ROGUE WAVE at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Sunday (November 27), $10-$12. 416-598-4753.
Image is everything in the take-no-prisoners race for rock stardom. A simple name change can mean the difference between playing Brown Eyed Girl to a handful of regulars in your local and becoming an international icon - just ask David Robert Jones or Vincent Damon Furnier (whom most folks know as David Bowie and Alice Cooper, respectively).
So when the enterprising frontman for Bay Area pop squad Rogue Wave saw his band starting to take off, our man Zach chucked the decidedly un-rocking surname Schwartz in favour of the far slicker Rogue.
Dubbing himself Zach Rogue made his group's name a nautical term used to describe a freak oceanic surge that disrupts calm waters seem particularly clever, and after Rogue Wave got signed to Sub Pop, the soft-spoken songwriter ended up accidentally implying to many (including myself) that he'd been born into a family of Rogues.
Apparently that wasn't so kosher back at the Schwartz ranch.
"I'm the only son in the family," Rogue admits sheepishly from San Francisco, where he's happily begged off loading gear in preparation for the band's tour, "and my dad's concerned that the name Schwartz will die out. He tried to make me promise not to change it legally, but I can't make any guarantees."
Rogue decided on a title for Rogue Wave's newest album before they started recording. He loved the activeness of the name Descended Like Vultures (which came out on Sub Pop the last week of October), and wanted to hint at the caustic, vicious, backhanded nature of what he calls the "political subconsciousness of America."
The idea of naming runs throughout the dynamic, shimmering songs on the CD. Rogue brings it into sharp focus on the centrepiece Publish My Love, a driving, loud-soft love song about the impossibility of translating emotions into words. Just listen to the way Rogue overrides his hushed delivery of the simple, slightly convoluted lyrics with a towering arrangement that alternates between quiet strumming and echoing drums and crashing chords. It'll make your heart do backflips.
"You know that Guided by Voices album, Under The Bushes Under The Stars? When the first track starts, it sounds like it's a couple of minutes into a song already in progress. I wanted Publish My Love to really suck people in, in that same way," he explains. "If you prop open a grand piano and put cinder blocks on the pedals, then strike a chord and sing into the holes, it makes a crazy reverb sound. We recorded that on a 2-inch tape machine and used it as the intro to Publish My Love to get that weird, intense ambience."
Rogue acknowledges that Descended Like Vultures is a much more complex (and grittier) endeavour than his 2004 Sub Pop debut Out Of The Shadows, primarily because it's the first Rogue Wave album to be recorded with a full band. Though he cheerily raves about working with musicians who can actually play, you sense that the guy is still struggling with giving up complete control. He describes the elaborate arrangements as "a kind of broken telephone, where you don't know what'll come out the other end," and awkwardly dances around discussing the content of songs.
That hasn't stopped Rogue Wave from getting adopted into the fold of music that's all wistful, mix-tapey and dreamy Publish My Love was featured in an episode of The O.C. Rogue seems ambivalent about the boost, but brightens when I ask about a totally different soundtrack project: his band's cover of Buddy Holly's Everyday, recorded for the indie-tastic Stubbs The Zombie video game.
The Texas-based company that produced the game recruited Rogue Wave during a show in Austin, and Rogue says he was intrigued by the soundtrack's roster (the Flaming Lips, Death Cab) and by the challenge of reinterpreting a tune from the 50s.
"I don't like much music from the 50s, but they said we could do a Buddy Holly song. I'd heard Iron & Wine covering the Flaming Lips' Superman, and I was inspired by the way Sam Beam conveyed a totally different perspective on loss through his singing.
"I wanted to take Everyday and make it more about pain and longing," he continues, "more about trying to reach for someone you can never have, not just puppy love. I have so much respect for Buddy Holly that I thought it might've been a mistake when we accepted, but I think that fear and nervousness was ultimately way more artistically productive."