Bay area stalwarts, Rogue Wave are back with their sixth studio album Delusions of Grand Fur a riff at the tendency for newbie musicians to be unaware of the true rigors of being in a band. The shimmery feel-god vibe of single “California Bride” begins with the damning “Thought you were an author, when it’s just dictation” feeds into that malaise – but frontman Zach Rogue (nee Schwartz) reveals that it is sometimes a necessary evil to feed those delusions.
Delusions of Grand Fur will be released on Easy Sound Recording tomorrow, April 29. To support it Rogue Wave will kick off next week with three hometown gigs – at Oakland’s Starline Ballroom (May 5), Mill Valley’s Sweetwater Music Hall (May 6) and The Independent (May 7) before setting forth on their North American tour.
The album takes in varied paces from the quiet domesticity and romance of “Falling” and “Curious Me”, to the Krautrock-inflected “What Is Left To Solve” and the strident Interpol-esque guitar of “Ocean”. “Memento Mori” is Wave’s most Neil Young-inspired track with Rogue’s higher vocals inhabiting that same cumulous register whilst its thematic broodiness grounds it in a familiar sun-drenched cynicism. Yet the sound that most fans associate with Rogue Wave is in tracks like “California Bride” and “Take It Slow”. They amble along the crest of pretty melodies and layered reverbs with flourishes of guitar brilliance and hints at the confident experimentation going on between longtime bandmate – Pat Spurgeon and Rogue. It belies their chosen creative path on this album – recorded in a home studio without a producer, and no demos. Just the duo ‘playing’ with the many instruments and toys trying to strike a balance between their brand of folk, rock and electronica. If a song was underperforming they would talk, deconstruct then put it back together again.
Rogue took a moment to speak to byteclay.com about the process behind the inspiration to some of the songs; why as an indie band trying to get his music out to fans, he is upset with Facebook; and the glee he felt being able to pen a song for the new Monkees album – a band that he grew up listening. One of the many times that his delusions of grandeur actually served him very well.
Examiner: I like the concept of the album and how the track listing makes sense in relation to the grander themes – to what extant do you think new bands have this delusion? I mean by now surely we all know that it’s ‘hardly champagne and caviar’ in the indie rock business? Did you suffer from this 15 years ago when you and Pat started out?
Zach Rogue: Honestly, when we first signed to Sub Pop … when I look back I was in such a state of shock for a couple of years. It was so far removed from my reality that I was even in a band. I worshipped bands so much. I don’t mean to be coy but for me to think that other people are going to be listening to my music – it was so out of the scope of my own identity. We opened for The Shins at the time and that was a band that I really looked up to. I think James Mercer is one of the best songwriters around. So I don’t think I was delusional or that I would ever get as big as them. I was like that kid who couldn’t believe they even got into the party. There were times though in the middle of our career where I got away from myself a little – where I deluded myself in other ways. But I think ‘even when the music business was good’ you still have to be delusional – to believe that as an adult you can provide for your family by being in a band. I definitely do suffer from it.
Examiner: How has having a family impacted your desire to be in an indie rock band – does it become more vital? I know when I first had kids I just didn’t have the bandwidth, music was noise, I really craved the quiet moments, the silence. For others it really feeds their creativity?
ZR: That tends to shift around – funny that you say that about bandwidth, our house is near my daughter’s school so I drop her and as I am driving out of the parking lot I switch the music on and turn it up loud. (laughs) It is harder to write at home for sure. I have to be in my studio to do that effectively. I decided when my daughter was born that it’s the chapters in life that are the things we fear. But it’s so good to have these beginning’s and end’s. To Succumb to reality. Ironically, I am listening to more music and open to more bands. I resisted it for a while and I think it helped with my songwriting but now I want to be open. I don’t want the next thing I do to be predicated on what I wrote before. Bands you like the best are always changing things up – with their new records, it’s a new slate. Of course, you can get a mixed reaction but that’s good. It’s not the same ol’ bulls**t. It might polarize and there there may be a lack of consensus but that’s when you know you’re making art, not just honing the craft. In the old days I don’t think we were talented enough, we didn’t have that raw skill but now, we’re ready for it.
Examiner: I really loved “Falling” and the sentiment – could you tell us a little bit about what inspired the song and it’s twinkling melody?
ZR: Well it’s definitely about when you love someone, it’s long-lasting and the best thing is that you are continually falling in love. Love is a verb here. Perpetual and in the moment. It’s the best kind of love when you are falling in love. The song came about from a conversation I had with my wife. I had talked to her about painting our house – and painting our door gold, that would be a boss-looking door! She didn’t seem as excited so then I took a step back and thought what does that mean to me to have a gold door… love it’s a simple thing, it’s about always being able to share. It’s a simple love song with a very low-fi recording.
Examiner: ”Curious Me” with its piano intro has a Harry Nilsson vibe before the drums and other instruments come in? It’s got a children’s music box feel – how did you and Pat work to flesh out this tune?
ZR: Ha! Are you very sentimental? I mean the two songs that you picked…
Examiner: Well I listened to the whole album and I will get to the other songs but these two really popped for me? (laughs) I can’t help it.
ZR: I will tell you it is a love song with no cynicism or back-handedness to it. Me and Pat had to talk about it – it started as a guitar song and we forgot about it as it just didn’t sound very good. That music-box sound was made by a piano, when you strike a key the mechanism inside the piano strikes twice. We had an old piano in the studio we scrapped some of the keys then started playing. I had also recorded “Exile On Main Street” with a guitar sound and at Pat’s bachelor party – we showed up at his ranch, then plugged it into his boombox and performed it as a spoken word piece. You can hear “Happy” shaking over the bridge of this song, Pat heard it and he transformed it and “Curious Me” took on this childlike quality. Honestly, my whole life I’ve been writing love songs. I just handed this one over to him and sonically he made it better.
Examiner: There is a real change of pace with “What Is Left To Solve” – I understand you were listening to Kraftwerk and Grimes, what or who brought you to that direction? Are you fans of that genre of music – what did you think of the results and would you like to go down that route again?
ZR: Pat really loves Gary Numan. As a rule we both really love Brian Eno and Ambient ‘80s music. I thought this song was going to be an acoustic-guitar folkie song but it sounded redundant. It had no heart and we were going to leave it off the album. Then I thought ‘why does this song suck?’. Pat picked up a drum machine and totally deconstructed the song and changed the rhythm. Working with Pat alone, you can do that, just start a new slate. We laid some overdubs and pulled the song out. It had this mantra-esque quality that we liked but we were frustrated that the song couldn’t work. Then we realized that it could be about the empty space – that aesthetic of space and openness and layers of overdubs. That industrial sound of sticks on metal objects. Feeling the percussion and redundancy.
Examiner: Is ”Ocean” the song with Geographer? How did that collaboration come about – are you guys good friends?
ZR: I’ve known Mike (Deni) from Geographer for a little while. We’ve crossed paths a couple of times, he’s a sweet dude. And we did a benefit together once.
Examiner: Is that the Magik Magik Orchestra show – When We Were Young – you all sang songs from your childhood. I was there, funnily enough I think I highlighted Rogue Wave and Geographer’s performance as some of the evening’s best. You sang a Buddy Holly song and they sang “Helpless” by Neil Young?
ZR: Yes. So I’ve known Mike for a little while. For “Ocean” I knew there was a harmony in there. I couldn’t do it so I wanted to try someone who didn’t sound like me. Mike had done some vocals for another track – the chorus of “Take It Slow”. So I asked him and he agreed.
Examiner: Who is the dude on the cover of the album – looks like a cross between David Crosby and Karl Marx?
ZR: Ha ha that is so perfect. I won’t tell you who it is because I just love what you said but I will tell you that it’s by this wonderful artist Matthew Craven. He kindly allowed us to use 2 pieces. The vinyl is lemon yellow. He examines cultural appropriation through these collages of the colonial civil war. Check him out.
Examiner: You guys have a great way with covers – the Yeah Yeah Yeah one is one of my favorites and you set and cover of Buddy Holly’s “Every Day” was one of the highlights of that Magik Magik event? How do you approach covers, I heard Pat say in an interview it’s how you guys relax and have fun once all the hard work is done?
ZR: It is really fun for us to do covers. Our approach is to not know exactly how the song goes. The lyrics we have to look up and use word for word but we don’t look at music. We change the chord progression to something we are more familiar with – like it was one of our songs how would we play it? Rather than how the original band did or didn’t do it. When we first started touring we didn’t have enough songs to perform so we use to do a cover as the opening band to sort of bridge the gap between our songs and the headliners. To meet the audience halfway. To hear music you have to be open so it was our way of reaching out. We soon realized that we had a knack for that.
Examiner: So I hear you’ve got a bone to pick with Facebook, I do too but what’s going on with you? I saw your twitter update “If Mark Zuckerberg is such a philanthropist, why does Facebook force artists to pay to send messages to their own followers?”.
ZR: Facebook is emblematic of an overall greed. This bait and switch mentality. Now they want us to pay to reach everyone that already follows us. They call it a boost $1,500 to post one of our videos to our followers. $35 to reach 200 people. They also use the backdoor to get in, there is no warning. It doesn’t make any sense. I can send a tweet on twitter and get everyone to see the video for free, it just makes me want to use Facebook less. What’s happening in music right now, it’s really killing music. And it’s not just Facebook. We have to compete for airtime on radio, steaming is not really paying for the music – it is all very consciously controlling and diluting the work we do.
Examiner: Let’s end on a happier note – I hear you’re also contributing a song to the new Monkees 50th Anniversary album – Micky Dolenz will sing words that you wrote – hey, hey that must be a bit of a head job, how did that happen?
ZR: I was as shocked about that! I was asked to contribute a song some time ago and they actually wound up using it. And how I heard about it was someone sent me a link to an article where Micky Dolenz says ‘River Cuomo’s song had to be fixed and Ben (Gibbard) and Zach’s songs were great as they were’. As I said at the time I felt like my head had just exploded!
To pre-order Delusion of Grand Fur please click here. To purchase tickets to their show at The Independent, please click here. For further tour dates please see below.
Rogue Wave Tour Dates
May 5 Oakland, CA @ Starline Ballroom
May 6 Mill Valley, CA @ Sweetwater Music Hall
May 7 San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
May 10 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
May 11 Buffalo, NY @ Tralf Music Hall
May 12 Boston, MA @ The Sinclair
May 13 New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
May 14 Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
May 15 Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
May 17 Washington, DC @ Black Cat
May 18 Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
May 19 Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West
May 20 Nashville, TN @ Mercy Lounge
May 21 St. Louis, MO @ Old Rock House
May 22 Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
May 24 Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall
May 25 Minneapolis, MN @ Turf Club
May 26 Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall
June 9 Dallas, TX @ Club Dada
June 11 Austin, TX @ Mohawk Outdoors
June 12 San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger
June 17 Los Angeles, CA @ Teragram Ballroom
June 18 Solana Beach, CA @ Belly Up