At Home With: Bill Deasy
It is as timelessly plain and sweet an ideal as ever existed: Bill Deasy is all about home being where his heart is. It is where his dreams begin and return. Whether on stage, on the road, or in his central Pittsburgh home, therein echoes one resounding note above all else: Bill Deasy is in love with all that encapsulates his home life. Bill celebrates the joy and wonder of all that is dearly close to him—as a husband, father, brother, son and friend—through being an artist-musician, writer and performer.
It is a lazy quiet rainy morning in September as our visit gains way indoors. In impromptu fashion, Bill sits comfortably in his dining room, strumming on his guitar and humming tunes as he warms up for our conversation. It turns out that this is often where a lot of his songs originate. At first glance, Bill’s home is lofty and retro on the exterior, yet more traditional and cottage-like within. He is as inquisitive as he is forthcoming about the life we live and lead. Bound by his endearment to all, Bill is both engaging and energizing.
“I grew up in Penn Hills,” he begins, “I went to Central Catholic High School. A good Irish Catholic boy!” he adds with a chuckle. Bill is the fourth of five children, with one older brother and three sisters. His father, also Bill, worked as a purchasing agent for Westinghouse. His mother, Judy, joined the workforce as educator when Bill was in the eighth grade. “Yeah, she kind of just showed up in my class as my teacher, but I’m okay now,” he remarks whimsically. Then, with a serious smile, he looks up and nods as he plainly adds, “It was all a good experience for me.”
Bill’s primary discovery of music happened at an early age.
“When I was six years old I became fixated with Elvis. For some random reason, I saw him on TV and just became obsessed with watching him. If there was an Elvis movie on a Friday night I would beg my parents to let me stay up so I could watch, because you know, back then, Elvis movies didn’t show until 11:30 at night.” Dressed in a plain jersey and blue jeans, it is easy to imagine Bill as a wide-blue-eyed, blond-haired, little boy-in-wonder sitting Indian style, awe struck, before Elvis on the tube. There is a remnant of innocence that glows, evident even now, amidst the flickers of his reflections. “My dad would get me a different Elvis single every weekend,” says Deasy, “probably for his own sanity, because I would listen to the same songs over and over again everyday when I would get home from school. So, at age seven I was totally absorbed in Elvis.”
He lingers in the moment as he caresses the strings of his guitar, somewhat lost in a memory as he begins to softly sing. “And I wait and I wonder and I dream and I hunger. And I ache for another glimpse inside. And I wait…” His voice coos in a soothingly odd blend of soft gruff tones. Gentle, in its purest heartfelt form, would be precise. Often, his lyrics evoke an ethereal yearning to reach beyond himself to someone or some other place. He is most connected to his calling when he hails from this vantage point. From here, Bill seems almost content to be lost, and yet, at the same time, somehow found.
It is a mode of means that has long worked wonders for him and continues to propel his ensuing efforts even now. “The first song I ever wrote is about my wife.” With this, his eyes dance. “I think I wrote it when I was in eighth grade. It’s called ‘She’s a Big Jerk’. It’s actually about several girls and kind of crescendos with her being ‘the one.’” He smiles and strums his guitar. “You know it’s funny, looking back you kind of see things a little more clearly. In hindsight,
I understand it better. I can see that the path was set for me when I was just a little kid.”
By the influence of “The King” and his future bride illuminated in the wings, adolescent passions had begun to move Bill towards the direction of his inevitable future. His musical lure was further fueled as he grew to appreciate the melodious persuasions of veteran music icons Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison. Diligently honing his artistry as a songwriter alongside his heroes, Bill’s lyrics have a subtle way of binding him to his audience on a personal and relational level.
“The most important thing to me as a performer and songwriter is connecting with the audience. There’s something deeply satisfying and powerful when you know that your songs resonate with the lives of other people. I don’t take that lightly.” Bill tends to give a modest, light-hearted assessment of himself. In truth, his popularity spans the globe reaching fans in places like the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Japan. As lead singer,
Bill and his former band, Gathering Field, received national recognition when their independently released album, Lost In America attained regional hit status. A subsequent bidding war resulted in the group’s ultimate signing with Atlantic Records, who then re-released the album. No sooner than a few months had passed when the band found themselves caught in an upheaval caused by Atlantic’s restructuring, and they fought to be released from their newly signed contract. Finding themselves independent once more, the band released two more albums, Reliance, followed by So Close to Home, but eventually called it quits.
In-between their last two releases, Bill also recorded an acoustic solo project called Spring Lies Waiting—an album of songs he says he “felt the need to get out there, but didn’t quite fit the band.” It was a confusing time for Bill.
“It wasn’t easy to figure out how to pick up the pieces or if I even wanted to,” he says. “For a while I even considered what I might do outside this life of music but it’s hard to let go of the very thing you know that feeds your soul.”
After struggling internally, he did pick up the pieces and eventually moved forward. He secured a new publishing deal and resumed writing songs for others, as well as continuing to record as an artist himself.
“It’s a thrill to hear someone else sing your songs, but I realized I wouldn’t be 100 percent content if I didn’t have the chance to put my own voice to my songs as well.” Through the years his songs have been recorded by an eclectic mix of artists including British pop star Howard Jones, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kim Richey, Martina McBride, Bijou Phillips, Michael Stanley, as well as those closer to home such as The Clarks. He has also appeared on national television singing one of his songs, “Good Things Are Happening”, in a commercial for Good Morning America. As a performer, he has shared the stage with such notables as Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Patty Griffin, John Mellencamp and even “The Boss” himself, Bruce Springsteen. Not bad so far, considering his humble beginnings with the inspiration of one very controversial “king.”
When I asked Bill what he considers his greatest achievements thus far, he sites his longevity.
“This is vague, but my greatest accomplishment is that I’m still doing it.
I can point to a bunch of moments—seeing myself on national TV; a gig my old band did outside of Three Rivers Stadium on July 4th of 1996, which I see now as our highpoint in terms of our popularity and our playing; or it could be my latest record, which I'm as proud of as anything I’ve done. But the fact that I'm still in there slugging away is kind of the biggest thing.”
This album in particular addresses the commonality of life’s perplexities that we all encounter along the way; yet it becomes a unique experience as well, when coupled with the listeners’ individual journey.
“I think my songs appeal to a diverse group who share a common thread…mainly, thinker and feeler types,” says Bill. “Historically I have been a spiritual struggler. Like most people, when I look back, I try to find some meaning and that’s what I write about.” To shed some light on his most recent recording, Bill kept a light journal chronicling the experience.
Through his music, Bill is able to assemble together triumphs and defeats while evoking a celebratory or compassionate touchstone for his audiences. Though his music audiences span various cultures the world over, Bill’s most engaging audience remains right here.
“Pittsburghers are warm and open. It is the perfect home base. It’s friendly and nurturing towards artists and filled with inspiring history and landscape. It’s a great place to raise a family. I wouldn’t trade it for any other city.”
Of course what makes it all so sweet is the presence of his family. It makes perfect sense that Bill remains connected to his Pittsburgh roots being so well grounded in the comforts of his family home. Bill remains a son nurtured by his family and his dream.
“My Mom and Dad still come to all the local shows and are the first ones there and the last to leave most nights. If it weren’t for them I might not have had the guts to take a run at this.” His face lightens, unabashedly strengthened, perpetually touched.
The rain lets up a bit and so we carry the last of our conversation outside. Upon our photographer’s prompting, Bill climbs a treehouse built for his children, looking, of course, right at home. Ironically, the outdoors confirms the same discoveries that we made indoors. The same story begins to retell itself all over again.
As in a magical penned adventure hidden on a street deep within one of Pittsburgh’s older neighborhoods, “the heart of home” for Bill and Paula Deasy and their three sons is composed in the everyday hum of a simple home life. The place revels as a haven simple and true to the heart. For Bill, being so close to home while pursuing his musical dream, is the best the world has to offer. It is as timelessly plain and sweet an ideal as ever existed…