On stage, Austin’s drag demigod Caleb de Casper throws the attitude dial to 11. Decked out in stiletto heels and fishnet stockings, the horror glam rocker unapologetically wails bold lyrics, with an authoritative presence he identifies as his “masculine feminine power.”
Dedicated to his performing persona, the classically trained pianist and vocalist shrouds himself in mystery, reserving personal details such as a legal name and hometown as secrets. In exchange, De Casper exposes a spectrum of raw emotion with his performance; swinging latex laced hips while singing through tear smeared makeup. It is through this dramatic act that the diva of doom encourages those like him to be proud of who they are.
We sat down with De Casper before his Local Live set, to talk about the man behind the makeup.
DJ Rube: I'm sitting here in the local Live studio talking with Austin's glam rock demigod Caleb de Casper. Thank you for coming in and performing for us.
Caleb De Casper: You're welcome.
So you've been performing in Austin for roughly two years now, but this is not the extent of your performing career. Where is it that you got your start performing as Caleb De Casper, and how did you end up in our big little town of Austin?
The first show that I ever did was at the Evening News at Charlotte, North Carolina. I used to perform a lot in North Carolina whenever I could, even though there weren't very many opportunities for what I was doing. I just kept doing it, kept pushing through, kept taking any opportunity that would come to me.
I had met a booking agent who had just moved from Austin to Charlotte. His name was Sean, and then Sean booked me on a bill with Xetas who were from Austin. You people might know who they are, they are really great. At that time I would bleed a lot during my shows, like I would play the piano and at the end my eyes would bleed. So they came up to me after my show and I had blood all over my face and everything.
After they came up to me and after reading the room and they said, "You would do a lot better in Austin." So I got in the van and I went to Austin and that's what I did.
On your Bandcamp, you describe your sound like a mixture of, "Alex Cooper, Gaga and Elton John if he joined the dark side." What other influences do you draw from when writing a song or a planning a performance? What's your creative process?
Usually everything's really organic. A song usually starts as a hook or a rhythmic pattern, and then I find the words to the music that's in my head. I draw a lot of inspiration from Blondie now because I went to go see her last year and I realized part of her appeal is that she thinks hard about what words to put down. It's very visceral how she feels, and that's attractive because she's a woman telling you how she really feels. So I have tried to adopt that recently into my songwriting process.
As for performances, I really enjoy Russian composers in classical music from the 18th and 19th centuries. Even some from the 20th century, like Shostakovich. Specifically, we'll look at Tchaikovsky as an example for this, but his work starts somewhere, and then there's a middle, and there's the climax and then there's the end. It paints a picture. That's what I want to do when I perform: have a narrative. Even if it's not a clear story, I'm saying something, I'm telling you something and we start somewhere, we find something out and we end somewhere.
At the beginning of your NPR Tiny Desk submission video, when talking about the makeup you're doing with that show, you said, "If I feel terrible I want to look terrible." To what extent does honesty and being true to yourself, play a role in your art?
I think it's everything. Part of what I do is trying to shake myself of toxic masculinity. I want to show other people how to shake toxic masculinity and how men can express themselves in many different ways as opposed to the primary emotions that they're told to have. You know, mad, sad, happy, not too happy. Because then you're gay.
If I want to do something, I do it. And if I second guess myself, I know I made the right decision. I don't think it's truly art if you don't have a gut feeling and go with it. If it falls on its face, it was meant to.
Last August you released a live album, performed and recorded at the Electric Church. What else you have going on in the works?
Actually, this week I'm going to meet with Fifth Street Studios. We have a patron and they're gonna start helping me to record a new full-length album.
Okay! Do you have songs ready that you've written before, or are you going to start from scratch and start writing?
I've had some songs in me because it's so expensive to record an album on your own. I've had some songs in me since I was 16, so that's almost 10 years. It's just going to be a mixture of old stuff. Then like I said, I do what I want, so if I write something that day, it's going in.
I know it's still very early in the process, but as far as possible dates... when do you think that will be out or finished?
I hope to have an EP out by June.
We'll be on the lookout for it. Last question, we currently have an administration that discourages the voices of LGBTQ communities by supporting hateful laws and rhetoric. As an outspoken artist who questions and pushes traditional gender boundaries, what do you have to say to the people in the communities having their very identity challenged by what's going on in our political climate?
Look at me. I'm very proud of being visibly queer, and what it means to be visibly queer, and these people who are trying to be erased right now, that's who they are. I think it's beautiful that that's who they are and that it's not like someone else wants them to be. That's why I dress the way that I do and why I choose to express who I am in this way because I want to be visible for people to see that, we're different.