Zach Schwartz, a.k.a. Zach Rogue has been making music for the better part of the oughts with the Bay's Rogue Wave since the crash and burn fissure of Web 1.0. On a whim to indulge his inner tunesmith, he recorded a new project with some friends in Bloomington, NJ called Release the Sunbird who have just released Come Back to Us on Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records. We caught up with Zach on going Rogue from the Wave, the new project and the cryptic details of the future Rogue Wave album.
Q: So with Release the Sunbird how did this come about, being that the press release states; a few guitars and a studio in Bloomington?
I’ve been planning to make this record like this for a while now but I had been wanting to find a window of time that was available and my friend Mike Bridavsky who has this studio [Russian Recording] in Bloomington had that time and I wanted to reach out to and my friend Kate [Long], she lives out in Bloomington and my buddy Chris Swanson from Secretly Canadian let me stay at his place and Kenny [Childers] and Pete [Shreiner] were able to play bass and drums. It was kind of strange that everyone had this time at the same time who was a part of it and it all fell together. All I came over with was just a couple of guitars and I had all these songs and ideas but not fully formed songs, they were more concepts, which made it feel a little foolish to go out there but I didn’t realize how great everyone was going to be together it was like, it really felt like a unit and with everyone playing in the studio together which was very warm.
Q: You don’t want this to be viewed as a side project nor solo project, but how do you want Release the Sunbird to be viewed by your fans?
You know I think it will be inevitable that people will probably be calling it a solo record. I think that is probably going to happen but from my view I mean, there is no way that I could have done this on my own. I would like for people to think of [Release the Sunbrid] as its own entity or really its own band because there is no way that I could have done what everyone was doing by myself and it was such an amazing alchemy of Pete and his feel for when he plays drums is very unique and Pete is just an amazing guy and he would really know when not to play and know when to really lay in and the way he would relate to Kenny on bass and Kenny’s voice is just…I had no idea that we could all sing so well together. And you know a lot of that stuff is live tracking there, the vocals, everything and a lot of the songs we’re doing it completely live there. Kate and I would position our mics from our faces when we were facing each other when we were singing but they really didn’t know any of the songs. I had sent a few songs to to Kate, but I hadn’t really demo’d anything yet so there wasn’t much to send. They were all learning on the fly, we went through 18 songs in 8 days because we were really in tune to each other and it’s kind of what happens when you just listen to each other.
Q: Were you looking for a folkier sound than you are used to with your Rogue Wave outings?
Well I don’t know if I would say folk, I wanted to have more space in the music and certainly I have been playing acoustic guitar throughout a lot of it. It was me going through this heavy Raveonettes phase in my life where I was listening to a lot of Chain Gang of Love and that Neil Young Freedom record with those duets with Linda Ronstadt and the way they’re talking about relationships, it’s more evocative because you have the male and female singing together. It seems more honest talking about relationships when you’re singing with someone else. So yeah, I didn’t expect it to be folk necessarily but I expected it to be where you could really hear the vocal harmony without any of the over dubs and you could really hear them and they felt really well placed. Whereas with Rogue Wave it’s more like a rock band and me becoming something kind of different and I wanted to just explore going into a simpler direction for a minute and see if I had the capacity to make that kind of music. And then I would I realized from that exercise and experiment, because it was an experiment, was that this way of making music was a lot of closer to who I am.
Q: I love how the album opens with “All Around You” then goes into “Always Like the Son.” I was wondering about the word play with “sun” and “son.” Are there any Jesus movement correlatives or anything here from the title spelling?
The song is non-religious; I was wondering how I should spell the song title of that song. I was writing that song when my grandmother passed away and I was with her when she was dying and I think it is inevitable that when you love someone you go through the guilt of feeling you weren’t there enough and that you could have done more and that song was for me to kind of look in the mirror a little bit like I’m never quite the person I wish I was and when it comes to the end of my life who is going to be there for me and have done enough to earn the love and respect of others around me?
Q: The album has an uplifting feeling like that all around. Now I have heard you say before that you are big fan of Lee Hazlewood and speaking of duets, who would you love to perform a duet with?
That’s a great question, Kate is an amazing singer and this is the first time I have ever had the chance to sing with a female singer and to hear those harmonies coming through was a pretty magical experience for someone. I wish I had an answer for you; there are millions of great singers out there.
Q: What does the rest of the Rogue Wave band feel about your current venture?
I don’t really know, ha ha, um I’m sure they would prefer to be working on the new Rogue Wave record right now because we have such a great connection. But maybe, I don’t want to put words in their mouths, I know they’re all really busy in their lives, but they say they’re cool with it but I think they realize that this is something that I need to be working on but I’m very close with them. We’ll see how the year goes, heh heh!
Q: What do you and the Rogue Wavers think of the whole chill-wave phenomenon of recent years?
We all really like it, there’re so many great records like the Toro y Moi stuff, I really like both of those records are awesome and Washed Out I have listened to that like a thousand times. All of those bands are great, I think the reason people really respond to it so much is because digitally warped music through digital technology can sound a little cold but now it is starting to sound a little more real, a little more fucked up which I think that is what people what. It doesn’t just sound like a bunch of synths or perfectly sculpted sounds but it sounds kind of warped so I think people are enjoying a lot of pretty good people making music out there. I think our bass player Cameron who does a lot of other stuff, he plays in another band called Somehow at Sea and I know that Toro y Moi is one of their biggest influences, especially that first record. Pat [Spurgeon] our drummer who is also a DJ also spins a lot of that stuff.
Q: How’s Pat doing these days?
Pat is doing great, hanging out in Oakland, recording a lot of music, spinning a lot of music, him and I just recorded some songs for some movies so yeah he’s doing great.
Q: Do you guys plan on incorporating any of these lo-fi or chillwave-y elements into your music or is Rogue Wave autonomous to all other waves?
Ha ha, that’s funny! Whenever we record, like anyone else, we’re hearing a lot of things. I’ve been listening to a lot of different records lately and I’m sure in some way they inform what I’m doing. I love that Lower Dens record, but we all are listening to so many different things all the time. I could be listening to some modern record and Pat could be listening to some sci-fi vinyl from the 60s but I have a feeling that whenever we reconvene on some kind of level… I feel that our next record is going to be….messy.
Q: Your quick outlook or state of Bay Area music right now?
I think we are all a bunch of lucky bastards together; there are so many cool bands in the Bay Area right now, it’s a good time to be in the Bay Area right now. It’s amazing that as soon as you get bored it changes up.
Q: With your closer “Outlooks Anonymous,” I enjoyed your juxtapositions of A. A. to the happy go-lucky hopers or those that don’t have the best outlook on things. I was wondering what your outlook was on the song?
Well that one was a special time in the studio because I think it was a our last day recording and we had been recording two or three songs a day and all of this really on the fly and that song I hesitated to bring to the band because the it was so half baked in my mind. I had written it on a Korg organ in the Bloomington studio I knew that there was something in there that was a new song but I didn’t really know so everyone sat down with me in this isolation booth with the Korg organ and I said, ‘does this seem like a song to you, I don’t know.” They could tell I was hesitating and they were just like ‘shut up and play what you’re thinking!’ So I played the Korg and I was singing along and they all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘let’s do this!’ So we tracked it live and I wanted to have in my mind a final song that would feel like a funereal vibe, like a goodbye song, like at the end of American Beauty where Kevin Spacey is doing this voice over saying ‘goodbye’ as he is leaving his body. I wanted it to have that sense of feeling of saying goodbye when the bass and the drums kick in you can see and feel yourself saying good bye. I wanted to get that point across somehow and those guys let it happen. It sounds so weirdly you know, I’ll leave it to someone else to describe but I wanted to have a sense of letting go and release and that kind of song where you can feel like it is okay to say goodbye.