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What They Know About Me: An Interview with Zach Deputy

What They Know About Me: An Interview with Zach Deputy

“I started out winging it, and to be honest, I’m still winging it.”

Interview by Jeremiah Shea

“What they know about me?” is a question most can’t answer about Zach Deputy. It’s his own lyric but it’s something the one-man band is trying to change.  Deputy’s original sound is slowly making its way to people’s ears, but not at the rate it could be. Deputy is a one-man band in the sense that he plays his guitar, sings, and beatboxes; he does so though by recording these layers on the fly, live.  It is something special to see for sure. You could say that it’s a gimmick, but his passion for music and genuine attitude offer a strong argument against that. What he does on stage is a true feat and his pioneering style pushes the equipment he uses to its technological boundaries. We recently got a chance to talk with Deputy and ask him a few questions about his music and what makes him so unique. Deputy will perform live at Syracuse’s Westcott Theater on Thursday, December 27th. —jeremiah shea

7pm Westcott Theater, 524 Westcott St. Syracuse, NY, 13210 ( 299-8886) $15 advance, $18 day of show

Artvoice: What do you attribute your sound to?

Zach Deputy: I grew up in a very well cultured household.  My mom is Puerto Rican and my dad is Scotch-Irish.  I grew up listening to Tito Puente, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Motown, James Brown, and country music.  Also, since I grew up in the 1990’s, hip hop was huge and I ended up listening to a lot of that as well. I think that’s what comes out as my style;  it’s this weird, gospel/soul/island/hip hop/happy music that has some southern twang to it. That’s my sound.  I don’t know what it is, but that’s me. I try to live in the moment and take chances musically. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least I’m trying and that keeps music fresh for me. I’m dishing out something that’s real, genuine, and from the heart, and that’s what I feel people need.

AV: How did you come up with the idea to be a one man band? 

ZD: I tried to record music on a karaoke machine before I was even good at guitar. I would just record something, play it, and record on top of it. It was essentially looping before I even knew the term.  I started actual looping by accident with a Line 6 DL4 pedal that I used initially for delay. I saw a show in town and the guitarist used it as a loop pedal. One time, I went to get my bass player for a gig, and he couldn’t play the show. I started calling the venue to cancel it, and as the phone was ringing, I just hung up. I thought, I’m going to go there, play the show, and just make something happen. It was the first time I ever looped in my life and people really liked it. To this day, I’ve never looped outside of a show, other than the rare occasion of using it in the studio. I’ve never practiced it, I just perform with it. 

AV: Are there any limitations playing by yourself?

ZD: I don’t even think about that. I started out winging it, and to be honest, I’m still winging it. I might write down how I played a particular song, but they can turn out so different when I’m playing them live. I just go with it and try not to fight it. I sometimes don’t even know how it will end, but I’m going for it. There’s an excitement involved in that. I always give the analogy of a skateboarder going for the biggest and most awesome trick. Whether he crashes or not doesn’t matter, its going to be exciting because he’s really going out on a limb. If you’re going to reach for something that you think you can hit, but can barely see, then you have that element of failing, and that’s more exciting to me.

AV: You have a lot of microphones on your rig. What is the purpose of each one?

ZD: All the way on the left is my vocal synthesizer which is basically how I make my choir sounds. The next one in line is what I use for my high-hat, snare, and basic back-beat. It also doubles as a vocal mic that I add different effects to, just to give my voice a different tone. From there, I have my main vocal mic, and the last one is my low end for vocal bass or kick drum. They’re all EQ’ed differently, with different filters for the various sounds I make.

AV: Being that you’re a one-man band, how do you make sure that the tracks you record are on beat?

ZD: My brother is a phenomenal drummer, and he’s my older brother on top of it. When you’re a younger brother, you do whatever you can to make sure your older brother doesn’t get the chance to make fun of you. When I started doing the looping thing, I knew I had to keep my songs really tight to the beat; that way my brother couldn’t go to one of my shows and tell me I suck. I think he helped me out a lot without even knowing it because I was afraid of what he would say if the beat was off.

AV: What made you decide to use beatboxing in your loops?

ZD: I remember having beatboxing competitions all the way back in 2nd grade. Maybe its not like this for everyone, but all of my best friends used to beatbox when we were younger. We used to go in the woods and have big freestyle sessions for hours. That was just normal to us. It wasn’t one of those things that I learned so I could use it in my loops, it was just something that I always did. Now that I loop, I’ve found it compliments my sound and lays in the mix really well. 

AV: Who or what inspires you to write?

ZD: I think your whole life experience is shared through music. I write songs that make me want to cry and others that make me want to laugh. I have no set method though to how I write. Sometimes I hear a melody that I sing and record, sometimes it’s an event in my life that I need to write about, but more times than not, it happens live. When I’m playing, I often times go off on tangents. It’s really me just trying to share my soul, and a lot of the time, it turns into a song. Over the course of a tour, I end up writing a lot of songs that way.

Peter Case @ the Sportsmens Tavern Wednesday

Singer/songwriter and native of Buffalo, Peter Case, is an immortal. After two decades of songwriting the 57 year old from Hamburg has kicked it into overdrive, releasing two albums since the begining of the 2010 as well as starring in a documentary about his own life called Troubador Blues. “Is there a place in our fast-moving, hyper-informational mess of a culture for the traveling singer-songwriter?” This is one of the questions asked in Troubador Blues, which will debut this Friday (Oct 14) at the Buffalo International Film Festival with Case and Director Tom Weber in attendance. “It’s nothing like making an album,” Case said as the subject of the film, which was shot over the course of eight years. “You change as a person over that much time,” he said. Case is a workhorse. After taking some time off to recover from major heart releated surgery that almost killed him, he bounced back to release two albums within a year; 2010’s Wig, a rowdy and celebratory 11 track album, followed by this year’s Case Files. “These are songs that fell through the cracks,” Case said of Case Files, which he went on to describe as an “archival album,” full of Bob Dylan-like politico-folk tracks that range from near rap to full on rock, including a western-blues cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Good Times, Bad Times.” Case breathes new life into these tracks, that he once considered lost, from throughout his 25 year career. This Wednesday (Oct 12, TOMORROW) the three time Grammy Nominee returns to the Sportsmen’s Tavern, as part of a 100 date, coast to coast tour. “It’s different coming back to Buffalo now, but I still feel that strong emotinal connection with this place” Case said. He’ll get together with a couple of old pals—Jim Whitford, Mark Winsick, and Rob Lynch—to play as a full band and hopefully top last summer’s wild, sold out set. Dee Adams, Mark Norris, and Dave Ruch will open the show with a tribute set of Case songs as part of The Good Neighborhood’s Tributaries series benefiting Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. —cory perla

7pm. Sportsmens Tavern, 326 Amherst St. ( $15.

Check out some live footage of Case in the video below