California Dreamin'

The musicians in Rogue Wave look like Muppets. Guitarist-vocalist Zach Rogue (né Schwartz), his soft features framed by golden, surfer-boy hair, is the Kermit of the group; multi-instrumentalist and Houston native Gram Lebron, with his cheery grin and shaggy curls, is Rowlf; bassist Sonya Westcott, cute and easygoing, is Janice the hippie chick (though Westcott has considerably more tattoos); and drummer-guitarist Pat Spurgeon, who's tall and thin and sports a giant Afro, is unmistakably Animal. Aesthetically speaking, the group is worthy of Henson.

But this isn't Los Angeles; here in the band's San Francisco base, looks will get you only so far. Fortunately for the members of Rogue Wave, theirs is more than just a superficially winning formula. A real, honest emotion galvanizes the music they make together. It's called love.

Yes, love. It sounds stupid, but it's this band's magic feather. While there are lots of groups that get along, I've never met one whose members love each other as much as those in Rogue Wave, and who profess that love so fervently. Over the course of a two-hour conversation in a suburban diner, it's practically all they can talk about. [Warning: The following quote, like a Valentine's Day card from your grandparents, is jarringly sentimental.]

"I've never looked forward to practice this much before," says Lebron, as his bandmates sigh, giggle and blush, half embarrassed, half smitten by his confession. "It's true, though! I mean, it's kind of weird, it's kind of geeky, but we really get a high just being around each other. It's nerdy, isn't it?"

Yes. Yes it is. And under different circumstances, it would probably make me reach for my vomit bag. But remember, these guys look like Muppets, and when Miss Piggy seizes Kermit and confesses her affection, you don't turn away and puke. You say, "Awwwww." Add to this Rogue Wave's music -- an effervescent blend of the Byrds, the Kinks and Simon & Garfunkel with the sounds and textures of today's winsome indie rock -- and what you've got is the musical equivalent of Breakfast at Tiffany's, a band that's as smart as it is sappy, as stimulating as it is endearing. It's not just a one-night stand, but rather the real thing, that rare blend of heart and mind, the kind of relationship, er, band that some musicians spend their whole lives looking for.

A few years ago, Zach Rogue was a frustrated man. Like many of his fellow players in the dot-conomy, he was spending most of his time putting together Web sites; whatever was left over he devoted to a band called Desoto Reds. Neither pursuit was fulfilling.

"You know that feeling when you just gotta leave?" Rogue says. "I needed to have an outlet other than that band to be able to make songs, because I wanted to really flesh out the songs that I was writing…I had been working at that job for years, three years, 80 hours a week. Crazy, you know? And I was totally miserable doing it."

While the dot-crash was unlucky for most, for Rogue it was a blessing. When he was laid off in late 2001, he took his severance pay and hightailed it to his buddy Bill Racine's place in New York to cool out, rest up and record a few songs. What started out as a few four-track demo recordings evolved into something neither expected.

"Something happened," says Rogue. "We started recording, and I didn't even really know what I was doing, but we just kind of hit it off, so we just started tracking. We just kept recording, and [Racine] was like, 'Well, let's just make an album.' "

Rogue was onto something. When he returned to San Francisco with the tracks, he fleshed them out further with drums, hand-claps and keyboards before going back to New York to mix what would become Out of the Shadow. The singer-guitarist christened his new project Rogue Wave, after a passage in the book Cryptonomicon. Rogue even changed his last name from Schwartz (well, not legally, but for all practical purposes) to signify the break he'd made with his former self. Next he put an ad up on Craigslist, seeking band members. Sonya Westcott responded first. The two met in a bar, started talking and were rehearsing together shortly thereafter.

Then came Pat Spurgeon, a veteran of countless acts (Antenna and Lessick, to name a couple), who confesses that before he met Rogue, "I was at the end of my tether with music. There's no way I was gonna quit playing, but I was just gonna quit trying real hard and just do my own thing."

Nevertheless, "I listened to the record," says the drummer. "Then I listened to it again. Then I couldn't sleep 'cause I was like, 'I better call him right away. He's probably already got a drummer 'cause this record is so good.' " When Spurgeon showed up to audition for the band, he had already learned all the songs.

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Garrett Kamps