From rockstar to covert operative. On this episode of Until All Are Free Preston is joined by David Zach, the frontman of Remedy Drive. David speaks about his own experiences on the front lines of the fight against human trafficking. David has worked extensively as an undercover operative with The Exodus Road, and allows for his experiences to shape and form the music that he has produced.
To learn more about the work of David and Remedy Drive, visit https://remedydrive.com/.
Preston Goff: (00:21)
This is Until All Are Free, a podcast by The Exodus Road. I’m Preston Goff, and I’m thrilled to introduce you today to a new voice to the podcast, David Zach. For nearly a decade, David has participated in undercover operations with The Exodus Road in Southeast Asia and Latin America all while simultaneously raising awareness for the issue of human trafficking through the use of his band, Remedy Drive. David is an artist but he’s also a fierce advocate for victims of human trafficking and the organizations that are fighting for their freedom. This interview is your opportunity to become acquainted with David through his music, thoughts, and reflections on his work with The Exodus Road. He’ll be a voice you’re going to hear in future episodes, and I know you’ll find his observations as compelling as I have. So here’s the interview.
Preston Goff: (01:15)
David, welcome to the podcast. It’s been a long time coming, I feel like. Since day one when we launched Until All Are Free, I’ve wanted a chance to sit down with you and just be in conversation together. So I’m excited to welcome you, and I wonder if you’ll just introduce yourself to our audience.
David Zach: (01:32)
I’m glad to be on the podcast. I’ve enjoyed hearing my friends on there so far, getting to know you through the podcast too, now being face to face with you. I’m a musician. I have a band called Remedy Drive. It’s my day job. In the last seven years, I also volunteer with The Exodus Road. Helping to fundraise my band’s community is so generous in helping to free slaves, but also I work undercover and volunteering overseas as an undercover operative.
Preston Goff: (02:08)
Yeah. And that’s how we know you around the office is both a strong advocate for The Exodus Road but also as an operative, and I think that’s such a unique thing, to have a foot in both worlds. If you could just explain to us a little bit about your journey to The Exodus Road and to the issue of human trafficking. How did you first become aware of it? What was incubation time for that in you? And then how did you begin to get involved?
David Zach: (02:40)
The incubation time, that’s a great question because… And sometimes I get discouraged if I haven’t brought more people on board. I’m like, Man, what’s taking so long, why aren’t people getting this? Especially at the beginning. And I have to remember that it was a decade in the making for me. A lot of festivals I was playing in like 2009, 2010, 2011, there were organizations similar to The Exodus Road there getting the word out. And I would notice specifically about sex trafficking, I noticed it and I still cared about child soldiers and I was writing a lot of lyric that I just have. Little couplets, little rhymes, little ideas, just little phrases that I thought… And I was watching documentaries, we all watched Taken and you think, man, well, this is just for guys like Liam Neeson.
David Zach: (03:34)
And I always say in my talk, it’s one of my favorite things to say is, unlike Liam Neeson I do not possess a particular set of skills, I’m a songwriter. And I thought that was going to be my role. Started writing songs. And in 2012, it really came to head, I watched the Kony 2012 video about a warlord in Uganda that’s this awful person taking advantage of all these kids. And it’s very graphic and my daughter’s five at the time and she’s crying, she says, Dad, why not God protect those boys? And that’s when I was like, Man, I got to make a whole album that talks about slavery, talks about injustice, talks about the heroes and the heroines that are the solutions in the midst of all this. And I started writing a lyric. I’m a soul inside of body. I’m not a commodity. (singing)
David Zach: (04:42)
And around that time, Matt Parker, who found The Exodus Road, came to Nashville, he was looking for artists that were interested in talking about the work. He had no idea I was writing this album, and I had no idea he already knew of my music going back all the way to 2008. He didn’t know I always cared about the issue to the extent that I did. And as I’m sitting across the table with him, it seems impulsive, it seems rash, but I’m like, Matt, no one’s going to care. No one’s going to listen to me unless I’m actually joining you. We got so many people talking and singing about things. And if I’m going to be recruiting people to put their lives at risk, I… Obviously, I didn’t say it all this way, because I didn’t know what was going to happen at that point, but I got to put my money where my mouth is.
David Zach: (05:29)
And it was February that I ended up in Southeast Asia for the first time. And from November to February, all of the songs that weren’t… Because I thought that it would be a concept record on trafficking, there’d be some other ideas too. All those songs lost the lyric from them and I started over, writing new lyric for the ones that weren’t specifically about this cause.
Preston Goff: (06:03)
So how did that first deployment, and first time in Southeast Asia go?
David Zach: (06:11)
I mean the bands played in Europe. I’d never been to Asia before, and it’s shocking culture differences. And what’s interesting about a deployment with The Exodus Road, and you hear this from people that do any sort of humanitarian work, or people that go on vacation and accidentally end up outside of the safe zone or that tourist area in that veneer that’s put up on something, and they see poverty for what it is. The poverty enough is just shocking to me. Seeing a mom on a moped with an infant, a two year old, a four year old, and an eight year old, all on a moped. You’re like, man, that’s a different way of living.
David Zach: (06:52)
So I was already shocked by that. You’re dealing with a 12 or 13 hour difference time wise. And then the first time going into a red light district, there’s no way to prepare yourself to see the magnitude of this issue and the exploitation that’s happening, and the trafficking of persons that’s hidden under the surface of legalized prostitution. And then going into places where it’s obvious there’s legal activity going on here and learning, for me, to not react in those situations and not to show sorrow and shock on my face. I wasn’t sure I had it in me.
Preston Goff: (07:36)
Yeah. Talk a little bit more about that. Because I think we, we say so often at The Exodus Road that justice is in the hands of the ordinary. You’ve already pointed out that in conversation with Matt, you get this portrait of a guy who doesn’t have the skillset, he’s not the Liam Neeson, he doesn’t have the background in law enforcement. And you find yourself in the same place in this situation, in these locations. What are the things that go through your mind?
David Zach: (08:11)
Yeah. When you go into some of the brothels, it’s shocking no matter what, because of how many more potential trafficking victims are in there than you thought at first. But just the sexual atmosphere. The nudity, how comfortable a lot of the customers are with being seen doing really awful things and being abusive in public to teenage girls, that is shocking. But I thought, and if you’re listening and you’ve done some research, you might be thinking, I can handle it. I’ve read about it. I’ve seen it in the movies portrayed, but there’s something about seeing it with your own eyes in real time, it’s hard to describe. And yet at the same time, it’s not at all the sort of thing where you shut down. We’re there to do a job.
David Zach: (09:15)
And also, it’s easy to be tricked sometimes too. Oh, this doesn’t seem exploitive, this seems like a consensual transaction. There’s somebody managing the club that takes a cut and pushes their girls to make their quota, and the girls are smiling and laughing and drinking and smoking. And you almost can be convinced of the lie that this is okay, and this is… not that this is okay, but this is consensual. But to be able to see through it is a skill that takes time to develop, and to try to find that moment that you can most prove that there is fraud or force or coercion involved in this relationship, or that she’s underage.
Preston Goff: (10:07)
There’s this phrase that Matt has used several times. He says that the fight requires good men and women embolden their moral compass to go into these dark places. I think like we’ve referenced Liam Neeson several times. The Hollywood portrait is, you’re going to go in and, we might act one way to the perpetrators and act another to suspected victims. And we get to look like a customer, a bad guy in one spot, and then we get to be the hero in front of a victim. And that’s not really the case. The ask of our operatives is that you stay undercover. And I wonder if you might just talk a little bit about what that means for you? What is it like to have to step into that situation and say things that you would never find yourself saying? How hard is it to embolden your moral compass, to know that this is what is required of me?
David Zach: (11:18)
That first trip with Matt, I was full on embarrassed and probably blushed a couple times when we were looking for what we were looking for. Because you have to ask taxi drivers, random people in the street, store owners, you go into these dark alleys and you go into these shady places where you’d always steer away from. It’s like, anytime I got the sense, ah, that’s not a turn I want to take and in real life, that’s not a place I want to… Matt’s turning there and going there, and the more dangerous it looks and the more mobster looking dudes that are standing around, the more-
Preston Goff: (11:58)
That’s where he’s drawn to?
David Zach: (11:59)
Yeah, he’s drawn to it. Huh, I wonder what’s going on over here. That looks like security, that looks like… And then you’re just embarrassed cause he’s like, Hey, are there young girls here? Where can I find some young girls? And then you’re like, man, that’s a real person that just heard him say that. And then I had to start saying stuff like that. And wishing that I could, when I was… All at 15, 16, year old girls that I’ve met that think I’m there to have sex with them. Wishing that I could say, if I knew even how to say it in their language, Hey, I’m not really here for this. And I want something more for you. That’s what I wish I could do.
David Zach: (12:49)
But it makes no sense. It makes absolutely no sense to do that. Because I want what’s best for the mission. I don’t want to foil a mission. I don’t want to put her at risk, I don’t want to put my teammate at risk. I don’t want to put the success in of dismantling this criminal network at risk. That was hard for me at first, cause my whole time I’m on stage trying to put on your best face on stage, which is wearing a mask as well in some ways. And it’s the opposite that I’m putting on this other persona.
Preston Goff: (13:20)
And you’re involved in this kind of work. Anything that puts you in contact with trauma, it latches onto you. And I’m sure there are moments when you’re doing the most mundane things and a face comes to mind. So I just wonder for you, what is that right now? Maybe has it changed over the years? Are there certain faces, certain stories that stick out to you at different seasons in your journey with The Exodus Road?
David Zach: (13:51)
I’ll be going through my day and I’ll just remember the way one girl in particular in January… the fear in her eyes. And I just wonder, where is she right now? I wonder that a lot. Where is she right now? Kids dancing in the living room. That was one early on, kids dancing in the living room at my house and what the fox say comes on. And suddenly I’m back in that brothel dance club where they put that song on. Or on my, I think, my 13th anniversary, I’m undercover in a brothel with a friend of mine from the States. It’s my anniversary and his wedding song comes on.
David Zach: (14:51)
But I won’t let that experience steal my song or my joy, but I’ll let it inspire me to want to see more kids dancing freely to that song the way my kids are dancing freely to it, rather than these girls being forced to dance and entertain men that are three times as old as them and three times as heavy as them in these environments. And honestly, at this point, after this many years, I got to learn that that’s what I signed up for. And it’s not something that I’m going to complain about. It’s not something that I’m going to let steal my joy.
David Zach: (15:33)
I feel bad for guys that don’t have songwriting though. I have a way to put that, to not let… And I also meant talking about it. This is so healthy. An operative should have to do podcasts. They should have to… And maybe people go to counseling, and to just have someone, a human, hear their story. Well, it’s actually pretty great as a musician, a lot of people hear it, and maybe the fact that I can spread out this sorrow and I have thousands of people that are carrying this with me. And I’m sure that that is helpful and healthy.
Preston Goff: (16:25)
So as you were involved in the work of The Exodus Road, as you spent time overseas with the organization, I know that some of these experiences begin to really directly inform… Specific experiences inform specific lyrics, right?
David Zach: (16:40)
Preston Goff: (16:42)
So I wonder if you might just tell us just one example of how your time spent undercover or alongside victims informed some of the lyrics that were developed.
David Zach: (16:55)
So when you’re sitting with somebody that doesn’t speak your language, I don’t speak her language. And most of the girls I meet, it’s hard to tell how old they’re, but a lot of them are 15. A lot of them are 16. And in some of the more tourist orientated commercial sex clubs, it’s tourism that really props these places up. Some of them are really careful and they hide the fact that they’re involved in trafficking.
David Zach: (17:30)
I had a bar owner tell me earlier this year, I was like, how do you get away with what you’re doing, man? As he’s pouring me a shot of this vodka that he infused with karma, and he was proud of it. Trafficker, right? And he was like, oh, you should have been here an hour ago, I had three of the top police in the city sitting right over there. And he was like, we all just have to pay them off. And I videotaped the whole interchange. And so you’re there and he’s got 15 year olds, 16 year olds for sale, for sex. And you see guys buying them, tipping the people that broker the deal. And it’s so sorrowful.
David Zach: (18:18)
And there was one time where I had to take a girl out of one of these clubs, and we were involved in a operation with the police and we needed them to help identify the potential age of some of these victims that we’re trying to rescue with their own eyes. Because you know, sometimes under the lights, it’s hard to prove a girl’s age. And for that reason, I was taking her out of the club and she stopped and made a short prayer to the Buddha.
David Zach: (18:46)
And this girl had been, months earlier, a child on a farm in the countryside in the hill country of that country. Probably running around barefoot, laughing with her siblings. And now she’s in this club and she misses her mom. She told me she misses her mom. She doesn’t have any way to show me a picture of her mom. She’s shy. She’s really shy. When I’m talking to her in person, she’ll smile. And as I watch the footage back the next day, I’ll see her turn from me as I turn to one of my friends and you just see fear, and you see a lost child that doesn’t have any advocates, doesn’t have any friends. And that sense of wanting something else for her, that sense of helplessness, is so strong. And that fatherly instinct is so strong. And the more I talk to her, usually it’s through Google translate, the more sorrowful her story is.
David Zach: (19:56)
She doesn’t know maybe that she’s there to have sex with customers, if it’s her first day, if it’s her first week. And you know, that song was like from four years. I started writing lyric about these interchanges, and about the way I felt, and about what I wanted for her. And I was on top of a roof with our operative from India, I love him, one of our main guys. And he’s the only Indian guy in Southeast Asia with us. You see Indian guys in Southeast Asia a lot and they walk down the street holding hands, so. I’d walk down a block and a half with my arm around this guy. I love him. He’s awesome. He’s brave. He’s so brave. We were on top of this roof and the sheets are blowing in the wind, they’re drying.
David Zach: (20:55)
And he was whispering to me about some operations that were going on, and telling me about some things that are in progress so we had to be quiet. And then he said to me, he said sometimes when we go into these locked brothels, we’ll knock, they’ll open up the little thing, and it feels like the movies a little bit. And they’ll bring you in and they’ll frisk you. They’re looking for weapons, they’re looking for cameras. And then they bring you in a second lock door and then you’re inside.
David Zach: (21:25)
And he was complaining to me… Not complaining, he was talking about how afraid he is in those moments. And we all are. It’s scary to go into those situations. And he is like, but man, it just doesn’t… He didn’t say it that way, because he’s saying it in the way he would say it, but he’s like, it doesn’t matter when you realize there’re girls that are in here all the time, they only let them out for like an hour at night because they’re hiding the evil deeds that they’re doing. And he said, whatever fear that we have going in is replaced by the desire to get her out. Cause she hasn’t seen the sunlight for days. And that’s one of the moments where it’s my responsibility to capture what he’s saying there. And so I started writing a poem.
David Zach: (22:10)
It’s a precious girl from the countryside, the only daughter of a farmer’s bride. So much to fear and so much to hide. She hides. (singing) She’s resigned it seems, and exhausted too. She’s got memories of a dream that got lost en route. But her eyes still gleam from across the room. Write a love song for a prostitute. (singing).
David Zach: (22:41)
And specifically when I said her eyes still glean from across the room, I remember the girl. Girls from Southeast Asia sometimes, if you offend them or if they’re wanting to save face, they don’t get picked or you’re rude, they’ll respond not by flipping you the bird, but by flicking their hair back across their shoulder. And that defiance, even in the midst of her captivity, I saw a girl do that and I loved it. I was like, she still has that spark. And if we can get her out of here, that spark, that humanity, that power, that fierceness, it’s still there. And that gave me hope. And so I had this poem and it was so meaningful to me. And I was actually paralyzed on the writing side, on the melody side because I was like, I am not capable of writing a melody that would do justice to this poem. So it took me a long time to write the song.
Preston Goff: (23:43)
So what is on the horizon for Remedy Drive?
David Zach: (23:46)
So we are finishing up recording of our third counter trafficking album in a trilogy of counter trafficking albums. And figuring our way through the uncertainty of 2020 and how we’re going to release an album in the midst of a pandemic. We’re just going to do it the best we can. It’s going to be called Imago Amore. It’s going to be heavily impacted by the work that started in Latin America with the Exodus Road since our last album The North Star came out. We’re going to keep on trying to tell this story, and I’m learning to do it… I wish someone would’ve told me about my bedside manner before the first two albums, but on this one, I really want to make sure this is something people are going to come to and leave motivated and with a sense of empowerment to do something about justice issues.
Preston Goff: (24:48)
Can you give us a preview of maybe the lyrics of one of the songs that’s coming?
David Zach: (24:53)
So here’s something I wrote on the streets walking, I walk a lot overseas. And sometimes even though a taxi cab is going to be like a buck and save me 15 minutes, sometimes I just need to clear my head and walk. And I walk a lot in these countries that I go to because it would be very easy for me to only know the culture from the red light districts, because that’s my main interaction with the local people there. So I like to walk, I like to buy fruit from fruit vendors. In Latin America specifically, I like to try to get into conversation with strangers just for the fun of it, so that when I remember that country, I don’t only remember traffickers. Cause I talk mostly with traffickers.
David Zach: (25:43)
And I’m walking down the street, and I just had in my mind, just a memory of this girl from the previous night. And in debriefs, a lot of times the morning after, we’ll be talking about how we felt, how the previous night made us feel. And it’s so good to put those things out there. And Matt always says, man I just wish there was, I want more for her. So I was writing as I was walking, and you always got your phone so you can put it in the notes. But I just held it up instead of doing notes, I held it up and voice recorded myself. And most of this came out just in that one walk.
David Zach: (26:25)
I want more for you than this life. More than all this emptiness inside. A life exists outside of this love. Can I lift your listless eyes up? By any means I try to fix this. I’ll give you more than empty kisses. I’ll dream your dreams. I wish your wishes with you. I hope the hope that once exist comes true. You’re lovely. Like the stars above. You’re lovely and you are still loved.
David Zach: (26:55)
So that one, I think, says it the best I’ve been able to say it so far. I want to share another one. My friend and I finished a deployment and got tattoos together in Asia. He wrote a letter to a girl, one that he wishes he could have given her, and sent it to me because I had to edit footage of him with this girl in it, and we met her a couple times that trip. And her name translates into the word blue.
David Zach: (27:37)
And he had this beautiful letter that he wrote her. Blue, I want something else for you, but your name is… I don’t have the lyric in front of me, but it’s the color of distance, the color of sadness, the color of between us and the stars, all this really put. He did such an amazing job, I was like, man, that needs a melody too. So I had to craft it into fit. But one of the things he said, and I think if this is my last word on trafficking, but on life and mistakes and, and sorrow in general, I have to believe this and I want to believe this, but here it is.
David Zach: (28:23)
Petals once trampled underneath in gardens of broken dreams, and early hours will open east when sun beams descend.
David Zach: (28:33)
And so this song is going to actually have melodies in it from the commodity era, from the first in the trilogy so it’s going to close out the chapter. It has echoes of the song Sunlight On Her Face, but the idea that she’s a precious morning glory flower, and she’s been trampled, she’s been taken advantage of. But when those sun beams catch her in the early hours, as it happens in any garden, even in plants… And I have a garden right now, and these plants that I thought we trampled on accidentally, they open up. And those pedals open up and they’re looking for that warmth. And I don’t know how that works, cause I’m not a theologian, but I know it works. And I know it will work for her in this life or the next. And I don’t know what that looks like and I want it for her. And I have the honor of being partnered with a team of visionaries that have that same prophetic imagination of trying to figure out how to make that real for her. And I’ve done it 1500 times so far.
Preston Goff: (29:37)
For those who have listened to this and are just like inspired by what you have to say, interested, intrigued by Remedy Drive, how can they get involved? How can they be a part of your audience and your fan base?
David Zach: (29:51)
Well, I’m going to answer that two ways. First of all, what I have and what I do for a day job is I have a rock and roll band. That’s that’s the currency that I have both developed and that I am investing into the fight against trafficking. And it would have been easy for me to say, I don’t really have much to offer. I just have my melodies. It’s not just melodies though. And you might be saying, I don’t have a lot to offer. I’m a photographer, I work local law enforcement, or I’m a businessman-
Preston Goff: (30:24)
David Zach: (30:25)
-I’m a school teacher, I’m a domestic engineer with my wife. You have something to offer. You have something that I don’t have. You have a sphere of influence. You have a talent, you have your time, you have your youth. I don’t have my youth anymore. You have your art, you have your camera lens. You can invest that. You can spend that on this cause in some way, and don’t let anybody tell you it’s insignificant. I want you to listen to my songs. First of all, because I’m proud of these songs, but I want them to inspire you to get more involved, and to convince you that everything I’m trying to say here, that’s what that the melody is going to do your heart. To remind you that the work you’re doing matters. It is significant. You’re part of a beautiful mosaic that we get the honor of sharing with all these people that I have met, and other ones from other organizations that I will never meet, but we’re doing something. And I don’t know why it matters or how it matters every day.
David Zach: (31:20)
But my songs, I want my songs to be part of your life. Because there’s something there that’s intangible that will come from the spirit and the emotion of all these people that have inspired these songs, straight through the conduit of my life and my voice that’s wearing out, and hopefully to your heart. And we need your help. We need you to book concerts. And we want to come, when it’s safe, to come to your community and tell this story. And it’s cool that so many ordinary people, high school kids have put on concerts with Remedy Drive, counter trafficking concerts that raise awareness and raise funds for The Exodus Road. So I want people to get involved. I want them to listen to the songs. The next album Imago Amor, I hope, is going to be our best album ever.
Preston Goff: (32:07)
Well David, it’s just been an absolute pleasure to sit together, to hear your stories, to hear your heart, to hear your experiences through the lens of both an artist and an operative and someone who’s committed to this journey and this fight against human trafficking. So just, yeah. Thank you for joining us on the podcast today.
David Zach: (32:26)
And thanks for telling the story, that I’m looking forward to hearing more episodes. I’m just pumped that there’s a place where I can tell my mom and people I meet at concerts, where they can start to meet some of my friends who they can’t see their faces, and start to hear more of the stories and have some of the questions. You guys are doing such a cool job by answering a lot of important questions.
Preston Goff: (32:57)
Thank you again to David Zach for this interview, and to Remedy Drive for the use of their music in this episode. The excerpts of Remedy Drive you heard are from the tracks Commodity, and Sunlight On Her Face. If you’d like to hear more of Remedy Drive, you can find their music at remedydrive.com, or on Spotify and Apple Music.
Preston Goff: (33:16)
Until All Are Free is a podcast by The Exodus Road, a nonprofit dedicated to the strategic fight against human trafficking around the world. It’s hosted by me, Preston Goff, and produced by Isaac Lay. Our internal themes are produced by Lucas Lay, and the music you’ve heard on the intro and outro was generously donated by City Of Sound. We’re working hard on new episodes of the podcast right now, and I don’t want you to miss out. So take a moment and subscribe wherever you’re listening to this episode to be notified as soon as our next show is available. And if you’re listening on Apple Podcasts, I’d love for you to take a moment to rate and review us. It really helps.
Preston Goff: (34:03)
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