Rogue Wave’s foundation has long been built on unstable ground. Since debuting in 2004, the California indie rockers have been forced to confront a number of unfortunate setbacks: drummer Pat Spurgeon fought for his life amid kidney failure during their 2006 tour, former bassist Evan Farrell tragically died in a 2007 house fire, and frontman Zach Rogue was rendered nearly paralyzed from a neck injury in 2010. But on Delusions of Grand Fur, their sixth effort and first since 2013, the band finally regains their footing, claiming the record as their truest to date.
Over the last decade or so, the group has rallied against their rocky trajectory as vehemently as their name might suggest. The sounds that comprise their five-album discography have always defied explicit definition, ranging from the jangly, loose-cut strummers of their 2004 breakout Out of the Shadow to the unbridled dance rock of 2010’s Permalight.
For Delusions, Rogue Wave returned to their DIY roots, cutting together the project sans producer in Rogue and Spurgeon’s home studio. On it, they reflect on the impossible dreams that thrust them through their career, recreating the lax, sun-dipped soundscape that littered their first LP.
“The fact that this band is still standing given all that s— is amazing. I’ve wanted to quit so many times, but then these songs come up and I connect with Pat, and it feels like if we’re surviving it, then it’s for a reason,” Rogue tells EW. “So this is who we are, take it or leave it. I’ve never been happier.”
For more on Delusions of Grand Fur, EW spoke with Rogue about his thoughts behind the album, overcoming obstacles, and the decision to reclaim creative control.
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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s been three years since Rogue Wave’s last record, Nightingale Floors. Can you walk me through what’s been happening since then, and how the band has evolved within that time frame?
ZACH ROGUE: It wasn’t the plan to take three years. My son was born in the middle of our last album cycle, and I wanted to be around to spend time with him, especially his first year because it’s so formative. I didn’t want to travel, and we also wanted to make kind of an unconventional record. There was no demo-ing; we just did everything on the fly. It was a very spontaneous recording process, and we knew that wasn’t really something we could do in a fancy, expensive studio. It just took longer than we thought, and we weren’t in a hurry. I’ve learned that adhering to these self-imposed deadlines doesn’t really make much sense if you’re not happy with the end result. I’d rather things take longer if I feel like the album is right. I wanted to make deep headphone music. Even though most of the world doesn’t seem to give two s–ts about albums, we do. We wanted to make a record that mattered.
What were you thinking about while writing this record?
Politics, family, intimacy, longing—all the things that make us human. It was knowing that I have these things in my life that are everything and precious to me, and then looking outside the window and seeing the world falling apart. It’s this duality that I think a lot of adults face. There are so many things that we’re powerless to changing. As the album title implies in certain ways, we kind of live within this delusional state in order to get up in the morning and be functional human beings.
How did those concepts reflect for you personally?
“Endless Supply” is a good example. As a logical adult, you could say it’s probably not the best idea to get involved in the music industry, especially if you’re not like 22. It’s an impossible business. I’ve never been super career oriented necessarily, but when you decide to have a family, these things come up. That song kind of explores this delusion of knowing that you shouldn’t do something, but knowing that at the same time it defines everything about you. As an adult and a human being, I’m kind of trapped between needing to be responsible and knowing that as an artist I have this endless supply of yearning and this flow of songs that’s always happening in my mind. But to deny who I am as an adult is not a good thing. So I live in this delusional state where I know I’ll figure it out, but in the meantime I’m changing nothing.
By recording and producing the project yourselves, you kind of cut out the white noise and did it on your own terms. What made you opt for a more DIY direction this time around?
On our last record, one thing that was taxing was that we demoed our album for like eight months. We recorded the most ornate, heady demos that were so specific and so experimental, and then when that was done, we recorded our record with [Grammy-winning producer-engineer] John Congleton. That seemed really silly. I love John, it was great working with him and he’s amazing, but from an energy and spontaneity standpoint, it’s like, why do something twice? So this time around we didn’t want to have any energy taken away. I felt like some of our first missteps as a band in the past have been where we take some of the spontaneity out and we refine, but that’s denying who we are as a band. We’re totally imperfect. I’m a very mediocre musician, so to try and make me sound better than I am is false. We like getting really weird with synthesizers and playing songs for like 20 minutes. We like indulging in the psychedelic and experimental aspects of music. We did it not just to save money, but to save our process. We could make the songs exactly as we wanted them so we would succeed or fail completely on our own terms.
You cite this project as being very true to who Rogue Wave is as a group. Could you talk a little bit about the journey to arrive at this particular sound, and how you feel it defines you as a band?
It reminds me of our first record in a way, where the songs were arranged on the fly. I knew what some of the central instrumentation was, but I didn’t know what it was going to sound like when other people were playing. It definitely came full circle for me, and I realized that that’s when I think we’re at our best. This record is exactly how we should operate as a band, where I’m really free with my writing and Pat is able to be free with his experimentation sonically. It’s how our brains work. It gets to the point where me and Pat are finishing each other’s sentences. We have this hive mind now…So this is who we are, take it or leave it. I’ve never been happier with a band than I have been now.
Rogue Wave is a band that has experienced many trials and tribulations over the years, and that’s been very tied to your story. How has it affected the work you’ve put out?
It’s made me feel like I connect with our audience. When I was an adolescent, music was a thing that saved my ass. If I didn’t have The Cure and The Smiths and REM and Depeche Mode and all that stuff, I do not know what would have happened to me. We’ve had a lot of setbacks and hard times, but everyone has. People who like our music, I think they identify with that. It’s relatable. The emotion we’ve gone through when Evan died or when Pat was sick and had his transplant, all that stuff. Everyone’s had struggle and death. It just makes me more hungry to create.
Does it still weigh on you now, or do you think you’ve been able to break from that narrative?
So much time has passed. The fact that this band is still standing given all that s— is amazing. I’ve wanted to quit so many times, but then these songs come up and I connect with Pat, and it feels like if we’re surviving it, then it’s for a reason. Given all the s— that’s happened, I’m pretty proud of the fact that we’ve soldiered on…When Permalight came out, a lot of people hated that album so much. They hated it with a passion. It was scathingly unaccepted, and I think that made a lot of people write us off as a s—-y band. But we picked up the pieces. This is a band that’s tough to kill.