Sharky Laguana: Creeper Lagoon reunion ‘feels right’

Until this past weekend, it had been 16 years since the core lineup of SF favorites Creeper Lagoon played a show together.

On Sunday at Bottom of the Hill in SF as part of Noisepop’s 25th anniversary, the four-piece indie rockers played two sold-out shows. The first was an all-ages show that saw the band’s kids in full attendance, the second a more adult crowd turned out in full force. You can read my full recollection of both shows that ran Monday right here. They play one show in Los Angeles at The Echo this Friday, March 3.

Around the time the reunion became official, I chatted with founding member Sharky Laguana for an interview that ran in the February issue of San Francisco Magazine. We discussed how the reunion came to be, as well as the difficulties of re-learning songs he hasn’t played in more than a decade. In the time since music took a backseat to the rest of his life, Laguana founded Bandago — a van rental company that was born out of an incident during a time when Creeper Lagoon (a different lineup) had a faulty Budget rent-a-car derail a tour for them.

This is a band I have a major personal connection with. As a middle schooler, they were one of the first bands I discovered on my own without the guidance of my older brothers (on the soundtrack to the Jack Black-Colin Hanks flick Orange County with the song “Under the Tracks”). By this time, the band was pretty much broken up, killing any possibility of seeing this lineup until now. The closest I thought I’d ever get was when I saw Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard cover the Creeper Lagoon song “Wonderful Love” at The Fillmore in SF in 2007. Thank goodness I was wrong.

In the time after this core lineup broke up, Sharky carried on under the Creeper Lagoon name with a shuffled lineup as the primary singer — first for the melancholy Remember the Future EP (very good, listen to “So Little to Give,” “The Way It Goes,” and “There’s a New Girl”) and then the self-funded Long Dry Cold record. Sefchick participated in a number of intriguing projects, from On the Speakers (unfortunately not available to stream, but listen to “Sweet Dreams” here) to Ghost Baby and Captain Paper “Church Boy”(listen to ).

Pass The Aux: So let’s start with the obvious — when and how did this reunion come together?

Sharky: The how would be my lovely wife Naomi. She was always a fan of the band and I always said there’s no way, it’s never going to happen. She worked behind the scenes and got everybody to sign off on it without telling me or letting me know and sort of just dumped it in my lap that everyone wants to do it and the kids want to see you. I was determined to not do that cliche of the band getting back together but it turns out that having kids — and all four of us have kids now — and some of them are entering their teens now. Having heard about the band all their lives but never having seen it in person, that was probably the overwhelming motivating factor that kind of pushed it into reality. It certainly wasn’t the money (laughs).

Creeper Lagoon performing on Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn (04.24.01)

Pass The Aux: Everyone in the band seems to be in a good place personally right now — do you think that was a major factor towards this reunion happening? I know Ian (Sefchick) was working at Capitol Records.

Sharky: He does — he’s a mastering engineer at Capitol Records, which makes perfect sense. He’s beyond brilliant, particularly when it comes to sounds and electronics. When we were in the band, he made all of our amps from scratch. It was like the ultimate DIY-band. It was the only band I know where the singer was making the amps and sometimes repairing them between shows with a soldering gun.

Pass The Aux: Do you think that the fact you guys all have stable home lives helped the timing of this reunion?

Sharky: I definitely think everyone in the band sort of found a spot that works for them in life. Let me rephrase that — I would say everybody in the band pretty much universally agrees that the band breaking up was possibly the best thing that could’ve happened. Because if we had somehow managed to pull it out of the fire and stay together, I think it’s an open question whether some of us would be alive. Second of all, if we somehow managed to survive, I’m so much happier sleeping in my own home, seeing my kids every day, seeing my friends on a regular basis. These are things I didn’t get to enjoy when we were touring constantly. It’s a very dis-associative thing to do. For some people it’s a good fit for who they are as people, but I don’t think it was a good fit for us. I don’t think we would have been strong candidates to spend our life constantly in travel. Even if we somehow had achieved national success, I don’t think it would have been healthy. I personally feel the band breaking up was a blessing in disguise. We got a really good taste of what it’s like to be popular, successful musicians and after you do that for awhile, it just repeats.

Sharky Laguana
Sharky Laguana, courtesy Jeanne Ellenby

Pass The Aux: Has it been fun to revisit this part of your life without any pressure?

Sharky: It’s beyond exciting, it’s beyond cool. This all sort of got popped on me in October. The band had to collectively wrap its heads around how are we gonna do this? Ian [Sefchick] lives in LA. There’s a lot of technical and logistical problems in getting four people to sound like a band. You can’t just show up 24 hours before the show after a 16-year absence and expect to put on a half-decent show. So there is actually a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of people that are gonna be there — some have never seen us, some have seen us many, many times. We want to do our best for them that we can. I had to buy an amplifier, I’ve been home practicing every day. Relearning songs from scratch — no idea, maybe once in a blue moon I remember something from the actual memory. Most of the time, I’m just like a guy on the internet trying to figure out the tabs.

Emotionally, it’s really been incredible. Ian and I had not spoken — a couple holiday cards — but not actually gotten on the phone and spoken to each other since the band broke up in England in 2001. In all that time, we never spoke. So when we reconnected, that first phone call as you might imagine was several hours long. This is really the core truth — I’ve known Ian since before his voice changed. We’ve known each other for many many years. We were very tight and there’s no experience in life that is more bonding than being a small group of people dealing with a very high-pressure situation and kind of fighting through it together. I think at the time, you’re dealing with a lot of stuff. You’re still young, you’re still trying to make your mark on the world so there’s ego involved. You’re worried you won’t be respected when you’re older and you add on top of that all this pressure and expectation and how are you going to sort of deal with all of that. You’re also fairly young and immature and you don’t have the tools that more mature adults do to sort of handle complex issues. I think now that we are older, it’s like melted butter. It’s unbelievably easy to hangout and talk with each other.

Pass The Aux: It’s all water under the bridge at this point, I guess?

Sharky: Oh yeah. There’s not even — I think like in the first year or two after the band broke up, there was a lot of hurt. Just at the lost opportunity, the lost potential. But then everybody found a lifestyle that really works for them and stopped living in intense poverty, which is how we lived the entire time the band was together. Even though we were a big major-label act, the vast majority of that time we didn’t have two nickels to rub together. We were hand-to-mouth living in the most expensive city in America on $1000 bucks a month was pretty much what we were trying to do.

Now we’re older, more mature and our egos aren’t so wrapped up in the band and it’s made it a lot more relaxed and easy and a lot of fun. We’re not trying to restart a music career, we’re not planning a tour, we’re not planning an album. We’re just doing it because it feels right, it feels good. It’s connecting to each other and it’s connecting to our families and it’s connecting with all the friends we made during our time together. One thing that’s really been a surprise is — as you might imagine being so close to the music, I didn’t really listen to it during all this time. It wasn’t like I sat around listening to our records, right? One thing that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is I’ve had to listen to the records now to get reacquainted. I’m listening closer than I ever did except when we were making them because I’ve got to figure out what’s happening here.

One thing I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is how well the recordings hold up. They don’t sound dated. I guess on some level I expected to be embarrassed by certain things but instead it’s kind of the opposite. Things I was embarrassed by at the time, I’m now proud of. I must’ve had a stick up my ass or something. I didn’t know that I had some unresolved issues. I thought it was all pretty much in the rear-view mirror. What’s been really interesting about this process is it has been healing things that I didn’t know were hurting. It’s been an extraordinary honor and privilege see everybody else reacting in how strongly they feel about it. I don’t know how I will get through the show without sobbing like a baby.

Pass The Aux: Before the announcement, was there any concern anybody was going to care? Then you dropped this news and and a lot of people showed support. How do you feel about the response?

Sharky: It was overwhelming. I’m not going to lie, that first couple hours I shed a couple tears. I thought a couple people would care but I wasn’t expecting this big outpouring.

courtesy of Jeanne Ellenby

Pass The Aux: Your first shows in San Francisco at Bottom of the Hill are part of Noisepop. What’s that like considering your band’s lengthy history with the local festival?

Sharky: There’s no question, it resonates on a number of levels and even some levels that aren’t immediately visible. For example, when we did the New Years show for the millennium at Bottom of the Hill, that was a really big event. We were worried about Y2K that the power was going to go out, so we rented power generators. We hired comedians to walk up to you and tell jokes. We had food. At the stroke of midnight, the band paused for a moment and I got down on my knee and proposed to my wife. To say Bottom has a special place in our hearts is a huge understatement.

Our thing with Noisepop — Kevin Arnold was the original founder. I was there at that very first Noisepop show. I met the promoter and we just instantly connected, this guy Kevin Arnold. A month later he moved into our house and became our roommate. To this day he’s one of my closest best friends. A couple years later, our manager Jordan [Kurland] became partners with Kevin on Noisepop and they’re still partners on it. So when all this came about, and it was Noisepop’s 25th anniversary, the layers of resonance were hard to ignore. I think there was a pretty compelling case to be made that now was the time. We’re still young enough that we can pull this off credibly and still present something that still sounds a lot like what we did 16 years ago. If we wait another 10 or 15 years, that might not be the case. Time is really precious stuff. It was time, we were all healthy enough that we could do it. The stars aligned and we decided to go for it. We kept it really mellow and chill. We didn’t shoot for a big venue. There was some talk about ticket prices and we were inclined to have them low, we didn’t want that to be an obstacle for anyone. We’re just really excited to see all our friends in one place and in many ways it’s gonna be like a family reunion.

Don’t miss out on Creeper Lagoon’s lone Los Angeles gig on Friday, March 3 at The Echo. Tickets are still available.