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FOR YEARS, MUSICIANS REMAIN CHUMS

Times Staff Writer

Contrary to the pop wisdom offered by Neil Sedaka back in 1962, breaking up isn’t hard to do--particularly for aspiring rock bands. The real achievement is staying together.

If for no other reason, then, the Chums deserve some kind of an award for tenacity, considering that the Garden Grove band’s lineup hasn’t changed since its first public concert appearance five years ago at the old Woodstock Concert Theatre in Anaheim.

“We treat the band like a family,” said saxophonist and vocalist John Gurzi during a group interview earlier this week at the rented Garden Grove office that doubles as the band’s business headquarters and rehearsal studio.

“You know that everybody is going to get mad at each other sooner or later,” Gurzi said. “You just don’t let it get too you. You deal with it and then keep going.”

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But even more important than the six-member band’s sheer longevity is how it has grown from a routine hard rock outfit into a more distinctive and peppy new wave ensemble. The Chums, in their live shows as well as on their recently released four-song EP “What About You?,” incorporate the quirky rhythms of Oingo Boingo or Devo with the melodic accessibility of mainstream pop.

Along with Gurzi, the Chums, which will play Spatz in Huntington Harbour on Saturday, include lead vocalist Cori Blanchard, guitarist Bjorgen Eatinger (who prefers to be addressed simply as Bjay), keyboardist Russell Binding, bassist Dwayne Allen and drummer Jeff Vargas.

The group started in the late ‘70s out of impromptu musical jam sessions often staged for parties. Several of the musicians decided that there was some potential, so they continued practicing and performing at bars and parties while developing original material.

In addition to the musical changes they’ve experienced during their years together, band members said they’ve noticed improvements in the local music scene.

“I think audiences are real receptive to local bands now,” said Blanchard, who began singing with the Chums when she was 16. Now 21, Blanchard displays a surprising maturity and confidence in her full-throated vocals. But she still let loose an ingenuous laugh when she added, “Yes, things are a lot better--now we’re getting money to play.”

Generally a down-to-earth bunch, the band members spoke realistically about the compromises that are often demanded by record companies.

“You have to make your own groove,” Gurzi said. “You don’t have to conform, but you can adapt. I think we’ve finally found our own groove, one that is more acceptable to the public. You’re always going to have to bend a little. That’s all right, just as long as you don’t ruin the artistic ideas, because after all, it is art.”

There are, though, some compromises to commercial success that the Chums refuse to make, one of which is outlined in “Another Song About Sex,” which Blanchard described as “an anti-sex-in-songs song.”

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Said Gurzi: “I’m against people who capitalize on sex. It’s sick, selling sex to 12-year-old kids. Another thing that bothers me is the content of a lot of heavy metal songs--telling kids to get on drugs and drive 105 down the I-5. They’re not really rebels, they’re just copyists. As soon as kids give up sniffing glue there won’t be any more heavy metal.”

“We have some very serious messages in our songs,” Gurzi added. “As long as you are in a position where audiences will hear what you have to say, you should say it.”

But they stopped short of suggesting that pop musicians have an obligation to serve as role models for their audiences.

“A musician’s only responsibility to the audience is to make sure they have a good time,” Gurzi said. “The best way to do that is to have a good time yourself, and that’s what we do.”

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The songs on their self-produced EP have received air play on several local stations and have helped them into contract discussions with several major labels. In recent months, the band has also been gradually landing more and better concert bookings. (On Sept. 15, the group will perform on Catalina Island with Cathedral of Tears and later in the month will perform during the Los Angeles Street Scene Festival.)

Even so, the Chums’ ambitions remain modest.

“We know it’s going to happen, but we aren’t getting too excited, because there’s always that possibility that it might not,” Gurzi said.

“No matter what happens with the record companies, we’ll keep recording,” Allen said. “The only thing we really get excited about is having our music heard by more people.

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LIVE ACTION: The Dickies, T.S.O.L., the Red Hot Chili Peppers and El Grupo Sexo are scheduled to perform Sept. 28 at UC Irvine’s Crawford Hall. . . . The Meat Puppets will play Safari Sam’s in Huntington Beach on Sept. 23. . . . Chris Isaak will be at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach on Sept. 7. . . . Johnny Lee returns to the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana on Sept. 23.


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