INTERVIEW: Zach Deputy at Electric Forest

I sat down with Zach Deputy early Sunday morning (well, early by festival standards) at a shaded picnic table in the media lounge. I grabbed him a bottle of water, which he immediately used to swallow some medicine he’d brought along. “I feel much better than yesterday, though,” Deputy said as he twisted the cap back on the bottle. He’d flown in the day before from Quincy, CA with a cold he’d caught sometime during his stay at the dessert-based High Sierra Music Festival. “I don’t know if you know anything about that part of California. It’s like, 90 degrees during the day and drops to like, 30 degrees at night.”

Apparently, a misjudgment of the region’s weather had led to Deputy attempting an over-night slumber under the stars, only to have him wake with chattering teeth and horrible chills. The next morning he woke with a fever and dizziness that caused him to cancel a workshop he was instructing in lieu of a morning in the med tent. “I made it to my second show that day, but it took every bit of energy that I had to make it. And ever since then, I’ve been fighting this fever.”

As we began the formal interview, Deputy told me he’s been playing music all his life and singling for as long as he can remember. “When I was little, I would go up to someone playing guitar and just look up at them goo-goo-eyed. They could be playing something really awful like…” Deputy trailed off into a twangily hummed rendition of the famous opening lick from Sweet Home Alabama and continued, “and I would just be like, ‘Woah! That’s so awesome.’”

A goo-goo-eyed Zach Deputy.

Deputy says he begged his parents for the better part of his childhood for a guitar until the age of fourteen when he finally got one. Within two years, he was playing professionally. “I took two lessons. One was from this jazz guy. He was real cool. He taught me all the triad chords. And the other was from this guy in my local area. He told my mom that I wasn’t allowed to take lessons anymore [because he was so good that he didn’t need them], but if I wanted to come back and just jam with him anytime I could.” Deputy never took vocal lessons, but studied voice and music theory with a special concentration in world rhythms.

When I ask about projects prior to his solo career, he lists the following bands: Country Fried Funk (with his brother), These Guys, The WOME (an acronym for “word of mouth experience”), Funky Hayride, and ZEM Boys. Deputy busted out in laughter when he remembered yet another band he was in called Hamster. “We played New Years Eve inside of a cage with a bunch of shavings everywhere.” But becoming a solo artist was never really part of the plan, he says. In fact, Deputy claims it was a total accident.

He discovered the loop pedal while in ZEM Boys (another band name acronym, this time for Zach, Eric, and Matt- the names of the band members) one day while getting ready for a show. The band’s bass played had taken too many prescription drugs and was not fit to play. Rather than cancelling the show, Deputy decided to go through with it and had to improvise, forcing himself to play with a loop for the first time ever. “It was actually a delay pedal, but there’s one option to loop. But it could only be a 16-second loop. It was an awful loop machine.” He eventually began playing shows 6 nights a week with his new-found musical tool and also started teaching guitar and voice two days of the week.

When asked how he feels about playing at a predominately electronic music festival, Deputy replied simply, “I feel like I’m the anti-venom,” and paused for a minute before continuing. “I have a lot of friends that do electronic, but in my personal opinion, if what you’re playing is not being created live in front of somebody, then it’s not truly live. It’s something from the past being played now. It’s the human imperfections [in the moment] that make music so beautiful.”

Deputy went on to describe a poster he saw in a studio once titled “The History of African American Music” comparing musical legends like John Coltrane with current stars such as Lil’ Wayne. “I don’t think that today’s music is nearly as intelligent as it used to be.” He continued by telling me about an old television show he recently stumbled upon while resting with his cold. “There was this big band playing and it was so ridiculously awesome- this huge band that most people would probably turned the channel as soon as they saw it, but it was so inventive and way more creative than anything I’m seeing today.”

Interestingly, Deputy recognizes that with the current state of our economy, it’s no longer practical to tour and travel with massive bands such as the one he romanticized about from TV and acknowledges that’s partially why solo artists like himself have been able to carve a niche. “I don’t think the consumers realize how much power they have. Their voice is everything. What they support is what the next generation is. Where they put their money is basically saying, ‘This is what we want to keep around.’”

Zach Deputy performs at The Electric Forest Music Festival.

Suddenly, our conversation had progressed on a somewhat somber note, as Deputy admitted that sometimes living as a touring artist almost becomes too much to bear. “I don’t think consumers realize how many artists get to that point where they’re like, ‘I should just stop. It’s too hard.’ The consumers don’t understand their power to keep musicians going, or to just stop them in their tracks.”

“I remember the day I became an artist and stopped being a musician. Somebody asked me to play ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and I told them no. I can play ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, but that day I decided I’m going to play music that is good for myself and that when I’m singing it, it’s genuine. But my point in that is, why did the guy want to hear ‘Brown Eyed Girl’? Because he wanted to relive a moment that he already had instead of creating a new moment and living in the now. A lot of electronic music is not about living in the now, it’s about creating something that already was.”

Aside from these reflective moments wherein Deputy and I discussed the state of today’s music world, he is a man of many voices, facial expressions, and jokes. When discussing his performance at Summer Camp 2010, he exclaimed, “Oh, that was my first time in the Midwest and I really wanted to freak people out. So, I wore a cowboy hat and cutoff t-shirt that said ’24 Hour Truckin’. I wanted people to not know what to expect.” If you read his blog on the Zach Deputy website, it’s easy to get a feel for his sense of humor. “Allison, my tour manager, calls me up and just writes down everything I say, even when I say, “Don’t write that down.’” Deputy is animated in everything that he says, honest to himself, and a generally happy-spirited person- one of the most enjoyable performers I’ve ever had the privlige of meeting.

Deputy says he’s excited for his album, Another Day, which will drop next month. “It’s being marketed in a totally different way than my last two albums… by the fact that it’s being marketed,” he laughed out loud as he told me what’s on his plate right now. “We’ve got an EP out with a couple songs from the upcoming album, as well as a couple that didn’t make the cut.” He also says he’s nearing the release of a looping instructional video. “I get all these technical questions about looping like, five times a night. I’m not a technical guy. I’m more like a caveman. I make sure it happens, but I’m not that smart about it.” Comparing his craft to photography he continues, “Taking pictures is all about ‘the eye’. People can be technical about it- shutter speed and focus and blah, blah, blah- but if your picture isn’t entertaining, what’s the point? That’s how I feel about music. I don’t know what’s technically going on, I just know what feels good.”

Photos by C-Style Photography.