Despite largely flying under the radar, Rogue Wave arguably epitomized the trajectory of 2000s indie rock. The Oakland band, originally the pet project of singer Zach Rogue, progressed from the rich, low-key arrangements of 2004’s Out of the Shadow to atmospheric, stadium-sized hooks that would end up in commercials and network dramas. Following a rough stretch for the band, including the death of former bassist Evan Farrell and a slipped disc injury that left Rogue temporarily paralyzed, they returned with 2010’s Permalight, an upbeat, synth-heavy record that was a glossy departure from their prior leanings.
After taking some time off, Rogue Wave are back with this month’s Nightingale Floors, which takes a more understated approach and, as a result, finds the band noticeably more cohesive and confident. In advance of their headlining show at The Black Cat tonight AND their Music Hall of Williamsburg show on Friday, Zach talked with me about Nightingale Floors and the process of reconnecting with his band and his fans.
So you just started your tour for Nightingale Floors. How’s that been so far?
It’s good. We’re kind of figuring out how to get on the right pace, figuring out how to do this again. It’s been a little while. Last night was great — we were in Indianapolis. I felt like we were locking in a little bit, so it’s starting to get comfortable.
I think I read that it’s your first time touring in three years or so?
Yeah. It takes a minute to adjust for sure.
When was the last time you were in D.C.? Did you come here for the Permalight tour?
We did. We were at the 9:30 Club. That’s one of my favorite venues, period, so I’ll always have a good time there. We had a really nice time. I believe there was some kind of a dance party that ensued when we were done. I think we initiated it by putting on a bunch of Michael Jackson, and good times were had by all.
That sounds very D.C. Have you played Black Cat before?
Yeah, we have. When we first started, we played this really small room, and then we played upstairs a couple times too. I used to live in D.C. for a short period of time, so I’d go see bands at the Black Cat too.
I’m sure you’ll have a great time there. The crowds are very receptive.
Yeah, D.C.’s been a great city for us. We always have good shows in D.C. Almost without fail great people come out, so it’s fun.
How has the response been to the new album?
I’m a little insulated in my little touring world. People send stuff on Facebook and Twitter, so I see some of it. People who like our band are excited about the record. I haven’t gotten any feedback from people saying it was a step backwards for us. People seem generally pretty excited about it, and that makes us happy because we miss doing it. We don’t feel like we’re just making a record to make one. We feel really good about where it went and what it means for us for playing live.
There was that couple of years of a break between Permalight and this one. Did you guys need some time to settle a little bit before you got that inspiration back?
When we were done with the album cycle for Permalight I was just kinda burned out with trying to figure out how to play Permalight songs live and being on the road. It wears on you after a while. When I was touring off of Permalight, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. I wasn’t enjoying it very much, and I felt like I needed to do something else because I wasn’t having much fun and feeling really burned out. You know, that feeling you get when you’ve had enough and you want to just take a break. So we did that. We stopped touring and I made this other record called Release the Sunbird, and I was able to do some other scoring work and just stop with the band.
So when we reconnected it was just so great. I missed it so much, and I loved that I missed it. I loved that it was something I wanted again. It’s a great feeling to reclaim that sense of excitement with people you make music with. It’s a rare gift to have people you want to collaborate with musically. You can connect with them. And I think that’s what led us to wanting to make a record that thrilled us.
That sentiment really does come across on the new album. You guys really sound in sync and connected. Was it intentional to jump off the synths from Permalight and even some of your stadium rock tendencies to do something more reserved?
I think the kernel of where the songs come from didn’t really change that much, but certainly our execution is a return to how we used to make records before Permalight. We like records where you’re using mixed media. We do demos of stuff, and then we tracks the songs formally and take pieces of the demos and put them into the final product. One of the songs on the record, “Without Pain,” is actually the demo, and so we wanted to bring the rawness back to what we do. We wanted to sound like how we actually play, and not the highly edited version. That’s not us, that’s not who we are. We’re not slick. We’re pretty real, and I like putting it out there.
Emotionally, when I’m performing or I’m recording, I want it to feel inclusive, and I think you feel that sense of inclusion when you know that the people making the music are as flawed as you are. That’s how we want to bond with the people we’re performing for, and that’s what makes us feel like there’s a sense of community there. It all starts with playing like a real band in the studio and not trying to overdo it, not trying to be something you’re not.
So do you think that this tour is a new opportunity for you guys to reconnect with the community?
Absolutely. Maybe it’s maturity, I don’t know. I’ve tried to make a greater effort to reach out to people when they reach out to me — whether it’s social media or talking with people after the shows — and to recognize that the people that support our band support us because they have a connection with us and we obviously must have a connection with them. So it’s recognizing yourself in other people. We’re playing small clubs, and it’s a way to be intimate and a way to learn how to be a band on the road again. We’re learning how to get back into this lifestyle. It’s an opportunity for us to connect with people and have an intimate experience with them.
I think it’s interesting how you’re talking about learning to be a band again. You’ve definitely had this downtime, and now that you’re getting back together it’s not all about putting out the new record, but also getting back into that mindset.
Yeah, and it takes a minute. It can actually be a little bit daunting because music and the music world is always in such furious transition, now more than ever. You kind of look around sometimes, and the more time that passes, the more you feel like you don’t have the stomach for it because of, maybe, the wear and tear of the road or the nasty criticism you can get. Or the apathy and the general feeling of, like Thom Yorke said, being like a pebble in a waterfall. It can feel like the world is too big to want to enter back into it.
It takes a little bit to get back into that groove, to feel strong, to feel connected with the band. The whole reason why I think a lot of people like playing in a band is because maybe you felt alienated when you were younger, and playing in a band makes you feel like you have this group of people that have your back. Getting back into that takes a minute to feel like you are connected, like you are a unit.
With that being said, do you feel more focused with the sound and direction you have? Or in the future do you think there might still be more experimentation.
As someone much wiser than me said, “The future is unwritten.” I have no idea where things will go. We claimed our identity for sure, and who knows where that will take us. Maybe we’ll do a covers record next, or an acoustic record next, or flugelhorns and bassoons next. I have no idea. It really depends how we’re feeling when we get some time away from the road. And I do know what terms I want to make the music on, and that’s on our own terms, constantly reminding ourselves that we need to play it like ourselves and not try to be a band that we’re not.
How long is this tour set to go?
It really depends how successful it is. We’re gonna be doing some U.S. touring through July. We’ll take a little bit of a break because I’m having a kid in August. We’ll probably hit Europe in the fall, do some more stuff abroad in the winter and hopefully do some more US touring all of next year. It depends on if there’s an audience. If it’s sustainable and people want us there, then we want to be there.
Would you say that impending fatherhood has had an influence on your songwriting or your overall outlook?
It’s gonna be my second child, so I’ve been a member of that community for seven years now. It definitely affects the majority of my decision-making. You realize that your life is not about just you, and caring for another person makes you realize that. It narrows your existential focus quite a bit, to try and be a model for your child and try to care for them. You think a little bit less of yourself to try and support someone else.
And like you said, that even influences the way you plan your tours.
Yeah, it can be a little rough. We don’t like to have legs that go more than a few weeks. We try to be reasonable so we get breaks and time to be home.