From the ground up

Creeper Lagoon songwriter Sharky Laguana builds a thrilling new band from scratch

For Sharky Laguana, 2001 was a seriously crummy year.

That April, his band, Creeper Lagoon, released its debut album on Dreamworks, the shimmering Take Back the Universe (and Give Me Yesterday). Two months later, the band started falling apart; one by one, its members decided to pursue other creative projects. By the fall, Laguana was back in San Francisco, alone, working a day job.

But then he had an epiphany. As Laguana put it, talking from a cell phone in Portland while waiting for the band’s van to get its oil changed, “There comes a point after that, where you have to go, OK, am I gonna quit and just dwell on the past, or am I gonna try and create some kind of new future for myself?”

Laguana decided to soldier on. A friend named Walt Szalva, who runs a recording studio in San Francisco’s Sunset district where Chris Isaak cut his hit song “Wicked Game,” offered Laguana some studio time. Although the entire original Creeper lineup, including one-time frontman and songwriter Ian Sefchick, had evaporated, Laguana was meeting new people to play music with: drummer Jason Bassler, who also manipulates samples; second guitarist Miles Tuffli, who also programs drum sequences and plays keyboards; and bassist Rachel Lastimosa, who also plays keyboards and sings—typically, an octave above Laguana, giving the songs a Velvets-like feel.

The fruits of this new collaboration can be found on Remember the Future, a five-song EP released last December on the Brooklyn-based indie label Arena Rock. The disc opens with the gorgeous “So Little to Give,” a haunting, acoustic-guitar-driven opus that recalls Neil Young’s balladry or the feel of the Replacements’ “Here Comes a Regular.” “The Way It Goes” begins with a piano arpeggio and then smartly structures electronic textures underneath a lyrical melody. “There’s a New Girl” starts off sounding a lot like an old minor-key R.E.M. song before shifting into major-key mode over a bank of distorted guitars. The languid “Kisses and Pills” shimmers with guitars and electronic drum textures, over which Laguana whispers his vocals. And the short but anthemic “Crisis” surfs along on a bright, electronic canvas, over which Laguana sings, “I don’t want to be your midlife crisis.”

On the inside cover of the CD EP is the line, “Recorded at Home and Planet 3 Studios for $350.” That may be true, if you discount the studio time Szalva gave to Laguana to get his music back on track. But the point is that the budgetary constraints forced the bandleader to think hard about how he wanted to frame his new songs.

Now the nascent iteration of Creeper Lagoon is beginning to tour, but Laguana doesn’t have any real game plan of world domination. As he put it, “I guess the plan will be to continue to have no plan.” The new lineup makes its local debut at Old Ironsides this Saturday, with two of the area’s more interesting acts, Milwaukee and Low Flying Owls, also on the bill.

The EP and tour represent a fresh start for Laguana, who left his boyhood home of Cincinnati in the mid-1990s and followed a girlfriend out to Santa Cruz. That didn’t work out, so he moved north to San Francisco and began playing music around town, which led to the formation of Creeper Lagoon. In 1997, the band’s homonymous debut EP was released by an Oakland-based hard-core rap label, Dogday. That led to the production team the Dust Brothers (Beastie Boys, Beck) signing the band to their Nickelbag label, which released Creeper Lagoon’s I Become Small and Go the following year. (It was reissued by Dreamworks in 2000.) A stopgap EP, Watering Ghost Garden, was released by the indie label SpinArt in 2000 while the band was waiting for Dreamworks to put Take Back the Universe out.

Then came 2001, “the year that sucked, top to bottom,” Laguana said. Fortunately, things seem to be looking up. “It’s nice to be productive and doing something, getting something out,” he said, “and not just sitting around my room reading books—or brooding.”