Creeper Lagoon is marooned -- stranded in the L.A. suburb of Sherman Oaks, inside the Premiere, an immaculate condominium complex with all mod cons and full of screaming children with a sick propensity for waking up well before musicians with hangovers. For Carr and his bandmates -- singer/guitarist Ian Sefchick, singer/guitarist Sharky Laguana, and drummer Dave Kostiner -- the situation has begun to resemble a sadistic experiment in sleep deprivation. "I called up the management," explains Kostiner, a natural crack-up with an easygoing demeanor. "I was like, 'We're a rock band, OK? We don't get up until 11:30. Can you please ask [the gardeners] not to start until 10 o'clock?'" To paraphrase a song from the Talking Heads (whose ex-guitarist Jerry Harrison has produced half of the band's upcoming record), the Premiere is not Creeper Lagoon's beautiful house. And instead of beautiful wives, there are only lonely girlfriends back in San Francisco.
There is, however, David Byrne's immortal question: "Well, how did I get here?" How did Creeper Lagoon arrive at a two-bedroom condo in suburban L.A.? How did they come to record their sophomore album for one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in the world, with four different producers, including Flaming Lips confidant Dave Fridmann, Harrison, and one extremely talented upstart who's written songs for Celine Dion and Aerosmith? The answers lie at the intersection of Hard Work, Talent, and Unswerving Dedication. Right now, Creeper Lagoon is stopped, waiting for the light to turn green.
Wednesday, March 1, 12:47 p.m.
The gray, nondescript building at 751 N. Fairfax Blvd. is like many gray, nondescript buildings in Hollywood. But this one, Cherokee Studios, is where Creeper Lagoon hopes to prove itself worthy of the Great Indie Hope yoke that a legion of supporters has saddled it with. Despite words to the contrary from naysayers and, notably, the band members themselves, Creeper Lagoon means a lot to a lot of people. I Become Small and Go, the band's 1998 debut album, was filled with the kind of sublime, heartbreaking tunes that inspire true fandom. The two years since that record's release have been punctuated by near-incessant touring, as well as a less-than-productive songwriting stint on a farm near Ione in the Central Valley. Now the pressure is on to produce.
But at the moment Creeper Lagoon is getting stoned. Actually, Laguana and Kostiner are getting stoned while Carr lights a cigarette and reclines on a couch built into the spacious, wood-paneled control room of Cherokee's Studio B. Last week Carr's father had a heart attack, induced by years of smoking and stress. He's all right, but between drags Carr is vowing to quit and get some exercise. Sefchick arrives, looking burnt and disheveled, dressed in blue satin workout pants and a wrinkled T-shirt; his sandy blond mop of hair matches the three-day stubble on his face. Sefchick and Laguana spent last night at the Universal Studios amusement park, conveniently located up the road from the Premiere. The duo managed to get behind the scenes -- literally -- before being booted by a janitor. "The prices were outrageous!" Laguana, 29, tells Kostiner and Carr. "It was, like, rampant consumerism at its worst."
The door opens again to reveal a youthful-looking, thin man with bushy blond hair, dressed in a white tae kwon do uniform: Greg Wells, the producer for these sessions. Coming to Los Angeles from his native Ontario, Canada, in 1990, Wells is a prodigious musician, composer, and producer who's worked in one capacity or another with k.d. lang, Ozzy Osbourne, and the Crash Test Dummies. His songwriting credits include tracks recorded by Celine Dion, Aerosmith, Diana Ross, and Jon Bon Jovi. He is 31.
Wells asks the engineer, who's been busy all morning bouncing tracks from the previous day's work, to play back a song tentatively titled "Here We Are." As the opening strains emerge from the large, expensive studio monitors, it's clear that despite things up at the farm going wrong, Creeper Lagoon has managed to do something very, very right. "So long to the life you always knew," sings Sefchick, over simple acoustic guitar strumming and clean cello lines played by Laguana. All talking has ceased. Sefchick hangs over the large mixing board, his fingers fiddling mindlessly with a plastic tie. Kostiner leans forward with his chin on his hand, staring at the floor. Wells stands behind Tom, the engineer, who methodically adjusts faders. Both are nodding to the song's lazy beat. When it's over, there's a brief silence, followed by a critique. Kostiner and Sefchick are concerned that some of the programmed beats don't mesh with the drums. Laguana agrees, and sits down at the computer to start editing.
Creeper Lagoon began with Sharky Laguana hunched over a machine -- albeit a four-track cassette recorder -- in his San Francisco apartment in the early '90s. Named for Laguana's nickname for the residence hotel at which he once worked, the band eventually grew to include Sefchick, Laguana's childhood best friend and fellow native Ohioan, and a revolving cast of bassists and drummers that finally appears to have congealed once and for all with Carr and Kostiner. Following a much-celebrated EP on local Dogday Records, the band signed a one-album deal with the L.A.-based Nickelbag Records, owned by the popular Dust Brothers production team, with the guarantee of at least two subsequent albums being released by Nickelbag affiliate -- and entertainment behemoth -- DreamWorks.
It was an undeniably sweet deal for a young band, and it still stands as one of the most impressive achievements of any local unit in recent years. I Become Small and Go became an immediate favorite in indie circles worldwide, and the band was voted Best New Artist of 1998 by the readers of Spin. Creeper Lagoon spent a year on the road in support of the album, touring with heroes like Rocket From the Crypt and Archers of Loaf. The experience served its music well; by the time the band returned to San Francisco its sound was leaner, heavier, and impressively tight.