Indecent Exposure: Rogue Wave Frontman Zach Schwartz on the Two Sides of Being Out There
on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 at 9:00 AM
It isn’t long into our conversation that Rogue Wave frontman Zach Schwartz diverts to socio-poli tical issues. Bringing up his life in Oakland, where the indie rock singer has lived more than eight years, leads to discussion of the Bay Area’s current housing crisis, as well as toxic corporate environments typical in Silicon Valley.
“Maybe it’s because our desks were made out of post-industrial metals, but I kinda felt like a rat in a cage,” Schwartz says. “I felt like I had a ‘work self’ and then I’d leave and then I’d be myself after. …When I started playing music professionally, I felt like I was reclaiming my life a little bit. …I became more outspoken. I think I became a lot more pleasant to be around.”
It was approximately 13 years ago that Schwartz was laid off from his job as a project manager when the Dot-Com Bubble ruptured, allowing the guitarist to become focused solely on music. Six albums, a fistful of EPs and singles, near non-stop tours across the globe and (according to IMDB) a whopping 22 television and film soundtrack credits all suggest that Schwartz had much to reclaim.
Similar to The Shins or Sea Wolf, Rogue Wave was one of the many tenderhearted independent acts to rise amongst the rush of alternative music that dominated the mid-2000s. Their breakout album, Out of the Shadow, was a lavish mix of sad-slash-beautiful introspection driven by jangly, roughly mixed guitar. It quickly drew a loyal audience, which led to getting rereleased on Sub Pop and a national tour lasting two years, but it was a series of appearances on The OC and One Tree Hill that gave Rogue Wave one of their biggest pushes forward.
In fact, Schwartz still gets shouted requests at shows, including on this current tour, to “play The OC Song!” Which refers to their sarcastic acoustic tune “California” (not to be confused with the show’s theme song of the same name by Phantom Planet). Schwartz admits his initial reaction to these appeals is usually less than enthusiastic.
“Really? You’re going to call it ‘The O.C. Song?’” he says. Schwartz has a voice somewhat similar to Matthew Broderick, and you can almost hear him rolling his eyes. Nonetheless, he’s still grateful for the exposure.
“I don’t make music to be exclusive. I make music to be able to reach people,” he says. “The licensing we’ve done as a band has been an absolute gift. It totally helped us reach so many more people, it broke us early on.”
Rogue Wave built on that early success in stride, but the band’s growth wasn’t entirely easy. A few months after his amiable departure in 2007, bassist Evan Farrell died of smoke inhalation, leaving behind a wife and two small children. Drummer Pat Spurgeon overcame nearly fatal renal failure in 2006, which required a kidney transplant, and his ordeal became the subject of the documentary D-Tour. Schwartz himself suffered from a slipped disc and his father recently passed away.
But if there is one defining characteristic to Rogue Wave, it’s a silvery, upbeat lining to their gossamer clouds.
Now Rogue Wave have returned with Delusions of Grand Fur, their sixth album and first in three years, featuring guest appearances by Sam Hopkins of Caveman and Mike Deni of Geographer. Chris Walla, formerly of Death Cab for Cutie, mixed “In The Morning,” but otherwise the entire album was self-produced by the band.
“The way we did this one, it was like we had to do it on our own because it was a long and protracted process, but I wouldn’t say I would never work with a producer again,” Schwartz says. “Honestly, I have to let the music sort of decide that. I have enjoyed working with producers, but I also know there’s no better joy than doing it on your own.”
If opener “Take It Slow” or “California Bride” are any indication, Delusions features many of the same lite harmonies archetypal to indie acts from that blissful Garden State era when kids were playing Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on repeat. Tracks like “In The Morning” are perfect for waking up with a cold brew before biking your fixie to the farmers market.
“The title of the record is, you know, how much do we need delusion and how much do we rely on it and where is this delusional behavior putting me?” Schwartz explains. “Is it helping me deal with the reality of life and how painful it can be or is a little bit of delusion actually beneficial?”
But the record still sounds appropriate for this decade and drops much of the saccharine self-analysis—in other words, it feels bolder and more mature. Yet, it’s also quite an outspoken album, with sharply worded political jabs, especially on the dusky, Gary Numan-inspired “What is Left to Solve” and “Look at Me.” Rather than a strictly political album, Schwartz describes it as “cranky.”
“There’s a couple very angry political songs that actually I pulled from the record,” Schwartz says. “I would like to still release them, but I don’t know. I think there is definitely politics in there, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it an overtly political record.”
“Look at Me” strongly evokes Neil Young, one of Schwartz’s long-time heroes, especially that titular refrain. It’s a song that addresses gun violence in America, which makes the line “the truth is such a nagging thing / always in the way” that much more biting. Schwartz says if politicians spent time with the families of gun violence victims, we might see actual reform.
“If these right-wing, NRA-loving politicians were to spend time and look in the eyes of those parents, just be with them and look at the pain, you know, would that make them do the right thing? I don’t know, but it’s worth asking,” Schwartz says. “It’s just a song, but it’s my thinking that if we have more human contact and try to think of these things more as human beings, then maybe we can see past the politics and try to come together as a people.”
with Floating Action
Wednesday, June 15, 7 p.m.
Rialto Theatre (318 E. Congress St. )
$18 - $20 / All Ages