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Q&A: Rogue Wave
by Jeremy Sampson on Sep 13, 2004
You might have heard about Rogue Wave.
They're the band local music aficionados are buzzing about these days in between sets at The Hemlock or Bottom of the Hill, and they are largely symbolic of a palpable renewed interest in our city's once floundering independent rock scene. A sound bite from said conversation might sound something like this: "Did you hear Rogue Wave just got signed by Sub Pop? Fucking Sub Pop!"
Rogue Wave is the Oakland foursome which was recently scooped up by the biggest semi-independent label there is, all on the strength of a sweet little record called Out of the Shadow. Which also makes Rogue Wave the band whose debut album is now set to be crammed into a bin between the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rush at your local Virgin Megastore on July 13th.
Oh, and they're also this year's clichéd but telling "Best Next Big Thing", according to SF Weekly's recent "Best of" issue.
But screw all that. Tonight, Rogue Wave is Zach Rogue (guitars, vocals), Pat Spurgeon (guitar, drums, vocals), Sonya Westcott (bass, vocals) and Gram Lebron (guitar, keyboards, vocals). The quartet met on Craigslist just last year, and quickly became great friends while making pop music with a heart. Their meteoric rise in just a year's time finds them embarking on a three-week tour opening for the Shins, beginning June 2nd. Before we met them, the band played on the same stage as three drag queens and a male stripper on a pogo stick. None of which seemed to faze them at all.
First, you should know that South of Market is not a great area for doing interviews. Following Rogue Wave's set at the SF Bike Coalition's "Bike to Work Party" at the DNA Lounge, we cart-wheeled up and down Folsom in a blurry, frenzied search for a bottle of something strong and a quiet place for us to talk. In the end, there was no better choice than a bottle of Bushmill's and the inside of their brand-spanking new tour van, a massive ivory-white monstrosity built right here in the USA by Chevrolet.
Gram: OK who wants some Bushmill's?
Everyone: I do!
SF Station: Let's make this official and ask a good first question. Thoughts on tonight's show?
Zach: Well I appreciated the fact that no one was in front. [Laughs]
Gram: Yeah there was like a moat in front.
Zach: Honestly it's gotten to the point now where it's just fun. I don't really care- if there are even some people who are into it, then that's fine and I'm happy.
Gram: There were people dancing tonight!
Zach: I care more about our performance than anything… and I felt like we were playing well tonight.
SF Station: The second to last song…
Gram: The Nirvana Song. "On a Plain".
Zach: I think it was all right to do…lots of different people at the show tonight.
SF Station: Pass the Bushmill's please…
Pat: Bushmill's - it's what's for dinner.
SF Station: Tonight was definitely a weird crowd. A great, amazing crowd, but not your typical rock show crowd. What's a typical Rogue Wave crowd like?
Zach: It usually seems like a good mix- some older, some younger.
Pat: We played a show in El Paso that was all young kids and that was so fun.
Zach: Some of the best musical experiences we've had so far have been very intimate and small but the people that are giving you the energy, that's what matters. In El Paso we played Moontime Pizza, and it was great because the kids were there to hear something new. They were so hungry to hear melodies and people rocking out. They were really listening and getting it.
SF Station: Who was that with?
Gram: Mates of State. Everyone stood back at first, and then started noticing our energy and the fact that we wanted to rock and have a good time. Then everyone started moving closer. We were actually being distracted by these TVs that were on, so Pat jumped up on the drums and started turning them off. And that really got people to come closer. No one there knew our band. It's definitely a key relationship that we're exploring- interacting with the crowd. The crowd is really important to us.
SF Station: So what do you want from the crowd?
Zach: Money. [laughs]
Zach: Adoration, love... Seriously, just people who want to listen.
Pat: People that want to be there.
Zach: Yeah people who want to go hear music and people that care about music. I mean, I know what it's like. Shit, a lot of times we play and there are other bands playing with us, and I want to talk to them because it's social and it's fun. And really that's the gift when you play. You know when there's a dramatic break in the song and people acknowledge it- it feels great when people are following the cadence of the music.
Pat: I have to say that I never really think about what people are doing or what they're thinking, because for me it's about playing and having a good time. If you get a good response after a song, that's cool, but I think we all are doing this because we really like the songs, we really like being with each other and we really like the band. And that really adds to the music- that's what brings people in closer.
Zach: Yeah when we were playing "On a Plain" tonight, that's usually a rocker, but we play it really slow and drawn out. At first when we started playing it, I was worried it was too slow and long, but then I thought 'Fuck it, just enjoy it and be patient. Patience is nice sometimes. Enjoy the mood of the song and don't worry if it's ruining the continuity of the set.'
SF Station: So let's talk about the tour. This is a pretty exciting time for you guys…
Zach: The thing is, playing to a crowd like tonight is one thing. But playing to thousands of people every night- I can't even imagine it. We've played some big shows… We played with the Super Furry Animals at the Fillmore. Probably the biggest was with Spoon at the Fillmore. That took me a month to prepare for. I was so aware of the fact that we were going to play to a sold out crowd.
SF Station: At the fucking Fillmore!
Zach: At the fucking Fillmore!
Pat: And that was really early on.
Zach: We know that almost every show on the Shins tour is sold out. Even the ones at the end of the month are sold out. And Shins fans are a really receptive audience.
Pat: There are going to be people following them…
Sonya: We're following them. [laughs]
SF Station: Are you into the Shins?
Zach: Honestly they're one of my favorite bands. When Oh, Inverted World came out I thought it was great. And now playing with them, it doesn't seem real. I admire James Mercer and what he's done- it was a kind of home-grown thing. He recorded the record on his own, engineered it on his own. It's quite a statement to be able to do that. The success that he and all of them are having on their own terms is really cool.
Gram: [grabs the tape recorder and asks Zach in mock interviewer voice] Would you say that Oh, Inverted World was an inspiration to you when you made Out of the Shadow?
Zach: [grabs the tape recorder in mock interviewee voice] Well I've got to say absolutely. (Mercer) toiled in obscurity for years- they opened for Modest Mouse a while ago, and now they're blowing up. And they want us to play with them.
Gram: If someone asked me what my ideal situation would be, I honestly could say that it would be to sign with Sub Pop and tour with the Shins.
Zach: We just hung out with Sub Pop this past weekend and had some meetings to talk about the record. Unless I'm a horrible judge of character, those people are amazing, they treat us like family.
SF Station: Have any of you worked with other labels in the past?
Zach: That's the thing that shocked me- you always hear about bad experiences. This is the first label I've ever worked with, and they treat all of us with artistic respect and love and consideration. I feel like they're really open to our ideas and believe in what we're doing.
Gram: They told us that when they put out All Night Radio's record, they figured it would make enough to break even and they're cool with that. We were also talking about Iron & Wine- they weren't sure anyone was going to like it, but they felt like it was good enough to put out even if no one buys it.
SF Station: It sure seems like they were taking a risk with that Iron & Wine record ...
Zach: They didn't think anyone was going to buy it, but they liked it.
Gram: In the however-many years they've been around, they haven't wavered from their original idea, which was to put out good music.
SF Station: OK so everyone knows about the Sub Pop thing … how have things changed since you signed?
Zach: Well if people were to buy the record, then I suppose things would change because we wouldn't have to work as hard at our jobs.
Gram: Right now it's more in our heads. All this great stuff is happening, we're getting flown up to Seattle, but we all still have the same jobs.
Zach: We just care less about our jobs. [laughs]
Gram: Here's my realization. I care less about my job now than I ever have, but I'm doing a better job at it now, because I don't sweat it. Point is, nothing has changed, I kind of feel like we're crouching, ready to pounce.
SF Station: We don't understand, how do you have jobs and still manage to go on tour?
Zach: We've kind of purposefully set up our lives so that we have the freedom to leave. We're taking June off, and I think we might be touring again in August.
Gram: I'm at the point where I'm comfortable enough in my strengths within music and in working that I'm going to be able to make a living somehow.
Pat: You don't want to go to your deathbed thinking, 'Sorry I can't go on tour, I'm staying at my corporate job.'
Zach: None of us are under this illusion that everything's perfect and we're going to be famous. We'd like to not have our jobs, simply so that we could be more productive, tour, rehearse, and spend more time focusing on making good records. But you get to a certain point where you decide to make your life to allow you to do this. I don't want to starve, but at the same time I need to make certain choices in my professional life. I've got to find a way to make money, but I'm not going to let it prevent me from being able to do what I want to do.
Pat: And now is the time to do that because we have something concrete.
Gram: We've all been playing music for 15-years and now we've got a chance. We have a kick-ass band, we have a good record and a label that's going to support us. All we really need to do is be ourselves and perform, and if it works, it works.
Zach: Can I tell you the first song I ever played with a band? "Talk Dirty to Me" by Poison.
Gram: Mine's "If I Fell". The Beatles.
Sonya: But that's cool...
Gram: Yeah but the second was Extreme's "More Than Words". So that cancels it out.
Zach: Hey where's the Bushmill's?
[Someone]: It's gone, it's in everyone's bladders.
SF Station: So if someone is reading this right now, is in a band and wants to get where you guys are, what would you tell them?
Zach: First thing, practice as much as possible. Secondly, make the best record you have, and don't do it quickly. Take your time. Not a demo, do shit on your own. Don't think someone else is going to make something happen for you, that's ridiculous. The only way someone's ever going to work with you is if they see that you can make things happen for yourself.
Pat: Mine might be bad advice, but back-up plans really aren't good. Don't have a backup plan if you want to be a musician.
Gram: I need to reiterate practice as much as possible, you will never be a good band if you practice only once a week. I repeat, you will never be a good band if you practice only once a week.
Pat: Have a good time.
Gram: Quote Spinal Tap- a lot. That helps.
Zach: Try and play shows with bands you really like. You can get excited about the community- the Bay Area has so many good bands right now. Galvanize that, play with good bands.
Pat: Ever since the beginning we've played places we like to play and held out to play with bands we like to play with. We try to play shows that are exciting for us. It makes you feel much more legit.
Gram: And if you like one band a lot, don't just imitate that band. There's nothing worse than a band that just wants to sound like another band. Figure out what it is that you can do that no one else can do, and practice it.
Zach: Show your emotions. Show that you're feeling something live. When I see a band that I've never heard, if they're doing something that seems real, then I respond to it.
SF Station: That's what we enjoyed about your show tonight. It was a real weird show with the pogo-stick guy and everything, but there were many times when you guys were smiling at each other and obviously in the moment and enjoying the music, and that's what draws people to bands.
Gram: That's the major flaw with indie, or whatevever you want to call it- modern rock, alternative rock. Everyone has to look like they're not having a good time or they're too shy to be on stage. Go back and look at all the greats, they all engage the audience. It doesn't have to be obnoxious. The point is: we're all rocking out together.
by Jeremy Sampson on Sep 13, 2004