If you had ever wondered what a heavenly soul was like you need only listen to Zach Deputy. He may look like a big ol’ grizzly bear but his smile and charm denotes a soft loving teddy bear. His voice and manner is gentle and soothing, welcoming people into his embrace. His music is just as inviting and warm as his personality. In other words, Zach is what we call “Good People.”
His shows are known to leave none in attendance sitting while Zach entertains with an amazing use of loop technology, beat boxing his rhythms while blending his nylon stringed solos into a vocal harmony reminiscent of R&B times long gone by. We caught up with Zach during his last visit in Shepherdstown, WV. We knew we had to make it out when we heard he was stopping through. After all, when Zach Deputy is throwing a party, it is a dance party that should not be missed…
Taco: I really hate to start out the interview like this, but it’s a question that I have to ask because I have kids. My daughter is my first born, so it’s like we have a bond, you know, we have a very open dialogue. How is your daughter doing and how old is she now?
Zach: She’s three and a half now and she’s awesome. Focal point of my life most times. She takes up 95% of the picture.
Taco: I’m a dad, you’re a dad. I know how it affects my life, how about your day and what it brings to your daily goings-on with you being on the road?
Zach: We have ups and we have downs, you know. She’s got a great momma so I don’t worry about her. I’ve just been really thankful for her. I know she’s in a good place…I know she’s with the people who love her most, except for me. And when I’m at home it’s great. Unlike most jobs where it’s 9 to 5, I’m at home for like a week and a half. It’s nothing but me and my daughter, so it’s like, very, very well-spent time. So I look forward to that and whether that happens, that’s what consumes my life.
Taco: Yeah I was wondering because I basically missed the first 6 months of my daughter’s life, just from commuting and working all the time. One day I came home and she was standing on her feet, and I was like, “How did this happen?” And her mom was like, “Um, she’s been doing this. You’ve just been at work all the time.” That was pretty much when I said that I’m going to quit my job and find something closer to home.
Zach: Yeah, totally. You have to make changes, you know. I made a change this year, I knocked back the number of dates I play to like 150 versus 300 just because I was gone too long.
Taco: You mean you’re only going to do 150 shows now?
Zach: Yeah, exactly.
Taco: Your music, while fun, also has a deeply emotional streak through it. It’s all really positive, so where do you draw that positivity from?
Zach: From life, you know. From God, from my family, from the planet, you know. Just everything. Everything giving love, it’s just reflecting it.
Taco: Me working in the restaurant industry I see these people, and it’s almost commonplace for people when you ask them how they’re doing to say “I’m hanging in there.” Like, that’s all you’re doing? You’re not happy? I am.
Zach: Yeah life’s great, man. As long as you’re looking through the goggles correctly, life is great. You got to appreciate what you have.
Taco: My big thing that I tell people is that you can’t validate your happiness based on your externals.
Zach: You can’t. It’s all internal, it’s all perspective, it’s all how you’re analyzing it. Everybody has tough times and hard times and easy times, and life has a balance you just got to find it.
Taco: Your music is infused with so many different genres, however, do you feel there’s always one genre or influence that’s at the heart of each of your songs?
Zach: Hm. The one influence that I can never change is myself. I have so many different kinds of music that I love, and so many different things that I’ve experienced in my life, and sometimes I vibe songs off of those influences, but at the end of the day I always add myself to the equation. And that’s the part that I can’t change, you know.
Taco: Indeed. So it really is all about you?
Taco: That’s the way it should be. I think that there’s a lot of people out there who write music and think “well I think people will like this.” That can’t be your approach.
Zach: No. My last album I basically did it because I wanted to do it and I thought people wouldn’t like it.
Taco: Well you were wrong!
Zach: That’s what I said I said, “I don’t know if anyone’s gonna like this album but I’m going to make it anyways.”
Taco: That’s the other thing, you being so popular with the jam scene. For the most part your jam kids, lyrics are second place, it doesn’t even matter. And you’re a song-driven guy, I mean, what do you think has made them so receptive to that?
Zach: I kind of like play off vibin’. I put on multiple different kinds of shows, you know, I can trance it out with the best of them, I can get funky and do whatever. A lot times I let my audience help take me there. And so if the vibe is going there, I’ll go in different directions and I think they just respond to it because I’m fitting the vibe that’s already there. Every audience is so different and it pulls something out of you that wasn’t there before. I’m not afraid of any audience in the world. I would just like to jump in front of them and play music that I think they would like, you know.
Taco: I have a goal this next summer, I’m going to get a few players together and I want to go to nursing homes and put on little shows for the folks that are there. There’s a lot of people that just get caught up in life, you know their surviving family members get caught up in it and they’re just not there.
Your music has had a rise in the jam scene, but was scene were you involved with growing up?
Zach: I was involved in a local music scene and it was pretty much involved with a bunch of covers. There was Motown bands, there was cover bands, and not too much successful original artists where I was from. All the successful people were doing covers just playing what everybody else wanted to hear. I remember I got this job at Tiki Hut back home and he said “you have to play 75% covers at least,” and I didn’t play one cover. I just kind of weaseled my way into the scene doing my own thing, playing for cheaper than everybody else until that was highly in demand, and then my price just kept going up until you’re having 60 gig offers in a month for 30 days, you kind of say well…this guy wants to pay me this, so if you want to pay me more than that guy then go for it. But it was this slowly occurring thing but I basically in my hometown of Hilton had created a scene that had never existed there before I was there. So I created something new and a really huge audience for an original artist that was local and that doesn’t happen very much where I’m from, so I kind of made a way.
Taco: Where are you from?
Zach: Hilton Head, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. I’m from a town right in between them called Pritchardville. Nobody knows where that is.
Taco: This is more of a question from me. The first time that I heard your voice…not your music, I don’t want anybody to get the two confused. Your voice is so reminiscent of John Popper for me, whereas some of the newer kids say you sound like Cee-Lo. I’m like no…I think he sounds more like John Popper (laughter). Did you listen to any Blues Traveler back in the day?
Zach: No, I was never big into Blues Traveler. I played with Popper once. That was fun.
Taco: Did he have the guns?
Zach: (Laughter) I think he left the guns at home, I think this was after that whole experience. But nah it was fun to do a show with him.
Taco: This is actually something I hear a lot at your shows, everybody remarks on those wood grain glasses that you got. Are they real wood?
Zach: I don’t know what they are, man, I actually just ninja’d them back together today, I superglued them. I only got one pair of glasses. Working on a musician’s budget you gotta make things work out. So super glue is magic. But I think they’re made out of…I don’t know, it looks like fiberglass to me.
Taco: Yeah everyone talks about them, they’re like “those are the coolest wooden sunglasses I’ve ever seen.” Another question, too: What exactly is your ethnic background?
Zach: So many things. My mom is from St. Croix and Puerto Rico. My grandma’s parents are straight from Spain, so I’m about a quarter Spanish. I have a very little bit of black in me, from my grandma and my mom’s dad, on my mom’s side. It’s the Puerto Rican in me. I think my grandfather is English, British, something like that. My dad is mostly Scottish-Irish, more Scots than Irish, and there’s Cherokee indian on both sides of my family.
Taco: Nice. Me being part Panopscot, Filipino and a lot of white, obviously I have a little bit darker of a complexion, and this is something that I like to ask people growing up in the south that are multi-ethnic, whereas I grew up in the north as multi-ethnic, and I got a lot of hassle. I mean, there was a ton of hassle when I was a kid because me and my brother were the only white kids growing up in the school. What was it like growing up in the south?
Zach: You know, I was from Pritchardville, but we went to school at Hilton Head for middle school and high school, and most of the rich kids went to Hilton Prep. And I wasn’t rich so I went to, you know, my school, and whites were the minority, and I’m not really white, but like I have in some ways more in common with the other races, but I look more white than anything. So it was confusing growing up because we were separated not just by race, but by color, and money as well. So all the poor kids went to one school and we were pretty much right down the middle: Latino, White and Black. So I feel like culture-wise I understand a lot about culture. Just from going to school there, there were a lot of cool people.
Taco: When I was 16 we moved to Baltimore, and I remember the most confusing thing for me was the first day of school, I didn’t know where to sit. Because everybody kind of segregates themselves either from their social status or skin color. So here I was, looking at a room where Asians were sitting with Asians, Black kids were sitting with Black kids, White kids sitting with White kids. And the Jocks sat with the Jocks, and the Burners sat with the Burners…and I remember I was just so confused, but in the same sense you know it gave me a really good perspective, because when I first moved to Baltimore I identified with White people more, and then all of a sudden here I am living in a crappy neighborhood in Baltimore. And I’m like…wait a second. I don’t identify with white people anymore. Other than that, who do you think your big influences are? Like the people who had the most impact upon your musical interests?
Zach: God, and whether they see it or not, probably my mom and dad. I mean, they raised me, you know. So it somehow fostered the mind of a child to that direction. Even though it was pretty much me that pushed for music, but I remember my dad was always singing stuff and the guy was a dancer, too, always tappin’ on his truck everywhere we rode. So he was very musical, and my mom would always try to sing stuff, you know when we were on the road, so I grew up singing all the time, you know, a lot of memories singing.
Taco: She had a musical family then.
Zach: Yeah. My father’s a great musician, great singer, great drummer, too.
Taco: Does he ever play with you?
Zach: Occasionally we’ll do like some kind of reunion back home. It’s rare, but we do play together.
Taco: So does he have a musical career as well?
Zach: He plays back home, local, yeah, he plays a bunch.
Taco: When did you decide you were going to be a musician?
Zach: I was young, I think nine.
Taco: Really? What did you play?
Zach: Nothing. That’s when I started asking for a guitar. I didn’t get one until I was about fourteen. I thought when I was nine I was going to be a musician, then it really started to solidify by the time I was seventeen.
Taco: Anybody that you’ve always wanted to play with and haven’t had the chance to?
Zach: That’s still alive? Stevie Wonder, Bobbie McFerrin, Dr. John, he’s the man. I’ve gotten to play with a lot of people that I love, so it’s hard. Anybody that’s got soul, man, that’s where my heart is.
Taco: Two more questions. What is your dream venue?
Zach: Dream venue? The “I’ve made it” venue for me…would have to be either Madison Square Gardens. That means you’ve “made it” made it.
Taco: You have arrived.
Zach: You have arrived. Or Red Rocks, which means you’ve made it in my scene.
Taco: Indeed. Red Rocks is a common theme. I’ve done six interviews now and Red Rocks is a very common theme. Madison Square Garden has only popped up a couple of times. Have you ever been at a show and heard someone scream “take your pants off?”
Zach: Oh yeah, bunches of times.
Taco: Did you oblige?