Deryk Gonzalez and your friendly neighborhood Deryk G. are one in the same. By day, you might experience Deryk, the soft spoken, well intentioned University of Wisconsin engineering student, who wishes to make his family proud and enjoys his time with friends. But after a quick costume change, the vivacious funk-lionheart known as Deryk G. comes to. It’s a persona that never requires a mask, with an aptitude for animated, romantic story-telling that allows him to live his truth.
His transparency as an artist is as clear as could be on his 2020 EP Lotus Junky, a project he kept in his back pocket and released while everyone else in the world was fending for themselves in solitude. Now he’s back on stage, playing Lotus Junky, along with some newer songs, how it was intended: live, with persuasion, and artistic earnestness, swinging from stage right to stage left, in hopes of helping you dance with confidence. He’ll perform with Godly the Ruler at Wisconsin Union Friday night.
“When I was coming up with a name, I didn’t really want to plant myself as a character,” Gonzalez says. “I just wanted to be myself. Like, Deryk G., it’s literally my name.” As a high school musician, his name – the “y” within it being a creative interpretation of its assumed spelling given to him by his father, a Mexican immigrant who settled his family in the Chicago area – didn’t stand out. Neither did his sound, which he recalls at the time being “partially developed.” His sound now is what you might call “in your face,” the same kind of bravado that comes with rap or some iterations of R&B. But there’s a softer side to his music, an introspective take on love and loss.
“I didn’t see much purpose doing [music] there in Chicago,” Gonzalez says. “When I came to Madison for school I began to meet all these unique, like-minded artists, and I realized that what I wanted to do had a voice here. You make something here and people really care for it.”
Participating in “The Studio” – a 64-resident creative-centric space once located in Sellery residence hall where students from all areas of study were encouraged to “connect, live, make art, grow, and learn surrounded by peers who share your passion” – Gonzalez found his community in guitarists like Sam Eklund and drummer Preston Carr. With their musical expertise, they were able to add their own flair to the songs that Gonzalez had written out on his own. Songs like “C Me” and “Lotus” carry poppy-overtones behind sticky, grimey guitars, offering a fleshy realness that required a step away from the synthetic.
“I started out doing rap, and I relied mainly on using backing tracks from a computer during live performances,” Gonzalez says, which introduced him to his current on-stage mannerisms: keyed-up, courageous, and with very little reluctance – usually all that’s expected from a performer with only a MacBook as back-up. But his sound is too rich and emotional for the instrumentation he works on alone to be pumped out by computer speakers.
A full band was in order, and with the addition of guitarist Dante Turkow, bassist Charlie Palm, backing vocalist Abigail Arkley, and a breathy-hint of saxophone from Sebastian Roman, the cityscape of Gonzalez’s tall, in-your-face music, began to accept its true color. It’s this in-person collaboration that Gonzalez says he’s happy to have back in his life. On stage, his doubts and fears are fuel for the Jame Brown/Bruno Mars persona that embodies the “own-yourself” style of his music. He yells in funk, bobs up and down to the music roaring behind him, and allows for the love he feels for his chosen expression to be liberated.
“To be honest, playing music live for people is honestly the only reason I do it,” Gonzalez says. “Entertaining people is my main goal.”
The life behind songs like My Pride featuring Godly the Ruler, a UW-Madison solo act who benefits off of both rap and new-wave punk aesthetics, relishes in the moment before going all in on the traits that bring pride into life. The musical base layer of the song is hectic, and restless in assertive energy. It flows from heavy chicken scratches that are then looped-over, similar to the process used by one of Gonzalez’s musical heroes, Kanye West.
“Authenticity is very important for me. I’ll have a song go from a ballad to an alt rock progression with ease,” Gonzalez says.
Some of the rap genre’s most confident and influential artists – such as Jay Z, Kanye West, and Drake – are the beacon of confidence he needed to venture into his own unique, heavier style of R&B. “I wanted to be true to myself, I wanted to talk about what I was actually confident about,” Gonzalez says.
One of his latest singles, Damian, came from an infatuation that Gonzalez had with conquering what held him back, and walking forward with confidence. “It was after I wrote the lyrics ‘Damian, won’t you let me in’ when I found out that the name Damian means ‘to conquer, to subdue and overcome,’” he says. “Having that play into it so easily, especially with a name that doesn’t necessarily have to be rooted within a certain gender, really worked for me.”
Gonzalez’s consistent “Damian” was simply getting out of bed, especially during the thick of the pandemic, when productivity – work, school – felt like a round-the-clock activity. Finding peace within a world that’s slowly falling apart, trying to be productive instead of being stuck in a bubble of insecurities, all underline Gonzalez’s “welcome,” as he puts it, into this reality. “The way I see it, it’s totally fine to keep working on yourself within this reality,” Gonzalez says, keeping your head out from the clouds long enough to rearrange the ground beneath you.
Playing off of this heavy pandemic note, Solo’s darker tone is somewhat contextual. It plays off of Gonzalez’s feelings towards being underrepresented and falling into being comfortably exiled. From being somewhat of an outsider looking in on the Chicago music scene, Solo includes a few verses in Spanish, a language Gonzalez says he began to lose grasp over after moving away from his grandmother, and after feeling too shy to continue practicing it. Along with an eerie, foggy plea of industrial ambiance, Solo examines Gonzalez’s insecurities of feeling alone both within and outside of a culture as a whole.
“I’m already used to being the outlier, I don’t really care about what people think,” Gonzalez says. “For a lot of Mexican kids like me who aren’t super masculine, I want them to be aware that the ‘machista’ culture isn’t always the way. You can be soft, you can be vulnerable, you can say the things you need to say.”
It falls in line with the “re-birth” aesthetic that Gonzalez pumped through Lotus Junky. In an interview with UW-Madison WUD publication’s EMMIE Magazine, Gonzalez talked about how invested he was becoming within his well being. “I wanted to be kind to myself, because at the time I wasn’t being very nice or true to myself at all,” Gonzalez says. “I think Lotus Junky is really grimy. Whenever I listen to it I feel like I’m trying to survive this jungle I’ve created for myself in my head, taking it step-by-step towards getting out. That’s most of the subject matter with that project: just trying to get out of your own jungle.”
After playing almost every role that a DIY musician might need – from promoter, to manager, to sound engineer – Gonzalez felt like he might be “abusing” music. Gonzalez’s education in industrial engineering allows him skills to be able to balance his freedom, to find an oasis of sorts within the whirlwind of his musical asspirations. He’s found time to cook his favorite simple dishes in more complicated and creative ways, and has slowly fallen back into sports and physical activity. He’s able to find time for himself in between road trips to Lincoln Hall in Chicago to perform with indie artist Serena Isioma, and then back to Madison in a moment’s notice to prepare for next week’s exams, assignments, and job applications.
“It’s very difficult,” Gonzalez says. “I sympathize with what Spider-Man must have gone through. Music allows me to express this very wacky side of myself that I later need to ditch for my other, more normal, life. It’s crazy jumping around like this, but it’s something I’ve got to do.”
This Halloween weekend, October 29, Deryk G. will perform alongside Godly The Ruler at der Rathskeller at 9:00 P.M. Deputy Associate Director for the Wisconsin Union Directorate Jack Snedegar says he makes it an importance to include musicians like Deryk G and Godly The Ruler when considering acts to book.
“From punk, to electronic, to Latin, we book music for the incredible array of cultures and interests in Madison,” Snedegar says. “It’s our ultimate goal to foster an inclusive music scene where students and community members can socialize, learn, and let loose.”
Snedgard also says a focus on local acts is intentional.
“While touring acts will come and go, our local music scene is here to stay,” Snedegar says. “These artists provide Madison with entertainment and culture, and WUD Music is dedicated to supporting them completely.”
With Gonzalez being in his final year at UW-Madison, the imprint he’s left during his short time is one he hopes lasts. “During my time here I wanted to make something that was really important to me, artistically, instead of something that was out of pure fun,” Gonzalez says. “Being here in Madison, and having the support to break away from all the things that held me back for so long, I really feel like I’m finally stepping into what I want to do.”