Looping his way to fame
By: Kathryn Eident, August 2, 2011
courtesy Tsunami Music Publicity - Zach Deputy blends his heritage and influences on the road into a spicy Afro-Cuban/Irish goulash that has fans coming back for more.
Zach Deputy may be a solo act, but his sound fills the stage like a multi-piece band.
Touring the country with his guitar, a digital mixer and a huge sense of humor, Deputy’s own brand of self-described “island-infused, drum ‘n’ bass, gospel-ninja-soul,” has won him an ever-growing fan base that turns out for his playful, upbeat shows.
Using a musical technique called “looping,” Deputy records beats and riffs live on stage, then layers them together with sampled sounds to create the effect of a band complete with guitars, drums, keyboards, background vocals and other instruments.
The result: a dance party mix that’s never played the same way twice.
Hailing from South Carolina, Deputy finds musical inspiration in everything from the calypso and Afro-Cuban records his mom and grandmother used to play, to Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and modern-day hip hop. His family heritage of Cruzan, Puerto Rican and Irish finds its way into his music too, giving his sound a global feel.
This fall, Deputy will release Another Day—an album that explores his music from a new angle. In a departure from his one-man-band shows, the album features musicians like drummer Graham Hawthorne—who’s played with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon—and bassist Al Carty, a familiar name on Alicia Keys and Carrie Underwood albums.
Deputy has made touring his life–performing as many as 250 shows a year from California to Nova Scotia. His whirlwind tour will take him back East for an appearance at the Cape’s own Naukabout Festival on Saturday, August 6th.
Despite his hectic schedule, Deputy found time for a phone chat with InsideOUT to talk about his demanding tour schedule, his musical influences, and getting naked on stage.
InsideOUT: So you’re on the road right now, heading to your next gig…
Deputy: We had tornado weather last night, so we had to get up early so we could get to our next show on time. Right now I think we’re in Illinois. We’re on our way to Minnesota.
I/O: You keep a grueling tour schedule. How do you do 250 shows a year?
Deputy: Next year’s going to be different. I’m only doing three shows. (laughs) It’s one of those things you gotta love. It’s a different world. There’s no routine, no pace. There’s no getting used to some kind of schedule. Things come at you fast. It has its extreme ups and downs. It’s like: all the festivals are the coolest things in the world. Yeah? Well now we have to drive 40 hours across the country non-stop.
I/O: With all the touring, you must have seen a lot of places. What’s your favorite?
Deputy: North Dakota...wow. (laughs). No really, I like Cali, and I really like the Northeast. The first two places I felt were like a musical home for me were Massachusetts and Florida. I think you always have a love for the people that love you first. Whether it’s the biggest market or not, it’s where things first started happening. The first place I ever played a show was Wormtown in Worcester, and the second place was Bear Creek in Florida.
I/O: What’s a Zach Deputy show like?
Deputy: There’s a lot of pyrotechnics–I have to have a lot of explosions to make up for the lack of talent I have. (laughs) I usually have no clue what I’m going to do. Other than I’m going to open up 100 percent and be naked as far as being completely honest. I like to play honest music. The most important stuff–I lay out in a song and I lay it out on stage. It’s soul music. It’s about being real, being honest and being naked on stage.
I/O: That openness on stage is something your fans love–they seem really loyal.
Deputy: Yeah, my fans are loyal because every show is different. There are hundreds of different versions of each song. I take chances when I’m on stage. Sometimes I throw myself to the dogs. Sometimes it works out great.
I/O: One of the reasons your shows are different each time is you use a technique called looping.
Deputy: It’s interesting because you can literally have an idea in your head and just go for it without discussing it with anyone else. It opens up opportunities to be free as far as ideas go and create something you’re feeling. You can leave reality and be in some other distant world.
I/O: How’d you get into looping as a musical technique?
Deputy: The first person I heard looping was Brock Butler from PGroove, a band from my town. I never wanted to be a looper, but I happened to have the same pedal Brock had. I used it for delays. I remember I had a gig with my band and went to get my bass player and he was like ‘I don’t know if can make it to the show.’ I contemplated canceling the show, and called the drummer and said the show was off. But I went to the show anyways and said I wanted to play. I never did practice looping; I just did it live. I thought it was awful, completely awful. I didn’t have a mic to do beat-boxing, so I just slapped my guitar. But people loved it and I thought, if people love it, I can do it again, but better.
I/O: Some of your songs have a soul feel, while others have a strong reggae feel, and you can hear pop influences, too. What types of music influence your work?
Deputy: Heritage factors in greatly. I like to retrace heritage and find out where things came from...not just the stuff I like listening to, but the stuff they listened to at the time. My mom was from Saint Croix and my grandmother was from Puerto Rico, so I grew up listening to calypso, salsa, merengue and Afro-Cuban [music]. My dad listened to Motown, rhythm n’ blues, and beach music. I was also a product of the ‘90’s so I couldn’t shake the hip-hop element I grew up in. My heritage is all a part of me, my generation is all a part of me, and it’s something you can’t shake no matter what. It all blends itself into this goulash that people think is tasty.
I/O: When did you start making music?
Deputy: I’ve been playing music non-stop since I was a kid. I started singing first, then beat boxing. Then guitar, then I started making beats. I did a lot of hip-hop stuff when I was younger: me and my friends would freestyle all the time. Then I played the keys, then the drums a little bit. I started guitar when I was 14, and by the time I was 16, I was playing professionally. But I was also making beats all the way until I was 21. That helped with looping because I was playing all the parts.
I/O: You’re also known for playing impromptu shows. What’s that all about?
Deputy: You create this piece of art that’s not supposed to be there. Everyone catches the show not because they knew about it, but because fate made it happen. It’s just a one-time life experience for everyone and there’s something very gratifying about it. It’s like a moment. It’s a small group of people in this place and that makes it more special.