! If not, you don’t need to force anything.  

What guitars are you using now? Do you prefer vintage or new? Is there one guitar that means the most?

For Kings of Thrash, I am using two Jackson King Vs. One with EMG pickups and the other with Seymour Duncans. I prefer the Duncans. For metal, I prefer newer, more modern gear. Overall it depends on the project. If I am doing more classic or hard rock-sounding stuff, I’ll most certainly be open to experimenting with more vintage equipment.

Do current trends alter your style and technique at all?

I do try and keep up with some current trends simply because I believe music must always continuously evolve. I’ll listen to something like Periphery or Intervals just to hear their approach to doing something different. Or I’ll go the opposite direction and go back in time to hear some of the trends of the past that have gone by the wayside or fallen out of style. Of course, I have my roots in the ’80s and ’90s, metal and hard rock, which will always be the core of my playing, but I am not afraid to branch out.

How do you stay inspired?

One of the things I love to do to stay inspired is watch live music. That’s where it’s at for me. I love seeing how musicians perform live and play off of each other. I enjoy it more than listening to albums, actually. Seeing what they can pull off live and hearing how it sounds on stage. If I can’t see a live show, I love watching videos of live concerts on YouTube!

Chaz Leon

Feature Photo by Black Rose Photography courtesy of Chaz Leon

What amps and other gear are you using? Are you okay with Kempers, or do you prefer tube amps?

Hughes and Kettner Grandmeister 40 watt head. I love it! Small, portable, but powerful. Easy to use, and it has a digital aspect for effects and storing tones, but it also has the feel of a modern tube amp.

Personally, I have nothing against kempers! On the road, too much gear can quickly become the enemy and lead to chaos, so I am all for simplifying things. Modern Kempers sound marvelous as well. That said, you can’t beat the feel of a good tube amp. For recording, I definitely prefer tube amps and a more analog sound. But on the road, keep it simple, in my opinion.

Are you a pedal addict? If so, which do you like?

Negative! For me, more gear = more problems! Just kidding! Nah, I am not an addict. I’ll use whatever is necessary. But overall, I like to keep things simple.

Are there any guitars, amps, or pickups that you don’t like? If so, why?

Hmmm, I am in a good mood now, so I can’t think of any. I mean, you definitely want to use good equipment, don’t get me wrong. Cheap gear gets cheap results. But I also don’t think you have to go crazy about it. 

What’s next? Will Kings of Thrash record new music?

Kings of Thrash is one week into our five-week Thrashin’ USA tour, and it’s going great! We’re planning on taking the show overseas and down south, so keep following us for updates! As mentioned earlier, we are recording new music and should have some material out very soon!

Chaz Leon Interview

Poster courtesy of Chaz Leon

Chaz Leon of Kings of Thrash: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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