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What Dance Really Means to Music

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What does dance have to do with music? Dance is a response, an accompaniment to the melodies and more often than not, a crucial part of music itself. Americans wouldn’t normally think that; in the Western world, most bands and music makers are separated from their dancers by a stage or a barrier and by a cultural standard that doesn’t let the two mix.

However, there are other cultures in which dance is an integral part of their musical history.

Egyptians had dancers at dinner parties, public celebrations and gatherings, to accompany the band and to please the kings. Their philosophers were perplexed at the Greek culture which didn’t use dance as heavily as the Egyptians. Malaysia had many dances born out of necessity; they used drum beats to spread important messages and the dance that evolved to accompany the beats became an integral part of the message itself.

Silat is one type of Malaysian dance form that originated as a deadly self-defense practice. Sarawak is another form of dance that developed as story-telling display that was often performed in the culture. In South Africa, music and dance are inseparable because of their strong roots in individual communities.

Dance developed as an integral part of music in other countries. However, in America it’s been a different story. There’s been the Polka, Square Dance, Jazz tapping and other types of dance, but no form where the band needed the dancer as a critical part of the music. Tilly and the Wall is a new breed of band, one that fills this need for a greater intersection of music and dance in America. Like most other bands, they have a percussionist but in this instance, she is a tap dancer.

“She actually pioneered a new style of dancing, not to mention a new percussive element,” says singer and bassist Kianna Alarid. “She literally invented brand new steps that had never, to our knowledge, existed in classical dance or elsewhere.”

Tilly and the Wall hadn’t originally planned for this to be their percussive section, but tapper Jaime, who had done this in other bands before, volunteered to “do it for now” when the band at first had no drummer. Apparently it worked out really well, especially for the sound they were trying to achieve and she stuck with it. It’s worked out so well in fact, that the Tilly girls all dance during live shows, completely eliminating the border between dance and music.

“One of our only preconceived ideas for the band was that we wanted to focus on our live performance, making sure it would be entertaining,” Kianna said. “We set out to incorporate visual elements into the show and the girls love to include choreographed and synchronized dance moves as a part of that.”

It was an uphill battle for a band trying adamantly to break the cultural norm of separation between music and dance. The singer, and recent new mother, characterized their progression as going from “that gimmick band with a tap dancer” to “that weird band, the one with the tap dancer.” But they are gaining popularity and making waves on the underground music scene with their big performances. Why does she think American music is so separate from dance?

“‘Cause people here tend to give a shit. It’s a real shame, people in this country, musically and otherwise, are a little… tight.”

There is one band that’s trying to get back to the roots of all of this. Beats Antique, a tribal dance-tronica trio that takes the dance element to new heights. While she doesn’t particularly create a musical line as she dances, Zoe is an integral part of Beats Antique’s music and without her the music wouldn’t exist. True, she is a percussionist and producer for the band, but she’s also the belly dancer.

The concept for the group came about because of their World Music label. It was largely focused on dance music, and as a dancer for most of her life and a producer, Zoe was able to hear where the two other guys needed to make some space. The dance was such a critical part of the writing and development process that when they took the act live, she had no choice but to dance along with it. In fact, the music wouldn’t be remotely the same with out it.

“When we’re performing on, stage we’re a unit. We’re locked in and one force. I represent the more visual part of the force, and it would change them to not have me. They wouldn’t be at all the same performers without the dance. And it’s something we really crave, so moving forward we want more of it.”

The band does some improvisation on stage, and even then, they play off each other and the dance is seamlessly integrated into the beat, like a perfect part of a musical equation. Zoe explained how she could tell when a musician has not played with a dancer before, describing it as being slapped on the cake instead of the icing gracefully coating it. Working with musicians, she’s discovered a symbiotic relationship that automatically fits. And it baffles her as well, why dance and music don’t come together more often.

“For some reason, dance and live music in this country aren’t presented together in a cohesive whole that often to the general public. In big theaters, we see all these dances and dancers but maybe if they’re lucky they have a band, and then you see live music and they don’t have dancers which is totally ridiculous,” Zoe says. “I just love that Beats Antique has a chance to do this, especially for people who aren’t going to watch a modern dance performance, maybe that’s not even their sphere. So I’m hoping to be a gateway drug to inspire more of this in the US.”

For Tilly and the Wall and Beats Antique, dance and music are inseparable forces. The interplay between them is stellar, and hopefully this trend reaches the mainstream music scene.

Zach Deputy speaks of music things

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When someone says “one-man band,” the cartoon fool with a drum on his belly, tambourine on his foot, kazoo in his mouth, and other noise making things in his hands is the first image to come to mind. Take away all those cluttered instruments and all that’s left is a musician trying to get his songs heard, but today that cartoon is no longer a fool. In this world, one-man bands are not only feasible, but pretty cool too, and the music they make is just a worthy as that of a full-fledged orchestra.

Zach Deputy is one of those musicians (not the fool, the talented music player) who has taken the one-man band concept to the next level. He has found a way to build his songs live and on stage from scratch- nothing pre-recorded, no buttons pre-set, all in front of an expectant audience. And he does it all with one little instrument- his Godin Synth guitar. Well, so not just the guitar. He’s also got looping machines, special microphones, drum pads, and more to create a full-band effect from just one man, and that guitar sure puts in its time.

I got a word in with Zach about the tech he uses to create his unique sound, where that sound comes from, and why you shouldn’t call him a phony.

Tela: So how long have you been playing music?

Zach Deputy: I’ve been singing since I knew my name, I’ve been beat boxing and making weird mouth noises since 2nd grade, ya know back in school we used to cover our mouth and stuff, and playing guitar since I was 14.

T: What other instruments do you play?

ZD: I play pretty much any percussion, anything string I can’t play, I never got into ya know violin and cello, but otherwise, pretty much anything, I’m into making noise.

T: Tell me about your beautiful guitar, what is that and how does it work?

ZD: That’s my looping guitar, it’s a Godin Synth guitar, so you can use it to play in any instrument you want. It can be a goat, a French woman, anything I program it to do. It can make a ton of noise, and it’s not really that hard to play, pretty much like a regular guitar. I can make so much sound with it.

T: Why did you start the looping thing, and the one-man band thing?

ZD: Well it was by accident actually. My bass player friend and I were hanging out and not being very productive, we weren’t doing anything so I was just like okay what do I do now and he had some stuff I wanted to mess around with, one of which was a looping pedal which I had never used before so I got to messing around with it and eventually created a whole song on his one machine.

T: How many different loop machines do you use now? And how do they work?

ZD: Loop machines basically store all the sounds I need, I have two but on each loop machine I have 4 different tracks or phrases and I can loop as much as I want in each of those. I can have a drum track in one of them, a bass track with backup singers on another, I can have organ and guitar tracks and I can pull any of those in or out as I please. Basically, the second looper is for a B section because they’re not synched up together, so I have to make a completely different loop. Sometimes I’ll knock out all the melodic instruments and keep the drum section in my loop A and I’ll re-loop that and create a different rhythm section for loop B. Then I have an A and a B section to create a song.

T: What brand of looping machines do you use?

ZD: The boss RC 50, like RC Cola, haha.

T: When you go to do a live show, is any of it prerecorded? When you go on stage can you just press a button and the sound you want comes out? Or it’s all done right there?

ZD: No, I couldn’t live with myself if it was prerecorded, it’s completely against my ethics, and morals of music. It would be like going against my whole career if I used pre-made loops, that’s not the idea. In fact, one time at a show, some guy was shouting out, saying I was faking it. Have you ever seen the episode of Family Guy when the guy keeps popping up going “you’re a phony!” to Peter? Well, that’s what it was like, he was screaming in the middle of my show that I was faking it and not really doing what I was doing, so I stopped in the middle of the song I was performing and I said to the audience “This guy doesn’t think I’m really doing any of this up here, so I’m going to make a custom loop for him right now” and so I did and it was pretty good, but the lyrics went “You’re old, you’re creepy, you live in a teepee, you’re old, you’re creepy, you live in a teepee…” and pretty soon everyone was singing along, shouting at this guy at the top of their lungs. It was great, he got so mad and left, and ya know I don’t want to be a dick, but how are you going to stand in the audience and scream that at me? So… yeah, none of it is prerecorded I just could never do that.

T: What happens when you go into the studio? Do you do it on the spot?

ZD: Actually my studio albums are mostly done with a band, I worked with members of Ryan Montbleau band on Sunshine (2009). They came in to help me out, and I’ve worked with some of the Jackson’s, members of Earth Wind and Fire, Dr. John, Bruce Hornsby, a ton of other great musicians.

T: Does it feel much different than when you’re working with your looper, just you on stage, as opposed to a live band in the studio?

ZD: It’s way different, and it’s pretty much the only thing I have the budget for. I sometimes wish I could record in a very different way but my last two albums I’ve made in four days- recording, mixing and mastering takes much longer, but I don’t have the money to spend a long time in the studio so we get in there, lay it down, and get out.

T: How did you meet all these great musicians?

ZD: I guess just being in the right place at the right time, ya know, networking and paying them when they come to the studio.

T: I know you like to describe your music as dance music for the soul, but how would you elaborate on that? Where does your sound come from?

ZD: It just comes from everything I am. My mom is from St. Croix, Virgin Islands, so my grandma would always bring me Calypso mix tapes and other music, I loved getting mix tapes from my grandma. And then when I was younger, my mom got really into country music, which is a little weird, and my dad is into Motown and beach music, so that’s where that all comes from. My parents were professional dancers as well so I have music in the family and I’m a product of the 90’s so you get that whole hip-hop influence in there. Just our whole generation growing up in the 90’s, high school and middle school were kind of sucky, but we had nirvana and sublime and biggie smalls, so ya know whether I like it or not, it’s in my blood and since I grew up in the Southeast, there’s a bit of twang influence. Then I discovered Ray Charles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, stuff like that. I really draw influence from everywhere, so all those things make my music and then me as a person and individual soul taking it to a new level.

T: What can you tell me about the new album?

ZD: It’s called “Another Day,” it comes out in September. It’s a great album, I’m very happy with it and very excited about what its going to do for my career. It’s definitely going to open the window to a completely different audience without alienating the audience I already have. The songs are closer to what I do at home when I’m just messing around, so that’s really fun for me. I’ve been playing some of the new tracks and people are responding well, so I can’t wait to see how the album does.

Pick up a copy of Zach latest EP, “Into the Morning” or you can download the track “Happy Graduation” for free from his Facebook page. Keep checking back for more from Zach Deputy on BTR, or catch him on his nationwide summer tour, going on now.

Originally published on BreakThru Radio, 7/13/2011