Rogue Wave lightens up
"Permalight," Rogue Wave's recently released fourth CD, is characterized by a core of buoyant, pithy songs that are designed to uplift the soul and energize the spirit. The album represents a shift in mood from the Oakland-bred band's previous album, the more pessimistic and dense "Asleep at Heaven's Gate."
Rogue Wave's creative shift out of darkness and into invigorating light reflects the duo's own individual journeys from despair to positive resolution. Last year, singer-songwriter-guitarist Zach Rogue overcame a potentially career ending neurological problem caused by two slipped discs in his neck.
For several months in 2008, he was bedridden in excruciating pain. He even lost sensation in his right hand and was advised by his doctor to never play the guitar again.
"All you want is for the pain to stop," recalled Rogue in a phone interview from a Wisconsin tour stop. "I couldn't really think or sleep. I couldn't play with my daughter or play guitar. I was just depressed and in agony. There's a sense of optimism and joy in the new album because in 2009 I got back to playing music again."
Drummer-keyboardist Pat Spurgeon also had to overcome daunting health problems.
In 2007, in the middle of a Rogue Wave tour, Spurgeon was diagnosed with kidney failure. Rather than stop performing, he chose the difficult option of getting dialysis while on the road. Spurgeon was placed on a kidney donor list, a process he was told would take at least six years. Almost miraculously, a perfect donor match came up in about a year, which catapulted him to the top of the list.
"We thought we were out of luck because it's hard to stay on dialysis for six years," said Rogue. "It was as if he won the organ lottery, as his doctor said. What's interesting is the boy who donated the kidney had just signed up to be a donor. He was changing his driver's license when he signed up and that same day he died. It shows the importance of organ donation. You can actually do it online in two minutes."
Spurgeon's struggles with kidney disease and his search for a kidney transplant are part of a documentary called "D-Tour," made by a friend of the band, Jim Granato.
Rogue Wave's entire existence can be attributed in part to an ability to overcome adversity. The band — which performs at San Francisco's Fillmore on Friday — was born after Rogue lost his job during the high-tech crash in the early 2000s. He had been working up to 80 hours a week as a project manager for a San Francisco-based Web development company. Unemployment led Rogue headfirst into his first love: music.
Though he had already been a member of a Bay Area band called Desoto Reds, Rogue wanted to develop his own songs. Eventually, demos he recorded with a friend turned into Rogue Wave's first album called "Out of the Shadows." The self-released project came to the attention of Seattle's celebrated Sub Pop Records label, which agreed to distribute the album.
"I was in shock for about a year," Rogue recalled. "I didn't honestly think that people would want to hear my music. I didn't really think I was in the class with those people I idolized like Robert Pollard and Stephen Malkmus."
Rogue Wave's two-album contract with Sub Pop expired after the 2005 release of the band's second album, "Descended Like Vultures." By then Rogue felt his band had gotten lost amid the label's myriad artists.
Rogue Wave subsequently signed with its current record company, Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records. Rogue says the small label is able to give the group the needed support and attention it requires because of its limited band roster and flexible internal structure.
Rogue has clearly regained his enthusiasm for music. Even before his nearly catastrophic health setback, he had been feeling disenchanted with certain aspect of his career and society — which contributed to the pessimistic tone of the "Asleep at Heaven's Gate" album in 2007.
"A lot of things were happening in our lives," he said. "We had also burned ourselves out touring and I was finding the music business depressing. The Bush administration and all the incoherence and corruption connected with that were weighing on me, too."
Today, Rogue feels the band is at the top of its game, especially on stage. (Rogue and Spurgeon are supported live by Cameron Jasper on bass and both Steve Taylor and Dominic East on guitar.) Rogue Wave has gradually increased its following over the years to the point where it can play sizable halls in major cities.
It's uplifting to Rogue to be touring behind an album with so much positive energy behind it. Much of the album is infused with an effervescent brand of acoustic and electric indie rock.
"You choose the lens that you view life and the lives surrounding you," said Rogue. "I chose to try to do something productive with this album. I didn't want to wallow in self-pity."
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: The Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
Tickets: $19.50, www.ticketmaster.com