Zach Deputy with guitar (pedals not pictured). Photo courtesy of Zach Deputy.
Hearing the phrase “one-man band” brings to mind the infamous image of the cartoon fool with a drum on his belly, a tambourine on his foot, a kazoo in his mouth and other noisemakers wired about his body. Take away all those cluttered instruments and all that’s left is a musician trying to get his songs heard. In the age of the iPhone, that cartoon is no longer a fool. In this world, one-man bands are not only feasible, but pretty cool too, and the music they make can be just as intricate as a full-fledged orchestra.
Zach Deputy is one of those musicians (not the fool) who has taken the one-man band concept to the next level. He has found a way to build his songs live and on stage from scratch (nothing pre-recorded and no pre-sets) all in front of an expectant audience and focusing on one little instrument: his Godin Synth guitar. Well, there’s not just the guitar. He also uses looping machines, special microphones, drum pads, and more to create a full-band effect along with that guitar, which sure puts in its time.
BTR got a word in with Zach about the tech he uses to create his unique sound, where that sound comes from and why you shouldn’t call him a “faker” at shows.
BTR: So how long have you been playing music?
Zach Deputy: I’ve been singing since I knew my name, I’ve been beat boxing and making weird mouth noises since 2nd grade, ya know back in school we used to cover our mouth and stuff; and playing guitar since I was 14.
BTR: What other instruments do you play?
ZD: I play pretty much any percussion, anything string I can’t play, I never got into violin and cello, but otherwise, pretty much anything. I’m into making noise.
BTR: Tell me about your beautiful guitar, what is that and how does it work?
ZD: That’s my looping guitar, it’s a Godin Synth guitar, so you can use it to play in any instrument you want. It can be a goat, a French woman, anything I program it to do. It can make a ton of noise and it’s not really that hard to play, pretty much like a regular guitar. I can make so much sound with it.
BTR: Why did you start the looping thing, and the one-man band thing?
ZD: Well, it was by accident actually. My bass player friend and I were hanging out and not being very productive, we weren’t doing anything so I was just like, “Okay, what do I do now?” And he had some stuff I wanted to mess around with, one of which was a looping pedal which I had never used before. So I got to messing around with it and eventually created a whole song on his one machine.
BTR: How many different loop machines do you use now and how do they work?
ZD: Loop machines basically store all the sounds I need. I have two but on each loop machine I have 4 different tracks or phrases and I can loop as much as I want in each of those [pedals]. I can have a drum track in one of them, a bass track with backup singers on another, I can have organ and guitar tracks and I can pull any of those in or out as I please. Basically, the second looper is for a B section because they’re not synched up together, so I have to make a completely different loop. Sometimes I’ll knock out all the melodic instruments and keep the drum section in my loop A and I’ll re-loop that and create a different rhythm section for loop B. Then I have an A and a B section to create a song.
BTR: What brand of looping machines do you use?
ZD: The Boss RC 50, like RC Cola, haha.
BTR: When you go to do a live show, is any of it pre-recorded? When you go on stage can you just press a button and the sound you want comes out? Or it’s all done right there?
ZD: No, I couldn’t live with myself if it was pre-recorded, it’s completely against my ethics and morals of music. It would be like going against my whole career if I used pre-made loops, that’s not the idea. In fact, one time at a show, some guy was shouting out, saying I was faking it. Have you ever seen the episode of Family Guy when the guy keeps popping up going “you’re a phony!” to Peter? Well, that’s what it was like, he was screaming in the middle of my show that I was faking it and not really doing what I was doing, so I stopped in the middle of the song I was performing and I said to the audience “This guy doesn’t think I’m really doing any of this up here, so I’m going to make a custom loop for him right now” and so I did and it was pretty good, but the lyrics went “You’re old, you’re creepy, you live in a teepee, you’re old, you’re creepy, you live in a teepee…” and pretty soon everyone was singing along, shouting at this guy at the top of their lungs. It was great, he got so mad and left, and ya know I don’t want to be a dick, but how are you going to stand in the audience and scream that at me? So… yeah, none of it is prerecorded I just could never do that.
BTR: What happens when you go into the studio? Do you do it on the spot?
ZD: Actually my studio albums are mostly done with a band, I worked with members of Ryan Montbleau band on Sunshine (2009). They came in to help me out, and I’ve worked with some of the Jackson’s, members of Earth Wind and Fire, Dr. John, Bruce Hornsby–a ton of other great musicians.
BTR: Does it feel much different than when you’re working with your looper, just you on stage, as opposed to a live band in the studio?
ZD: It’s way different, and it’s pretty much the only thing I have the budget for. I sometimes wish I could record in a very different way but my last two albums I’ve made in four days. Recording, mixing and mastering takes much longer, but I don’t have the money to spend a long time in the studio. So we get in there, lay it down and get out.
BTR: How did you meet all these great musicians?
ZD: I guess just being in the right place at the right time, ya know, networking and paying them when they come to the studio.
BTR: I know you like to describe your music as dance music for the soul, but how would you elaborate on that? Where does your sound come from?
ZD: It just comes from everything I am. My mom is from St. Croix, Virgin Islands, so my grandma would always bring me Calypso mix tapes and other music. I loved getting mix tapes from my grandma. And then when I was younger, my mom got really into country music, which is a little weird, and my dad is into Motown and beach music, so that’s where that all comes from. My parents were professional dancers as well so I have music in the family and I’m a product of the 90’s. so you get that whole hip-hop influence in there. Just our whole generation growing up in the 90’s, high school and middle school were kind of sucky but we had Nirvana and Sublime and biggie smalls So ya know, whether I like it or not, it’s in my blood and since I grew up in the Southeast, there’s a bit of twang influence. Then I discovered Ray Charles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder–stuff like that. I really draw influence from everywhere, so all those things make my music and then me as a person and individual soul taking it to a new level.
BTR: What can you tell me about the new album?
ZD: It’s called Another Day, it comes out in September. It’s a great album, I’m very happy with it and very excited about what its going to do for my career. It’s definitely going to open the window to a completely different audience without alienating the audience I already have. The songs are closer to what I do at home when I’m just messing around, so that’s really fun for me. I’ve been playing some of the new tracks and people are responding well, so I can’t wait to see how the album does.
Pick up a copy of Zach’s latest EP, Into the Morning or you can download the track “Happy Graduation” for free from his Facebook page. Keep checking back for more from Zach Deputy on BTR, or catch him on his nationwide summer tour, going on now.