R.I.P. Damien DeRose of Peasant, 1985-2015
(UPDATE: We received word from the family that Damien’s Celebration of Life takes place at Aldie Mansion, 85 Old Dublin Pike in Doylestown, on Saturday Nov 28 from 1 to 3 p.m.)
Bucks County singer and songwriter Damien DeRose, who has been making heartfelt and sensitive music under the name Peasant for over a decade, passed away last night at Temple University Hospital. He was 30 years old.
DeRose first began performing on the Doylestown scene as a teenager with an acoustic guitar in the mid-thousands. His self-released debut, Fear Not Distant Lover, came out in 2005. DeRose garnered national and international acclaim following Peasant’s 2008 sophomore record On the Ground, released on Paper Garden Records and distributed through Conor Oberst’s Team Love label.
His music struck an emotional chord with listeners: beautiful melodies set to affecting arrangements, lyrics of personal introspection, and a voice that was delicate and captivating. It channeled Sufjan Stevens, Jackson Browne, Elliott Smith and Simon & Garfunkel, putting DeRose on the radar of All Songs Considered, Paste, Daytrotter and many others; several songs like “Fine is Fine” were licensed for use in TV shows.
Shady Retreat followed in 2010, and saw DeRose taking his music even more inward for a very quiet and moving set of songs. For Peasant’s final album, 2012’s Bound for Glory, he went the opposite direction with his most adventurous arrangements – the 70s-esque power pop nugget “Girls,” the Nashville-inspired “Take It Light” and the troubled anthem “The Flask,” a rousing song about confronting personal demons:
Now you’re laying on the carpet
and you’re leaving me to cope with
everything that’s nothing to me
sometimes things just go right through me
You kept saying you were leaving
now you got me I’m believing
I was not the one to ask
damn the pills, and damn the flask
DeRose addressed difficult topics in his music very vividly, but it was not an act – he wrestled with drugs and drinking in his own life, and spent time in a Massachusetts prison following a 2013 arrest for burglary and possession of heroin. He kept in touch with his fans, occasionally sharing tidbits about music he would eventually release – the new album he recorded with Joe Ujj in Point Pleasant.
After his release, DeRose refocused on his music and his recovery. He also dabbled in photography through colorful nature scenes on his Instagram, which often incorporated light and shadow to stunning effect. In September, he shared new song lyrics touching on the experience of the last two years – “someday I know I’ll be free / all the bad will be worth it to me” – and excitedly talked of proceeding through “three years of new and unreleased material.”
He was even scheduled to play MilkBoy this Saturday, November 21st with Illinois, circulating flyers that read “Onstage for the 1st time in a very Long time.” But he was reportedly admitted to Temple hospital on November 6th where he spent two weeks in a coma. DeRose’s label, Schnitzel Records, confirmed early this morning that he died.
“He touched us all with his beautiful music and we will miss him tremendously,” they wrote.
I only met DeRose once, when he recorded at WXPN studios in 2012, but he was a friendly and effusively positive guy to work with, and his music as Peasant speaks volumes. It comes from a place very specific to him, but DeRose was an expert at writing about personal issues – heartache, loss, self-doubt, depression – in a way that transcended himself and became universal.
Anyone who’s been through hard times could listen to one of his songs and feel a connection, and DeRose was also skilled at using his music for transformative ends, spinning those hard times and bad experiences and emotions into something inspiring. Going back to “The Flask” – as difficult as some of those lyrics can be, when you listen to him singing them, it’s like somebody threw open the shades and let the sunlight in the room. He was a remarkable songwriter and his passing is a tremendous loss to our music community.
We will keep you up to date about news and updates surrounding DeRose. In the meantime, check out some of his music and photography below.