John Van Deusen – Heavy Heart On A Sleeve

Photo courtesy of Auteur Research.

By Nicholas Jason Lopez

The night after his wife had a miscarriage, John Van Deusen turned to the only place he could find true solace – music.

He wrote the first verse of a song that would be called “Absentee Heartbeat” and followed up with the second verse a few weeks later. His wife and her dad buried the baby’s remains underneath a holly tree, which inspired the line, “Your tiny body sleeps under the holly tree/Your Mom planted flowers so you wouldn’t get lonely.”

Though lyrically endeavored to express his struggles with Christian faith, Van Deusen also carefully weaves through other heavy subjects in his songs like doubt, depression, fear and suicide. He suffered depression when he wrote the chorus to “All Is Nothing/Nothing Must End,” where he sings, “I long to be un-dividedly yours.” He expressed he felt that half his heart sang to God and the other half sang to Death.

“I tend to be pretty ‘heart on my sleeve’ with my lyrics and I would say I’m just kind of overly sincere in general when it comes to my songs,” said Van Deusen. “I think so many of the songs I’ve written just kind of come from this raw, emotional place. I really do mean it when I sing it. When you’re struggling with depression, you know what it feels like. The world is so heavy. The weight of the world is crushing to you and if you’re like me, you have a spiritual belief that believes in a higher power. There’s this desire almost to be released from life because you believe that it’s gonna be better on the other side.”

Van Deusen might be better known as the former frontman/primary songwriter for The Lonely Forest (Trans/Atlantic Records), who toured in support of bands like Death Cab For Cutie and Portugal. The Man. at one time. The group also performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live and was voted Best New Artist by NPR in 2011.

After The Lonely Forest took an indefinite hiatus in 2014, Van Deusen’s musical ventures didn’t stop. He began his solo career and also joined hardcore punk band BUFFET, who put out their debut full-length in April 2019.

Van Deusen wanted to group his solo records into an album series, entitled ‘(I Am) Origami.’ For the third and fourth versions of the series, he recorded 24 songs at Ranch Land Studios in Cisco, Texas with producer Andy D. Park (Pedro The Lion, Deep Sea Diver). The first 10 of those songs were featured on ‘(I Am) Origami Pt. 3 – A Catacomb Hymn,’ which was released on Jul. 19, 2019 via Tooth & Nail Records/DevilDuck Records (EU/CA).

“I didn’t have unreasonably high expectations,” Van Deusen said. “This is the eighth time I’ve been a part of a full-length release and I think I’ve just kind of learned to be thankful that it’s actually out because it’s such a big journey to go from writing to recording to actually releasing.”

The music video for his song “Whatever Makes You Mine” was released the same day, best described as “cathartic power pop.”

For the third installment, Van Deusen sought to make an album that reflected the music he listened to in early high school. He wanted a straight-forward record similar to 90’s radio rock – something loud and catchy. He listened to everything from Weezer’s ‘Pinkerton’ to Foo Fighters’ ‘Colour And The Shape.’

“I kind of wanted to get in touch with my teenage years because I also wanted teenagers to hear this record and feel like they can connect with it or people who were teenagers in the 90s and early 00s, to kind of reconnect with a feeling that maybe they had kind of forgotten about,” said Van Deusen. “I think the busyness of adult life numbs us and it doesn’t really allow us the chance to consider our feelings that often. I think I just want people to be able to admit to themselves, ‘I’m having a bad day,’ or ‘I’m struggling,’ or ‘I’m frustrated,’ or ‘I’m angry,’ or ‘I’m depressed,’ and just to feel less alone. That was really the hope for the record.”

Van Deusen toured Europe for five weeks between September and October 2019. At this time, he has begun to work on his next record, which he has recorded, but felt the need to go back and rerecord some things and make some edits. He didn’t want it to sound too similar to Pt. 3, so he hopes to incorporate some ideas on how to make it stand alone. Until then, he’ll continue to kick it in Anacortes, Wash., where he lives with his wife and cat as well as helps run a board game store.

“I think with this release, I would hope that people can just connect on an emotional level with what I’m singing about,” Van Deusen said. “I think my hope is that people can feel sad or angry or alienated and maybe aren’t really used to talking about it, but feel less alone by listening to the record.”

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