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Interview: Peasant Chats About New Album Shady Retreat

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Peasant I Photo by Kate Swan

Peasant I Photo by Kate Swan
If all had gone according to plan Peasant (aka Damien DeRose) wouldn't have an album, let alone two. Heck, he probably wouldn't have bothered writing songs all, but as we all know, things rarely go according to plan. The cosmos usually finds some reason or other to throw us a curve-ball or in DeRose's case a sea lion.

With a full blown case of senioritis, DeRose and his friend decided to cut their last year short, dropped out, get their GEDs, buy a sailboat in Monterrey, and sail south. Their plan was derailed when they got to California to discover that their boat had been sunk repeatedly by sea lions leaving them with a wobbly wreck. Undeterred the guys went home to Philladelphia to make some money to fix it up, but in the interim had a falling out and the dream of the life on the open sea died.

And thank God it did because in it's place, DeRose decided to write an album in his bedroom which would later become his critically acclaimed debut, On The Ground. His stark honesty about a truly horrific break up and haunting voice won him favorable comparisons to Elliott Smith and Nick Drake. We caught up with DeRose earlier this week to talk about his sophomore release Shady Retreat. Here is some of what was said.

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Peasant - Exposure

What made you pick up an instrument?
I was forced to in school like many children have been in the past and many children should be in the future.

What did you play?
I played the recorder and the violin. I went to an artsy school that required you to play a string instrument before you were in sixth grade, but all I really wanted was a drum set.

How come?

I don't know. I've just always wanted to play the drums. Probably because I wasn't allowed to. My mother was like, "There's no way you're getting a drum set. In this house? No." So I constructed my own set out of pots and pans and would play on that, which eventually wore her down and I got drum lessons. The teacher, however, thought I needed to start on a drum pad before I got a set. It sucked. I was so mad, and my mom was like, "Awesome!" It was really underwhelming, but eventually I earned a drum set in high school.

Why did you call yourself Peasant?
I knew I didn't want to use my own name. My name is Damien DeRose, which sounds even more fake than a fake name. I just wanted something simple. Something that would be easy to remember. Although I heard that there's a pagan metal band with that name too. I've seen their stuff on music websites from time to time. I'm pretty sure I got there first, though.


Peasant I Photo courtesy of Peasant's MySpace page.

How did you end up with Paper Garden Records?
I actually met Bryan (Vaughan), who is Paper Garden Records, on MySpace almost four years ago, and he liked my stuff. At that point I was doing all of my own booking and promoting and recording and I knew it couldn't continue the way it was going. I couldn't get by on no income, so I sent Bryan a bunch of demos. He dug them and came to a show in New York, which had almost no people in it, which at the time was not that uncommon, but he must have liked it because he signed me right there.

How autobiographical are your lyrics?

They're pretty autobiographical. I mean, you're supposed to write about what you know, and I know a lot about myself. (laughs) But while the lyrics usually say something about myself, I try and be subtle sometimes. I worry a lot about being a shameless exhibitionist. Well I mean, you are a singer/songwriter, so hasn't that ship sailed?
(laughs) Maybe. I think a lot of artists struggle with the same thing. But learning about other people's skeletons enraptures people. It's just a cold, hard, sad fact. So as a writer you've got to figure out how much you're not be afraid to say. Because if you pull out too many of your skeletons, you'll ruin your life. (laughs)

Speaking of skeletons, who did you write "Not Your Savior" about?
A lot of that record about the same person. Before each song I would say, "Okay this is the last song I will write about you!" But that fucked up relationship generated unending material. Fucked up relationships sure are good for writing songs. (laughs) But I won't tell you who though.

That's just fine. What track are you most proud of on Shady Retreat?
I'm proud that I made every second of every track on that album. I produced it. I put it out on my label. And it's been played on the radio and stuff. I really wanted to do that just to see what would happen. It was recorded in a bedroom studio. Although I suppose it's not really a bedroom anymore. I played and recorded all of the instruments. It's like a snapshot of my brain. There are no other influences, just me and my crazy mind. The first album I did was half in the studio and half in my bedroom, and I kinda had to mix those things together, but this was all me.

What did you learn about recording the first album that you applied to the second one?
This is going to sound pompous.

That's okay.
On The Ground got overwhelmingly positive reviews, but I didn't really like the record. Maybe it just wasn't exposed to enough reviewers, but I thought it was such a dumb record when it came out because I didn't feel like it had been this great effort. I would spend half a day on a song and then it was done. I wasn't able to do what I do, work on songs for days and layer them. I just wasn't that excited about the material. It was like my step child, so I decided that the next record is gonna be like me. I'm not going to rush in the studio. Ironically this record has gotten really mixed reviews. People either find it offensive or really love it. It's like this love/hate relationship, but I like that better. It's not playing it safe. I just didn't hold back, which I think is good.

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Perhaps you didn't appreciate the first album because it came too easy for you. I think we never appreciate things we didn't work really hard at, even if it's good.
I think you're abso-fucking-lutely right. You've totally nailed it on the head. We never like anything that comes easy. I wanted to make an album like Pet Sounds where nothing is expected. Something really experimental to push my own boundaries. I'm don't know what I've learned from it yet.

Well I think it might be too early to tell.

That's true. The first album took awhile to seep in. I did what I thought was me at least at that time. I guess I just felt like writing sad acoustic songs, but it wasn't my complete self. I mean I was eighteen when I wrote that album and this new one I wrote at twenty-four. I've evolved.

So we shouldn't rule out a hip hop album from you?

You laugh, but I've been listening to a lot of rap on the radio lately. I think you can do anything as long as your genuine about it. Although my rapping would be awful. However I've got great respect for popular hip hop. They seem to be pushing boundaries and taking chances more than any other genre of popular music. I don't know why that is. They just have no fear of recording something new.

What is the weirdest thing you've seen in the audience?

Oh I gotcha. Well, it isn't really the weirdest thing, but the vibe was odd. I was recently in New Orleans and there was this slight man with beard, dreadlocks, and tattoos and stuff and he was wearing a dress. He was just happily wearing a dress with bare feet. It was like he couldn't find a shirt, so put on a dress, which was fine, just really strange to see. I love New Orleans though. The crowd was so vibrant. It's like they were just happy to have some happiness in their lives. Exuberant, that's the word. They were exuberant.

How involved are you in the music video process?
Well, I've only done one real music video with a crew and all that. I had a friend of mine who's an amazing photographer/videographer do it. We just wanted to make something really surreal on no budget, and I think we succeeded.

Who got to wear the bear suit in that video?

This guy named Andrew, who is actually a really good actor, but his talents went to waste in that suit. He was all about it though. It was such a beautiful day when we shot that thing. I love that video.

If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?
I've recently spent some time in Europe and was struck by how much countries support their own bands. A lot of musicians are subsidized based on paying their dues and the hours performing . Basically if you're a legitimate artist by their parameters then you get some help in order to spreading your own culture in other countries. Like at SXSW there were showcases put on by different countries all over the world. Whereas I feel like our government doesn't give a shit at all and it's considered almost socialism or something if you support the arts. Basically if you're a musician then they think you're homeless or a drug addict or something. Although I thank God that I'm not a poet. That would be so much worse.

Well thank you for talking with us!
Thank you!

Be sure to catch Peasant tonight at Spacelandwith Retribution Gospel Choir, and Stevenson Ranch Davidians. Doors open at 8:30pm and tickets are $10.