By: Sara Zeno
Through the broken sky a ray of sunlight
With a whispered cry, I stumbled from my cell
Well you live and die and then you start the whole thing over
An honest prayer is like a midnight train
It's gonna take you there through the wind and rain
When you're cold and scared and you just can't make it over
The gift of seeing through....
is a continually evolving tapestry, with threads from the past,
present and future entwining to become a new creation. Pain and
happiness, contentment and loneliness, loss and humor: all combine
into a swirling, ever-changing reflection of the human experience.
There is infinite beauty and knowledge in the process.
Deasy is a songwriter who understands this; indeed, he is consumed
by it. He delves into humanity's frailty, honor and nobility, searching
out insights with a grounded sensibility and gratitude--- sometimes
all in the same song.
His solo work is a natural extension of what he's done with the
Gathering Field. He has always explored the deeper intricacies of
life, yet with his last release, Good Day No Rain, something
different shines through. It's a subtle changing, nearly imperceptible:
a stretching of boundaries, a push into new territory, a gleam of
a new perspective.
Perhaps the accomplishments
and changes of the past few years have contributed to this shift.
Good Things Are Happening, a song he co-wrote, was picked
up in 2001 as a theme for ABC's Good Morning America. He's been
regularly writing in Nashville with other musicians and in the fall
of 2003, Martina McBride recorded Learning to Fall (co-written
with Odie Blackmon), which Deasy refers to as "big" in
his characteristically understated fashion. Throughout it all, he's
been on the road, slinging his acoustic guitar and seeking out new
folks who dig his style. He's eminently approachable, sporting the
same slightly disheveled, homey appearance whether playing intimate
rooms or larger clubs. He has the knack of always looking as if
he's just stumbled out of a dimly lit writing room onto stage.
He has a devoted Pittsburgh
following. An Autumn show at a packed Nick's Fat City filled the
South Side club with adoring fans. Sardined onto the dance floor,
they were swaying to his music, gazing up adoringly at him, and
singing the chorus to the still engaging Lost In America.
In a way, Deasy's journeys
began picking up steam with Lost In America, the song, and
gained momentum with Lost In America, the album. In the mid-1990s
the song played on the town's big rock station, becoming a top request.
Atlantic records took notice, offered the band a deal, and the album
As is the case with so
many bands, the Gathering Field's label experience wasn't exactly
the golden chance they may have hoped for. There was a shakeup at
Atlantic and they fell through the cracks. "The Gathering Field
made great records, and did all the right things, and yet sometimes
it was like trying to get water from stones," Deasy remarks.
"The people weren't catching it. We never really experienced
what it's like to have the machine of a big record company behind
us. It was disappointing."
As Deasy began moving
away from the Gathering Field and venturing more into songwriting
and solo territory, he released an acoustic album (1999's Spring
Lies Waiting). With his second solo recording, he took an opportunity
to work in a different way, including recording with producer Greg
Wattenberg (Dishwalla, Five for Fighting).
That recording process
was different than anything he'd done before. "I went into
the rehearsal space with Shawn Pelton and the bass player [Jeff
Allen]," he describes. "Just the three of us hammered
through these songs that we were considering, because Greg felt
if it didn't work in that bare bones form--- just drums, bass and
acoustic guitar--- that if we didn't find the soul of the song,
then it wouldn't work when we added other stuff.
"Greg is such a good producer, it was fun to watch him feel
around for what he wanted. He was completely open to all my ideas."
Deasy did make a run
for a record deal this last time, too, using the four songs he recorded
with Wattenberg as a demo. In the end, it didn't work out. "I'm
glad it happened the way it did," he says. "It's fun to
build something on your own and have total control." After
a pause, he continues, "I have this feeling, though, that ultimately,
it doesn't matter as much as I think it does," he says, in
reference to a record deal, "if you have good music, you're
good at what you do, and are passionate about it.
This record is kind of a rebirth," he says. "I got so
used to the Gathering Field. This is a good new passage for me."
Good Day No Rain---
made on his terms and in his own unique way--- has proven itself
a quintessential Deasy work, with a good amount of tragedy and the
spiritual stitched in. And in fact, this strange but perhaps natural
combination of tragedy and hope is a theme through most of Deasy's
work. Truly, his writing is sometimes deeply, painfully tragic,
but he has a good instinct for tempering that with some hope. "It's
just who I am," he muses. "It's just how I was made. When
I was little, I lost a brother. And I think grief formed me, in
a certain sense, in my personality. So, I think that's probably
the thread that's in all my music, that kind of grief slash redemption
It's an intriguing combination,
the light battling the dark. "I'm into that," he responds.
"I'm drawn to people that do that. It's all just dark versus
light." He mentions The Gift of Seeing Through, a song
that is intimately concerned with that battle. "That's probably
my ultimate statement," he says. "I have to see through
the darkness of whatever it is, of whatever illusion that happens
to be dragging me down." It's a beautifully spiritual song,
which is another common motif in Deasy's music. In truth a lot of
his work is dotted with references to the Divine, but it's done
in such a subtle way it never overpowers or feels like a religious
lecture. "I've never shied away from writing like that. It's
the most natural thing to me, to write about the spiritual process
of living life," he says. "But I guess I try not to be. . ."
he says, pausing a second, "too heavy-handed about it. I have
to sort of check myself." He waits another moment before continuing,
"What else is there? If you're going to write about being a
human being, what else matters?"
Through Deasy's music,
a message reveals itself. We are all on a journey, and just maybe,
the journey itself is the point of it all. But it's the internal
traveling, not the external, that is the key. "I've been saying
at shows recently that the Lost In America guy was a pretty
empty drifter," he comments. "I meant for him to be shallow.
He was a poseur, playing the part of the tortured Kerouac drifter
dude. "It was all kind of a crock. And now, that guy's older.
In It's All Right There, the message of that song is, everything
he went to find was all there the whole time. It's the same guy,
but he's finally getting a little depth."
Deasy has been traveling
intensively in the past year, searching out his audience. "I
have faith that they're out there, all over the place," he
says. "That's a real challenge. There are so many artists doing
what I do, seeking those same people. It's like, how do I find my
people out there? That's my goal right now. And that's a cool goal!"
He mentions a quote a fellow songwriter sent to him. "It's
like cutting down a forest, one tree at a time," he continues.
"That's what it feels like. I can be at Borders in Columbus,
and can just see the trees falling--- but it's one at a time. "It's
never painful. Never. I'm learning to have this shield about me,
in knowing what I do is pretty good, and that it's all going to
work out if I do it as well as I can.
You totally know when you've got the crowd. It's powerful; a good
surge of confident energy. The key is to persevere when you don't
feel that," he continues, "and just trust that it is still
happening even when you don't feel it."
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,
"Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it
happen." Deasy's lifelong passion for music and determination
to pursue his dream seems to have caught the attention of the universe,
something he is noticing as well. "I feel that the world is
a little more open to me. This time around, in general, almost every
experience feels like I'm growing, and that people are getting it
and that something's happening." Deasy will continue expanding
in the artistic directions he's chosen, with an eye to the future.
"It's all just about expressing myself in all different contexts,"
he remarks. "I enjoy going to Nashville for a week and writing
songs with people there, as much as I enjoy going into my basement
and spilling my guts completely in a more personal way."
He's working on a new
album that will be completed "sooner rather than later,"
and looking into touring with similar artists. He mentions a conversation
he had with Glen Phillips and Kim Richey (he's written with both)
about possibly touring together, and has done shows with Rachel
McCartney and Brian Webb in Boston and Pittsburgh. "I still
don't believe it's going to last forever," he admits. "That's
the battle, trying to make it last forever --- to succeed enough
to keep doing it. My life is pretty amazing. I think success is
just being happy, and doing what you love, as corny as that sounds.
I mean that's really it. You can be rich, and do something you hate,
and dread going to work every day and become somebody other than
who you really are. I feel grateful that I get to keep trying to
be what I really am, as good as I can do it."
a review of Bill Deasy's CD, Good Day No Rain