Local music: Jeff Fernengel

  • Photo by Jodi Miller
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From the March 22, 2012 edition

In first grade, Jeff Fernengel tried to change his name to “Tiger Shark.” His teacher made him go back to writing “Jeff” on his homework.

As an adult, Fernengel is still fascinated by sharks — enough to buy a $40 Lego set just for the shark pieces and then consider turning one of those Lego sharks into a hood ornament.

The title of Fernengel’s new album, to be released Saturday with a show at Used Kids: “I Like to Draw Sharks.”

“I’ve always been fascinated by aquatic life,” Fernengel said. “I don’t think I used to like eating seafood because I thought about the fish.”

The shark is one of many creatures that populate Fernengel’s cartoon paintings and cartoonish punk songs. New titles include “Wish Upon a Starfish” and “Octopus Pills,” in which Fernengel imagines growing enough arms to compete for a woman’s affections against an entire four-piece band.

Fernengel once fronted the ramshackle party-punk quartet Tree of Snakes, a band that instantly transformed dive bars into raging house parties. Few musical experiences are as unifying as pounding PBRs to “Trusty Swordfish” or “Serious Knife Fight.” Then, as now, Fernengel’s insight and imagination transcended his musical limitations. (“I can’t play guitar very well,” he said, “and my voice is shabby at best.”)

Besides occasional reunions, Tree of Snakes hasn’t been active for half a decade. Fernengel briefly dabbled with a new lineup under the name Periodic Table of Elephants, but he mostly kicks out the jams solo acoustic style.

“Acoustic guitar is the spirit of all the Tree of Snakes songs anyway,” he said.

His latest batch was recorded by Bobby Miller (Super Desserts, Swimsuit Edition), who added elaborate arrangements before Fernengel opted for a skeletal feel.

“We kind of dressed it up then undressed it,” Fernengel explained.

He’ll be similarly raw at Saturday’s release party, which will also feature a special acoustic set from the Washington Beach Bums.