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[dl] Music

For embattled indie-rock outfit Rogue Wave, after the darkness comes the Permalight.

Permalight (Brushfire Records, $14), the just-released fourth album from Northern California indie rockers Rogue Wave, almost didn’t happen. A few days after front man Zach Rogue played a solo set opening for Nada Surf in 2008, he awoke in the worst pain he’d felt in his life. He was sure he was experiencing an aneurysm or having a heart attack. An X-ray later revealed Rogue had slipped two disks in his neck, and the disks were putting pressure on his spinal cord. The injury left his right hand — his strumming and picking hand — totally numb. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to play anymore,” Rogue says. “I remember putting the pick in my hand and sitting there trying to figure it out. How do I play?”

Rogue worked through the pain, pouring his emotions into the lightest instrument he could hold, a Sears Silvertone guitar. The experience had a profound impact not only on the material for the album that would become Permalight but also on his guitar playing as a whole. “I was actually playing in a different way,” Rogue says. “That way made me approach things differently in terms of composition, so it actually had its benefits. I remember thinking, ‘Okay, well, you can’t play regular stuff right now so don’t think of it like that; just think of it in terms of movement. Think of what chords sound like in a percussive kind of way.’ So I remember just trying to play really, really rhythmically, almost like dance music — music your body can kind of sway to, more than just emotions in your mind.”

With that game plan in mind, Rogue and drummer Pat Spurgeon headed to Sweet Tea studios in Oxford, Miss., to work with veteran producer Dennis Herring. Rogue says what they created is a mix of the band’s typical “straight-ahead rock songs” with some tracks that could be better classified as dance music — something the group has never done before. Rogue credits their new sound not only to his physical challenges but also to working with Herring for the first time. “It was interesting because this is our fourth record, so I’ve worked with other producers before, but never one like Dennis,” he says. “He would be like, ‘You know what? This song structure is boring.’ He’d really challenge me, which was great.”

The band — which also consists of guitarist Dominic East, bassist Cameron Jasper and multi-instrumentalist Steve Taylor — came together in 2002, when Rogue placed an ad on Craigslist looking for musicians. In the years since, Rogue Wave has seen its fair share of ups and downs. In addition to Rogue’s recent battle, Spurgeon has experienced some serious health problems of his own, having to endure twice-daily dialysis on the road while waiting to receive a kidney transplant — an experience chronicled in a new documentary called D Tour. And last month, the band began another challenging chapter when it launched its latest tour, which will run through the end of the month. Before leaving on the two-month cross-country trek, Rogue was optimistic about his mobility and endurance, but he admitted a lot was yet to be seen.

“I’m not going to do some of the antics onstage that I used to do, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be really fun in other ways,” he says. “I’ll be moving more kind of horizontally rather than vertically, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s kind of groovier too.” But for all of their struggles, Rogue says, there’s been one constant he and his bandmates have been able to count on. “Through the darkness that we’ve been through,” he says, “our light is our music.”