Interview with Rogue Wave

After a three-year hiatus, Rogue Wave have announced their sixth studio album. Delusions of Grand Fur will be released on April 29 via Easy Sound. The Bay Area band recorded and produced the entire LP themselves at their home studio in Oakland, California. But this is no sunny, indie-pop band—Zach Rogue, longtime bandmate Pat Spurgeon, and their fellow bandmembers have found a fresh, honest sound that plays with themes of patience, the fearlessness of experimenting, and the joy of creating something meaningful.

NT: So what have you guys been up to the last three years?

Rogue: So much stuff! We stopped our last album cycle a little early… My wife and I had a kid and we wanted to have some home time with our newborn child. So I took some time to be home with my son. Then we started thinking about new music. We’ve slowly over the years been accumulating our own gear and doing a lot of experimental recording. I was just writing and recording a lot, and so we did the whole album in our own studio, without a producer. It just took awhile.

NT: It’s kind of similar to how you recorded your debut album, correct?

Rogue: This new album is similar in a lot of ways, because everything was arranged on the fly. We really just started recording. On this album, me and Pat—who I collaborate with on everything, he’s our drummer and we’re two peas in a pod—we just decided there’s no demos; we’re going to record an album and just make it up as we go along. We hadn’t rehearsed any of the songs because Pat hadn’t heard any of the songs, we just went one at a time and arranged on the fly. That’s pretty much how the first album went, too. On the first album, I had never made a record so I didn’t know what the fuck I was even doing. It’s the same principle. You never really know what you’re doing, and that’s the whole reason why it’s fun.

NT: How does the songwriting process differ when you skip the demo process? Is that nerve-wracking or does it come more easily?

Rogue: If you’re lucky in your life to find real, deep, creative collaborators where you can truly be vulnerable around them… If you’re lucky enough to find that, and I am having that relationship with Pat, it’s never a problem. Sometimes I’ll be like, “hey man, I don’t know if this is actually a song or a piece of shit” and he has this temperament that we just go ahead and try it. And it’s never nerve-wracking. That’s the beautiful thing of having your own studio. I’m so used to going into some studios where you’re on the clock. You don’t want to waste time, you have to be efficient and get your shit done. This time around, obviously it took a little while, but there was none of that. We enjoyed the process.

NT: I think it paid off with this album because it’s one of your most raw and honest works yet. I was listening to “Look at Me”, and noticed the lyrics touch on themes like government and faith. Were there specific concepts you wanted to come through lyrically while writing the album?

Rogue: Absolutely. To be a citizen of this country right now… If you have any awareness at all, look what’s happening at our political landscape.

NT: Donald Trump!

Rogue: He’s just the tip of the iceberg. His stupid looking face is what’s tipping out of the water, but there’s major issues happening. We know all the answers to these problems but we choose not to solve them. Carly Fiorina was endorsing Ted Cruz the other day, and she was saying the reason she was endorsing him was because he’s protecting the Second Amendment, religious liberty, and something else… It’s hard not to be a conspiracy theorist. That’s what she sees as the real threat to our country right now—gun rights being taken away and religious liberty. Come on. It’s an amazing time to live. We have such profound problems and that that’s the smokescreen—we don’t want to deal with problems, we just want to stir up a bunch of cultural resentment and not solve any real problems. As a human being just like you, I look at the news, and then I look at my children, and I waiver back and forth between screaming at the wind in my mind and loving my children and my wife. I don’t think that theme has ever left my music, but it’s always that duality of trying to look within and be grateful for what you have and being so disgusted with all the things around us. We have so much that we choose to do so little with. Like how much of our brain do we actually use? Those themes definitely play themselves out. I don’t always see them for what they are until much after the music has been written or released. It’s not like I sit around listening to my own music, but if I hear something I’ve made years after, I can actually get a better perspective and know what I was going through at that time.

NT: What does the title Delusions of Grand Fur mean? I read that it represents the misconception new musicians may have about band life – did you start with the same misconceptions and what have you learned? What is the reality of band life?

Rogue: It’s kind of funny. No band is the same; and no one has the same experience. All the problems and drama is the same, though… It doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest band in the world, or the most obscure that plays to no one. It’s the same kind of power struggles and drama that play out. Some of that is in large part because touring is tough. You feel kind of isolated and you don’t take very good care of yourself. It’s hard to be a healthy person while touring. No one realizes how strenuous touring is until they’re in a touring band. It’s not glamorous; it’s self-destructive. The time you get released from that self-destruction is when you’re lucky enough to be performing. The performance part is great, but the rest of the day where you feel kind of like you belong nowhere, and that lack of belonging is a little bit counterintuitive to most of us who grew up rooted somewhere. To be rootless and aimless is a really strange feeling to have. Before the band started, I just worshipped other bands. I was obsessed with music. I never thought I’d be in a band. I never thought I would be signed to a label or any of that shit. Not trying to be coy, but it seriously never occurred to me. When our first album came out so long ago with Sup Pop Records, I was kind of in a state of shock for a couple years. I wasn’t really prepared for it. Sure, there are misconceptions that you’ll be friends with all these different bands, and I’ll be rolling naked in my mink coat, but it doesn’t really work that way. It’s not like being in a band will change who you are inside. And that’s the biggest thing, that you’ll be elevated to someone that you’re not. I can’t escape who I am. I’m a grumpy guy.

NT: “What Is Left To Solve” has a cool, almost mysterious indie-pop vibe that has a darker sound than most of your previous material. What made you choose it as the lead single? What was the inspiration behind it?

Rogue: I wouldn’t say any of the songs on the album are ones you hear and right away think, “That’s a single”. I don’t really write songs like that anyway. I conceptualize it more as an album, which of course is a really stupid thing to do when you live in an era when no one gives a shit about albums. Nevertheless, that’s how it is. When I wrote the song, I thought it was going to be a solo-acoustic kind of song. It’s kind of quiet with the rolling drum sound… It didn’t sound very good when we were recording. I thought it was boring. And that’s what I mean about working with Pat, he’s so open and has this childlike quality where there are no real limitations. One of us picked up a synth and started screwing around and came up with that bass line. I don’t know if it was because I was listening to a lot of electronic and hip-hop music, which I’ve been listening more to now than any other time in my life. I’m not sure if that was an influence. I was deconstructing the idea of the song—like why does this song exist in my mind? Why do I feel like it needs to be recorded? What is driving me? And why does it sound like shit, yet I persist? Why am I working so hard on it? And then I realize this song is about—I can’t say specifically—a theme of frustration, and doing things that you know are pointless yet you keep doing them. It’s madness. So that bass line is very repetitive, that song is almost meant to be a mantra. I thought maybe it was because we were using the wrong tools. So we started messing around and taking it apart. I’d say the whole second half of the new album is freewheeling and going in all different directions; I like that. I like the experimentalism and the special mixing; the kind of stereophonic sounds of the second half. It goes in an unexpected, psychedelic direction and I think that song initiates that.

NT: You’ve been making music for over a decade. The music industry has changed immensely in that time. What’s your take on its current state? How do you feel about online music sharing?

Rogue: Do I feel like Roger Waters? [laughs] I will say as a fan of music, I’ve probably listened to more music in the last year than I have in the last three years prior. I’ve gone into so many different directions just as a listener; there’s so much access. But there’s a lot of problems structurally. It’s not just streaming, but the whole corporate takeover of the arts that kind of started in 1996. There’s been this massive consolidation of power and a lot of corporate control and theft over music. Look at the Grammys, with the exception of Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd, almost all popular music is concentrated and owned. There’s only three major labels and they have a stranglehold over the streaming companies. Listen to the radio, notice how there’s very little music that’s submersive? I mean there’s some, there’s Kendrick and a couple of hip-hop artists. But for the most part, it’s all dominated by the least threatening forms of music, which is pop. It’s no coincidence that pop music is reigning supreme right now. The reason why it’s happening is because there’s corporate control over all the means of delivery. To this day, 65-70% of people discover new music by listening to the radio. Can you believe it? That’s still where people listen. And who controls the radio? Same answer. So I think we’re watering down a lot of music and being controlled in a way that’s really unhealthy. It’s bad for all music. There’s so many incredible artists, but not too many actually ride to prominence. It’s shocking to me that so many artists who are so good are so unknown while there’s so many artists out there who are rising to the top are garbage. It’s a very complicated issue, and I wake up everyday and think, “why the fuck am I involved in the worst business in the world?” It’s so stupid to be involved in the music business. But it’s like that song, “Endless Supply”, off our record. I can’t change myself, or I could, but what am I left with when I do that? It’s a crisis for all artists and I hope that it becomes more fair. I hope there’s some kind of reckoning.

NT: I hope so too. Last but not least, is there anything fans can expect from your upcoming tour across the US?

Rogue: A lot, I hope. We have some new band members, which I’m really excited about. Playing a lot of new songs and new material. I think we sound like a completely different band, so I’m really excited for fans to hear that.

Interview by Brittany Watkins