Becoming Deastro

May 14, 2008 at 12:00 am

Randy "Deastro" Chabot is turning a Hummel figurine upside down, exploring the mechanism that allows the two cherubic porcelain figures huddled under the umbrella to crank out a little tune when you tweak their pedestal. He's in the basement of his family's Sterling Heights home, surrounded by a hodgepodge of worn, neon tape-covered mixers, keyboards and amplifiers. His trusty field recorder is within reach and, as usual, his younger brother Mike's artwork is scattered about.

Upstairs, Debbie, Chabot's petite, attractive mother, is poised at the dining table with her sewing machine. She's stitching together long hanks of hair, which she intends to use for a homemade beauty project. There are fresh chocolate chip cookies in a plastic container by the fridge and, soon, a sparking tumbler full of ice tea will be making its way to the basement.

These folks make stuff. One gets the impression that they do it all day long and that they never get tired of it. While the rest of us are buying our tea and cookies at the 7-Eleven, the Chabot family is mixing flour, milk, sugar and eggs to feed themselves. When we are vacantly whipping out our credit cards at the GAP, Debbie's in Sterling Heights inventing an awesome new wardrobe for the whole family with her bare hands (all four kids and dad, too). They are involved; they are creative. They make their world.

"Artists should be on the forefront of not being so wasteful," says Chabot. "I don't feel like people are excited about being alive and knowing what other people are thinking. Community is what we need — especially now."

Sounds like heady stuff for a 22-year-old to be mulling over, but it's really just the tip of the iceberg for Chabot. As singer-synthesizer wunderkind Deastro, Chabot, without question, "makes his world." It is a thrilling, sacred and profoundly complex place, equally possessed of darkness and light. Its soundtrack — a surreal, hyper-emotional blast of electronic hocus-pocus, melody and philosophy — is an aural manifesto far more mature than his age would suggest possible. From the pop jubilation of "The Shaded Forest" to the interstellar throb of "Light Powered" (companion to "Dark Powered," "Truth Powered" and "Myth Powered"), the "Deastro sound" is fully realized to a degree that most artists spend a lifetime trying to achieve.

"I just take in whatever's happening around me," he says.

Vocally, Deastro (named for G.I. Joe character "Destro") often invokes the sentimentality and vitality of British '80s synthpop — but that's a vast oversimplification. His approach changes to suit the song: gentle and vibrato-trimmed one moment, adroitly commanding the next. Lyrically, his subject matter runs the gamut from recognizing that an abusive father is still capable of loving his child ("An Empty Park Meets Personified Silence") to themes of elemental empowerment ("Skin Worth Living In"). It's imaginative, sincere and "deep," in the most honorable sense of the word.

And he still sleeps in a bunk bed.

"I've been working a long time to be able to convey what I was feeling," Chabot says, a finger darting up to coax black-framed glasses toward the bridge of his nose. "A lot of my music is taking my chaos and organizing it to where it makes sense and there's a solution — a reconciliation."

Like brother Mike, Chabot is also a visual artist. He created the ornately stylized pen and ink drawings that accompanied his debut double-CD set, DeastroThe Young Planets/Our Brother the MegazordTime the Teenage Twister. And he embodies both personas. Emblazoned in bold script on the gatefold are the words: "Be Your Own Man! Choose Your Own Adventure!"

At 22, Chabot's life has already been quite an adventure. In choir since the age of 5, he performed with Donny Osmond in the traveling production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as a small child. Home schooled since sixth-grade (in part, because he "got beat up a bunch" at Bethesda), he eventually became a licensed cosmetologist before leaving the state to attend college for two years in Minneapolis. He also spent a year making music in a "low income housing loft" in Arkansas before returning home to the basement and to his loving, devout Christian family.

"He was a busy kid," Debbie says. "He always had something musical going on. And he loves to read — you can't give him enough books."

At an age when most young men are trying to divorce themselves from the influence of their families, Chabot sees family as a source of strength. "Families, in general, are inspirational," he says. "To see a family coming together — just to link up its hands and be together — is beautiful." As to Christianity, which he approaches a little more analytically these days, he says: "Jesus, as a person, really influenced me — more as a teacher and a thinker now. Just the human value — he was a great activist for human beings."

It's not surprising that Chabot also claims Brian Wilson, the gifted man-child behind the Beach Boys, as having a significant impact on his music. Like Wilson, Chabot discovered the emotional power of music at a very early age. And like Wilson, he understood that it can be both a sheltering haven and a marrow-rattling conduit for introspection.

When Chabot describes his artistic process, its similarity to Wilson's well-documented (and often existential) extremes is illuminating.

"I was feeling angry about what was going on with the world," he says. "I started crying and, suddenly, this music started playing in my head — and it didn't stop. Sometimes, it's still playing when I go to sleep. I allow myself to go through the pain that other people feel. I'm afraid I might be selfish for feeling pain that may not even be mine, but going through the process and having the song finished helps me understand the problem. And that might help to make me a better person."

If you've never met Chabot, or seen one of Deastro's ultra-physical performances or heard his exquisite recordings, you might find some of this a little hard to swallow. But, rest assured, it's not an act. This kid is living in a constant state of "becoming" — and the mesmerizing music that results from it is all the proof you need that this is not a put-on.

He's currently experiencing a phenomenal surge in output due to the influence of his girlfriend, Rachel, whom he's known since he was 13. Her interest in feminist literature has given Chabot, a voracious reader, a whole new set of issues to pore over.

"People think Republicans are the problem, but our culture is the problem," says Chabot, a self-described liberal. "I'm not trying to be a jerk or anything. I enjoyed the last Die Hard movie as much as anyone. But there are issues, on a deeper level, with the way we devalue each other. We've become so materialistic that we've lost the value of life and of people. I feel these things weighing on me sometimes."

As an artist, Chabot is involved in a constant dialogue with himself regarding his motivations. Though he clearly enjoys touring, performing and recording (he's currently in negotiations to distribute the upcoming Deastro release Galaxy Eyes) his primary purpose is to make a conscious connection to the greater good.

"I'm not interested in just being a musician," he says. "I want to be an encourager of community.

"I wouldn't do this at all if I didn't think I could accomplish that."

Friday, May 23, at the Crofoot, 1 S. Saginaw, Pontiac; 248-858-9333.

Wendy Case writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]