I still remember the first time I saw Zach Deputy play. It was a Monday night and I didn’t quite feel like staying in, so I went to O’Malley’s, unsure of what I would find. What I walked into was a sweaty dance party, but unlike the usual sweaty O’Malley’s dance party, filled with young girls in sundresses, crammed together, dancing in a tipsy state. This time, the music was the driving force of every motion in the room. It instantly lifted your spirit and moved your feet. And there he was — the man making all the melody, a round, bearded fellow jamming on stage with a guitar, singing with giant energy, tapping an array of loop and effect pedals, and beat-boxing with a bongo player by his side handling Afro-Cuban and Latin-tinged rhythms.
Though this was less than a year ago, Deputy has come a long way from his college bar beginnings in the Hilton Head scene and the beach bars along the Carolina coast. He steadily established himself as one of the local club scene’s strongest draws.
The singer-songwriter and his hand percussionist Paul Kerns released a debut full-length studio album titled Out of the Water on June 24.
They’ve been touring heavily across the Midwest and East Coast this summer, and they headline the Rockin’ on the Point event at Patriots Point this Friday evening.
“Charleston was one of the first places to love us,” says Deputy. “It’s exciting coming back. I get to see old friends, give kisses, give hugs.”
The harbor-side setting of Rockin’ on the Point may be a different type of Charleston venue than he is used to, but that doesn’t change the philosophy behind his performances. No matter where, he caters to the ebb and flow of feeling.
“The audience determines what we play,” Deputy says. “I don’t want to get cosmic, but there is some kind of weird energy between me and the audience. They dish it out. I dish it back. Every room is different. The audience is the last member of the band.”
Deputy’s original music is a medley of different influences. Blues, roots-rock, calypso, and reggae blend with hip-hop beats. Deputy sings his simple, thoughtful lyrics with incredible range.
Out of the Water features a few unexpectedly mellow tracks, like “Home,” a drifty and warm nostalgic song about being on the road. The album provided him an opportunity to showcase songs that he doesn’t do live. When it comes to live performances — and he does around 300 a year — Deputy prefers to play tub-thumping, light-hearted songs that energize the audience.
“I just think live is better in general,” he says. “It’s better to make love than watch a porno.”
For Deputy, the beauty of live music doesn’t come from the quality of sound projecting through the speakers or the rush that he receives from the crowd. Playing allows him to live completely in the moment — to become a channel for the music to rush through him.
“When I write songs, I dwell from emotion,” he says. “Music is a celebration of life. A great artist will make you cry, smile, laugh, and dance with joy. It appeals to all the emotions. When I’m performing, I draw from the same pool. It’s like a dream. I’m reliving the moment. The song sings itself.”
Maybe it’s this meditation on passion that creates the aura (at the risk of sounding cosmic), which surrounds Deputy and fills the hearts of all the people listening who can dig it.