Highly Delusional Times
Rogue Wave’s latest finds some light and joy along the way.
Oakland’s Rogue Wave delighted fans at Outside Lands in August.
Yes, there’s a bite in the name of this album: Delusions of Grand Fur (Easy Sound). It’s kind of like Oakland itself: Not too big for its britches, just big enough. The East Bay again proves to be an excellent incubator of original music as Oakland’s Rogue Wave shows off the aforementioned album; the band continued its 13-plus years of indie alt-rock by performing in August at San Francisco’s Outside Lands and at Denver’s Riot Fest in September.
If you don’t think you know Rogue Wave, you’ve probably heard the band’s music; Rogue Wave tunes have accompanied blockbuster movies like Napoleon Dynamite, Spiderman 3, Ironman 3, and the TV shows Weeds and Scrubs, among many others.
Leading the band is Zach Schwartz, aka Zach Rogue, 41, a third-generation Oaklander who still works and records his music here. “My family has such deep ties to the Bay Area. My grandmother was born here. We’ve maintained our presence in Oakland for a long time.”
For the new album, the band’s sixth, Rogue and his cofounder and bandmate Pat Spurgeon worked without a producer and instead recorded and produced the CD at their Oakland studio. They also did not record demos, but created from the original bones of each song, a grand gesture that pays off in an unexpectedly smooth, finished sound. One twist in the making of an album is that Rogue has become a parent and has to apportion his time between family and work. He took that assignment seriously. “The creative process is now linked to the parenting; it’s a constant balance,” Rogue said.
The music of Rogue Wave often alludes to “how dark forces of corporate America [are] decimating the music business.” Given the band’s share of its own ups and downs—Rogue’s unemployment resulting from the dot-com bust, departing band members, the death of former bandmate Evan Farrell in a house fire, and Spurgeon’s plight with kidney disease—that isn’t so surprising.
But often other themes emerge. The song “Frozen Lake” is an experiment in accepting and appreciating the random creative moments that parenting brings, according to Rogue. His toddler son kept playing with the knobs of Rogue’s guitars, putting them out of tune. “Frozen Lake” was written in those odd keys as an homage to the unpredictability of parenting and creative moments. “I find that I really feel the shortness of childhood; it’s so, so short.” Having children of his own has brought to focus an “awareness of how brief, how tenuous” childhood is. That, in turn, reflects how all of “life is tenuous,” he said. The CD’s final song, “Memento Mori,” is a lush paean to life in all its ephemeral glory.
Rogue and Spurgeon have been collaborating for many years. Their sound reflects the influence of 1960s psychedelic rock, the Beatles and the British Invasion, New Wave synth of the 1980s, and the underground music scene of the 1990s. “Those influences together are an amalgam” of inspiration for Rogue Wave, said Rogue. The band has often been compared to Modest Mouse as indie rock with brains and heart.
In Delusions of Grand Fur, the band hopes more to “evoke more than explain,” Rogue quips. Life in a successful band, like life in the 21st century, is a lot harder than it looks on the surface. “If our current political climate is any indication, we live in highly delusional times. Some of it is necessary to cope with modern living. People are creating their own blinders, [taking in] information that only reinforces their own view. It’s pretty dangerous times.”
Luckily, there are moments of light and joy along the way. Two children and a loving partner are part of that package for Rogue. And in August of 2015, he got to sing the national anthem at an Oakland A’s home game. “A bigger life moment,” he called it. “I’ve been an A’s fan since birth.”
Published online on Oct. 13, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.