How Zach Rogue bucked the norm, and paralysis, for his music
In a college town like Santa Cruz, Zach Rogue has the kind of story that many recent graduates can relate to. Having finished a political science degree at UC Davis, Zach Schwartz (as he was then known) saw the same future that many others deal with upon coming face to face with the ‘real world’: get a job. Also much like the stereotypical graduate, Rogue was the victim of college apathy, having admittedly never found what his passion was.
“It really wasn’t about profession or money, but more just believing in something,” says Rogue about his life-changing decision to take up music. “Believing in something I like to do for myself or for the sake of making art. That’s something I really had abandoned because I thought I just needed to get a job after college. I never really kept in touch with who I was.”
In fact, Rogue felt such a need to remove himself from his life path that it was at that point—while creating Rogue Wave’s first album, 2003’s Out of the Shadow—that he decided to take on the ‘Rogue’ pseudonym as his last name; a moniker he will bring with him to the Rio Theatre with Santa Cruz-bred favorites Man/Miracle on Wednesday, April 7.
“Have you ever felt like you just wanted to start over again?” asks Rogue. “I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be fully committed to my music, which I had never been, really. I had never been fully committed to anything creative or professional. I felt that it would be one more way of further pushing myself into this new realm of my life. Something as superficial as a name change can remind you of how you take other things seriously.”
Ultimately, Rogue Wave (and Rogue himself) has found a niche for its indie power pop. Though true mainstream success has eluded it, the band’s songs—having been featured in multitudes of commercials, movies, and TV shows—are kind of ubiquitous. It’s something of a strange fate to gain only such secondary exposure, but Rogue has weightier subjects on his mind.
Since the group dropped 2007’s Asleep at Heaven’s Gate, not only have several members revolved in and out (including the tragic death of former bassist Evan Farrell), but Rogue himself and drummer Pat Spurgeon went through serious health problems. While Spurgeon battled kidney disease, Rogue had two slipped disks in his neck, temporarily paralyzing him. Though the experience of being immobile for months was undoubtedly frustrating, that pent-up energy is clearly infused in the band’s just-released album, Permalight.
“It drove everything for me, being told that I couldn’t play music anymore, ever again,” recalls Rogue. “And going from that to actually picking up a guitar and playing, and kind of ignoring [what doctors said], that was a really big step for me and it really drove the whole songwriting process.”
Musically, Permalight is ostensibly more upbeat than past efforts—a point driven home when Rogue admits that recapturing the childhood feeling of hearing Kool and the Gang’s “Celebrate” was the inspiration for the album’s title track. However, the album is also notable for its increased emphasis on electronic dabbling. “Melodically, I don’t think it’s that divorced from what we’ve done before, but rhythmically there are some changes there,” explains Rogue. “Yes, I love Boards of Canada, but is it in our music? I don’t know, maybe.”
However, Rogue still professes an interest in studio effects that goes back much further than Permalight’s ‘Death Cab for Rogue Wave’ sound. “I love blending digital and analog technology,” he professes. “I love the sound of real drums with processed drums. And I love the sound of synthesizers and acoustic guitars. I like having those two worlds clash.”
Rogue Wave performs with Man/Miracle at 8 p.m., Wednesday, April 7, at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $19 in advance. For more information call 423-8209.
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