After the dot-com bust, Zach Schwartz picked up the pieces of his previous career in Silicon Valley and turned toward music, eventually becoming the lead singer of the Oakland-based indie-pop band Rogue Wave. Cut to a few years later, when he and his bandmates were standing on stage under Klieg lights while filming scenes for a big-budget romantic comedy with Jennifer Aniston. On the heels of its fourth full-length, Permalight, the band appears in yet another film—but, this time, on the opposite end of the spectrum. The documentary D Tour, directed by Jim Granato, follows drummer Pat Spurgeon's battle with kidney disease and wait for a transplant, including the decision to tour while on dialysis. Before Rogue Wave's performance at 9:30 Club on Friday, Schwartz talked to The A.V. Club about the band's film ventures, "nerding out" over Bob Odenkirk, and the trouble with over-sized heads.
The A.V. Club: The new album has a distinct dance sound that hasn't appeared on earlier albums. Was that intentional?
Zach Schwartz: Well, I think there's been a little bit of a misperception that the record is all dance music, which it's not. There are four songs that definitely have that kind of beat going on; that dance-y feeling and some programmed electronic drum beats. But, yes, even in the songs where there isn't that dance beat—when it's a really, really quiet song—there's still that continuity in the sense that there's a pulse throughout. We wanted to make a record that was a lot more direct and punchier with shorter, faster songs so that the music that was a lot more upbeat and mostly optimistic. So, for our first single, we thought, "Why not release something that's the most pronounced in that direction?"
AVC: Speaking of optimism, Pat's struggle and the experience of filming D Tour must've been trying. How did the documentary come about?
ZS: Pat knew his kidney was failing and that he was going to go on dialysis, and we have a good friend who is a filmmaker living in the Bay Area. Pat just wanted to have someone film him on the road using this kind of dialysis because there's more than one kind, and a lot of people don’t know that. He wanted to have a documentary that would kind of illustrate how it could work. He had no idea—none of us had any idea—it would become a three-year project about the story of what happened to Pat. But it's also not just about Pat or our band. It's about much bigger issues. It's about what a person goes through when they need an organ, what a family goes through when someone dies and they give up their organs, what impact that has on both sides. I think it underscores the most important message we want to promote, which is the importance of organ donation. There are so many people out there who say they would donate their organs, but they're not donors. Our goal is so help close that gap a little built. It's a simple concept: if you want to be a donor, it takes two minutes. Do it. And if you watch the film you can see that the guy who Pat got his kidney from—he signed up to become a donor that day and then he dies. I just think it's a really special movie. I'm so proud of the work Jim did on it.
AVC: For the last album, Asleep At Heaven's Gate, you all made a video for the song "Chicago x 12" with Bob Odenkirk.
ZS: Yeah, that was so difficult doing that. Shooting with him was so hard to do because he's so hilarious, and we're supposed to keep a straight face the whole time, which is impossible because the guy is just riffing constantly—just unbearable. We didn't want to nerd out completely but it was so hard.
AVC: How did that collaboration come about with him?
ZS: Bob and I met at this event in San Francisco. There's a comedy festival that happens called Sketchfest. So a few Sketchfests ago I played solo at this event, and Bob and some other comedians were performing. He and I just kind of connected and thought it would be kind of fun to do something together someday. So, when we were working on the concept for the video, it just seemed like he was the right guy to be that character. He's such a nice guy and such a good sport. I mean, when you see the video, he really went all out.
AVC: You all actually appeared and performed in Love Happens with Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart?
ZS: [Laughs.] Yes. She takes Aaron Eckhart to a surprise concert to see us.
AVC: What was performing in a movie like?
ZS: Pretty weird. It's supposed to be this romantic moment where the concert is sold out so she puts him on this cherry picker to go above this fence and watch us play. I don’t know. The director wanted us in the movie. But, yeah, it is weird hearing Jennifer Aniston say the name of your band. My life got weird for about 13 seconds.
AVC: Did you all go to the theater to see yourselves on the big screen?
ZS: Pat and I were in Oxford, Miss., recording and we had an off day, so we took some friends. So, yeah, we watched it but it was a little awkward. [Laughs.] See, I have an unusually large-sized head. I don't know why it's so big. So seeing it on the screen it really made me self-conscious. I was like, "Oh my God. That head is really large. You need to shrink that down."