While in high school in Cincinnati, Creeper Lagoon's Sharkey Laguana was voted "Most Likely To Front an Indie Rock Band Picked By Critics to Lead Indie Rock's Second Wave on Major Labels."
OK, that's not really true. But, you could see it happening. The San Francisco band's second full-length, Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday, is the kind of smart boys with guitars and odd studio effects album that very nearly lives up to the unlivable hype that obscures what a great band Creeper Lagoon is.
Back in the early-1990s, Laguana founded the band in San Francisco with fellow ex-Rottweiler and Cincinnatian, singer/guitarist Ian Sefchick, and a frequently changing rhythm section. The group released an EP and signed a deal with Nicklebag, the record label of hotshot producers the Dust Brothers (Beck, Beastie Boys).
With the Brother John King behind the boards, the band (which now includes bassist Dan Carr and drummer David Kostiner) crafted I Become Small And Go, a record that upon its release in 1998 garnered stupendous raves from slack-jawed reviewers. Merging the sampledelic style of the Dust Brothers with low-key, lo-fi Indie Rock, the mellow textures of individual songs belied the greater genius of the record. And so, Creeper hit the road, and took its time settling into the life of underground heroes. Oh yeah, the band also signed a deal with DreamWorks Records, the music arm of the Steven Spielberg/Jeffrey Katzenberg/David Geffen entertainment conglom.
Though DreamWorks took its sweet time releasing them, Creeper nonetheless kept writing songs throughout the past three years. In October, six months prior to its sophomore record, the band released an EP, Watering Ghost Garden on the tiny spinART label
"Because we had songs that we knew weren't going to be on the record we wanted to get out," says Laguana. "We wanted to take some of the pressure off of ourselves and everybody else in anticipation about worrying about the record. It began to take a life of its own after about a year to year and a half, where mentally, it started becoming too big. We had to get less freaked out."
Of course, when you've done something as grandiose as I Become Small, it's difficult to do an encore. That's partially what paralyzed Creeper Lagoon, says Laguana. He admits to "being a little overwhelmed at the responsibility of trying to make a major label record and all of the decisions that come with that. Nothing in the band has ever been really super linear, so it didn't seem right to just keep on making the same records over and over again. So we knew we were going to be making a different kind of record. Any time you make that kind of decision, it's more, kind of, artistically overwhelming."
And it goes without saying that Take Back the Universe sounds different than its predecessor -- there is only one song with samples, for instance -- but the songs are stronger. It was recorded at a handful of studios over a long stretch of time and producers include ex-Talking Head Jerry Harrison, Dave Fridman (Flaming Lips), Greg Wells (Crash Test Dummies), and Mark Trombino (Jimmy Eat World). And yet it's a cohesive record.
"It's weird," explains Laguana. "When you spend so much time working on stuff then you don't know if it feels right anymore and then you get confused all over again. That's kind of the madness that's inherent in record making ... I don't know that the process was any different this time; it's always been catch as catch can -- trying to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done wherever you can find a place to do it. If there was anything different about how we did this one, it's that that it was recorded in even more different places and spread out over a longer period of time. The first record was recorded at home and at several different studios, whenever we had money and time and a producer that we wanted to work with us. The second record was pretty much recorded the same way. So I don't know that the process was any different, but the feelings about what we were going to actually put down were different."
The first single "Wrecking Ball" has a bit of a Smashing Pumpkins vibe to it, but with less bombast and more craft. Instead of the low-key vibe of the first record, Universe seems a little more calculated, perhaps consciously or not, to try for something that might make it on the radio. Of course, they might not yet be ready for what could happen if "Wrecking Ball" becomes a hit.
At this year's booze-and-schmooze SXSW convention in Austin, Texas, Creeper Lagoon opened for The Cult -- yes, that Cult -- at the Revolver magazine party. On a cold, drizzling night, the quartet ambled through its set, picking up steam at "Wrecking Ball," only to have its energy drained by a bombastic bass noise that came out of the speakers halfway through the song. Laguana and Sefchick exchanged bewildered looks, as if unsure whether they should continue. They did, but clearly their confidence took a hit. Yet, the "aw-shucks" stage posturing is one of the things that makes it easy to root for them -- they don't seem careerist, unlike, say the headliners. Laguana admits to having somewhat low aspirations, but high hopes -- the easiest way of hedging a bet in the Rock world.
"You know we want to do it as good as we can," he says. "I'd like to have a year in my life where I clear $12k -- that would be nice. I mean I'm 30, and I've been poor my whole fucking life. So, yeah, I'd like the record to sell. But I don't expect the record to sell ... not in a big, super-big way. Maybe we'll get lucky somehow or maybe being on a major label helps in some way that I can't see, and we'll end up doing better than I think. It's possible. It's definitely more possible if you're on a major label than if you're on a homemade label you're running out of your bedroom. But I don't know what to expect. I mean what would you expect?"
CREEPER LAGOON's new album, Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday, arrives in stores on Tuesday.