Checking in with Rogue Wave’s Pat Spurgeon
A “rogue wave” is the name given to an unusually large ocean wave that appears suddenly. They are especially treacherous because they appear in relatively calm conditions, catching ships off-guard.
Pat Spurgeon, drummer for the band Rogue Wave found his group’s name to be an apt description of his life events in 2006. It had been smooth sailing for the band, with highly successful albums, packing in audiences at their concerts, and their songs appearing in soundtracks of shows like “Heroes,” “Friday Night Lights” and ‘The O.C.’
The surface got a little choppy when Rogue Wave left the major Sub Pop label, but it was not the disaster the blogs tried to make of it. The band just sailed over to Jack Johnson’s label, Brushfire records.
Spurgeon’s “rogue wave” in the midst of all this was the news that he needed a new kidney. He had been born with only one, and it had been replaced 13 years earlier. But now that kidney was worn out.
No suitable match was found among friends and family. He began dialysis in April 2006 óno easy feat for a member of a touring band.
While waiting for a suitable match, Rogue Wave hosted a benefit to raise money for what would be their bandmate’s considerable medical costs. The concert, held Sept. 30, 2006, included performances by Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Matthew Caws from Nada Surf, Ryan Miller rom Guster and John Vanderslice.
But it was still months before a suitable kidney was found, and none too soon. On Jan. 12, 2007, the surgery was performed, and soon the resilient Spurgeon was back full force.
I had the chance to meet with Spurgeon this past June when I was a member of the press at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. During the Rogue Wave performance, I had worked my way up near the stage to watch him up close, and I observed a skilled, confident musician at work. I could see how Spurgeon’s talent and attention to percussive detail contributes to making Rogue Wave’s sound stand out above most indie pop .
When I was escorted to the artist area, it was assumed I came to talk to front man Zach Rogue, but I said “No, I’m here for Pat Spurgeon.”
He was easy to spot, with his signature, wild ‘fro-like hair. He had just doused the unruly locks with water in an attempt to combat the Bonnaroo heat, and he was apologetic as he extended a dripping hand for me to shake.
“It’s just water, I promise!” he laughed.
Spurgeon gave me his undivided attention, and I had a great time hanging out backstage with him. Bass player Patrick Abernethy even took a photo of us, so I could have a memento of my visit.
I always like to talk about a band’s songwriting process, but since Zach Rogue writes all the songs for the band, we didn’t spend much time on that topic.
But even though Spurgeon doesn’t write songs for Rogue Wave, he has other outlets for his writing, including a project called Phantom Drummer (www.myspace.com/thephantomdrummer). And he’s currently writing soundtrack music for a movieóa documentary, being made about his kidney transplant experience.
The documentary will tell what he went through with dialysis, the great support he received from friends and other musicians, and about the relationship he developed with the donor’s family. Spurgeon is writing the incidental music for the movie.
Spurgeon’s formal music training includes time spent at Indiana University as a music major, where he studied classical percussion and classical piano.
Spurgeon explained, “I went to Indiana because Kenny Aronoff, John Mellencamp’s drummer, was teaching there as an associate professor, and I wanted to get in his studio. But we figured out together that music school wasn’t for me and that it was time for me to get on with playing drumset. I had gotten out of it what I wanted, like keyboard, and the right way to play crash cymbals, then I left. We still keep in touch.”
Spurgeon finds it challenging to create music that is innovative or different than what has come before.
“You know, it seems like you can’t do anything new. It may be new to you, but it’s been done before.
“But recycling is good,” he laughs.
I asked Spurgeon about some of the rumors surrounding Rogue Wave’s departure from Sub Pop and the move to Brushfire Records. The jovial drummer’s countenance became serious.
“Yes, well it seems like a lot of bands on big labels get lost in the shuffle and get treated like they don’t matter. Labels with multiple artistsóa lot don’t get attention. But your label is like your bank account. And you need the connections to get going.
“Some people think we’ve hit it big because they see us on the big bus, playing on a big stage, but we’re not there yet. They think we must have huge houses and everything. We don’t. The economy and gas prices are hitting us hard like everyone else.
“We’re on a good trajectory, though, not a horizontal plane. I feel like we’re heading up.”
I agree. The wave Spurgeon is catching now is the kind that gives you a thrilling ride then delivers you to shore.
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Rogue wave will be appearing in concert with Jack Johnson at Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh on Aug. 12. Gates open 5 p.m. and the concert is at 7 p.m. It’s an all ages show.
There is general admission seating only, no reserved seating. Tickets range from $29 on the lawn to $43.50 in the pavilion. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, www.ticketmaster.com.