Over the decade and a half that Rogue Wave has made music, Zach Rogue has continued to expand his band's emotional spectrum. Drawing inspiration from the inevitable delusions of everyday American life, Rogue, his longtime bandmate Pat Spurgeon, and their fellow members have returned reinvigorated, and with a fresh sound founded on the art of patience, the fearlessness of experimenting, and the unbridled joy of creating something meaningful to help us navigate through these vacant times. Trusting in its own abilities and leaning on each other, Rogue Wave has seized creative control of its identity and sound and is set to smash any preconceptions of its music, revealing the most truthful, powerful, and urgent sonic blueprint of the band to date.
Taking a longer break in between albums than ever before, Rogue enjoyed his extra time off at home in Oakland with his children. The songwriting process for Rogue Wave's music is always the same-"me, alone in a room," as Rogue says-and this time around, he found the most success at home in his bedroom or while driving in his car, even learning to embrace his two-year-old son's "experimental tunings" on his beloved Taylor guitar. Lyrics, however, did not come as easy, and Rogue only found success with his words when slowing himself down and recognizing that his wild juxtapositions of lyrical themes actually felt right. "I wanted the duality," he says, "I wanted the thematic conflict. This is a record of things being out of balance and at odds with one another." Thematically, Rogue Wave's music has never drifted too far from the subject matter of emotional battles with fear and joy in equal parts.
Choosing to title the record Delusions of Grand Fur, a riff on the tendency of fresh-faced musicians to misperceive the reality of band life, Rogue found himself reflecting on all that he had learned through his time in Rogue Wave, in addition to our need as humans to keep up appearances. "You think the world will be your oyster and the wounds you were running away from when you joined a band will magically go away-you think you can just become someone else or get whatever you want," he says. "But really, we are all deluded in some way. We need to delude ourselves to deal with the impossibility and difficulty of life. Delusion is what keeps the mythology of America alive. It keeps us from facing our history and our true selves. We don't want to be deluded. We need it." And once he had convinced Spurgeon of the sincere intent behind the titular pun, they began the recording process.
In a sense a return to their recording roots, Rogue and Spurgeon decided to work without a producer, instead recording and producing themselves at their home studio in Oakland. Calling to mind the band's debut, 2003's Out of the Shadow, a project completed entirely by Rogue and a single engineer, the band also decided to work without recording demo versions of songs-instead, the demos would simply become the songs. Setting up shop amongst their large collection of well-loved gear at the place they felt most comfortable, the band was free to experiment at will-rarely would they rehearse a song as a band first, instead choosing to tinker and jump off the deep end as Rogue and Spurgeon desired, blessing the process with what seemed like a natural evolution. At times, bassist Mark Masanori Christianson and the band's new guitar player Jon Monohan would come by to throw in some ideas. But by and large the architects remained Rogue and Spurgeon, resulting in a revelatory experience and so many songs the band could have potentially released a double album. The process taught them to trust their instincts while embracing the fleeting energy of an imaginative spark.
"It was really nice working at our own pace," says Rogue. "We wanted to just go with our own instincts and trust ourselves. Pat really blossomed as an engineer during this record. His curiosity in the studio is just endless. There are no rules. And that's why I've always been so comfortable bringing song ideas to him, because he is so open." Spurgeon played all the drums on the record, as well as a bit of everything else. In Rogue's words, even Spurgeon's experiments became instruments all of their own, and despite the modest environment and DIY approach, the end result is a clearer snapshot of who Rogue Wave is today.
"In a way, it could be argued that we chose the most regressive step by tracking our record in such a comparatively low fidelity environment," says Rogue. "But for the music itself, it is the trajectory I've always wanted for this band. It's the sound of who we actually are, for better or for worse."
Echoing that sentiment, Delusions of Grand Fur opens on a confident tone with the upbeat and personal "Take It Slow," a song inspired by a mantra of patience. The energy takes off on the next track, "In the Morning," which was given its gyrating, infectious pulse by the deft hands of its mixer, Chris Walla. And the bright clip of "California Bride," perhaps the tone that will prove most familiar to longtime fans, is a meditation on the beauty and fortune of being alive. "Do you even know how lucky you are?" says Rogue of the song. "You got to live in California and feel the sand in your toes and grab what you wanted from life."
But when the dark indie pop of lead single "What Is Left To Solve" opens the second half of the album with electronic flourishes, it's clear that a new, exciting direction is being heralded. Originally written on guitar, the duo was inspired to deconstruct the song by listening to electronic music by Kraftwerk and Grimes. "The synth bass line is meant to represent the futility of thinking you will get a different result when you try to change someone else," says Rogue. "We are slowly but surely replacing human interaction with digital interaction."
Continuing the fresh foray, "Frozen Lake" is an interpersonal breakup song that evokes sounds of the '80s, the present, and the future all at once, while the jangly, psychedelic "Ocean" is an instant smash about breaking up, and how getting stabbed in the back can leave you feeling infinitesimally small. When Mike Deni of Geographer lends his soaring voice to the track's bridge, the tune rises to the rafters. By the time the album reaches its close with the slow-burning, achingly lush "Memento Mori," it's clear that Delusions of Grand Fur is a masterstroke by a band that knows who it is and has continued to evolve. Rogue Wave has released a work that serves as a culmination of all it has learned and that trusts itself over all else to deliver that message with a supreme urgency.
"Overall, I think we have grown more comfortable in our own skin," say Rogue. "We had total control; we were on our own little island and made the record entirely for our own amusement. As a result, there are some pretty experimental tendencies. It is pretty immersive. There are some very emotional moments. But my relationship with Pat continues to grow. In many ways, I feel like we are just starting to figure out how we like to record music. This record was the most challenging album we've ever worked on, but it never felt like a slog. When we are working on songs together, it just never feels old."