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Zach Rogue: The Kotori Interview

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"I wanted something you could imagine being written on your back porch."

Singer-songwriter Zach Rogue ventured to Bloomington, Indiana on a whim to record a solo project, after years of success with his band, Rogue Wave. 

While other members of the band had previously done side projects, Rogue had always devoted his time and artistic abilities to the band, which formed in 2002. He was itching to do something different and the opportunity unfolded in front of him to do so. 

Rogue Wave's success allowed the band to tour and collaborate with the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, Jack Johnson, Spoon, Nada Surf, The Shins and more. Even for those who are not avid followers of the band, many would recognize their songs from popular television shows and movies including Weeds, Napoleon Dynamite, Heroes and more.

The result of Rogue's time off from the critically acclaimed group is Release The Sunbird, and the debut title Come Back To Us was released on July 26. 

Release The Sunbird is currently on tour. I caught up with Rougue to speak about his new project, the future of Rogue Wave and music in general:

You've had years of success with your band Rogue Wave. What made you decide to take on this new project?

Zach Rogue: It was just something I had to do. It was at a stage where I was kind of feeling burned out on the normal album/tour cycle. I just wanted to step aside and make a different sounding record on my own. Just produce my own record. I had been thinking about a lot of song ideas and just some textures and ideas, and I felt like I just needed to do on my own...well, not really on my own, just in a different environment with some different musicians. Since I met Pat Spurgeon I never really recorded anything without him, and I felt like it was a good experience to try something else and see where that would take me. A good break.

So where did you actually do your recording?

ZR: Bloomington, Indiana.

Why Bloomington?

ZR: Kate Long had signed on the record and that's where she lives, and Mike Bridavsky has a studio called Russian Recording and I had recorded with him before and I really liked him and he was available and the studio was available, and Kate was available. They were both there. I was lucky Ken Childers played bass and he was available, and Pete Schreiner played drums and he's Mike Bridavsky really close friend. I had a place to stay and it seemed like all the little pieces for you need for there to be an assemblage of a band were in place, and I just needed to get my ass on a plane and find my way there. 

Did you have a vision in mind or did you just go in and let the artistic juices flow?

ZR: Well, first my vision was just going to me and Pete singing some songs together with a guitar. And then once the other guys were available the vision expanded quite a bit and we totally realized the arrangement. They just happened to be there and something crazy just happened. The moment we all sat together in the studio all of us were just on the same page. The flow of allowing songs to just kind of be. We had some real dark moments that we just let fly, and some real kind of precious moments. We were just able to channel those emotions because everyone was just really patient in allowing it to unfold. 

I had hoped I could make a record like this but you don't really know because it depends on the people involved. If those people are open and wanting to do it then it can happen. I didn't know I would be so lucky.

So how long did it take to get everything recorded?

ZR: We tracked in nine days, we mixed in San Francisco with John Congleton for nine days, and then I sequenced if for like two months.

Was there any collaboration from other members of Rogue Wave? 

ZR: I did this without them. Pat, our drummer, played carpesa when I was mixing. He played carpesa on the first track "He's All Around You," the first song on the record. Largely it was just something I needed to do without them, and I can I tell by the sound of the record it just sounds different. It doesn't sound like a solo record, it just sounds like a different sound, which is what I wanted to do. I wanted to explore a different side of a me and different side of what I grew up listening to. It was an important thing for me to try.

Would you say that it's a good thing for artists to take time off to do their own projects?

ZR: I honestly I think there would more longevity in bands if they allowed themselves that. I think it's good for any relationship, as strong as any relationship is. I think it's always good and healthy, to have other experiences or else you're going to get burned out and not going to feel like bringing anything new to the table. It's like anything else. And you know all the other guys in the band have always done other projects, but I never had and I needed to. 

The new album is being released on Jack Johnson's label Brushfire Records, as have the last two albums from Rogue Wave. Describe your relationship with Jack and why you've entrusted this project to his label.

ZR: I've been friends with Jack for like 14 years or something, so we go way back.  They just let me do whatever I wanted on this record; they just said go ahead and have this experience. They were pretty hands off which is why I like them, because that's what labels are supposed to do. They are supposed to let their artists go off and do new things. They gave me their blessing. 

What are you most looking forward to as you gear up to start touring under the name Release the Sunbird? Any anxiety or fears with the new venture?

ZR: There are some really great people performing. It is an unknown if people will show up or listen to the record, but I am excited from just getting this thing to go live. I think it's going to be a really great show. 

What's next up for Rogue Wave?

ZR: I can't really do it now since I'm doing this. Pat and I recorded a couple of songs for some movies. One is coming out in July. We've been tracking some stuff, but it's not really something I can do right away. I don't want Release The Sunbird to be viewed as one album. I want the project to continue but I won't really know until I get there. 

You're from the Bay Area. How much does it influence your work that being your roots?

ZR: I didn't expect to really live in the Bay Area as long as I have. You know how it is, you want to leave where you started from. Everyone wants to kind of leave the past behind. 

I still really love the Bay Area and appreciate it a lot more since I've been away from it so much. I always want to come back here. It affects everything about me; it's who I am; it's my roots. 

I moved north of San Francisco and now I'm living in Marin. I look out my window and all I see are trees and hills, and so I don't think it's any coincidence Release the Sunbird project is a very pastoral record. I didn't record it in the Bay Area, but most of the songs were kind of fused up here and I always wanted to make a pastoral sounding, real, flawed and natural record. I wanted something you could imagine being written on your back porch. 

You know, we were trying to make this thing sound live, but all you need is a guitar to kind of have them make sense. They can be changed into something grander to make them into a show. But ultimately I think a strong song can be reduced to its simplest elements and still be something strong. I get the sense of that when I'm in the Bay Area because it is so eclectic and so diverse and odd and beautiful and ugly. I can feel like I want to write a song just walking down the street because I see some crazy looking dude wearing a dress and walking his dog. There is always something than can make me just want to pick up a guitar and write. 

What in your opinion is the best album of 2011 so far and why?

ZR: I really think that the record I've appreciated the most because of its concept is the PJ Harvey record. It's pretty special. Especially this far in her career, to make something that dramatic where it's like the first and last record a person would make. It's a snapshot. I was lucky enough to see her in the Bay Area. 

Do you think it's only a matter of time before music is only available in a digital format? Is this good or bad for the industry and artists like yourself?

ZR: I think people still like vinyls. I don't really see much purpose for the CD much longer, and quite honest it's more environmentally friendly anyway. People are saying the subscription-based model is going to reign supreme but I don't know. Things keep changing every day and it's impossible to know, but what it does do is, with every change there is a new opportunity to re-imagine how to put music out there. It could allow bands to release more serialized music rather than album-based music. 

I don't there is any real replacing the album concept. I think that's the best way to consume music and the most interesting. Of course that means a band has to have that much to say.

Since we are overloaded with so much information- rather it be news or entertainment- the thing I kind of like about an album is that it makes you kind of stop for a second and not just listen to a song. Music is so easily becoming background music, because it's so easy to find and to put on. You don't have to search that much anymore and you don't have to cherish it in the way it should be cherished. My hope is that we don't lose sight of what an album is and we hold onto it.


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