Long Beach’s Most Un-Famous Famous Band Look Back on 25 Years of Making Music
Arrissia Owen | February 1, 2018 | 8:00am
Surrounded by mounted steer skulls and spiffed up in his favorite red, Hey, Koolaid! T-shirt, a snappy scarf and a porkpie hat, Dave Cornblum squinted under the bright lights from behind his thick, black frames. The singer for the decades-deep, Long Beach band Shave looked out and smiled contentedly at the small sea of friends and fans at the Prospector Lounge, the old, lost-in-time cowboy steakhouse on Seventh Street that transforms into an unlikely, evergreen nightlife spot after the steaks are served.
As bassist Steve “Elder D” Cross started his soundcheck, Cornblum addressed the crowd. “They were lit,” he said, thanking opening act Tall Walls. “We hope to be lit as fuck and rock!”
It was the band’s big comeback show on Jan. 27, on the heels of their first CD after a 13-year hiatus, High Alert. The front of the stage was packed with enthusiastic, gyrating ladies and old buddies handing out high-fives. At the end of the first jam, a besotted bestie flung herself into a full-body hug with Cornblum. It was all pretty lit, as hoped.
Shave are neither Long Beach’s best band nor its most famous. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’d call them creative geniuses introducing us to a brand-new sound. But, as Dan Perkins—who was singer for Lo-Fi Champion at the time, but these days fronts Tall Walls—explained en route to my first Shave show about 20 years ago, “They’re kind of knuckleheads, but they shred.”
They lived up to that reputation—and still do. They’re funny, but as musicians, they’re no joke. Former Weekly music editor Rich Kane once called them “Long Beach’s semi-renowned gang of psychotropic jesters” in a laudatory review. “They are one of those Long Beach bands that should have made it,” Kane, now a reporter and web manager at The Salt Lake Tribune, says.
Unlike most other LBC bands that sprang up during the ’90s with a desire to make it big, the beauty of Shave was that they never seemed to give a shit about any of that. Yet they were the band that everyone could agree on, easily navigating their music among various scenes. Their lack of ego and unlimited supply of self-mocking humor make us wonder whether they are the longest enduring joke or legacy-title holders of the Long Beach music scene.
Shave are still just three harmless, lovable guys—Cornblum, Cross and guitarist Dave Shea—bonded by their somewhat-juvenile sense of humor and desire to rock. Their lyrics are silly yet subversive, as well as sometimes surprisingly sensitive. Well, not that sensitive. Twenty years after its release, the band’s local popularity derives mostly from the provocatively titled track “She’s a Ho,” off their 1998 debut, Jesus Shaves. The video features a cameo from the Weekly’s former nightlife columnist “Commie Girl” Rebecca Schoenkopf.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, Hold up; run the name of that song by me again. Well, it was a different time, and the song is surprisingly sweet, albeit inspired by the Geto Boys’ “Let a Ho Be a Ho.” Shave’s version refers to a girl who was breaking Cornblum’s heart; his friends kept telling him to get over her, that she was untrue (in decidedly less polite language) and not worth his affection.
“I was trying to say I love her,” Cornblum now explains coyly as we sit inside the Compound, the Long Beach recording studio they call home, weeks prior to the Prospector gig. “But my friends were trying to talk me out of it, saying, ‘No, man. She’s a ho.'”
Cross translates. “Corn has always been able to write a really naughty lyric,” he says, “and then he always balances it out with the good.” Whatevers. It’s a booty shaker, and we just like to move our feminist asses to it despite ourselves.
Shave have kept the un-PC party going all these years, and we need them more than ever to tear the roof off this mutha. It’s time to get reacquainted.
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Shave’s seeds took root almost 25 years ago thanks in part to Sublime, whose quick rise to fame ended almost before it began on May 25, 1996, when front man Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose a week after marrying his longtime sweetheart, Troy Dendekker, who’d just given birth to their son, Jakob. In the late 1980s, Sublime were just another band hanging around Long Beach, living the working-class version of the California dream, playing house parties every weekend in what Todd Forman—who toured with the band and these days performs with Jelly of the Month Club—lovingly once referred to as “Idaho By the Sea.”
But Shave’s history with Sublime started at an infamous spot called the Wisconsin House, then a beat-up, white Craftsman party pad between Third and Fourth streets. Cornblum, who met the Sublime guys while attending Cal State Long Beach (CSULB), eventually moved in with Greg Abramson and the house’s rotating cast of characters. Abramson, who later directed the video for Sublime’s first radio hit, “Date Rape,” also counted among his tenants Michael “Miguel” Happoldt. The latter went on to become an integral part of Sublime’s sound and success after an introduction through contemporaries and mentors, Orange County cowpunksurfabilly goofballs the Ziggens.
The house doubled as an early Sublime rehearsal space and an after-hours party spot. “We had a big student-musician crew that all met through the dorms,” recalls Happoldt, who had a cover-song band called Diet Faith with Abramson and Cross that opened for Sublime a couple of times during those early years. “When I started hangin’ out with Sublime, who had a huge neighborhood crew, we all became one big crew.”
Shea, who grew up in Huntington Beach and also attended CSULB, was by then the school’s Concert Commissioner, booking gigs with signed local acts such as HB punks Big Drill Car and Long Beach post-punk art rockers National People’s Gang at the campus bar, the Nugget. Someone slipped him a VHS tape of Sublime performing at a backyard party on the shoreline. “I got Brad’s number and met him to sign a contract for a noontime show,” Shea says. “He gave me a demo tape and invited me to a party.” Before long, he was a regular at Sublime shows. “It was easy to join that crowd,” he recalls.
When Happoldt moved on from the house in ’92, Shea moved in, and the two Daves bonded over music. Cornblum studiously refined his songwriting technique, absorbing what he could at the time from his musician friends. A big, blue Arts-and-Crafts-style home at Third Street and Gaviota Avenue had become a party spot, with Sublime jam sessions regularly. It was there that Cornblum would cozy up to Nowell and Happoldt under the back yard’s tropical foliage, taking mental notes as they traded guitar licks and stopped to talk music theory and everything from the Replacements to Chicago’s hardcore scene to old-school hip-hop.
Before long, Cornblum, having overheard Shea noodling on his guitar behind closed doors at home, asked if he’d match a melody to his rhymes, which focused on the constant party antics surrounding them. Drawing on local sounds, as well as LA-dominating bands such as Jane’s Addiction, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone and Thelonious Monster, the Daves began writing together.
When things started clicking, the two hit up coffeehouse open mics, trying out ditties such as “Papa John Detox,” one of their crowd favorites that Nowell used as his outgoing phone message for a period of time, giving the guys a nod of confidence. Soon, Corn and Shea had written enough songs for an acoustic set as a duo, adding a cover of Nirvana’s “School” off Bleach as their coffee-crowd pleaser.
Shea was soon recruited as Sublime’s driver on their mini-tours, mostly because he owned an ’85 Volkswagen Vanagon. However, having a front seat to the struggle did not particularly entice Shea to pursue rock stardom. “My attitude at the time was, ‘If there are all these great Long Beach bands, and they’re not going anywhere, then why even try?'” he says.
On the other end of town and the musical spectrum was the riff-heavy, no-nonsense Wood & Smoke (W&S), a hot band that wore stoic on their sleeves and worshipped at the shrine of Neil Young. Made up of dueling guitarists/vocalists Gary Williams and Lance Whitson, drummer Greg Ernst, and bassist Scott Klann—later replaced by Brian Way, then Scott “Fever” Evers—they served as a sort of musical foil to the less-structured, no-shirt-wearing Sublime.
“There was a full scene back then at their shows,” says Cornblum, who attended many of W&S’s packed nights at Bogart’s, an underground music venue in a strip mall on Pacific Coast Highway near Second Street. Sublime and W&S were polar opposites, but because both were popular, they were sometimes booked on the same bill. Sublime were on the brink of 40 oz. to Freedom blowing up—on which Shea and Cornblum received shoutouts—and W&S were not far from calling it quits.
At one of their Bogart’s shows in ’93, Sublime were up to their typical shenanigans and about to stick it to headliners W&S. Halfway through W&S’s set, during one of their psychedelic jams, a mini-sized Stonehenge was lowered from the rafters onto the stage. Williams and Whitson did not immediately recognize the Spinal Tap reference, but Way did and kicked it off the stage as Ernst threw devil hand-horns at the crowd from behind his drumkit, only adding to the laughter consuming Shea, Cornblum and the rest of the packed audience.
“We brought our A-game that night and had our songs dialed-in, rehearsed, the whole nine yards,” Ernst recalls, good humoredly. “Our music had drama to it—intensity, tension and release. The opposite of what Sublime had: fun, bouncy-pop reggae. We were all friendly, and there was a lot of crossover between our respective fan bases, so when we played shows together, it was like a who’s-who of all of our friends. The stage was set for a great prank. It was a classic burn. I had a hard time playing because I was laughing so hard but kept it going.”
After another of their gigs, Shea ended up partying with the guys from W&S, making fast friends and booking them for a show at the Nugget. They later all met up at the Cake House, named for Cross and drummer Rob Fadtke’s band, Cake. Cross had met Shea and Cornblum at separate events, but on that summer day in ’93 at the Cake House, the four original Shave members jammed for the first time. They wrote and recorded their first song, called “Huntington Beach,” featuring their friend Chris Caskey on congas, on a four-track.
Cross, who grew up in the Lake Tahoe area before relocating to OC to attend UC Irvine in the ’80s, and Fadtke, a Canadian then living in Costa Mesa, had been members of the band Imagining Yellow Suns prior to Cake, from 1986 to 1990. The Suns, who were on the Dr. Dream label out of Orange and included onetime W&S bassist Klann, were also a contemporary of Sublime and W&S during their early years, when the latter was only made up of Williams and Whitson. They’d cross paths at open mics at Bilbo Baggins and Nightmoves in Costa Mesa.
Around then, Happoldt, who these days plays guitar and sings in Perro Bravo, expressed interest in recording the Suns in the studio. Happoldt slipped Cross copies of two albums he’d recently recorded and produced: the Ziggens’ first release from 1990, C0002, and Sublime’s 1991 cassette EP, Jah Won’t Pay the Bills. But the Suns lost momentum after Klann left. Cross and Fadtke reformed as Cake with violinist/vocalist Rebecca Lynn and bassist Marcus Mindte, later replaced by Evers. One of the band’s songs made its way onto an early Skunk Records sampler, the local label he started with Sublime.
But just as Cake began to rise, a band from Sacramento also named Cake, scored a radio hit with the song “Starting Line” and swiftly sent the SoCal Cake a cease-and-desist letter. The band changed their name to Lungpigs, then recorded a self-titled album at the Toledo recording studio in Belmont Shore with Antoine Arvizu, who has engineer credits on Sublime’s 40 oz. and was a member of National People’s Gang. But the name change proved too much for the band. Soon after, Lynn headed to LA to join a new project and Evers joined W&S.
Shave played their first show on Oct. 20, 1993 at Bogart’s. By ’94, they opened for Sublime, just as Cuddle had before. But Shave were no Sublime copycat, and that’s partly because of Cornblum and Shea’s love of ’70s punk rock and the guitar-heavy influence of W&S. “Steve and Rob’s previous band, Imagining Yellow Suns, were kind of dreamy and psychedelic, not too much testosterone,” Ernst says. “The Daves added their flavor and ended up creating a great combination of pop, rock, alt. . . . I still don’t know how to describe it: new, original, post-punk, crafty rock music.”
With Shave’s lineup solidified, at least for a few years, Cross and Fadtke focused their energies on the band. Cross’ interest in recording grew, and he began accumulating gear, including a digital-recording workstation. He became the go-to guy locally, mastering for local bands out of the Cake House garage. Shave continued building their following, playing shows and writing music together, eventually recording most of Jesus Shaves there.
By ’97, Shave moved their headquarters to Cross’ new, ramshackle recording studio, the Compound. It was an ambitious undertaking. After years of living in bro housing while trying to make records and rehearse, Cross found a former cabinet shop with a barn-like aesthetic, natural light and an ocean breeze sitting atop a large lot off Pacific Coast Highway in Signal Hill. The weathered, sturdy structure was built from repurposed wood from old local oil derricks and finished with a fire-retardant, industrial coating, providing a perfect site to record.
For the first couple of years, Cross was covered in layers of sawdust. There was no hot water, and the only warmth came from a measly space heater. He slept in a tent, inside which he mixed Jesus Shaves while building his studio. It was at that crude version of the Compound the band filmed the video for “She’s a Ho” and hosted many, many—you guessed it—parties.
In 2003, Cross partnered with Arvizu to expand and build on the Compound’s success, bringing his years of formative experience as an engineer at Capitol Records, as well as at the Toledo and Mambo studios. Seven years later, Arvizu took over full ownership, filling the space with even more modern and vintage amps and instruments. Everyone from Crystal Antlers and Avi Buffalo to Jack White and Jay Buchanan have laid down tracks at the Compound, but it remains home base for Shave, the studio’s original house band.
* * * * *
The band continued to plug along, not particularly dreaming of arena-style success, and instead focusing on making music and playing occasional shows with friends. Call it Shave Time. The lack of momentum is part of why they have had a hard time holding on to drummers. After Fadtke, a steady line of overachievers picked up the sticks, including Scott Devours (Oleander, Ima Robot, Roger Daltrey, the Who), Billy Blaze (Johnny Jones & the Suffering Halos, Wink Musselman), Michael Miley (Rival Sons, Veruca Salt) and, most recently, Ernst (W&S, the Society, Mars Viewing Party).
“I’ve been in the band, and then out, in, then out, in, out, inoutinoutinout so many times that it’s more of a Spinal Tap drummer vibe,” Devours says jokingly. “I don’t think I’ve passed their audition yet. They’re kind of fickle.” Roger Daltrey keeps him busy touring these days, so he’s okay.
Even with their chill attitude and openness to collaboration, the band get frustrated when their productivity slows, especially Cornblum. “I always threaten that I have another band called After Shave,” he says with a sly smile. It’s been 13 years since their last release, 2004’s Trans Universal Worldwide.
The band went on somewhat of a hiatus, playing sporadically and recording music while they got on with starting families, building businesses and the general all-around semblance of adulting. They nearly released another collection of songs as Shave 4 in 2010, but Shea didn’t feel it was up to par. Their hearts just weren’t in it. Last year, however, the band started jamming together, with Arvizu pitching in on drums for the band’s newest punk- and pop/punk-infused song “Make Time Fly.” [Download the song for free here!]
Once Shea and Arvizu found the other songs on spare hard drives and disks, the obsessing and overdubbing began in earnest. “We just had a good set of songs that I was proud to release as Shave’s third album,” Shea says. “But it was lagging, and I thought it might not ever happen. And it fit right in with us—like it was us, older and better.”
“Usually with bands, they fold after a certain level of interest peaks and ebbs,” adds Tall Walls’ Perkins, who has been in four bands during the time Shave have been one. “But they just kept going, playing, writing, performing and, importantly, staying friends. It’s a pretty authentic project.”
It’s part of what makes Shave such an iconic Long Beach band. “They are blue-collar, punk rock, but Corn has a way of being fun, funny and a bit psychedelic all at the same time,” Arvizu says from behind his drum kit at the Compound.
“He encapsulates Long Beach in a unique way, that I don’t think people really get,” Shea agrees, looking to his friend across the room.
Embarrassed by the praise from his buddies, Cornblum shrugs and smiles sheepishly at the ground. “I’m like Seinfeld on Robitussin,” he says, as always the best kind of knucklehead.