Rogue Wave provides an invaluable service acting as their own frame for photo shoots.
Courtesy Sub Pop

Music Interview: A humble, roguish wave

Rogue Wave provides an invaluable service acting as their own frame for photo shoots.

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"Two out of the four of us finally hit puberty on this last tour so it's bound to have an effect," singer and multi-instrumentalist Zach Rogue of Rogue Wave laughs about the whirlwind of events leading up to his band's second album, Descended like Vultures. "I don't know if I'd say it's more mature, I think there are better musicians playing on the record. Before it was mainly me and I'm a hack. I can play things but they studied music in school where I studied it by listening to albums."

Though Rogue jokes about being a late bloomer and his musical ability these claims are hard to believe. In his short career with Rogue Wave--which has blossomed from a solo gig to a bona fide band--the songwriter has been called many things but not a hack. Gaining notice last year with the re-release of their first album, the aptly titled Out of the Shadows, Rogue and his wave have instead met a gush of warm words, a fact he still has difficulty dealing with.

"For the first [record] I would read the press and it didn't have a very good effect on me," Rogue admits. "If it was something complimentary it would pass right through me and if it was something cruel it would stick with me and I'd just think about that. I decided that wasn't really doing anything to help me as a songwriter. If anything it was making me self-conscious in a way that had nothing to do with music."

Vultures proves Rogue doesn't have anything to worry about, if anything it is an improvement over the praise-magnet Shadows. The band has a knack for writing lovely pop songs, deftly mixing pristine melodies with at times complex, at times restrained instrumentation and liberal use of hooks. Rogue Wave's sound is a compelling hybrid of innovative flair and classical leanings, leading some to draw parallels to Sub Pop label-mates and fellow pop crusaders, the Shins. Though Rogue can't say a bad thing about the band, he doesn't buy the comparison.

"I think that if you're a person making music you want to think it's original," he remarks. "Even if it's your favourite band you don't want to be called someone's little brother. People are going to compare things. We probably sound like the Shins a lot more than Metallica and of course there are going to be similarities melodically, we use similar instrumentation to a degree but no more than any other band who makes rock music. We touch on different bands we've been listening to all our lives in varying degrees, whether it's the Who, Fleetwood Mac, My Bloody Valentine, the Cure or REM particularly. All of those things are going to be part of [our music] because that's our lexicon. That's what we grew up knowing."

This problem is a common one for bands who, like Rogue Wave, emerged relatively quickly with a heap of praise in tow. Too often media focuses on a few aspects of a band's development, ignoring everything else. In Rogue's case he is constantly being asked about how the band formed and how the song writing has changed since they came together. Despite this repetitiveness, Rogue remains refreshingly humble about his band's position in the press.

"I've seen stuff for bands who have been around for 10 years and they're still being asked how their band formed," he says. "Aside from that, it's a gift that anyone would give a shit about a song that I wrote or that there's a band called Rogue Wave. When a band starts for the first couple years--unless they just launch into the stratosphere and everyone knows who they are--people are trying to create a narrative and they're going to tell the beginning."

Rogue has a similar attitude to most aspects of his profession. Instead of the cocksure swagger many musicians adopt Rogue is modest, considerate and down to earth, allowing his music to do the boasting. Even in a time where bands of Rogue Wave's ilk, such as the aforementioned Shins and Modest Mouse, are gaining unprecedented levels of success Rogue refuses to let his head get far from his shoulders.

"A few years ago you couldn't imagine Modest Mouse being on the radio," he states. "People have loved them for a long time but I don't think they thought they'd be on the cover of magazines. It seemed like such an idiosyncratic kind of music and that's what people really loved about it. A lot of stuff that gets famous is not really that good because the co-opting of media and all these conglomerates pushing bad things at you. If you want to succeed at something you have to believe you have the ability to succeed at it, otherwise it's hard to enjoy it if you always think that you're crappy. Those demons are always there because most artists are self-conscious. I would rather make music that I like than music that was super successful if I didn't like it."

If Rogue and his cohorts just made it through puberty they're handling it remarkably well.