Breaking Free

Born out of the dot-com bust, Rogue Wave is on the rise

Remember the Internet boom and crash, when Web sites were a new, shiny, strange beast, gobbling up venture capital and computer science majors, and then spitting them out in the Bay Area suburbs? What did all those fresh-faced Web execs and techies, who were making six-figure incomes at the age of 23, do when they suddenly found themselves jobless?

Lots of soul-searching.

"I think there was a time when almost everyone I knew was involved in the Web space," said Zach Rogue of Oakland band Rogue Wave. "Some people ... stayed in it and continued to do really well, (but) most people went through a period, once it all ended, of, 'What do I actually do now?"

Rogue Wave began in 2001, pretty much as a solo project, when Zach Schwartz lost his job at a Web development company. He decided to invest himself fully in music, changing his name to Zach Rogue, in a gesture of marital commitment to his music. And it doesn't seem like he was alone in the decision to focus on music--the recent swell of bands from places in and around Silicon Valley can almost be seen as the silver lining to the doomsday cloud: a creative upsurge on the other side of the economic downturn.

Out of the Shadow, Rogue Wave's first album, was recorded with the help of producer Bill Racine. By 2002, Rogue assembled his current band, and Sub Pop re-released Out of the Shadow in 2003; Descended Like Vultures, Rogue Wave's second album, was recorded with the input and expertise of the full band, and is much more lush and expansive than its older sibling. Rogue had always wanted to be able to spend loads of time in a recording studio, and so with Descended Like Vultures, the floodgates were opened: The band recorded nearly three albums' worth of material, which they narrowed down to 11 songs. And they chose well: There isn't a weak moment on Descended Like Vultures. The songs open themselves up to possibilities, but at the same time, don't get carried away with themselves: Rogue Wave, like the name suggests, is a balance of deviance and control--the wave might be irregular, but it is still part of a pattern. Part of this is due to the freedom Rogue gives himself to create, and part of it is due to the focus he has on his music.

"I had ideas in mind of moods I wanted to capture, a certain kind of ambient exploration," said Rogue about Descended Like Vultures. "Like on 'Are You on My Side,' and the expansiveness of 'You'--how that song is sort of grandiose (with) swirling guitar sounds. I had some ideas that I wanted certain stuff to have a tone to it, and a mood, to have it be a dream or nightmare and click back and forth a bit, and have a degree of ambience and natural reverb sounds that would really build from the last record, have it sound like it's an evolution.

"But also I wanted it to have a lot of chance, because a lot of my favorite things that happen while recording are the accidents that occur by knocking something over, or coming across an instrument you've never seen before or never tried using before, or a weird backnoise that leads to some other kind of string instrument--that degree of chance, a little non-planning and planning."

The end result is an album that gets better with each listen. Mix the Wrens with the Shins, and the result is Rogue Wave: sparkling, smart and spacious. "Bird on a Wire" begins with a loping beat and bright guitars, and "Publish My Love" centers around an anthemic electric guitar melody deserving of pyrotechnics. "10:1" rocks on organs, and then "California" is mostly acoustic guitar and Rogue singing sweetly, "Screw California."

Rogue Wave layers their guitars in ways that are dizzying, both when they're loud and fuzzed, and quiet and clean. Said Rogue of the album's title, "I wanted it to be kind of ambiguous, but caustic, have action and movement," and the same can be said for the album as a whole--lots of action, movement and ambiguity, with caustic melodies and lyrics, and beautiful ones as well, combined in provocative ways.