Real Detroit +
Everything To Me: Deastro
(Randolph Chabot, of Deastro; photos by James P. Morse)
"Once you're here, there's like, this belief…there's this thing inside of you, ya know what I mean?"
“I think about the opportunity that Detroit has to show the world that things can turn around and I go and make a giant pot of coffee so I can write all night…"
Every time I talk to Randy, the blurring back and forth is brimming with variations of the words: excitement or encouraged…or opportunity.
There is always the next project, the next song to work on, the next philosopher to quote, the next great thing to recognize in humanity. And he is always re-thinking and over-thinking the potential of our scuffed, modest music scene; dreaming up new ways for its scattered suburban/metro flock to coalesce.
"I have played 210 shows in the past year and a half and I can honestly say that I met at least one person (if not 20 people) at every show that feels the same way about our city!"
Detroit's singer/songwriter, Randolph Chabot, the shaggy, bespectacled frontman of now-quartet Deastro, started out in a flurry of under-attended solo-performances at often unconventional venues on sometimes-weekday nights during the summer of 2007. But, every ear he hit took notice and every song he sang had might. Or maybe that sounds like corny legend… some point to the help of internet buzz, blog murmurings and bandwagon jumps, but…perhaps it's deeper than that.
Yeah, but, there certainly is an energy: more bands, more bars booking, more blogs, more and more great local albums being released and local labels persevering. I've been trying to convince myself that this piece doesn't have to make an argument (for Deastro), which is futile in a town where it feels like everybody's doing something… photographers, poets, filmmakers, writers, dancers, painters, designers. This is a scene where everybody's connected. I'd wager half of you still reading at this point are either in a band or can count at least 2 musician friends…
So, it swells into this mind-numbingly circling debate about how and why one really justifies this top-of-the-heap title of superior suggestions. Call it a cheesy-after-school-special sort of half-resignation, but the real artist of the year is this town's whole cacophonous coop of energized minds.
"There are so many mysteries in life and I do not claim to know any of them! I am confronted and moved by them daily. The music I write cannot in any way compare to the songs that people sing every second of their lives."
And that's exactly what Randy would want.
It's Our Turn to Turn It Around
As the story goes, spastically summarized, the 22-year-old lifelong musician, who's been writing songs for 10 years, debuted his enthralling, synth-surged, dreamy balloon pop in the early summer of 2007. He was a bit awkward at times, running off of a lab-top, drum-machine and synthesizer while he drummed live and sang. Blogs started buzzing early; this publication wrote a few things and by autumn, Detour magazine booked him for their inaugural music festival…and it just, bit-by-bit, blew up from there.
The "emotions" that were going through him when he and his band started getting regular (not entirely undisputed) local headlining slots, were "wow, there's more people," said Chabot. "There's more people listening, there's more people caring about community. Not that I even embody that, but that people are there [at shows] and they're excited to see their friends there,…that's great! I think that in 5 years you're just gonna be amazed with what's coming out of our city, just from what I've been seeing."
So, how do you write about an artist/band that's already been over-cooked by bloggers, over-hated by the haters and over-cheered by the quickly-converted…? I both am, and am-not, looking forward to it…
Chabot was home-schooled until the age of 16, after which he trained to be a hair-dresser, then went off to college in Minneapolis where he joined an unconventional youth-group/drug-rehabilitation group in the form of skateboarders who would roll the streets looking for people to help. Life would take him to Baltimore and then to through Arkansas (where he started an electro-pop duo, Velicorapter, an acknowledged genesis for the Deastro project).
Randy can't help but get into the mix…with experience as a social-worker during his college days and his younger-day's recognition of the ceremoniousness of punk-rock shows as being "a really unique opportunity to talk to people," he is unavoidably drawn to others – embodying a sunshine-soul/inspiration-pollination – and galvanizing communal energy.
"I like figuring out what other people are about," he said when we first met in July 07. And music, you'll excuse the cliché, is simply his best-utilized form of communication. "I want to be a messenger of community. I feel like I'm starting to believe things: friendship and community, on a level that I hadn't allowed myself to in a long time. I had believed in those things, but always in the future tense. But, lately, the friendships I have, the guys in the band, it's been real now."
The band, (drummer Jeff Supina, 27, bassist Brian Connelly, 23 and guitarist Marc Smak, 24) all grew up in Sterling Heights together. Rehearsals started in mid-to-late Spring and the trio played out live, interpreting Chabot's songs in early summer. At that point, said Chabot, "the guys were already like, 'we can play bass, we can play guitar, [but] what else can we do to add more to our sound, to add more to your sound…they started taking owernship of the band for themselves, which is what I wanted in band members." This is an idea, he added, a feeling to be shared.
Chabot developed the project from one-man-band through November 2007 (when he self-released the best of his basement recordings on a dual-disc debut featuring 35-songs wrapped in hand-drawn screen-printed cardboard) and took himself out on the road in January 08 for 3 weeks, self-releasing the Powered #1 EP online – which showed his breadth as a songwriter, to grow from the more whimsical doe-eyed night-of-your-life dance romps he'd showcased at live shows into more intricately structured instrumentals that flexed his ear for melody and his ability to set a great buzzy groove.
When he got back in mid-winter, it evolved into a duo with drummer Aaron Quillen. Writing continued; he self-released the darker-tinged, more shambled-pop of Powered # 2 in time for the 2008 Metro Times Blowout. Inside the dim and stuffy Painted Lady bar, filled to capacity on a stormy winter night ("It was so encouraging," said Chabot, "wall to wall!") Ghostly International (the Ann Arbor label renowned for galvanizing the electro-atmospheric-pop underground) showed up to see the performance. They arranged the song "Light Powered," an imposing groove-pop boomer, with sawing fiery synths and wispy chimed melodies that swells into an arresting shunt of echoing hums, as a featured song on a collaborated compilation between the label and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. (Aqua Teen fans may have heard his stuff playing between commercials).
Next, Ghostly set him up with the folks at EMusic.com, a by-subscription online music store, that released a palatably pared down 10-song album of his 2007 material called Keepers. "As much as we can be sure of anything," reads the ominous headline on EMusic's Best of 2008 Editors Picks page, "we are sure of this: Deastro will be a star." Indeed, they ranked it # 2 of 2008! Then they go on to name-drop likely influences like Death Cab for Cutie, M83, LCD Soundsystem. A similar you'll-like-this-if-you-already-like-this descriptive approach was taken when SPIN Magazine threw him in with electro-psyche-pop-neo-hippies MGMT in November 08.
"I was raised Christian, but, just so you know, I love my family, they're great," said Chabot, referencing the spastic cut-and-pasted quotes of SPIN regarding his upbringing in music leading to a misunderstanding between he and his father. "It was like an awakening for me – I can't just say whatever I want all the time, 'cuz there's gonna be some points…" he trails off and the oncoming press/interviews of 2009 seems to moan like a haunting banshee in the silence. "I mean, the main thing I'm trying to do is be encouraging, to every kind of person."
Through Spring, Chabot toured briefly with drummer Quillen – then parted ways to become solo for another run of national shows. "That was insane," he said, referencing that last tour before finally forming the band, "just all DIY. I played this place where the toilet exploded, in the middle of the show. Like, all these hardcore kids – I love those shows."
We're Gonna Make It Home
July became August and Chabot gathered the band to begin writing and recording their Ghostly debut, Moondagger, a project that started as an EP, then stretched out to a 14-song full length, currently slated for April 1 2009. Still working on multiple projects, Chabot released the Legends EP, a further extension of Powered # 2 but swirling with even more emotion and flitting with an ever-developing penchant for layered synth melodies (that always ended intertwining to perfectly compliment ea
ch other). More than halfway through writing Moondagger, he also digitally released Voyager EPs, part one and two. They properly kicked off autumn by playing the CMJ music festival in New York.
"I kept telling everyone that we met [in NY] that stuff was going on here…That's what me and the band are definitely striving for – we've been touing hard and we've been getting press and we're working towards getting exposure so we can bring it back to Detroit."
Chabot was already itching to write the 2nd half of Moondagger in September. "I'm so ridiculously happy [it]. Jeff and Marc, they understand my sound, with this new album, better than I did. They've all been really growi
ng as musicians, so the original 7 songs…these new ones are just so much crazier and we had already had "Parallelograms," [a tumbling rainbow avalanche of dreamy synths, triumphant hooks and playful dance shimmies, released as a single for Ghostly in November], I felt like, wow—this is really weird—I love this song, let's write some more like this and see what happens!"
Next, the band will work on a Powered full length and a ("more traditional") completely analog album. "Yeah, I dunno…the only reason that I write different albums is because I want to convey a message."
Yeah, but what really happens next? That's the more quieting and looming question. I go back my irksome drafting of this article, where I felt like I had to defend Deastro as 'Artist of the Year…' Set aside to my tallying of touring and recording projects above…and even if you debate me on other artists having heavier work loads…my point is that you will debate me. I fell into a 2+ hour discussion last nite (of varying intensity) about Chabot and Deastro and what its meant for the music community in-total. In terms of sheer captivation… energizing audiences and stirring conversation…be it the dirtier-feeling blog buzz, or be it genuine awe-inspiring impact on audiences both live and over recording, he is the artist of the year.
"I feel like I'm ready for it. It was a process…" he says, referencing a moment in the middle of 2008 when he fought through both exhaustion and a daunting wear. "I'm always questioning myself: do I really believe in what I'm doing, is it really the best thing I could be doing with my time? I feel like it is right now…I really believe that it is. I feel like I have to challenge myself to find new ideas, to read more books, to know that I'm not just singing about crap, but I'm really singing about ideas that people are either struggling with or they're encouraged by…"
"My uncle, when I started making music, asked me, are you really ready for this? To make that sacrifice? I really had to think about it. In my own life, I've grown. I feel really hopeful about everything and the guys that I'm playing with have been such good friends to me that I feel like I've found a new community, myself…in myself. So, we're just excited and that's it…"
“I have friends and family telling me that they are so proud of who I am, it makes me want to cry because I couldn't be who I am without them, without you, or without us. I wouldn't say this if I didn't mean it or if I didn't believe it.”
And back to the energy of the city and the encouragement it breeds in Chabot and Deastro: "It seems like everywhere I go people suspect it they feel it. It overwhelms to think about it and all I can do is sing."