Less Than Jake are the among the elder statesmen of the ska punk scene. From their classic 1995 album Pezzcore right on through to last year’s well received See The Light, the band has amassed a huge following on their many trips around the globe and have seen the 3rd wave ska revival withstand a number of peaks and valleys in its own popularity. The band is gearing up to knock down a number of North American shows, including a trek across Canada, with ska favourites Big D & The Kids Table and the impressive new Hellcat quartet The Interrupters. We had a chat with guitarist/vocalist Chris DeMakes about the band’s history, the new record and the band playing the equivalent of a full year’s worth of shows on the Warped Tour. Interview by Dustin Griffin From October 2014 Vandala Magazine READ MORE ARTICLES
So Less Than Jake is 22 years old. Now I know you’ve been asked this a number of times in the past couple years, but I have to start with the obvious question, did you ever think back in the early 90’s that you’d still be doing this two decades later?
Chris: You know it’s funny because if someone were to say that to me now, I’d probably tell them they’re crazy. Which is the same thing I would’ve told you back then. At 18 years old, I couldn’t fathom being 40 and being on stage playing punk rock. So, no I don’t think any of us really imagined playing past the next show. We were just young kids living life and playing music and, for the first year at least, our only motivation was to get to the next show, get some free beer and play for our friends.
Do you have a secret to your longevity as a band?
Chris: You know four of us have been with the band since the beginning and our sax player’s been with us for 15 years now. And for at least the last 15 years, we’ve felt that keeping our band intact and keeping the core members has been really important. Some other bands can get away with switching up everyone but the singer, but in Less Than Jake, it takes the five of us to create the insanity that happens on stage, we’re aware of that and we respect each other. I mean we still fight like hell, like any band of brothers travelling long distances in close quarters, but we’re all still friends and we’re all still doing it for the same reasons.
Ska music and ska punk has lived and died a number of deaths since the early 90’s. Were there ever any moments when you thought ‘nobody cares about this kind of music anymore, let’s just pack it in’?
Chris: You know, if we would’ve just stayed touring the United States like a lot of bands we were running with in the 90’s that fizzled out, I may have felt that way. But by the time it was started to lose steam here, we were travelling Europe, Australia,Asia, etc. and it was crazier and more popular there than it was anywhere else in the world for us. Ska punk hit a couple years later over there than it did in North America. And for us the mid-90’s here, didn’t really happen till 2001-2003 in the U.K. The internet wasn’t then what it is today and sometimes scenes took longer to get to other countries. So maybe it was on a decline here, but we certainly weren’t feeling it because our career in other places was going crazy.
You released a couple records on Capitol in the 90’s and now you’ve been on Fat (Wreck Chords) for a few albums. Are you happy being on an indie label or would you ever consider going major again?
Chris: I don’t think I’d rule out anything with this band’s career. We’ve been back and forth on so many labels at this point, I think the only consideration is what’s in the band’s best interest and what we think would further our career. I mean a band that’s been around as long as we have, probably no major would be interested, but who the hell knows? For us it doesn’t really matter what label we’re on so much as that we have a good business relationship with them and we’re getting the marketing and promotion we feel we need. Getting our name out there to a new audience, while keeping our core audience interested as well.
Like doing phone interviews with Canadians at 11am.
Chris: There you go man. Hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I don’t know how many interviews you’ve done in your life, but there are people out there who get really grizzled and hard to talk to and we never got to that point in our career, because we never got jaded. I know why my band’s still relevant to people, it’s because every little thing you do adds up to something.
Absolutely. You newest record See The Light is great, it contains some of the best material you guys have put out in years, in my opinion. Does it get easier as time goes on to write new stuff, or do you find it difficult to continually try to come up with something fresh and interesting?
Chris: A little bit of both. There’s stuff on the new record that would fit on any Less Than Jake record and then there’s stuff that’s maybe pressing the bar a little bit. We try to do things a little different in some ways, but at the same time you’re kind of in a catch-22. If you don’t change enough then people accuse you of rehashing your old shit and if you change too much, then people are calling you sellouts or complaining that you don’t sound the same anymore. So you have to just do what you feel’s best and I like to think with each new record we try to throw in a new trick or three and it kind of changes it up a little bit.
Was there anything specific influencing the sound and shape of See The Light?
Chris: You know this sounds just so egotistical, but really what was influencing this record was other Less Than Jake albums. I mean we just wanted to go in and just make a really good Less Than Jake record. And I think sonically, it’s one of our best records. I’m really proud of how good it sounds and that the songs really came across the way they were supposed to. And without saying that it’s necessarily my favourite record, I think there are a lot of really great songs on it. If you like Less Than Jake, you’re going to love this record.
And it must, particularly after 22 years, always feel nice to have a fresh batch of songs to head out on the road with, to mix up the set list a bit.
Chris: Yeah. I mean we create music ultimately for ourselves, because it keeps it interesting for us and we hope it keeps it interesting for our fans. There’s always going to be people that come to the shows and all they want to hear is Losing Streak or Hello Rockview or maybe Anthem, but we’ve got 22 years in and we like to represent every era when we play live so being afforded to play new songs definitely at the very least keeps it interesting for us.
Do you guys write songs more at home or on the road?
Chris: More so probably at home. But I’ve always got my computer out and recording riffs wherever I am. Typically at home though is where we all sort of get together and hash out ideas and figure things out.
What do you do to keep yourself busy when you’re not on the road?
Chris: I’m actually getting ready to produce a record this week of a metal band down here in Florida. I also do solo stuff outside of the band, I give guitar lessons, that kind of thing.
Do you find yourself getting antsy when you’ve been home for a while?
Chris: Oh yeah, and conversely when you’re out on the road for two months all you can think about is being home in your own bed, so it’s nice to have a balance.
Last time you came through Canada was with Reel Big Fish and (Celtic Punk band) Flatfoot 56 and now you’re getting ready to do a tour with Big D & the Kids Table and The Interrupters. Do you guys like putting together and being part of ska package tours or does the genre of band you’re touring with matter?
Chris: Well it all depends. Certainly Canada for whatever reason has always been a really big ska country. So we’ve always had a lot of success touring Canada in a ska package. But there’s other places where we’d want to tour with other types of bands. Sometimes it’s fun to be part of an eclectic lineup and possibly make new fans you wouldn’t of made otherwise.
Can you think of a band you played with back in the day before they were big that you saw and said to yourself ‘these guys are going to be f*cking huge?’
Chris: Oh yeah. A number of them. Green Day, NOFX, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Rancid, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy. We’ve played with all of them. I saw Green Day play to 100 people in Gainesville, Florida in 1992.
You guys have also played Warped Tour once or twice…
Chris: Haha. Yeah. We actually have played Warped more times than any other band in existence, by a long shot. On this Warped Tour on July 25th in West Palm Beach we celebrated our 365th Warped Tour show.
So is it more enjoyable to play the festival circuit or do you still prefer the smaller headlining shows?
Chris: They’re both great for different reasons. I mean it’s like anything else, if you play the festivals for too long, you want to be in the smaller venues and if you’re playing the smaller venues for too long, you want to go out and do some festival shows. But we’re pretty good at keeping a balance. Like we’ll go over to Italy and play a club show one night to 5 or 600 people and the next day we’re playing for 60,000 people at a festival in Switzerland. I think we’re very fortunate that we are able to do that and keep that balance and keep things interesting.
Fans can catch LESS THAN JAKE live this October touring BOTH Canada and the USA. You can find all their details and show dates at www.lessthanjake.com