Zach Rogue (left) and Pat Spurgeon
Oakland, Calif.–based Rogue Wave was formed in the early 2000s by Zach Rogue, armed with an acoustic guitar and influenced “mainly by a combination of late-''60s British Invasion music and mid- to late-''90s underground indie rock.” Over time, the band''s sound evolved as Rogue and his bandmates began experimenting with low-tech devices, toy sounds, cassette-tape manipulation, and 4-track recordings.
Their songs became more elaborate and ambient (finding exposure on TV shows from Friday Night Lights to Weeds). Their fourth release, Permalight (Brushfire Records, 2010), is in some ways a return to the early sound—short songs and lean arrangements—yet it''s the most modern-sounding record they''ve made.
“When I started writing the record,” Rogue says, “I made a conscious effort to make the music more visceral. Basically, I was hoping to make a dance record. There is still a lot of emotion in the music, but this time around, we wanted the physical component to be there, too.”
Writing initially on an acoustic guitar, Rogue sketched single-track demos into Apple GarageBand, experimenting with melodic and lyrical ideas. He and drummer/keyboardist Pat Spurgeon tracked demos in Pro Tools and moved to a San Francisco studio for pre-production. They chose Dennis Herring (Counting Crows, Elvis Costello) to produce the album, and traveled to his studio, Sweet Tea Recording in Oxford, Miss., for the sessions.
Each song began with a click-track on a Roland TR-505 drum machine, with sounds subsequently added from the 505 to establish feel and tempo. Building upon that with drums, rhythm guitar, and scratch vocal tracks, the songs evolved.
The title track, “Permalight” (see Web Clip 1), was the only song recorded live rather than in layers. For that song, Rogue''s Silvertone acoustic was miked with a Shure SM57, and bassist Cameron Jasper''s Rickenbacker was taken direct and miked through a Marshall Micro Amp with a Sennheiser MD 421. The drum track was played on the TR-505 through a Lil Smokey cigarette amp miked with an SM57. Everything was run through JFL Audio preamps and into the studio''s Neve 8038 console. They beefed up the drums using various drum machines, including the TR-505, a Roland TR-606 Drumatix, and a Mattel Synsonic.
Throughout the process, the band employed a host of offbeat techniques, Spurgeon recalls. “There is a lead guitar part that enters ‘Permalight'' that has a cool backward kind of sound, created with a Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster run through an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Plus reverb pedal with an Ernie Ball volume pedal,” he says. “Since the reverb pedal was first in the signal chain, the sound would be nice and lush, and then cut off clean when the volume pedal was brought down. The track was recorded using a Fender Champ amplifier miked with an Electro-Voice RE20. The signal was run through a Universal Audio 6176 Vintage Channel Strip. We also used an Akai MPC2000XL sampler to incorporate a ‘Speak and Spell'' toy in the pre-choruses and made use of a Korg microKorg synthesizer vocoder in the outro of the song to give the song a Led Zeppelin ‘Immigrant Song''-meets-Deliverance-banjo sound.”
Another of Herring''s techniques was to record an instrument with a micro-cassette recorder using its internal microphone and playing it back into the track with a little wiggle here and there, as heard on the almost chime-like chorus of “Stars and Stripes” (see Web Clip 2).
The album was mixed at Sweet Tea by Kyle “Slick” Johnson. It was mastered at Masterdisk Studios in New York City by Howie Weinberg.
Home base: Oakland, Calif.
DAW of choice: Digidesign Pro Tools HD/LE
Key outboard device: Roland TR-505