Considering the big picture(s) with Deastro's Randolph Chabot
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Delve into the music of Detroit-based songwriter Randolph Chabot and his band Deastro, and you're bound to find yourself down a wormhole of Big Ideas. Talk about it with Chabot and you're likely to end up in the same place—it just can't be helped, what with Chabot being raised a devout Christian and the epic, searching scope of records like this year's Moondagger, which grounds its heady philosophy in gleaming synth-pop fantasy worlds. Still, some topics are just too broad to be encapsulated in a two-minute pop song, so in advance of Deastro's show Saturday, Nov. 21, at Larimer Lounge, The A.V. Club brought up the things we talk about when we talk about Deastro (abstract concepts, big emotions, other types of art) and asked Chabot whether he actually considers them when he's making his music.
The A.V. Club: How much does your religious upbringing factor into Deastro?
Randolph Chabot: It decided it. I always felt like I had to do something with my life, and that's very religious—everyone told me like I was a prophet when I was growing up. I got into music because it was the same kind of realm for me at the time, and now it's something different. When I stopped being a Christian, I didn't know if I was still going to do music, because when I was younger, it was from that whole evangelical standpoint—that was why I wrote music. Now I just want to make music that makes people happy. I don't think I would be doing music if I wasn't in that environment.
RC: I love the community of music—I kind of grew up in it. It always astounds me that there's places in the world where there's not a music community, or at least that the community based around the music scene isn't like a family. It was always like that in the Christian music scene. Last night, I played a show with Neon Indian in Detroit and I was just so stoked that they came over to my house afterward—I made them breakfast and stuff. I knew [the community] was a good thing before, but I was also an introvert and never came out of my house, so I feel like I'm experiencing it for the first time. I think it's really changing my mind about a lot of things.
AVC: Like what?
RC: The state of the world. We think everything's so bad, but it's really not. Even here in Michigan, we have it so much better than most of the people in the world do. And what does that even mean? There's some people in some societies that are indigenous that are completely happy with their way of life. I think that being a part of an outside community—outside of the one I grew up in—has changed my mind about a lot of things. I don't think the world's as dark anymore. It's pretty dark, but it's not as dark. At least there's like-minded people out there that love each other and are pursuing happiness in the best way they know how.
AVC: Is the "positivity" angle overstated when people talk about Deastro?
RC: To some extent. The music's happy, but if you go into my lyrics, there's some points I'm trying to make, like, "Oh man, that's messed up."
AVC: Like the "Is it real, is it right" part of "Day Of Wonder?"
RC: When you live with a one-way kind of mind your whole life, and then it's kind of gone, it can be hard to switch over into that mindset. But I think it's a better place—when you admit to yourself the things that you know aren't necessarily real, it puts you in the place of an observer, and you notice more, and you take care of things more because you don't want to miss anything because you realize that you don't know. I feel like that's kind of what I was trying to say there.
RC: I love science fiction, but I don't know how much it plays into Deastro. Science-fiction soundtracks, maybe, like to science-fiction movies—I'm definitely into that. All the dudes in my house read it, too, so it's pretty cool. I just started reading [Arthur C. Clarke's] Rama series again. I love science fiction because it's such creative work—it's an artist creating an entire alien world using materials that he has here.
AVC: Do you feel like you create a "new world" within your music?
RC: I don't know, man. [Laughs.] Yeah. Who knows what is going on there.
AVC: You do all the artwork for the band's records yourself—is the visual side of Deastro more of a supplementary thing, or is it more important than that?
RC: I want to make it more of an integral part of it. Adam Pfaff—my roommate who's playing in Deastro—and I have talked about going to school for animation and stuff like that. Doing art now—it was a lot more like it was the first date. I didn't know a whole lot about it like I did about music, so it's been really fun. It's been way more creative for me than music has been lately.
AVC: Do you think you'd ever give up songwriting to pursue animation full-time?
RC: It's funny—I write these pop songs, but I'd really like to get into stuff like that, and make more experimental music and get into writing soundtracks or stuff like that. I wouldn't stop doing regular music, but I've always been into the more entire production.
RC: I like video games. I think a lot of people are hesitant about it—but I think it's a really creative thing. My cousin works with CGI graphics overlay for Capcom. I think they're amazing. We've played a couple recently that have such good storylines and environments that it's like a movie and a novel combined into one. I think that they're an interesting development. I definitely grew up around video games—my dad can beat Super Mario Bros. in like two minutes and 30 seconds or something like that. [Laughs.]
AVC: It was kind of hard to avoid growing up around video games in the '80s.
RC: For sure. I'm more into using nostalgia—it's more about nostalgia than it is about video games necessarily. A lot of people my age and younger have a lot of nostalgia from hanging out with their friends and playing video games on a Friday night. I definitely think that's more of the reason I'd include them, than just being directly influenced by video game music.
Other people's music
AVC: What about other pop music inspires you? Do you feel like Deastro's music has elements of other people's music in it?
RC: Yeah, for sure. I think I, as a listener, I've only begun to throw different elements into it. I was really into bands like Fine China, Joy Electric, Starflyer 59 and Danielson—anything off of Sounds Familyre and Asthmatic Kitty. I listened to all of that stuff. So there's a lot of that—those people in that weird kind of Christian-indie music. I don't think it's a problem to be influenced by stuff, it's who you end up being influenced by. Everybody's influenced by something, so I'm not really worried about sounding like somebody else or something like that. When I write a song, it's more about the idea of the song than it is about the "All right, I'm writing a song. This song's going to make me lots of money." It's more along the lines of "Whatever happens, that's what I'm going to put out."
AVC: It's all about expression.
RC: Yeah, it's all about expression, man. It's about being who you are, and individualism, and all that stuff. [Laughs.] All that stuff they tell you on Disney.