Backstage: A Less Than Jake Story
SETTING THE STAGE:
Formed in 1992, Less Than Jake is known for their non-stop tour schedule, energetic live shows, and an extensive repertoire of full-length albums, EP’s, vinyl, and unique merchandise. The group’s full length album resume over the last 21 years, includes:
• Pezcore (Dill Records, 1995)
• Losing Streak (Capitol Records, 1996)
• Hello Rockview (Capitol Records, 1998)
• Borders and Boundaries (Fat Wreck Chords, 2000)
• Anthem (Sire Records, 2003)
• In With the Out Crowd (Sire Records, 2006)
• GLV FLA (Sleep It Off Records, 2008)
• Greetings and Salutations from Less Than Jake (Fat Wreck Chords, 2012)
• See The Light (Fat Wreck Chords, 2013).
After performing five shows in Japan, Less Than Jake stopped on Oahu, Hawai’i to play for the first time in eight years. It was just another day in paradise as the band finished their sound check at The Republik, which is a hidden but well-known venue close to Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. We met up with Tour Manager, Matt “Drastic” Yonker, who took us backstage, down some staircases, through a few hallway corridors to what he referred to as “our Spinal Tap moment” where we then met up with the rest of the band.
The Pier sat down with the entire Gainesville, Florida ska/punk line-up. We discussed their new album, See The Light, being back with Fat Wreck Chords, former members, and their namesake, Jake, who was Vinnie’s old family K-9 companion.
NEW ALBUM: See The Light:
Nearly thirteen years since Borders and Boundaries was released on Fat Wreck Chords, Less Than Jake and Fat Mike of NOFX & owner of Fat Wreck Chords, have joined forces once more. When asked who produced the new album all eyes and fingers pointed towards bassist Roger Manganelli as he acknowledged that “…it was sort of a group production in a way.” Asking if Roger had produced any previous albums for the group, he just responded in the 3rd person, “We did! On ‘Greetings and Salutations’, on the ‘TV EP’, and he’s also co-producer on ‘GNV FLA’.”
A lot has changed with the music industry since ‘Borders and Boundaries’ was released back in 2000. “We were on there when the label was all big and then the music industry collapsed,” says trombonist, Buddy Schaub. The bigger labels lost their footing on the music scene as Napster and eventually iTunes changed the way we acquire, purchase & listen to music.
Vinnie gave Fat Mike a copy of their 2012 self-released ‘Greetings and Salutations’ album, which “kind of opened the door to us wanting to have another label put our stuff out,” says Lead Vocalist & Guitarist, Chris Demakes, “and we went for it.”
Buddy gave some credit to his saxy horn partner, saying “JR (Wasilewski) sings a lot of the harmonies on the new record, because he can do the skyrocket high stuff like Lady Gaga” or Lady Skaga in this case.
Vinnie mentioned he provides vocals on “John The Baptist Bones” and “Give Me Something To Believe In”. He also gave a hint at another track to pay attention to, “My Money Is On The Long Shot”. Being with Fat Wreck Chords also provides the opportunity to promote the new album on the upcoming Fat Tour with Anti-Flag. Vinnie and their tour manager, Matt Yonker, both said if you liked ‘GNV FLA’ then you are going to love ‘See The Light’.
Along with a chaotic tour schedule, Less Than Jake is constantly in the studio recording. Chris talked about their early days shipping mail orders out of their apartment. Including an order form with each purchase, they added an EP that was coming soon called ‘Greased’, a parody record of the hit musical film, Grease.
Wikipedia states that the album was “discontinued to avoid a lawsuit from Paramount Pictures,” however, the band let out a little laugh mentioning they still get requests for those songs. The album features versions of “Greased Lightnin”, “Beauty School Dropout” with Roger and Chris singing “You’re The One That I Want” to each other. “We can look back at that with fond memories but it’s not like we want to re-live it,” admitted Chris.
Taking matters into their own hands they started their own label, Sleep It Off Records, for the 2008 record, GNV FLA. “We needed an imprint because we had a distributor and we needed to be called something,” Says Vinnie, who started Fueled By Ramen Records (Fall Out Boy, Gym Class Heroes, Sublime with Rome). “We had so many different names like Gainesville Rock City Records and Sleep It Off was the one that just kind of floated to the top,” Chris added.
“The Science of Selling Yourself Short” from Anthem and “History of a Boring Town” from Hello Rockview can be found in many karaoke collections. Chris attempted his karaoke rendition of “History of a Boring Town” in a random bar on the road. I wondered if anyone recognized him, to which Vinnie replied, “They had no idea.”
HISTORY OF A NOT-SO-BORING TOWN:
The band is named after Vinnie’s family dog, Jake, a slobbery, menacing looking English Bull Dog who was a big baby and known for being treated better than the rest of the family. Everyone else was considered to be “less than jake.”
Long time fans will remember the song “Richard Allen George… No It’s Just Cheez” from the 1998 release, ‘Hello Rockview’. It is a short, fast paced song about their friend who was intoxicated and demanded to be called by the moniker, Cheez. He “was over at the house partying, passed out in the hallway and Jake humped his head,” Chris reminisced, “Got his face fucked by Jake.” Buddy added it was the only action Cheez got all night.
The band is still in contact with some former members, including Peter Anna, who played trombone for Less Than Jake from 1998 to 2001. Pete originally came from the band, Slapstick, a Chicago-based ska punk group from the mid-1990s featuring bass player Dan Andriano, from Alkaline Trio, and Brendan Kelly, from The Lawrence Arms. Pete is currently an EMT/Fireman in the Chicago area. After he left, people would ask what he was up to. “He’s a fireman in Antarctica,” they would say to disbelieving fans, “and it sounds made-up but it’s true,” laughed Buddy.
They are also in touch with Derron Nuhfer, sax player from 1995 to 2000, who is now a manager at a Guitar Center & has an extended “open door if he wants to bring his sax back up on stage.”
OLD SONGS OF THE SOUTH:
Like any curious fan, I have wondered what happened to live versions of some of their first songs. In particular, the last two tracks from Pezcore, “Short on Ideas” and “One Last Cigarette”, the songs which contributed to my interest in the band over sixteen years ago.
“It’s always been one song to us,” Chris explained, and the song was combined, became over four minutes for the 10th anniversary release of Pezcore, and became a little too long to play live for their taste. Less Than Jake stays true to their past by performing “Liquor Store”, “My Very Own Flag”, “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts”, and “Jen Doesn’t Like Me Anymore” from Pezcore on a majority of their set lists to this day.
We kindly asked Vinnie if he would like to participate in the “speed round” portion of the interview for the long-time LTJ fans and he reluctantly agreed with a slight smirk. “Do you want some coffee?” joked Roger.
1.) Has Al declared peace yet? Yes.
2.) Where the hell IS Mike Sinkovich? Tampa Bay.
3.) Do you really care what Doug Hastings thinks about your driving? Nope.
4.) Who really holds the power ring? “Me!” interrupted JR.
5.) Does the Lion City still roar? Yes!
6.) Do you swear it’s your last time? Nah.
7.) Do you swear it’s the last try? No.
We thanked the band for sitting down with us after a long flight from Japan. I had to interject with a song request for “Big Crash”, a track from Hello Rockview, that has pumped me up for long road trips, yet, I’ve never heard them perform the song live, until that night at The Republik. They stuck around for some pictures & as the photographer, Adam Cole Barber, was snapping away, it became clear that Less Than Jake shows no signs of slowing down.
Watch: Less Than Jake – “Overrated (Everything Is)”
Watch: Less Than Jake – “The Rest of My Life”