While visiting Zach Deputy’s website, his music is described as “Island-Infused Drum N Bass Gospel Ninja Soul.” Upon listening to the music, this unique genre classification starts to make more sense, as his soulful music blends a variety of influences, all of which make for an interesting take on songwriting. Having released four albums, Zach Deputy is confident in his place as a musician, and wishes to influence listeners in a positive way. Early next week he will visit Atlanta, and Alex May had a chance to talk with him about his thoughts on music.
First, can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your music?
My name is Zach Deputy, my act is called Zach Deputy. I like to keep it simple like that. The kind of music I play is all across the board. I like to call it American music ‘cause I’m an American, but it’s got roots from West African to hip-hop, to jazz, to blues, to funk, to calypso, to salsa, to bluegrass, to celtic music. It’s pretty much across the board. My heritage is Scottish, Irish, Cherokee, Puerto Rican, it’s about as bizarre as my heritage.
I guess anything that feels good to me, that feels natural, I play, and that happens to be a lot of kinds of music. It usually ends up as a jambalaya. It’s never really traditionally any of those. It has a little curry in it, it has a little garlic in it, you can taste that it has the influence. I try to make it my own.
Your music sounds like it has been influenced by several different types of music. Can you tell us a bit about some of the artists that have influenced you?
Some of my heaviest influences are things that make me happy. Tito Puente, Poncho Sanchez, Harry Belafonte, James Brown, Bobby McFerrin, who is probably the greatest singer of all time. All the other stuff I grew up listening to, I don’t name them as much since I play with most of the guys I grew up listening to. I was really into the underground jazz stuff going on when I was growing up, which I always fail to mention because they’re way closer and accessible to me, and a lot of the people that I grew up listening to are buddies now.
When writing songs to reach a new audience, how do you approach blending new ideas with your own style?
Well first off, I’ve never ever created a song thinking of an audience, and I never will. I think in life if you really want to make people happy, you have to be happy first. I really hope that what I do brings joy and life to other people and their lives. I feel like if I thought “what do they like?” it would not come out right anyway. A lot of time I’ll purposely do things I think people aren’t going to like, even on stage. It’s one of my philosophies as a musician that I don’t take my existing audience into account whatsoever, on what they enjoy, on a demographic, or a target audience. That’s the approach of the music industry, and the music industry’s lame.
My idea of what’s going on and then the record label’s picture of what’s going on can be two different things. I remember my last album; management was like “Are you sure you want to put out these songs? These songs are really songwritery. It’s different than your target audience.” I was like, who’s my target audience? I really don’t care. It’s so funny how people perceive albums. Fans can be like “Is this your new angle? Is this your new target? What are you doing?” Most of the songs on my last album are probably 7-8 years old, so to me, there was nothing new about it. These are old songs that I just want to unleash. I think of myself first as a songwriter, I love the songs, and I’ve written so many songs that I probably will never ever be able to record them all, but when I make an album, it just feels really good to be able to play. It’s done, and it’s in time for eternity. At least I got those things off my chest.
When I started doing stuff with the band, I told them that concept of who cares what the audience thinks. They totally didn’t get what I was talking about. But as soon as you start thinking like that, then it gets easy. The better analogy is as a human being, if you’re just yourself, what’s going to happen is you’re gonna attract people that really actually like you, and the people who don’t like you, you’re gonna repel them away. But the people who like you, you’re going to bring them in, it’s going to be real. But if you’re one of the types of people that is always just trying to make everybody happy, and bending and flexing in a way thats unnatural and projecting something that isn’t you, then you’re gonna have more people in your life in general, but none are really gonna like you for you, and all those people who really don’t like you, but they don’t know because you never showed them you, they’re still going to be around anyways like a thorn in your side. So life is not as pleasing. It’s easier to just be yourself, and let the chips fall where they may.
During your live show you record yourself and play it back in loops. Can you tell us how you developed this approach to your live shows?
It kind of happened by accident, I just showed up for a show one day because my bass player didn’t show up, and I had this delay pedal/looper. I didn’t beatbox or anything, I just played guitars and played on time. It just evolved over time.
Beatboxing was my first instrument. It was really natural once I figured out I can beatbox my own drums and then play on top of them. So once I figured that out, it was pretty much set in stone. But looping has always been easy to me. I feel like I was designed to do the loop and play. Sometimes people have watched me for years, and its still not actually understood that I’m doing everything live. In the looping world, if you do one little thing wrong, it replays it and replays it. It’s not like if your with a band and something goes wrong- that’s only behind you. In the looping world, if you do something wrong, it’s behind you, and it’s in front of you, and again in another five seconds. You have to be very precise.
Do you use the same equipment when coming up with new material, or is this something you develop after a song is written?
It’s only live. When I’m writing new material, I’m sitting down. I’m trying to build up a recording rig that mirrors my looping rig, but that’s just in my head, it’s never been done in reality. To set up all that gear and not get paid, there’s no motivation. When I get home, I never set that stuff up. But I like that, because when I get back on tour, I’m like “Oh this is awesome! This is what I do?!” It keeps it fresh.
I see that you’re playing the Jam cruise in January, are those shows very different than playing venues around the country?
Oh yea. The Jam Cruise is like the party olympics, the party marathon. There’s so much great music going on all day long, everyday, and then they stop off in this paradise first thing in the morning. So you’re up until like 6 o’ clock listening to amazing funk music, and then the boat docks at 7, and it’s like “come and look at this amazing beach!” and you’re like “well, I wanna see it before we leave.” You do that for three days with nonstop amazing music and nonstop amazing, beautiful places. I remember one time, I was supposed to get off Jam Cruise and drive six or seven hours back home, and I made it five minutes. I stopped at a hotel and slept for twelve hours straight. I consider it the marathon of music. I definitely enjoy it.
Thanks again to Zach Deputy for talking with us, and make sure to come and see him play at Smith’s Olde Bar!