Without a Bullet

Marine World. Wednesday afternoon. High school audience. Remember Creeper Lagoon?

Everyone knows that the ink on a major label record deal is dried by the breathy exhalations of supermodels cooing adulation, or buffeted by the wind created by huge wads of cash thrown across the table, or blotted with an Egyptian cotton shirtsleeve that someone else will take to the drycleaners. It is the dream of many to be a rock superstar–to live, as they say, large. To be driven around New York City in a limousine. To be named
Spinmagazine’s Best New Artist. To have every critic and industry flack hitch their name up to the Next Big Thing wagon. And then they wake up to find themselves playing a Wednesday afternoon show at the local amusement park. This is the true story of Creeper Lagoon, aside from that first part about the models and whatnot. That only happens in the movies–or to those with little or no musical talent.

Creeper Lagoon began as a bedroom studio project when Sharky Laguana moved to San Francisco in 1990. It continued as a collaborative project with a rotating lineup of local musicians until Laguana’s old friend and high school classmate, Ian Sefchick, opted in and doubled the guitar/ vocal/ songwriting action. Soon after, Geoffery Chisholm and Dave Kostiner (on bass and drums respectively) answered a newspaper ad seeking musicians into “Guided by Voices, the Fall, Hank Williams, My Dad Is Dead, and sampling.” The band’s eponymous EP caught the ears of the industry, resulting in a contract with DreamWorks and the release of the spectacular full-length debut I Become Small and Go on the Dust Brothers’ Nickelbag label. Critics gave Small loving, wordy tongue baths and fans far and wide rushed to box offices to ensure a slew of sold-out shows. And the name of Creeper Lagoon, as it were, was known throughout the land.

So what, you ask, has Creeper been doing since 1998? The band has parted ways with Chisholm, lived on an ostrich farm, found a new bass player in Dan Carr (formerly of MK Ultra), put out a tasty li’l EP on spinART, and shared stages with the likes of Rocket from the Crypt, X, Archers of Loaf, and the Dandy Warhols. And at long long last, the group has given us another full-length, Take Back the Universe (and Give Me Yesterday).
Which, somehow, brings us to the far side of the tented mini-arena at Marine World. Once the place to watch “wild” animals jump into water, or perhaps win an oversized Styrofoam-filled killer whale at the ring toss, the park now also boasts roller coasters and rock bands–and a large population of high schoolers making the most of their spring break. “We’re very cynical about playing in front of kids,” says Sefchick. “I’m not,” Laguana retorts. “They’re just not really our crowd,” Sefchick continues, obviously frustrated that the big draw of the day was a ridiculous Blink 182 clone. Equally obvious (and frustrating) is the fact that the ridiculous clone band is going to hit it big–with a quarter million albums sold in a week.

While waiting for Creeper to finish signing autographs and talking to other media types, I endure the beginning of New Found Glory’s set. As squealy teens pogo up and down in unison, I sit with two other folks who are arguably too old to “get it”–that is, who are over the legal age to consume alcohol. “Here comes a slow bar, ready?” says photographer John Mockus. “Time to jump up and down again … now!” I call out a few moments later. We watch, slightly aghast, as the assembled kids crowd-surf and stage-dive their way through every tired and predictable change.

A decidedly smaller and less enthusiastic crowd was standing around for the Creeper Lagoon set a few hours ago. The band focused on material from the new album, which leans toward guitar anthems with Sefchick at the helm. The weird looping drumtracks and eclectic samples that made I Become Small and Go such an interesting platter are gone. That’s not to say that Creeper has morphed into a straight-ahead rock outfit; you’ll never see it sharing the bill with the likes of Third Eye Blind. But a number of tracks off the latest release could make a bid for some serious commercial radio airplay–most notably “Wrecking Ball,” which some in the audience clearly recognized. The biggest reaction, though, came when Laguana and Sefchick threw some CDs and T-shirts into the crowd. “I’m going to ask that those big guys, and you know who you are, who pushed a little girl out of the way to grab one of the T-shirts–the navy blue shirts with glitter writing–that you find one of those girls and give her the shirt,” Laguana admonished. “Because it’s a baby tee, and it’s just not going to fit you.”

Laguana made one other request during the set, this time directed at the press: “For the many photographers in the audience: I’m a little sick, so please don’t print any pictures with snot hanging off my nose.” So it’s a tired and ill group that finally joins me on a bench next to an inoperative monkey-themed ride. After some talk of life on the ostrich farm (only Kostiner has eaten the bird), I ask, “Now that you’re on DreamWorks, do you think you’ll…” Sefchick cuts me off: “Make it? Blow up? No.” That isn’t what I had intended to ask, but seems to be the question posed most often by the press, bar one.

“Just don’t ask us about producers,” says Sefchick in an exasperated tone. Most of the coverage in recent months has focused on the time and money spent on the many studios, sessions, and producers of Take Back the Universe. One of these producers, ex-Talking Head Jerry Harrison, also works with Sharky Laguana as part of the Popular Noise Foundation, a nonprofit formed to help preserve local music. Along with other local outfits like Save Local Music, RockOutSF, and sfmusician.com, the Foundation strives to raise awareness and cash money and provide resources for area musicians. And Creeper Lagoon could stand to benefit from some of that money. “Right now we’re sharing practice space with Actionslacks,” says Sefchick.

The band does have a rehearsal space of its own–in theory. “They’re doing some sort of construction in the building,” he explains. The building has been “under construction” for about a year, in order to meet the code that requires a studio to be properly ventilated. “Is there really any construction going on?” I ask. “There are a bunch of air conditioners sitting out in the hall,” Laguana replies, laughing. “We just use it for storage now.”

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