"Music is about being brave and not being afraid to fail," the easy-going Zach Deputy says.
The guitarist and singer/songwriter will live up to that philosophy when he headlines the New Times Music Showcase at the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, playing with a drummer, bassist, keyboardist, and percussionist that he'll have never met before they take the stage together.
"I got my start hosting open-mic nights in Savannah, where I would play together with strangers. My entire musical life is based on improv, which makes you have to be hyperanalytical and focused. This way, even the musicians can be surprised by the outcome."
Growing up in South Carolina and now residing in Savannah, Georgia, Deputy says the South is the hardest place to impress audiences.
"Unless you're doing country or hip-hop, all people want to hear are covers. I promised myself I wouldn't ever play 'Cheeseburger in Paradise.' I went the harder route, where you have to do something great to get people to notice you."
Branding his music as "island-infused drum 'n' bass gospel ninja soul," Deputy's recorded output will remind you of Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson, but Deputy's live performance as a solo act is what he feels makes him stand out.
When he plays a solo show, he is literally a one-man band. While that conjures up images of a mess of instruments duct-taped together, Deputy employs modern electronic technology. He uses a looping pedal to layer his chord progressions, beatboxing, vocals, bass, drums, and guitar.
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"It all started by accident," he says. "I had this delay pedal that I learned could be used as a looping pedal. The bassist in my band couldn't come at the last minute. I called up the venue to cancel the gig, but I hung up on them before I could quit because I thought about the looping pedal. I didn't even bother to call the drummer and tell him I was still going to play. I thought the night went horrible, but the audience enjoyed it. Looping really came naturally to me. I was beatboxing before I played guitar, so I had grooves in my head that I couldn't explain to drummers."
Though he finds joy in translating what's in his head into a one-man sound, there are limitations to the looping pedal that make Deputy cherish working with other musicians, as he will at the New Times Music Showcase.
"Sometimes you have to write your songs into a box to fit the looping pedal, and I find half the songs I write end up not fitting the format," he explains. "The chord progression of the chorus has to be the same as the verse. I find ways to make the music compatible with the looper's limitations."
Deputy is currently putting the finishing touches on two albums that feature both communal and individual music making. One of the two albums, which is still untitled, is made with a full band. The other, tentatively titled Just Don't Get It, has Deputy playing every instrument. One of the albums will be out this summer, but Deputy is leaving it to the marketing departments to figure out which should come out first.
Whether playing alone or with a band of strangers, Deputy loves the live experience.
"I see myself as a musical sous chef," he laughs. "I like to make a spectacle of the cooking process, so people can see the music getting made in front of them while I show off my ninja skills. It's educational, and it makes people dance their asses off."
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Zach Deputy. As part of New Times Music Showcase at Coconut Grove Arts Festival 2015. Saturday to Monday, February 14 to 16, Peacock Park, 2820 McFarlane Rd., Coconut Grove. Gates open at 10 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $15 for adults or $5 for Coconut Grove residents. Admission is free for ages 12 and under, as well as Metrorail Golden Passport and Patriot Passport holders. Visit CGAF.com.