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Weekend Music: Optimistic frontman keeps the Gathering Field playing to win

Friday, April 09, 1999

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

The last time the Gathering Field's Bill Deasy had a new release to talk about, the year was 1996 and the band was riding high, having signed to Atlantic, a label flush with Hootie bucks, on the strength of the heavy rotation the band was enjoying on WDVE for an "On the Road" anthem called "Lost in America."

The major-label bow - a re-release, with cooler cover art, of the self-released "Lost in America" album - hit the streets in August to local acclaim.

But the title proved a self-fulfilling prophecy when the man who set the deal in motion, A&R VP Jay Faires, was ousted, leaving the band without an advocate of any power at Atlantic.

A follow-up single to "Lost in America," "Rhapsody in Blue" went nowhere fast.

As Deasy says, "I think it was more of a formality or something. They never pushed it. They never pushed anything. Even 'Lost in America.' We were playing that song the other day and I was thinking, 'How often do you get a song like this that just seems like such a special song?' And I just felt like no one tried to make it what it could have been."

When Faires left, the label never even reassigned the band another A&R rep.

"It was kind of a bad couple years," says Deasy. "We just got stuck in a kind of limbo with them where it almost seemed like we could have stayed there indefinitely; we could have said 'We're on Atlantic Records' for the next couple years but never put another record out. So it was very disheartening. It took its toll, kind of, on the spirit of the band."

Although they never split, he says, "In retrospect, I see that we were pretty close to maybe giving up, 'cause it was just such a frustrating experience."

Instead of breaking up, they left the label.

Technically, anyway.

As Deasy says, "I'm sure that's the spin I should try to put on it, but really, we probably would have been dropped because a million bands were dropped shortly after. I think we actually technically set the ball rolling but it was just 'cause we were completely zero priority to anybody there. You know what I'm saying? It's all just semantics. If we had really insisted on doing a record, they probably would've dropped us. So there was some little tiny dignity in that I think we did maybe make the first move, but it's kind of transparent."

Unsigned at last, the band got down to business, cutting "Reliance," an effort with any number of cuts that could follow "Lost in America" into heavy rotation, in 17 days.

It was good for the soul, says Deasy, "finally going in and just deciding to forget Atlantic and just remembering how good that feels, you know, to record music with people that you like playing with and everything. It gave the whole thing a kind of therapeutic, cathartic feel. It turned into a real wonderful experience and I think, luckily, we're gonna end up stronger than we were before. We made it through."

As bad as the band's Atlantic experience was, it hasn't left the singer bitter.

"Luckily," he says. "I don't feel really negative about anything, surprisingly. I think the other band members did more than I did, 'cause my wife and I had a baby and I was still getting these pretty cool opportunities to write songs in Nashville and L.A. I was going on pretty neat trips and creatively was feeling . . . like I was still growing. And I'm kind of a pathetic optimist sometimes. I was always the one who was saying to the band, 'Don't worry, you know. It's gonna work out.' I just felt like we had such good songs coming that I thought eventually we would win over the label. I was kind of a bad middle man because I may have distorted things slightly with my optimism. But the big thing was, I was kind of happy that we weren't in Matchbox 20, so I could stay home and watch my baby grow up."

He also found the time to write a novel, a process that, in some ways, shaped the writing of "Reliance."

"As we were in limbo at Atlantic, I started writing a novel," he says. "It was just a tiny little story that I spent, like, nine months focusing on. And I think that kind of lightened up my songwriting a bit, 'cause you know, on 'Lost in America,' the songs are like little short stories. So writing the novel kind of freed me up to just write shorter, catchier pop songs."

The novel tells the story of a character based on Deasy going to a college based on the college he went to, Grove City.

"It's about this kid going to that kind of small Presbyterian college and he befriends this mysterious older guy," he says. "It's sort of dark but it's just sort of a coming-of-age kind of thing, like a million other books. It felt so good to write, though."

He's currently got an agent shopping the novel around.

"So far, I've gotten four rejections," he says, "but I'm trying to get it published. Who knows, man? My wife must want to have a heart attack. I'm in one insanely long shot industry and what do I do next? I try to write a novel, which is even more of a long shot."

As for the original long-shot Deasy industry, he says he's tried to contact Faires, who's still got his own label, Mammoth.

But it's hard to get ahold of people when your record isn't selling.

"Either you're kind of like the band of the moment that everybody wants to talk to or you're not," he says. "That's probably an oversimplification but I don't even know that we'll get phone calls returned at this moment - until we sell a bunch of our new record. And then, everyone will call us."


THE GATHERING FIELD

Where: Nick's Fat City, South Side.

When: Tonight at 10:30 and tomorrow at 7 and 10:30 p.m.

Tickets: $7; 412-323-1919.



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