Multi-instrumentalist Zach Deputy brings ‘beat-boxing dance party’ to Cleveland


Zach Deputy

Mark Oprea

Typical sounds at a Zach Deputy show are buzzing and electric guitar wailing. Background singers harmonize while a strummed acoustic backs Deputy’s gravelly vocals. A kick drum pounds repeatedly, fueling the heat of the dancing crowd.

What’s unusual is that Deputy is a one-man act. 

Coming a long way since the days of the drum-and-tambourine toting street buskers, multi-instrumentalist Deputy has made the solo outfit truly his own. Preferring a setup of effects pedals and drum machines opposed to a real backup band, he admits that his brand of loop-driven rock’n’roll is certainly “hard to market.” 

With the self-ascribed label of “island-infused drum and bass gospel ninja soul,” it can be easy to see why.

Deputy, who’s been on a nationwide tour supporting his 2011 album “Another Day” will be performing at the House of Blues in Cleveland this Thursday Aug. 28 at 8 p.m. 

Along with his common four-mic setup, two guitar synths and two vocal synths, he’s also bringing along his knack for spontaneity and his “vibing” off the audience. From folky bits to 10-minute “jam band” suites, Deputy said that each show holds its own unique flavor. Sometimes he’s been known to “make the entire show up.”

Improvisation is key, he said, for keeping the king of the “beatboxing dance party” fresh.

“It’s the only way that I can live as a musician,” he said. “When I’m by myself I love the freedom of completely making it alive and growing (them music). It’s like an organism, and it’s always growing and changing.”

Deputy, a South Carolina native, has been growing his sound ever since his childhood. Born to a Cruzan mother and Motown-obsessed father, Deputy said that he’s had a “very diverse education of music before he really knew it.” 

A trip to the Virgin Islands grew into a love of salsa and merengue, and he owes his taste for calypso to his Puerto Rican grandma. The Latin-American polyrhythms that thread throughout the music weave into the James Brown-type soul that makes Deputy’s synthesized groove so funky. The Hip Hop-inspired beatboxing, Deputy said, is all his own.

Although Deputy thinks he can seem “stiff” on stage, beause he’s sitting most of the time, he said that his lack of stand-up animation doesn’t allow his audience to do the same. In fact, he prefers to just “let the music happen,” as it’s “supposed to make you dance.” 

At least that’s the plan.

“If you’re listening to Latin music and you’re not dancing,” Deputy said, “then I’m going to wonder whether or not you’ve got a soul.”

Whether or not crowds respond soulfully to a Deputy set, the Irish-humored musician affirms that he’s only so concerned about such praise. The same goes for nine years ago, when Deputy’s one-man shtick began growing its roots. One night before a local pub gig, Deputy’s bassist backed out last minute, so he called his drummer to call off the show. The bar his trio was set to play still wanted music, and Deputy needed rent money. So the guitarist got an idea: he took his Line6 DL4 looper pedal, his ragtag acoustic and his beat boxing chops and “just went for it.”

The audience dug it a

lot, even though Deputy wasn’t pleased.

“I thought the show was awful,” he said. “The crowd thought way more of it than I did.”

What began as a musical accident grew soon into his newfound talent. He’s now a staple at jam-band music festivals across the country and has four studio albums to his name. Instead of trying to copy other popular solo acts — Keller Williams, Canadian Owen Mallet, Pat Metheny and his Orchestrion, to name a few – Deputy’s grew into the steadily upcoming “one-man band” genre, which his own branding helps to separate him from the rest. 

As far as the “ninja” part goes, Deputy claims it best defines his onstage improvisation, as he often “surprises himself” with what he pulls off.

Also, he’s not too far from black belt.

“And personally I’m a trained ninja,” Deputy joked. “I mean I can kill 3,000 people just by looking at them… Fortunately for people I only use it for protection and not for bad.”

Hopefully this doesn’t deter any potential audience members.

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected].