Even if you don’t recall his name, you’ve definitely heard Greg Rogove‘s work before. The LA-based songwriter brought us much-loved experimental surf rock band Megapuss along with Devendra Banhart and Fabrizio Moretti (of The Strokes) and has collaborated with everyone from Unknown Mortal Orchestra to Beck. He is now making music under the name ROGOV (which is, as we discuss, a play on the origins of his Ukrainian last name) and released the profound, five-track EP HOOOPS on September 20th.
Although first and foremost a drummer, that’s not all there is to Rogove. His song-writing has a tendency to lend itself to a raw sort of intimacy, one that reminds us of the helplessness we tend to feel when reflecting upon the current state of the world. HOOOPS is a beam of light on the darkest day, ending with an all-consuming chorus that points out it’s own beginning and end – “wake up, it’s the sunrise in time / everybody knows it becomes the sunset / it’s alright.” Somehow, nothing more needs to be said.
I was honored to be able to discuss with Rogove the origins of this new project, which has already sneaked its way onto my favorite records of 2016, as well as his approach to songwriting, the inspiration behind “Quiet”, and what comes next.
VANESSA (HIGHLARK): First of all, thanks for taking the time to chat. I’ve been a fan of your work since Megapuss and Little Joy, all that good stuff, so it’s like coming full circle.
GREG ROGOVE (ROGOV): You know, it’s so weird to me. In some ways that feels like it was yesterday and we’re all still in each other’s lives and then I look at the date that album was released and just go ‘there’s no way.’ That was seven or eight years ago? How did that happen?
VANESSA:I know, it’s insane! Let’s start off with the name Rogov. Is there a story behind it?
GREG: So my family is Ukranian, like third-generation, born in America; my great-grandfather immigrated from Kiev to Philadelphia. I just wanted to do some form of the name that wasn’t a band. It wasn’t like a singer-songwriter thing, just more of a band thing, and so I wanted to use that name and it’s so symmetrical and good-looking without the E and it’s how it’s written in Ukraine and Russia. So it’s basically the original form of my last name. It means ‘man of antler’, or in the worst situation a cuckold.. But then I found out recently – I spent a lot of time in India when I was eighteen, I lived there for a year and was obsessed with Shiva – whatever he represented ended up in the ancient tantric religion also, and so the interpretation of him is ‘man of horn.’ So that drove me to the decision.
VANESSA: I remember the project was originally called ‘HOOOPS’, so you took that name and used it for the EP title?
GREG: Exactly. Early days, shifting stuff around…
VANESSA: Rogov started off through a kickstarter of sorts, right? What can you tell me about what that process was like?
GREG: It was cool. It was a little difficult. I’m happy I did it and people were super supportive and allowed me to do what i need to do, and they got to see the behind the scenes process. It was nice to interact with people while in the process of making it as opposed to just working in the shadows for so long and then going, ‘hey, here’s this thing I did.’
VANESSA: Was it a conscious decision to release HOOOPS in an EP format or did it just sort of fall into place like that?
GREG: I guess it was. I was anxious – I had written a bunch of songs and had started it and was in the early stages of recording, but I wanted to wait to do a full-length record because that’s going to be over a year of work to balance out with all the other projects I’m doing, so I could get the EP out sooner and then start doing shows. You know, my old band Priestbird doesn’t play anymore, so I have all these songs and I wanted a band to do, so I figured: EP, tour, come back for the full-length.
VANESSA: Right. I’ve heard a lot of artists recently say they’re trying to push EPs more into the mainstream because they find it a more efficient way of recording, versus LPs that just take up this huge chunk of time and commitment. Do you agree or does it mainly depend on your life and what’s going on at the moment?
GREG: Yeah, I think it just depends. I’ve done a number of both, it depends on how it shapes up and what’s going on. But, you know, people say the album doesn’t really matter anymore and maybe they matter a little less but I do still think they’re hugely important because it is a focused body of work. Certain songs, certain ideas, don’t work as a single – but they do work on the landscape of a full-length.
VANESSA: I mentioned before that I saw you open for Devendra Banhart at Rough Trade a couple weeks ago, it was incredible. How has it been performing HOOOPS live? It feels really personal and intimate, perhaps in contrast to a project like Megapuss.
GREG: It’s definitely a little more serious. It’s been great – the fun thing is the variety of incarnations it can be already. I’ve done three or four, just solo, me and a cuatro, which I’ve actually never been interested in doing in any other project I’ve done but this one it feels okay to do. Then I’ve done a full-piece five people band which is what ideally I’d always like to do but doesn’t always work, so just the fact that I can bring it to life in different ways… But yeah, of course it’s more personal. Even when I do the full band I do the drums so in a way I’m always behind the wall of an instrument; in a way it’s easier but more difficult. I liked the Rough Trade show, I liked the people, it was great.
VANESSA: Is there an autobiographical approach to your songwriting or do you write more on what surrounds you?
GREG: Oh.. I would say both. Certain things are personal but then when I’m writing about something personal I never feel like… the purpose of writing songs for me are to communicate something that we can probably all tell, a shared experience, so we can have a conversation about that. If it’s something personal then maybe I try to think of it in a more general way than versus how I felt or how I thought. But then there are other songs like “Quiet” which is more of a dreamy one, it has nothing to do with me but it has to do with the world and what is exactly happening around us – during that stretch this summer when Alton Sterling, the Dallas Police shooting, the attacks in Turkey, Nice, all of that was just within a few weeks. I was in New York doing a show with Rodrigo [Amarante] in Central Park and I was staying at a friend’s house who was out of town and I was just paralyzed by the news, after weeks and weeks of reading and being horrified by the situation of the world. I just couldn’t get out of the chair for three hours like, what is going on? How did it get to this? Is there anything we can even do about it? I wrote that song when I got home – it was intended to be an instrumental but then I ended up writing these simple lyrics. It was just the hope that a balloon of peace would float out into the sky.
VANESSA: You’re often surrounded by this amazing group of artists whom I also hold deep admiration and respect for, like Devendra [Banhart], Rodrigo Amarante, and Noah Georgeson, who actually mastered some of this EP, right?
GREG: So Paul Butler, he’s kind of been in and out of our group of friends for a few years. He’s from the UK, from Isle of Wight. He’s a great songwriter, producer, engineer… and so he did the Devendra record ‘What Will We Be’, and so we [Devendra and I] lived in a house and then Noah and whoever else was around would come up, sometimes Fab. So we recorded there and Paul and I became very close and that’s how we started working together. He’s one of my best friends, incredible person. So he did some of the mastering and the other half was done by Noah.. also an old friend, as you know.
VANESSA: So what’s next for Rogov? Are you planning to do an album?
GREG: Yes, I’ve started it and have a handful of songs that are currently in the works for a full-length. I want to use some of what’s on the EP and gradually another set of songs. I might be working on shows for the end of this year – one in Mexico, two on the West Coast and hopefully some things in the works for 2017.