This isn’t the face of a guy who just went through a tumultuous band split, then rigorous audition processes to replace said split band-member. Take a look at vocalist/keyboardist, Will Lerner of Shake Before Us and he looks completely non-fussed. Will is relaxed, happy, and ready with a witty remark or super cool bit of musical trivia. What we see on TV or movies or romanticize in our heads may not be what happens when it comes to life in a rock and roll band. Yet where the real magic starts- *hint: songwriting and arranging- now that’s the stuff to go weak in the knees over. Take a behind-the-curtain look at one of San Diego’s most entertaining, rocking and hardest-working bands on the scene and you’ll soon see why they’ve earned their name -in spades.
Sounds in San Diego: Give us a brief history of your band.
Will Lerner: We’ve been working together, the core group, for about three years now and gigging for two and a few months. The line up, at the early days, consisted of myself, Will A. Lerner, on keyboards and vocals, Jesse Pryor on guitar and vocals, Fonda on drums and vocals, and “Cuz”(Kevin Donahue) on bass. As of now Cuz has left the band other commitments, parted amicably, nothin’ but love and John Falk (formerly of SXO) is now on bass. We’re based outta North County San Diego, except John… our token San Diegan. And ah, yeah so we’re a working rock n’ roll band. And we play rock n’ roll music.
SISD: How did you form?
WL: Fonda & I were friends. And he was in a band, a San Diego band called AM Vibe and occasionally they’d need a keyboardist so I played some great shows with them. Opening for Spiritualized, at the HOB or maybe it was 4th and B. It was 4th and B. Black Harper Session at Casbah. But as things happen, that band broke up. And after kinda mulling around what we wanted to do it had turned out Fonda had another friend named Jesse, who I did not know. And Jesse had the wonderful idea of telling him “Hey, ya know all I really listen to really is 60’s big bead, garage and psychedelic and modern stuff that’s kinda in that vein…let’s put a band together like that.” And, they wisely thought let’s add in that organ element. And that’s where I came in. And Cuz [Kevin Donahue] was literally Jesse’s cousin. They are cousins. Yeah.
SISD: How did you decide to play the genre of music that you play? What was Jesse’s main influence?
WL: We stick with the story which I’ll gladly give to him but it really is something we all love. It was close to all of us. We really all kinda stood by this belief that something special was created at that time. And we don’t want to just mimic that. And I don’t think we do. And I don’t think our fans think we do. But that energy- that kinda excitement and just what went into songwriting at that time. When you have people like you know, whether it’s Ray Davies or Lennon & McCartney, Jagger & Richards, you know of course all of the famous stuff… they were on to something that we’re emulating the black American singers and songwriters of their time. In a way we just wanted to take that energy and excitement when rock was young and none of us believe that rock is dead obviously so we just kinda work from that. Jesse lit the spark that was already waiting to be lit.
SISD: Are you guys going back into the studio anytime soon?
WL: Yeah January is the plan; I’d like to sound as confident as all that, but honestly we did have to cancel getting John in now on bass we wanted to do it right. We wanted to do it as a band. We wanted to do it right. We had originally planned that we would have already started a coupla weeks ago. But it’s actually all for the best. And we’re working with John Reis again, which we’re very very excited about. And obviously he’s a great guy again who understands our band. We’ve got some great plans. I’m glad that in the long run,-not that just getting a new bass player but I think now that some of the songs will get even better and we can really spend some time on them. Cause that was really on of the great processes,-working with John (Reis) the first time around was that most if the work was done outside the recording booth. It was done shaping up the songs.
Like with “No Judge No Jury” a lot of that was Jesse’s idea and I helped him write it and shape the lyrics. It’s basically me and Jesse’s song lyrically together but it never had a chorus. That was kinda the thing of the song. I remember saying “Let’s just do an instrumental chorus…let’s just have the verses and in between it there’ll be a keyboard break and a verse a bridge and etc. etc…” and it was actually John Reis who helped us arrange that song right and he’s all “You’re missing something here. And you’re missing an opportunity. ” But one of the things we realized was that we didn’t need a very wordy chorus. Y’know? We don’t usually have wordy choruses per say. And we just realized that that’s where the title goes and isn’t that powerful to sing that all together? But originally the song was written and we never said the words “no judge, no jury” And I’ll definitely tip the hat to John Reis for that one he saw the need and together we wrote that part in. And as you pointed out it’s become a part where: OK people are gonna hear that and remember that. It’s good. It worked out well.
That’s an example of how much of the work didn’t even happen in the studio. Once we go into record,-we’re rabbits. We’re fast we’re fast workers. We like to get it done. We don’t spend a lot of time. We all have some experience in the studio and on-stage y’know before Shake Before Us so,-we’re workers.
SISD: What were the dynamics of your band that led to the personnel change? Was it more internal or external that led to the change?
WL: It was mostly external. Kevin (Cuz) &his wife were blessed w/a kid and that’s not necessarily a band deal breaker by any stretch but, in this case we were just busy…. We have a busy schedule with shows, we keep ourselves busy without letting people get sick of us. We try and keep ourselves out there a lot. And trying to plan recording- I know it’s corny to say but Fonda, Jesse and I love every process of this: we love writing, we love recording, we love practicing, we just love all those aspects of it. Which makes it very hard when someone can’t put that love into it. So what should have been a pleasure and a love became a point of stress,-but understandable. And that’s why I say there’s no bad blood. And we were very lucky that a lot of our fans of course become friends and are great musicians. And so John you know,-we tried out some bassists and the first thing we asked him (John Falk) to do was learn four songs for his first try-out and he learned eight. So y’know right there, we did try out more people but he got the job right there basically.
SISD: How are they different now?
WL: It is very early to tell. Talk to me when John is writing more with us. *grins* Right now he is learning songs. And I think for a band like Shake Before Us that will be the proof really. When we’re at that point when he’s part of the process from the germ to the full thing. And right now he’s learning songs,-he’s catching up. But I will say what he has provided there are songs, bass is the kinda instrument that,- well anything in rock n’ roll really, there’s some jazz to it there some blues to it,-it’s what you feel. Yes there have been some songs where we’ve said “John, you really need to play that. It’s gotta go E to G to etc…etc…etc….” But there have been songs where we’re like “Hey just feel out the groove. Here are the chords just do what ya can.” We really like what he’ brought to it. He plays with a lot of passion he has a very good healthy energy practicing and actually our show Friday, November 1st (11/1) (at The Casbah 8PM) will be our first gig with him so we’re really excited about that. We shall see if what I say about him comes to pass.
SISD: What was the audition process like from the band’s POV?
WL: We just wanted it to,-it didn’t take that long honestly. And I say again I consider us lucky we had that we were far enough ahead and had some people who were into what we were doing and fellow musicians who were digging what we were doing to have some people to choose from it was very nice. We really dug the experience. We got to see some people that were out there. We had gotten very comfortable with the quartet. Three years isn’t the longest time but it’s a long time. I mean we play a lot we practice a lot. So y’know it was just us. It was just us it was a very shocking yet refreshing process just to be doing that,-being “Wow these is other people bringing in their feel to what we’re doing.” I don’t want to think of us as closed off. But we do spend so much time kinda working, writing and working on our arrangements that that the idea of sometimes we’ll talk and say “Oh we need to find a horn player for this song.” But we don’t. Y’know Shake Before Us is a unit,-and a band. I don’t know if I should say that now I’ll jinx us to never finding other cool musicians to work with in the future but you know what I mean. In a way we had been an insulated quartet and it was nice to kinda explode that. And even though you still had the same trio,-bringing in that fourth person was still..It was a neat process that we hadn’t done (that) before. But really as I say it only took a few try outs for us to realize other than the recording session, which we had to cancel, we had some wonderful gigs coming up that we didn’t really wanna cancel so we made a decision pretty quick. -Oh I wanna give a friend a plug real quick that you guys all know, our friend Trevor Mulvey, the bassist from the band Trouble in the Wind, has been filling in during the try out process. He’s great and they’re great friends of ours. So we were very fortunate that we didn’t have to cancel any gigs. And he’s a very talented guy we wish him and his band the best. We’ve been very blessed to have such good friends,-yeah the try-out process was eye-opening. We made it fun but we didn’t want it to last too long. We realized we could be doing this for a while.
SISD: What were you looking for in that fourth member? Did you have any specific qualities in mind when you realized you had to open this up? Even though it wasn’t what you were looking to do. Was there a certain je nais se quoi you were looking for,-that was gonna kinda sealed the deal?
WL: Sure! Yeah,absolutley I would say that! And we did try out guys that were very good. So it wasn’t just ability, although of course we’re a little bit of music nerds, we saw guys with the ability absolutely. It is more than that. It’s enthusiasm and energy and just a way of love for the music. We really needed somebody that loves to play that practices on their own that is just into the same style that we’re into that can bring something. Shake Before Us is a defined entity, we don’t want to change that, but we want somebody to enhance that. And that is sorta the je nais se quoi. And some of it’s silly some of it’s Do ya look good in the button down and tie? But as silly as that sounds also it just goes to the whole love of the process. We’ve even got a new song now that Fonda wrote the lyrics to called “Button Up My Black Shirt” it’s a part of it y’know. We wanted someone who understood that this is gonna be a fun complete process and every step of the way we wanted someone who had that vibe and love for it. That’s something you can’t ask someone you can’t practice that into somebody but you can see it in their eyes and in the way they play and in their body language what they’re bringing to the tryout and audition.
SISD: In an established/popular band like SBU what was the most important thing that they needed to show you during this audition process?
WL: As much as I was downplaying it,-to make the point other things are important. I guess right off the bat can you do it? We’re not playing music that’s rocket science. Not that any music is rocket science. But we do have a body of work now and we do spend a lot of time crafting our songs but we work a lot and we still get a lot done. I know that there are plenty of bands three years old that have more songs than we do but there are plenty of bands that have less. And I think for a band where we do write together we do have a lot of songs I’m proud of our body of work. So I mean yeah, first and foremost Hey is this gonna be a tooth pulling process? Getting you up here getting you in the practice room? Learning the songs? We’ve got shows. We’ve got recording sessions. Can you literally do the work? And then after that there’s the more enigmatic qualities you were referring to when we spoke about in the previous question. But yeah the first thing has gotta be Can you do this? And do we get the impression after two or three try-outs that ok you’re gonna come prepared and enthusiastic you’re gonna have done your homework? You know we’re a busy band. And we all wanna be busier, breaks are unwanted.
SISD: Tell us about your next show (TONIGHT!) and why everybody should be there!
WL: It’s just gonna be fun and we’re playing with some great friends that are also in great rock n’ roll bands. It’s gonna be a cool party for San Diegans and people into the San Diego music scene. We’ve got San Diego Music Award (SDMA) winners The Schitzophonics, I’m proud of those guys! We look at them as definitely a sibling band for sure. And if people haven’t seen them they are just so exciting to watch and SDMA nominees FLAGGS, as well, they’re a new band. I think they’re the baby band out of everyone playing,-less than a year old. But they’ve had just great success and have gotten tighter with every show and just cool garage rock. And actually I’m lookin’ forward to seein’ Chinese Rocks, that’s why I’m goin’ is to see Chinese Rocks they’re the only band I haven’t seen yet. But y’know but we’ve heard enough either in person or online to know that all these bands can kill. And it’s just gonna be a fun Friday at really the best small venue I dunno would you consider,-what is Casbah 200, 250? So it’s considered small to mid venue? But let’s face it,-it’s the best venue of that size in town. Dare I say the best venue period. But I might be a little biased. So I just think people are gonna come they’re gonna see some great music. We’re all still gonna be sweating in our Halloween costumes. People should feel free to come dressed up. It might be the day after Halloween but it’s a Friday night and Day of the Dead. Oh and I guess I should have mentioned this from the very beginning that,-even though we’ve been keeping this under wraps cause we like a little bit of mystery we didn’t even talk about the bass player situation until after John became a part of the band and made it definite. Or even let it out except among some friends that we were even looking. But ah,-it’s Jesse’s birthday! So everybody’s gotta come clink a glass with Jesse. We’re gonna have a little variation in the Shake Before Us “look”. So I think that will be fun for a lot of people that have seen shows, we’re all gonna be playin’ some songs that you haven’t heard. And I know we’ve got some stuff planned with the other bands that should be a lot of fun for other people. We are stoked beyond the support we’ve got from people who come out to our shows and we want to try and give ‘em something special. So we’ve got some things planned that you haven’t seen before. For those of us who have seen the bands that’s their hook to come and for those of us who haven’t seen the bands y’know if you like great rock n’ roll that’s what’s gonna happen at the best club in town. How else are ya gonna work the candy off? Sweating in a club is the best way to do it. Well, the second best way to do it.
With any luck we’ll be enjoying the music that is created and raucous adventures along the way via the journey that Shake Before Us embarks upon over their (hopefully) very long career. With the vision and insight that this tight-knit group has as a foundation it would certainly take more than a slight bump in the road to set them off-track now.
To witness a show the likes of which you’ve never seen before make sure you’re at the Casbah tonight at 8PM for a killer line-up of nothing but San Diego favorites: Chinese Rocks, FLAGGS, The Schitzophonics and Shake Before Us will all rock you. This is the way to kick off a month that is historically known for gratitude and four of the things I’m grateful for will all be happening in succession tonight for a mere $8 Shake Before Us is Will Lerner, Jesse Pryor, Fonda newest member John Falk like them on Facebook and check them out on Reverbnation.com
Editor’s Note: For part 2 of the interview with more information on the band’s song writing process, big challenges for musician’s in San Diego’s scene, and (OF COURSE) the 5 S’s of Sounds in San Diego click here!