There was a point in the past year where all Zach Rogue could do was pray for more time to spend with Pat Spurgeon. Spurgeon, Rogue’s creative partner in the Northern California-based band Rogue Wave, needed a kidney transplant to replace the failing organ he received from his first transplant in the 1990s. In the meantime, Spurgeon stuck with his bandmates, spending his time between tour stops hooked to a dialysis machine in the back of their van.
In a tumultuous year of ups and downs for the band — a year that included the deaths of Rogue’s grandfather, guitarist Gram LeBron’s father and former bassist Evan Farrell in an accidental apartment fire, as well as the birth of Rogue’s first child — Spurgeon’s story registered on the high side. The transplant came through and the band was gifted with more time to spend with their uber-innovative drummer.
Now they’re taking advantage of it.
In September Rogue Wave released its third album, Asleep at Heaven’s Gate, a 13-track record that showcases the creative talents of Rogue and Spurgeon like never before.
“Our second record, we had just finished our tour and a few days later we were in the studio. Because of that, we just worked on songs we’d been playing live instead of taking a step back and starting from scratch and conceptualizing the record, the sequencing and the aesthetics to the story that would be told, the kind of holistic ideas about what would make it an album,” Rogue says. “[When you] spend more than just a couple of days on overdubs and instead spend several weeks, [when you] work on harmonies a little bit, all those things can make the record a little bit more interesting.”
With more time than ever to spend in the studio, the innovative duo took full advantage, experimenting with instruments and other unconventional, uh, instruments to fill out songs with additional layers.
“Pat has this thing that’s called ‘horn magic.’ It’s this toy trumpet that when you push down the button where the valve would be, it makes a response to any noise around it. And it makes this noise that’s really unpredictable and erratic,” Rogue says of one particularly impressive instance. “We put it in the piano while I was playing it on ‘Harmonium,’ so while I was playing the piano there would be this secondary layer of this totally unpredictable strange noise that would come out of the trumpet. So we kind of mic’d them simultaneously and when I played the piano and the note resonated it just sounded like this duck was being bloodied. Together it made this kind of screaming sound. It was pretty cool.”
Creative processes like that one — a noise-making toy sword also makes an appearance in the “making of” video footage — offered up all kinds of unique samples. However, the true merit of the songwriters isn’t shown by merely whipping up aural oddities, it is instead displayed by the successful integration of such layers into songs. That the layers enhance compositions that already work well when Rogue and Spurgeon perform them as an acoustic duo is a testament to time well-spent in the studio. Time Rogue is indeed fortunate to have with Spurgeon and the rest of his mates.
“When a lot of the bad stuff was happening I thought that something was telling us that we should stop playing music, but when I look back on all the series of events and everything around us now, I realize that staying together and making the record and having the experiences we’re having on the road right now, it’s made our lives that much richer,” Rogue says. “The music that we make, it’s time well spent and it’s made us stronger people. And I need to remember that when times get difficult again.”
• Rogue Wave opens for Death Cab for Cutie Monday, June 9, at Merriweather Pavilion. Tickets range from $25-40 and are available through Ticketmaster. For more information on Rogue Wave, visit www.roguewavemusic.com.