Rogue Wave’s Pat Spurgeon on their DIY Aesthetic and the Gear that Inspires Him

Incorporating a rotating cast into an ongoing production is as much a challenge as presenting a finished work of art. Influences ebb and flow, personalities alter the course of creative direction, and the core of the production can find itself in familiar territory and on foreign soil all at once. For better or worse, a consistent diet of variables results in a near-constant state of evolution where the next step can feel like it already happened ages ago.

Zach Rogue and Pat Spurgeon, the evergreen fixtures of indie pop group Rogue Wave, are well-versed in the art of the sonic wardrobe change. Over the band’s 14-year run, guitarists, keyboardists and bassists have checked in and out of active duty playing and recording with the group. Through these iterations, Pat and Zach learned a few things along the way, and those things culminated in their self-recorded and produced sixth studio album Delusions of Grand Fur.

We spoke with Pat, who held double-duty as drummer and engineer, about balancing those roles in the studio, where he draws inspiration from and the joy of a rotating cast of gear, instead of a rotating cast of players.

It's been more than three years since Rogue Wave's last album, the longest break you guys have taken. What have you been up to?

In the past three years, we've been recording. For this current record, we recorded at our studio in Oakland, California. It’s been our rehearsal space for about the last 10 years. We've always dabbled in recording or done projects for commercials and demoed here.

How has it felt being one of the driving creative forces in a band with so many lineup changes?

Well, it's interesting because since I joined the band, we have worked in the way that we're working now, meaning that when we started recording, after Zach made the first record, it was he and I sharing everything.

We went up to Tarbox Road Studios up in Cassadaga, New York, at Dave Fridmann's place, and recorded over the course of two weeks. Between the two of us we just put together a handful of songs that made the second record, and that process kind of continued.

It always has been that way but now that we have our own space, it has gear that we like, and all of our mics and all of our instruments and all of our comfort toys and all of the gadgets that we have, we had it all here. We decided to go ahead and do it there rather than pack everything up and take it somewhere else.

You were the engineer for this album. What was it like balancing the creative energy needed as a contributing musician but then also as an engineer?

Yeah, that was tricky. It's really hard to dial in drum sounds when you're also playing the parts.

Usually when Zach is here with me, I'll set up drums or set up mics around the drums and have him go in, play, and then I dial in sounds. But for other instruments, I would just put in parts after Zach or Jon [Monahan] or Mark [Christianson] would have put their thing in. I'd go in and find what else could be added or if a song was missing bass, I would just plug in and go: guitar, vocals, anything.

At this point, it's hard to say who played what on the record. If I was left alone in the studio, I would just pull up a song and go, “Well, I'm going to try this.” I would put down something and play it for Zach, and he'd either give it the thumbs up or want to try something different.

Being an engineer also helped me occupy my mind. I'll give an example: say we're in the studio and I've laid down my drum tracks. My job might be done for who knows how long, but I kept getting to work on the songs at all times while maybe Zach did all of this stuff on the song because I just was in engineer mode. So he got to play a lot of stuff and experiment, as did I on the engineering side.

What were some pieces of gear that really interested you in the recording process, ones that you thought really made a mark?

So, this studio is a shared space; other bands come in, people come and go. At one point we actually had the guy who engineered and produced the first two Rogue Wave records, Bill Racine, as a partner in our studio. He brought all of his gear and it was crazy stuff. We had a Studer tape machine, a quarter-inch mix-down deck; we recorded quite a bit with him or on his gear.

Then he moved out, basically cleaned out the studio, and we were relegated to using — and I'm not kidding — cassette and four track and we slowly pulled ourselves together and we actually got another friend who came in. He moved from Minneapolis and he needed a place, and we needed someone to move in. He brought all of his gear.

This friend of ours, Brian Moen, he's in a band called Peter Wolf Crier, he moved into town and he has all of this stuff. We got some kind of Valley People stereo compressor; we've got a couple organ compressors now. We have a Symetrix compressor that I love. He brought in, geez, all kinds of stuff; Multivox analog echo unit, all of these different things like Roland phase shifters or Roland stereo flangers, all of that stuff.

Wow.

So all of a sudden we've got ourselves more gear and more toys. So the record is weird; each song was kind of put together as one piece, like we didn't put down stuff and then go back and revisit too much. It's, like, almost impossible to figure out what was used on every song but we certainly would take advantage of anything that came in that was new, which was actually really awesome.

We had borrowed this Ursa Major Stargate 323. That thing was so cool, man, it gave us this Jesus and Mary Chain kind of dreamy, distorted, really reverberant guitar. That was a great piece of gear, and now I've got to find another one. [Laughs]

Approaching the material from the standpoint of an engineer, did you have specific sonic references — albums that you wanted to emulate — or did you want to go at it tabula rasa: just your own decisions and your own mark on the project?

I would say option two. Zach and I both were going with the songs as they came. We didn't have a specific reference, like a band or an album or anything, but sometimes that would happen as we were going. And that was one of those moments as an engineer where I really was happy. We’d end with a little drum fill, just a snare and kick thing and it ended up reminding me so much of a sound on Paul McCartney's first solo record. That sort of sound would permeate some other songs because once it would start sounding like something, we would just go that direction.

It sounds like the lo-fi was more the product of necessity as opposed to a conscious decision.

You're right on the money. I could elaborate, but, yeah, we used what we had. And we would always be looking at Reverb to check out gear and just go, “Wow, I really would love to have one of those.” [Laughs]

There are definite points of familiarity in the record in relation to past Rogue Wave recordings, but then also on songs like “What is Left to Solve?” there’s this really brooding, new wave-y element to it. Where did that come from?

We never really thought of the songs as, “Oh, this song is going to be on the record,” or “This is the direction of the record.”

The direction of the songs changed over the course of two years. We would take long breaks or come back to it, that song in particular. I'm not surprised it's on the record but it is really a departure from the rest of the record as far as it's kind of electronic and, like you said, brooding.

I don't recall that one starting out like that. Usually the way a song would start, Zach would come in, sit down with whatever instrument, guitar or keyboard or something, and I'd go, “OK, just start playing it so I can at least get the tempo and get a click track going.” Then he would start that and then I would record him for a while just doing stuff. And that might be day one.

One of the funniest things I read was about how you and Zach talked about the album title, Delusions of Grand Fur. What was your initial reaction when Zach pitched that album title to you?

I didn't know the meaning behind it until he explained it to me. I was unsure about it because I'm not really a big fan using something and then just switching a word. I forget what you call it, but felt like it was sort of…

Like a little cheeky?

Yeah, exactly, yeah. Once he explained it to me I was like: OK, I can get behind that. Zach doesn't usually put anything black and white out there. There are always things like lyrics, song and album titles that are shrouded a little bit. And on this one, the album art and title, you kind of have to think about for a little bit.

Don't judge it by the cover, but let it sink in and try to understand it a little bit. There are songs on the record that explain the title and that explain the image on the cover, but not directly. It's sort of challenging the listener to listen and spend time with the record and hang out with it, which is hard to do these days. But as a vinyl collector and a vinyl lover, I put records on and I let them go and I flip them over and all that.

So I spend time with records. I always have, but I always do. Listen to the record. Try to listen to the record.


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