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Q&A: Deastro On Cartoons, Apocalypse, and Salvation

November 13, 2009

The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson was once quoted as saying his most ambitious, idiosyncratic arrangements were intended as a “teenage symphony to God.” Michigan’s Randy Chabot could perhaps be said to have attempted something similar, but with harmonic synths instead of singers and a backdrop of outer space instead of surf and sand. His Deastro project first gained acclaim with 2008′s Keepers—a collection of home dream-synth-pop recordings, some from 10 years ago when he was barely 13–then returned in 2009 with the studio-produced Moondagger on Ghostly International, a label known for celebrating 8-bit melodies and rousing post-guitar washes equally.

Chabot is currently touring the Deastro material–all the celestial shoegazing jangle, Teutonic bleeps, and undulating synths–even without the band that helped form the backbone of the most recent album. Additionally, he’s playing material from Mind Altar, an solo release of two-track/laptop recordings previously custom pressed and sold at shows and now being remastered and re-released soon on Ghostly. Chabot took a moment out to answer a few questions before hitting the road with Max Tundra (a tour of comical/melancholy contrasts he likens to the Steinbeck novel Travels With Charley).

City Paper: So, how are things going?
Randy Chabot: It’s going good man, though I broke my finger yesterday, which isn’t great. But we were already switching things up. The band I was playing with broke up in September, so me and my roommate decided to learn different songs, rewrite things, which we did for CMJ.

CP: Was the scene at CMJ your scene?
RC: My scene’s anime kids, techies, and hopefully nerds everywhere.

CP: References to cartoons definitely come up a lot in descriptions of your music. Is it that much of an actual influence?
RC: I mean, I love cartoons, I watch them all the time, I thought about studying animation. They’re not a direct influence, though I own everything that the guy who did the music for Looney Tunes did. But I’m getting less cartoony as I get older.

CP: Are audiences picking up on this, and do you wonder how your audience will react?
RC: I think we definitely met kids, made friends that, for some reason, just love it . . . then others hate it. Some get the humor of it, in the live performance . . . then there are those that don’t. I throw everything in to everything. Some songs will be morbid, and I’ll perform them that way, but others are frickin’ jubilee.

CP: There are definitely hints of seeming environmentalism, among other potentially apocalyptic issues, buried in the lyrics. Do you want to impress a message on listeners, or is the music sometimes just a melodic means to exorcise and escape from the issues?
RC: It’s definitely not just meant to be just an escape. I grew up very Christian, and I was teaching a Sunday school one time with a divider door open and a picture of Hell was on the wall. So the kids were freaking out on this concept. And I thought later on the importance of the idea of the apocalypse. When I read [Cormac McCarthy's] The Road, it’s what [the song in question] “Vermillion Plaza” is based on, I was taken aback by the importance of people knowing there is this Hell they could create if they so choose. There’s that feeling, but I don’t think at any point you should present things without hope. There’s more chances than ever for young people to get into good things. The people that tried to change things in the past maybe pass it on subliminally into their children. And hopefully my music adds in to that, makes people pass it on, think in to issues.

CP: Are you OK with it, however, if some people come to a show just to enjoy the arrangements and musical style and never get that out of the song?
RC: I feel like I’m a person who puts a lot in to my music, a lot of study and forethought, so I’m not really worried whether people “get it.” I’m writing from a good place in my heart. There’s no way to determine what other people will get.

I’m OK with people thinking it’s just pop. If it’s through me, at this point, I’m not going to try and say, This is what we’re going to do, this is what we’re about. I’m not that naïve. I more want to say, We can’t do this by ourselves. I got into music because you can’t blame a president–the idea of saviors, everyone waits for them, but we’re all miniature saviors in our everyday lives, in a way. Especially with us, we’re changing up our sound in December, could get more confrontational.

CP: What aspects will change, and what material might stay the same?
RC: I want to have a live band. I think some of the current material will hang around; we’ll play it because we have to. I know it’s the wrong thing to say, the wrong thing to do to write completely new songs and forget about an album in the middle of it, but I just don’t have anything to put back into that person I was. I felt the way things were going, the way it sounded was good, but it wasn’t the way I wanted it to.

CP: Are there specific new ways you’ll put the more “confrontational” new material out there?
RC: Me and the other guy in my band [Adam Psaff, who runs bass, some guitar, and Ableton Live], I think we’ll be doing digital shorts, our own videos, putting a visual aspect in the music. And we always throw everything in with a grain of salt. It’s just going to be a more live sound, probably slower. But I think it will be good.

We don’t really know what’s going to happen, what we’re going to play, we’re just trying to keep it together, turn it out alright. It’s thrown me not being able to play with the band; Moondagger was written to be played with them, so that’s forcing me to do a lot of this stuff. It wasn’t my decision and I was hurt and confused by it. But we’re from Michigan, we don’t have money, they don’t have money, so I understand. No matter what, I perform really hard, it’s the best I can give. And that’s really all I care about.

Deastro performs Nov. 13 at the Metro Gallery. For more information visit