eMusic Selects: Deastro
No offense to eMusic’s previous Selects artists, but I get the sense that the only one of the bunch that could become a genuine pop star is one Randolph Chabot. Under the name Deastro, Chabot writes the sort of pop songs that make you swoon – and then wraps them in a hyper-colored gloss of synthesizer sturm und drang. M83 is a reference point for Keeper’s, his eMusic Selects release, but it’s not quite accurate: Deastro is M83 plus Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. And giraffes. And a tiny bit of Nick Drake as well.
When you meet Chabot in person, however, there’s not even a hint of Nick Drake about him. He’s a chatterbox, eager to talk about art, books, music, social work and the one time as a youngster that someone scaled a giant inflatable Clifford at a community pool. (“He was a God to us. We sacrificed other kids in his honor,” he tells me, finishing up the answer to a question that had been offered minutes before.) He’s charming in the way that people who are really into stuff — and want to tell you all about it — can be.
Now 22, Chabot made his first album when he was only 12. It’s one he still listens today. “I hadn’t heard a lot of music then, so it’s nice to listen to something that was unfiltered by other influences.” But after years of working in the studio alone, he’s finally getting a band together. For now, they live down the block. “It’s cool to walk a couple houses down and get together and work on stuff.” Soon, they’ll be living together, though, as part of an effort called ARC (Artists Revitalizing Communities). The organization seeks to “end intellectual attrition” in Southern Michigan by encouraging like-minded individuals to move to Pontiac and create a scene there. In a world that now seems to be far more interested in globalization, it’s a conscious throwback to indie rock’s beginnings, where art flourished in the unlikeliest of places — and made those communities more attractive to live. An amazing musician and a social conscience? Yep. This guy’s got pop star written all over him.
On his musical beginnings:
I got my first guitar when I was five. My uncle bought me this really nice one, although I don’t remember what brand it was. I remember this one time, he put me in front of this Marshall half stack and then he went into his room and played this huge Drop D chord directly into his amp and it was so loud, but I was like, “Oh, wow, that’s so awesome.” He taught me some songs, chord structure.
I only had it for a couple of months, though, because I had this friend who is simultaneously the greatest person and the craziest person. You love him and you hate him. But love definitely more than hate. But anyway, he was playing Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in our basement and jumped off a chair and roundhouse kicked my guitar. I didn’t get another one until I was 12. I got a classical guitar, which is something I’ve been into ever since.
On his family.
My dad was really into drugs and music before he became a Christian. So he’s seen both sides of the story. My dad is kind of like this fusion between conservative and crazy at the same time. He’s an amazing guy, though. When my mom was pregnant with my baby brother, he taught us how to do 360′s in the parking lot of the hospital. I think more than anybody, my dad taught me how to take risks.
I remember one time we got had just gotten home from school and he pulled up in his car (which was weird, because he worked and it was early on in the day) and he was like, “Get in the car! We gotta go! Pack a little bag, we’re leaving.” We were so confused, but we ended up in Kentucky and saw Mammoth Cave, totally on a whim. I have an awesome family. I was home-schooled and my mom was really weird in her own way, but really, really cool. She’s the best cook ever. I think if my music really starts to suck, I’m just going to use my mother as a lure to invite bands to play with me.
On getting into electronic music:
I made my first electronic album when I was 12. My friend got me copy of [computer programs] Techno DJ and Acid and I just went crazy. There was this matrix where you could type in the notes and a Roland key piano. You’d have to ask my mom how long it was, but I just spent months trying stuff out. I still listen to those things that I made all the time for ideas and I still really dig it.
What did you call yourself?
I was DJ Shield, because that’s what my name means in German. Or it means Wolf Protector. I also had another electronic project called Veleciraptor. I seem to have a knack for picking out names that are also taken by German metal bands.
On what he’s been listening to lately:
I love Christopher Willits. He’s my hero pretty much. I’m also really into Steve Reich’s new album, The Daniel Variations. I’ve also been listening to Luigi Nono, who is this Italian minimalist composer. The new Why? album is amazing. So is the new Dosh album. Yeasayer, HEALTH, Beach House. I’m into so much stuff.
On the last dream he had:
I had a dream the other night where it was a friend of mine’s birthday party and she said she was making cheesecake. She said that I could have a slice of it before the birthday party, but that I just had to make sure that I brought it back. But then I went to the birthday party and left it on the dashboard of my car and it melted. And then I woke up.
I worked at Taco Bell when I was 15, which is probably against labor laws, but there was this random thing. There was this lady there who was from Russia, but was still a Communist, so she would always be trying to convert us. It was the most amazing job I’ve ever had. You met the weirdest people there. This guy came in one night and asked for no onions on his bean burrito, and my manager put the onions on the burrito on purpose, because the guy was kind of being a jerk. And the guy came back and was really mad. “Who put onions on my BEAN BURRITO?!” Everyone was freaking out and then my manager pointed at me and said, “It was him.” It was probably the scariest moment in my life.
Also, I went to hair school for a while in Minnesota. The hardest thing to do was to cut flattops. Cutting straight edges with a curved instrument is kinda tough. After a while, though, I was getting carpal tunnel and had to choose between cutting hair for the rest of my life but not being able to play the guitar, so I gave that up.
On getting a band together:
This guy, Mark, lives in my neighborhood and we’ve kind of slightly known each other for years and about a month-and-a-half ago he e-mailed me and I’d been looking to do full band stuff. Just make it a little bit bigger sounding, a bit more flamboyant. Hm, not flamboyant. Maybe just a bit more neon? Anyway, so Mark and some other guys all live in my neighborhood and I’d been talking to his friend Jeff for a while. I’d stop by and see their tour van and be like, “Oh…you guys are in a band? That’s cool…” [laughs]
On getting involved with ARC:
I was friends with this kid who runs a loft space in Pontiac and he lives across the hall from the guy who runs it. The idea is that a bunch of young people get apartments, lofts, whatever, in a certain area – wherever we’re needed most – and then live there for three years to try to help rebuild the creative economy around there. While we’re living there we put on shows, work in the community and try to just be a positive influence. I went to college for a while and was studying to become a social worker, so it’s pretty close to my heart. I’m going to be moving there pretty soon with my three bandmates and we’re planning on building a studio in the basement.
On how he ended up with ended up with a track on the Ghostly Swim compilation:
I think I sent the Ghostly people stuff a long time ago. Like I hand-drew this crazy Magic Castle and then sent them my 37 song demo. But I never really heard back from them.
You sent them a 37 song demo?
You know who Margo Guryan is? She had this album called 25 Demos or something like that and I bought it for, like, nine dollars and so I wrote that album because I want to, someday, give away 37 songs for, like, five dollars. I just want to have someone feel like I did, where you get more than ten songs for ten dollars. It’s like, “This is a good day. This band loves me.”
But, yeah, there’s been a really good response from the song on the compilation. That girl that I had the dream about the melting cheesecake, she played it for her niece and nephew and said, “This is a song that Randy did.” And the kids listened to it and they were silent and then at the end, they told her, “Oh, we want to hear another song that Randy did.” When she told me that, I knew I was on the right track. I played this art fair last summer and I did this Beach Boys/electro thing and there were like 120 little kids and they all rushed the stage. I mean, I guess that’s what I’m looking for: the five-and-under audience. [laughs]