In making his fourth album Wash It in the Water, Zach Deputy dreamed up a sunny and soulful new sound that fuses hip-hop, funk, and folky pop with the spirited rhythms of soca and calypso. With that sound embodied by the album’s brightly melodic and richly textured title track, Wash It in the Water finds the Georgia-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist mining his Puerto Rican and Cruzan heritage for inspiration. “Because of the music I was raised on, I’ve always heard rhythm in a very tropical, Latin-esque way—it’s something that resonates in the deepest parts of me,” says Deputy, who grew up in South Carolina.
“When I was a kid my grandma would play a lot of salsa and soca and make me get up and dance to it, so in a way this is me putting my own spin on all that and bringing those sounds into a whole new era.” With Deputy playing every instrument on the album, Wash It in the Water was self-produced in spontaneous sessions that took place in studios and homes and sometimes in Deputy’s garage. “Each time I recorded, it was mostly just for fun,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to make anything happen, I was just going with what felt good.” As a result, Wash It in the Water bears a warm, natural feel that permeates everything from the intricate guitar work and tender vocals of “Jump in the Water” (a serenade to Deputy’s seven-year-old daughter), to the groove-heavy funk of “Put It in the Boogie” (a celebration of the joyfully chaotic life of a musician), to the piano-driven balladry of “Loving You” (a powerful meditation on unconditional love). In anticipation of his Bozeman performance, The Rolling Zone was able to get Zach on the phone to talk making music since early childhood, staying true to his artistry, and finding success as a musical chameleon.
RZ: Hey Zach. Looks like you’re back in your Southeast neck of the woods. Gotta soak up the time at home when you can.
ZD: Right, exactly. Exactly.
RZ: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today.
ZD: Thank you, man.
RZ: You’re gearing up for the ‘Lost and Found Winter Tour’ with Iration, including a few stops in Billings and Missoula. How’s prep going for this outing?
ZD: You know, not too much prep. I feel like the audience needs to prep more than I do so they can protect their brains.
RZ: Ooh. Get ready guys.
RZ: You have made time for a return solo show in Bozeman at The Filling Station.
ZD: Heck yeah, man.
RZ: What can we expect to see with this performance?
ZD: You know, to sweat, to cry, and to use your butt to thrust your body up and down and get your groove on.
RZ: Nice! Wasn’t your last Bozeman show at The Filler?
ZD: Yeah, it was. We had a great time too.
RZ: It’s a cool spot.
ZD: I like it. I like Bozeman. I have a tradition every time I go to Bozeman. I go to that spa you’ve got in town with the sauna steam room, cold tubs, and hot tubs.
RZ: The Hot Springs. It’ll probably be cold, so you’ll want to go there.
ZD: Yeah, I love that place. And it usually is [cold]—I’m from coastal Georgia. It’s always cold up there.
RZ: Let’s talk about your fourth and latest album, Wash It in the Water. What inspired you to make this record?
ZD: I wanted to do a record from beginning to end, just for the whole process of it. And each song comes with a different inspiration. To get into the micro would take forever, but the macro of it is, just for my own sake and my growth and my learning process as an artist, I wanted to complete and album from front to back doing everything from the mixing to all of the instrumentation to everything [else]. That was the task for me, the goal I set for myself, to do everything on my own. I learned so much from the process. It’s been awesome.
RZ: That’s awesome. A passion project.
ZD: It was really cool. Learning how to record is so different from learning how to perform. I recorded the whole thing, basically in my garage.
RZ: What do you think are some stand-out tracks on this album? Those you might be most proud of?
ZD: It’s hard to say because I like them all for such different reasons. I like “Chevrolet” a whole bunch, and “Loving You.” I’m really proud of that song. I did all the piano work and all the string work, and was really happy with how it all came out. I’m not a piano player, you know, it was the first time I was organizing strings. “Jump in the Water” makes me happy because I wrote it for my daughter. I [added] strings and weird stuff—there’s actually a bagpipe at the end of that song. I actually recorded my daughter just running around and playing when she was two and laughing. I put it at the end of the song and it always kind of chokes me up. That one has the most emotional response from me when I listen to it. But I like them all for different reasons. They’re all my kids.
RZ: That is a tough question.
ZD: It’s hard to pick one out. When I listen to my albums, they always hit me different than the last time I listened to them. A lot of times the song where I was like, “Eh I don’t know about that one,” I listen to it a year later and am like, “Oh man, that’s my favorite.” So it’s all in perspective, and our perspective is continuously altering.
RZ: How has your music changed and/or stayed the same since your debut album to this latest?
ZD: My music is always evolving. I live with the philosophy of “in the now.” If you’re really living in the now, then you’re not trying to recreate the past—you’re trying to learn from the past and better yourself. My music is ever-changing. To explain to you now how the music has changed, then by the time I get to you guys in Bozeman, it’ll change again. It goes in these different waves. I’ll go deep into a certain kind of groove for like a week, a couple weeks, a month, and then it’ll only be sometimes, then I’ll get heavy into this—I’m just into different stuff every week. So depending on the week, it’s all different. But last week was very funky. I just put up a show on Bandcamp that was this weird kind of mixture between go-go, old school funk, and swamp blues hip-hop kind of vibe. But it’s going to change. Sometimes I get all sentimental and I sing a lot of love songs, and sometimes I just want to play island music. It all depends on where I’m at.
RZ: And the mood you’re in.
ZD: I feel like as an artist, it’s more important to be yourself and be true to how you’re feeling than what people want of you, or even think of you. I’m sure there are certain people who come to the show and they just want these four songs, and if I don’t play those four songs, there gonna be unhappy. And those people can go eat a big ole turd, I don’t care. It’s not about them. If they really loved me, they’d want to hear my true feelings, and my true feelings [are] my music. I’m like one of those “worst enemy” artists. I’m not playing music for other people’s amusement, I’m playing music to share a piece of myself with the world—and try to inspire people to do the same thing. Be raw, real, and honest.
RZ: That’s your artistry right there.
ZD: Yeah, you gotta fight to be an artist. That’s my definition of an artist. No matter what anybody thinks or anybody says, an artist is one who’s true to their vision and how they feel. A musician is somebody who’s trying to entertain people with noises. Usually the musicians are the more successful, and the artists are more successful after the fact.
RZ: You’ve performed everywhere from the Deep South to cold mountain towns like ours. Do you notice a difference in the way these audiences experience the music?
ZD: Totally. I was utterly amazed the first time I left the Southeast, how much people supported me. Don’t get me wrong, the Southeast has a lot of different people listening to a lot of different music, but it’s dominated by booty-shakin’ rap, club music, and country. If you don’t fit into that small box, you don’t really get the big crowds and big responses. When I started touring outside of the Southeast, I was so amazed at how well taken in my sound was. I grew in the Northeast way faster than I did in the Southeast. Within six months, I was bigger in the Northeast than I was in six years of touring in the South.
RZ: Huh. That’s crazy.
ZD: So there’s a drastic difference. The South has come along, [but] some places have been an uphill battle. It’s just like people. You hang out with some people and it’s cool, you’re like, “Wow. This guy gets me. I can be myself around him and I don’t even have to try.” Other people, it’s like you’re talking to them but they don’t even hear what you’re saying. And I’ve always noticed that with the music. The more I’m in the bigger cities too, the harder of I time I’ve always had. As an artist, that’s where I am. I fit better with certain audiences than other audiences, and who knows why.
RZ: That’s why you’ve got to hit everywhere you can.
ZD: Exactly. And I think that’s why I’ve developed the kind of fan base I have. Where you are yourself and you refuse to conform, and let everybody know who you are, people are either going to really like you or really not like you. I think [that’s] cool because I’d rather know who my friends are than who my friends aren’t. I’ve developed a fan base that’s just really awesome and so supportive. It’s so giving to me because of that. I’d harder and not as a wide-thrown net, but it’s just a really really good group of people.
RZ: What made you decide to get into the business of making music?
ZD: When I was thirteen I said to myself, “I’m going to better at Jimi Hendrix.” The reason I did say that was because I never quit hearing songs in my head. No matter what I was doing, I heard songs everywhere I went. As soon as I was by myself I’d start humming or singing. It wasn’t like somebody told me I should play music, I already did. I was making up songs when I was so young. The first time I got a guitar I had my first song with vocals. When I got a guitar, I was thirteen, it was pretty much over after that. That was what I wanted to do. I never took lessons or anything like that, I taught myself. And I literally taught myself how to play guitar with my voice. I would [think], “How do I go duh-nuh-nuh-nah, duh-nuh-nah-dun.” Then I’d figure it out on guitar. At some point, I got better at certain things on guitar. I have kind of always taken my guitar and singing hand in hand. Both of them kind of teach each other.
RZ: And the rest is history.
ZD: You know it, man. I started playing professionally when I was sixteen and it never stopped.
RZ: That’s how the true artists get their start.
ZD: I think to be great at anything, you have to love it. [That’s] one of the most important aspects. If you really do love it and you have that driving passion for it, and you have that vision, then you can make it happen. But you’ve gotta love it.
RZ: You have to. Otherwise it’s just a job.
ZD: Yeah and it’s not easy. You have to work so hard to make it in the music industry, and to retain your creative rights. I could’ve made it in the industry a long time ago if I had given away my creative rights, but I’m not going to do that.
RZ: For sure, never do that. So what’s one outstanding memory from your career?
ZD: So much has happened. Some of the funnest times of my career were at [music festivals] Bear Creek (FL) and Wormtown (MA). Those were two starting points in my career that have molded and given me the confidence. I’ve always loved my art, but the more confidence you have, the more you’re apt to go out there and complete your vision. Those two festivals really helped my confidence and helped me push forward. I’m not sure without Bear Creek and Wormtown, I would’ve made it this far.
RZ: Where do you go from here? New music? A lot of touring?
ZD: Yeah, I’m working on new stuff right now and I’m also going to tour, but I’m working on putting together different Zach Deputy EPs. We’re going to call them “ZDEPs.” I’m going to try to make smaller groups of music, but themes—Zach Deputy Does Country, Zach Deputy Does Soul, Zach Deputy Does Blues. A “Zach Deputy Does” series.
RZ: That’s a great idea. Good name, too.
ZD: I like it because I feel like I can put out way more stuff. I have a problem with creating a group of thirteen songs that make no sense together. It’s like, “This is hard rock, this is hip-hop, and this is a comedy song, then this is a sentimental song.” How does this fit together on an album? So I had an epiphany at the end of this past year to start making smaller bodies of art. That way people can experience this section of me. I don’t need to put out an entire album, I can put out more smaller albums in a year. That’s my focus right now.
RZ: That’s awesome. Very best of luck with that and this upcoming tour. We’re looking forward to seeing you in Bozeman.
ZD: Heck yeah. I’m stoked for it, brother.
Deputy returns to Bozeman for an extended show on Tuesday, January 31st at The Filling Station beginning at 8pm. Tickets to this 21+ show are $10 in advance in store and at www.CactusRecords.net/ and $12 at the door. Doors at 7pm. Bozeman showed him so much love during his last visit, he decided it would be the perfect place to show off his amazing marathon show. Because he is on tour opening for Iration, Bozeman is the ONLY place in the West where you can catch a very full Zach show! For more information about this and other upcoming concerts, visit www.chicken-jamwest.com/. •