Rogue Wave: We're firing on all cylinders

Rogue Wave: We're firing on all cylinders
Photo by Terri Loewenthal

Rogue Wave is a survivor band. Their troubled history has seen plenty of ups and downs -- lost friends, lost family, personal tragedy. Not to mention the widely regarded misfire that was 2010's full-length record Permalight, their third. Now, after an unofficial three-year hiatus, Zach "Rogue" Schwartz is back with Nightingale Floors -- and it's an entirely new kind of album from Rogue Wave.

Nightingale Floors is probably the most sensitive album from the band yet, and that's not a slur. In this case, "sensitive" means "mature plus good." It's the kind of ear-cozying indie rock that recalls the best of Arcade Fire with a sprinkle of Wilco: gentle atmospheric synths, tranquil vocals, and surefire pop hooks. Following the death of his father in 2011, much of the new album sees Schwartz confronting his grief head-on, but with a bright-sider's approach. It's a touching, uplifting album, one that Rogue Wave fans have surely been waiting for. 

Ahead of the Rogue Wave show at the Fine Line this Saturday, Gimme Noise caught up with Schwartz to talk about the new album and what it's like being out on the old touring horse again.

Gimme Noise: Let's talk about Nightingale Floors for a moment. What did it take to get together again after a few years apart to make this album?

Zach Schwartz: I think it was just having some space, you know? You don't get a lot of that when you're touring -- to get perspective and down time -- and I think that's really what it was. We needed time away, and having time away made realize me still had a lot to do.

Nightingale Floors sounds entirely different from your previous albums. The songwriting feels much more emotional, the sounds on the album are deeper. Tell me about your decision to change your approach.

It wasn't like we made some conscious effort, like "This is what the record is going to sound like exactly," because you don't actually know what it's going to be like until you start to do it. You can think you know, but you don't. Pat [Spurgeon] and I agree that we succeed as a band when we do things off the cuff and a little more raw, and not trying to make things sound perfect. We let our emotions take over a little more, and we're much better served we get closer to the source of what the song is about emotionally. If you work something to death and really try to craft it, for us, it takes away from the emotional impact. Mistakes and feedback, I mean, I think that's truer to what we do anyway.

I think I read that you did a lot of this album live, and you did it in ten days. Tell me more about that process.

I don't know how many days, I can't quite remember... but we did a lot of it live, a lot of the drums and bass -- it's all live. That's how we were rehearsing, so we figured it made sense to do that when we were actually tracking. We did do a lot of demo-ing, which was not live, to figure out how the songs would be structured, but when we were recording, we played looking at each other's faces, like human beings play.

What are you most proud of about this album?

I really like the last song, "Everyone Wants to Be You." It was an idea long before it was a song. I had this idea of ending the record with a certain kind of feeling, and it materialized in a certain kind of melody, and it was a certain kind of translation into what we can play. I'm happy that we can make it work and get the right sound.

I'm also really happy how the song "S(a)tan" turned out, because we had a producer who was telling me that he wanted to take the song in a different direction, and it changed from a folky, acoustic guitar ballad to a punchy, emotional rock song, and I was really pleased with that collaborative way of working. 

Does it feel strange to you, now, going back to Rogue Wave and the fans, or does it still feel natural?

It feels weird, definitely, being back in it again. It's like going back to these cities again... it's nostalgic, the wear and tear of it. I'm exhausted and spent and in this state of slap happy survival all the time. It takes some getting used to, for sure, but while it may be true, it's also getting back to what I know best--so remembering how it was and how it's supposed to be.

How have the shows been going so far?

It's been good. We made a conscious effort to start with small venues... It's been a while and music has changed so much in the last few years. It's hard to know who your audience is. But it's been great--there's been a few cities where we hoped there would be a bigger turnout, but it feels like the right decision. Even some feedback we've been getting has been that we have more energy, and in a way it's some of the most energetic shows that we've ever put on. We're firing on a cylinders in a lot of ways.

You have overcome quite a lot to keep this band together--things that would have killed other bands. Would you call yourself an optimist? How have you stayed motivated in all of these things?

That's a question I ask myself everyday. When we were done touring on Permalight, my feeling then was to step away and be done. I didn't particularly have a really good time, I didn't feel motivated, and I didn't feel inspired, and the songs weren't translating well, and the things that gave me that fire to want to get on stage to want to scream my head off and hug people -- that whole reason didn't really exist anymore. When we went into rehearsal space [for Nightingale Floors], Pat and me and Mark... it just felt like it was already decided. It didn't even feel like choice anymore. We needed to remedy that last time we were out. I felt like the people that liked our music would want to hear those songs [that we were recording]. What I want to do most is make up songs, so it seems silly not to do that.

Rogue Wave will perform at the Fine Line Music Café this Saturday with Cavemen. Tickets $16-$18. Doors at 8 p.m. 18+. Details here.

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