Sixties-inspired sci-fi garage rockers Shake Before Us formed in June 2010, when Jesse Pryor, Fonda, Will A. Lerner, and Kevin “Cuz” Donahue found they shared a common love for vintage organs, hollow body guitars, Theremins, cool ties, and a red sparkle drum kit. Over a couple of drinks, a pack of smokes, and a few handshakes, the band was launched.
Says Donahue, “You need to have a good song to start with, a riff that just takes off and a vocal melody that can keep up with it. We try to take the listener into a different head space. If we feel a song doesn't have those qualities, we drop it.”
According to guitarist Jesse Pryor, quite a number of songs had to be laid to rest early on. “Around November of 2010, before we had even played a show, we dropped five out of the ten songs we had written. It’s tough to drop half your set because it just isn’t good enough. For me, that was the day we became a real band.”
In their first eight months of playing live, they shared the stage with Supersuckers, the Blasters,
King Khan, Holly Golightly, Kid Congo, and the Jacuzzi Boys.
Their debut full-length was recorded in 2011 with John “Swami” Reis (Hot Snakes, etc.) producing and local engineering master Ben Moore on the controls. Recorded directly to a vintage 8-track reel-to-reel, Fonda explains “John’s approach to capturing our vibe on record was to go after those classic old sounds. He was determined to record us in the fashion of the 1960s. That meant not only recording in dress shirts and ties, but having to get the song right in one full take. Straight to
Their get-buzzed-and-turn-up-the-fuzz attitude yields true tales of lost faith, booze, drugs, sin, and self-doubt on the record. The sound, a maniacal mix of organ, guitar, dual howling vocals, deep drums, and even deeper bass, pairs the past with the future, vintage with modern. “Sure, the guitar has a ton of reverb,” says producer Reis, “but it’s the sound of the band, and it’s a sound that needs to be embraced.”
In June 2012, the band played the Ink-N-Iron Festival in Long Beach (as did fellow locals Stephen Rey & the Slicks and Low Volts). “The only member without body art is bassist Cuz,” said keyboardist Will A. Lerner shortly before the tattoo-themed event.
“I have our ‘SBU in a Flash’ logo tattooed on my chest, with a tweaked version of the old Elvis TCB logo,” says Lerner. “I also have some of the more arty tattoos you’ll ever see, like a grand piano, a portrait of Beethoven, and a raven sitting atop a bust of Pallas Athena, among others.” Heavily tattooed singer/guitarist Jesse Pryor doesn’t rely only on inked needles for satisfaction: in 2012, he underwent acupuncture to relieve soreness and tightness in his hands.
Their 2014 full-length Radio Time Bomb, produced by (and featuring) Rocket From the Crypt mainman John Reis, was recorded and mixed by Ben Moore for Tower Bar Records.
"We wanted to be creative and not just name it after a song on the record so every idea, good and bad, was written down. We'd been throwing out titles for several weeks when Fonda (drums/backing
vocals/Theremin) wrote down Radio Time Bomb right as we were approaching the album art deadline; as soon as we saw it we knew it was the one. It seemed to express everything we felt about SBU."
"The title is also reference to an unreleased track called 'Blowing Up My Radio,' plus we think it has a
Clash-vibe to it, which we dig. Both the front and back cover photos are from the same show at the Tower Bar from May . This is significant as the record's coming out on Tower Bar Records, the new label started by Tower Bar/Til Two Club owner Mick Rossler."
Bassist Kevin “Cuz” Donahue was replaced by John Falk.
“We're playing our first shows in the Inland Empire and the desert in September,” Will Lerner told the Reader in Autumn 2014. “We're going back to Las Vegas in October, making our second tour of the Bay Area in November, and we have an opportunity to play the Cosmic Trip Festival in France May 2015, so we're trying to get everything in place for a European tour.”
The band launched the overseas trek May 6, 2015 in Trento, Italy, moving through Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands (where they shared a stage with the Gories), and doing several dates in France, finishing with the Trip Festival.
Meanwhile across town, the band Burning of Rome home three 2014 San Diego Music Awards, for Best Live Band, Best Alternative Album (Year of the Ox), and Song of the Year (“God of Small Things”), out of six nominations). A short time later, that North County band broke up and frontman Adam Traub packed up and moved to Chicago.
Vocalist/keyboardist Aimee Jacobs started working with Shake Before Us vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Will A. Lerner. A year and a half of collaborations later, they debuted a new band called Strawberry Moons with guitarist John Falk (Shake Before Us, Schizophonics) and Mrs. Henry’s bassist Jason Areford and drummer Justin Schemensky.