What would you do if everything fell apart? Fight or flight? Accept it with a whimper or hold out for a bang? Attempt to pick up the pieces or start over from scratch? Pessimists--or pragmatists--may carry around the latest edition of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, but most people prefer to hope that everything will work out for the best--especially when everything has been going right.
Take the case of Creeper Lagoon. About two years ago, the San Francisco band released its second LP, Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday. Anticipated by eager press, eagerly awaited by fans who'd worn out their copies of the band's debut, I Become Small and Go, and backed by label DreamWorks to the tune of almost $1 million in recording costs alone, Take Back the Universe was supposed to be the album that broke Creeper Lagoon from on-the-radar to on-the-radio. Instead, it was the album that broke the band for good.
Shortly after the record hit stores, drummer Dan Carr, bassist Dave Kostiner and Ian Sefchik all departed Creeper Lagoon, leaving Creeper Lagoon founder Sharky Laguana the sole remaining member of the band he had started eight years earlier as a solo project. The split wasn't one of those legendarily acrimonious ones over "creative differences"; rather, as Laguana recalls, it was clear near the end of the recording process that Sefchik in particular was just plain sick of the music business and tired of trying to resist its personal compromises.
Creeper Lagoon performs June 30 at Gypsy Tea Room, with Spaceman Spiff.
But even if the breakup didn't come as a complete surprise, as Laguana admits, it was nevertheless difficult to find himself solo again, against his will.
"For me, the best part of making music is other people," says Laguana, who is currently heading out on his second tour in support of his recently released EP, Remember the Future, released on Arena Rock Recordings. "I even considered joining another band, but that didn't feel right. It was a very lonely time, trying to figure out how to make music by myself again.
"Finally," Laguana explains, "I decided that it made no sense to give up something I'd been working on for so many years. The guys were very supportive of that, too--Ian in particular. We've been friends since high school, and he knew how important Creeper Lagoon was to me. So I knew I wanted to continue--really, it was never even an option. I just wasn't sure how to do it."
At last, Laguana was driven back to his drum machine and acoustic guitar by the greatest muse of all: escapism. Having taken a day job so mind-numbingly boring it's not only difficult but actually impossible to imagine liking (pasting bar codes inside CD cases), Laguana returned home at night to work on the songs that ended up as Remember the Future.
"Obviously," he asserts, "writing for yourself is a different process and makes for different kinds of songs than writing for a band and a label. Take Back the Universe was an incredibly big album--big production, big choruses...You know. Big. It was nice to have the freedom to be more experimental--and I think people who knew Creeper Lagoon by the last record have been very surprised by the songs on Remember the Future. But, you know, they come out of a different place."
As it turned out, Remember the Future didn't end up the solo project it began as. The old adage "darkest before the dawn" applies here: Still rooting around in search of potential collaborators, Laguana had a batch of good songs, but he was trapped in the ninth circle of musician hell--Craig's List, an online classified-ad community. Somehow, Laguana managed to turn up a diamond in the virtual dust, an ad, he says, that "just spoke" to him.
"I don't know what it was about the ad--maybe just the way they'd phrased things," he recalls, "but I could tell that these were people who thought about music the same way I do. And the ad wasn't about getting a band together; it was just about looking for people to tool around with--jam, as it were. Which was something I was really craving by that point."
Which is how Laguana wound up with his current Creeper Lagoon roster, Jason Bassler, Miles Tuffli and Rachel Lastimosa, known collectively as "The Treasure Island crew." (So named because the house where Laguana met them was located on the former naval base on--yup--Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay.) They joined the Remember the Future recording process at the last minute, but have stuck around, supporting Laguana on this and his earlier tour, and are working with him on a crop of new material he promises to deliver live.
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"I'm not going to say that I showed up, and a light beamed down and it was all instantly magical," Laguana acknowledges with a laugh. "But there was definitely something--that chemistry you can't put your finger on, but you know it when you feel it--and something else that was entirely new to me.
"This is the first band I've ever played with where we all have the same taste in music," Laguana continues. "It's incredibly refreshing--they're all into the new bands I'm into, and interested in trying to make, kind of, well...stranger music. It's totally weird to be working with a group of people where it's not about negotiating different ideas, as it is about trying new things, guided by a shared language. Honestly, I wish I had brought them in to work on Remember the Future earlier, because as soon as they were there, it changed the whole thing for the better."
In other respects, however, Laguana is pleased with the intimacy of his new, and possibly improved, Creeper Lagoon release.
"OK, one thing I'm really proud of is that no review of this album has said anything like, 'Oh, the songs are good, but the production's crappy.'" He laughs. "Rumors were flying around Take Back the Universe that it cost about $1 million to make--and really, there was no reason for it, except the people we worked with were expensive people who chose to work in expensive studios. I think I spent $400--tops--making this album. And not only has no one complained about the production, but everyone thinks it sounds really good. So I guess you could say that out of all the things I've learned about myself and about music in the last two years, the big thing is that I've come to genuinely appreciate my independence."