INTERVIEW: Less Than Jake (04/12/2020)

Credit: Promo

Nearly 30 years into a hugely impressive career, Floridian ska punk champions Less Than Jake are back with their ninth album, ‘Silver Linings’, their first full-length record in over seven years. The new album is the first full length the band have released on Pure Noise Records as well as the first record with new drummer Matt Yonker but it has the same charm and excitement that LTJ have shown over the last 3 decades.

We had a chat with guitarist and singer Chris DeMakes about the new album and what it’s like releasing music during a global pandemic.

DP!: The brand new album ‘Silver Linings’ is out soon! How are you feeling going into the release next week?
Chris DeMakes: Feeling good! The album’s been done for a year now. It’s been ready to go and we wanted to get it out earlier but with the events of the year and not being able to tour, it just kept getting pushed back. I think the label would have liked to have released it next year but we wanted to get this thing out. It was time, our fans wanted new music, so we’re excited!

DP!: Do you think it would have sounded different if you have recorded it a couple of months ago?
Chris: I don’t think so, I don’t think we’ve ever really written signs of the times records. We’re not going to put out a record called ‘Pandemic’ or something. I think it would have been the same but a lot of people think the title is in reference to it – ‘Silver Linings’ but it’s not. The title was thought of last December so before anything happened.

DP!: This is the first record without Vinnie wrote a lot of the lyrics for the band previously so how has that changed on ‘Silver Linings and was that a big adjustment for the band?
Chris: It’s a huge adjustment because Vinnie has a way of writing and I can’t write like that, Roger can’t write like that, much like I can’t play guitar like you and you can’t play guitar like me. We are all unique as human beings and individuals. It’s so funny and interesting when people say “Oh they’ve got a new guitar player, he’s better than the old guy”. Well, is he? Is he technically better and as a good a showman? Does he have the tone and the feel that the old guy had? It’s all subjective and I guess what I’m getting at, is that we’ve been a band for almost 30 years now, Roger and I always wrote the songs and melodies, and Vinnie would sometimes have a full idea or full lyrics, or sometimes it would be a line or two and then Roger and I would take those lines, or sometimes we would write a line of lyrics within it.

So lyrically, even though Vinnie came up with the concepts, it was a group effort. Going into this it wasn’t a case of “what do we do now?”, we all write lyrics and we can all come up with words. The songwriting with the horns and the band hasn’t changed at all so it was a pretty seamless fit. None of us went into it trying to emulate or write lyrics that Vinnie could write because that would just come off contrived. You can only be yourself; I think if you like Less Than Jake then you’re going to love this record, it’s a great album!

DP!: Do you think there are any new themes or anything that you guys had been waiting years to write about?
Chris: Well, there’s a song called ‘Keep On Chasing’ that I wrote that has a line in there that’s not about “love”, but the line is “Love is like a drug”. We never would have said “love” in a Less Than Jake song before, it just never would have happened. There’s a sense of freedom to be able to say that word and not have it be like “I love you” or like a Beatles song “I love you, yeah yeah yeah”. It’s not that context of love, it’s a metaphor – love is like a drug that you keep on chasing. I think that it’s opened up the door to some of that, to sing those lyrics and stand behind a lyric like that.

We have a song called ‘Bill’ on the new album that we wrote about the Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson. It’s a tribute to Bill and we always used to write songs about people! Mark Cruce, Jen, Johnny Quest, Doug Hastings, Mike Sinkovich, Jay Frenzal, and Cheez from the ‘Rockview’ album. It had been a while since we wrote a song about somebody so we thought that could be cool. Not necessarily a new concept but something that we went back and revisited. The first track on the album ‘The High Cost of Low Living’ is a homage to places like Gainesville, Florida where we are from and people work their ass off all week and then Friday comes and they’re at the pub just getting shitfaced drunk spending all their money, and then there’s a lyric in there “when Monday morning rolls round” and you have a case of, oh shit, what did I do? Now, I’ve got to go back to work again! There’s a serious undertone to the song but it’s a fun song. We wanted to have some fun with the record but at the same time, have some introspective lyrics.

DP!: When did Bill find out about the song and how did he react?
Chris: He knows about the song because it was mixed at his studio! Jason Livermore mixed it and I know Bill approves all the mixes but Bill’s not the kind of guy that would be like “Hey man, thanks for writing that song about me”. I did a podcast with Bill recently and it didn’t come up. That wasn’t the place to talk about it but he didn’t mention anything off recording to me about it.

DP!: The podcast has been keeping you busy but how have the band been managing together over the last half a year?
Chris: We put out 3 songs earlier this year called the ‘Lost At Home Sessions’. We all have our own home studios where we recorded our own parts and put songs together with some of the proceeds going to charity. So we’ve been doing that and getting the album launch together. We’re doing our live stream next week in Gainesville, so that’s coming out in conjunction with the album release so basically we are in contact every day talking to each other. We’ve changed our merchandise company and we’ve had lots of limited edition really cool merchandise stuff come out this year. We reissued ‘Anthem’ and ‘B Is For B-Sides’ records on vinyl with a bunch of different bundles so it’s business as usual minus that we haven’t played any shows, so the band has been working and I’ve been doing the podcast and tonnes of things on my own.

DP!: What’s planned for the live stream?
Chris: This is ‘Late Night With Less Than Jake’ which is basically a late night talk show. There’s going to be different surprises and different things that no other band are doing for live streams, I can guarantee you that.

DP!: Did you have touring plans that have been cancelled this year?
Chris: Yeah we did, we had a bunch then it started to bleed in to next year and finally we just old our agents that we’re not going to announce any shows, we aren’t going to disappoint the fans. I don’t want to announce a show until it’s definitely confirmed that we can do it. I don’t want to put something on sale for June 2021 and then in April we have to cancel again. That’s happened so many times to fans this year that it just doesn’t make any sense.

DP!: The first single on the record was ‘Lie To Me’ – how do you decide which songs get picked to be singles?
Chris: We’ve been involved with that in the past and we let the label do it this time. We let Pure Noise pick it. We asked “what do you like? What do you want to go with?”. I love the song I wrote it, but if they picked ‘Bill’ as the first single, it’d be like “what?!”. It’s called ‘Bill’, it’s not the best song on the record, it’s a great song but we might question it. We love all the songs so whatever they picked, we’d be behind the choice. Also, if they pick something that they love, they’re gonna work behind that track as hard as they can because it’s something they picked. From a business aspect, you let them pick the song and they picked ‘Lie To Me’.

DP!: This is the first full length you’ve released on Pure Noise. How was it working with the label and how did it differ from working with Fat Wreck or some of the other labels you’ve worked with?
Chris: It really doesn’t in this day and age. They’re a great label and they’ve got a younger demographic which is good because it introduces us to some new fans but the game has changed so much from what it used to be. Labels are calculated risks. It’s like “OK, if we give this band X amount of money to make an album, which the budget used to be $500,000 on major record labels, now it’s $20,000, then spend $10,000 on marketing, we’re at $30,000, which I’ll translate for our UK listeners – that would be about £24,365. So basically they go how many bundles, how many records and packages do we have to sell to break even and then yeah, we are going to take a chance on this band. No ones rolling in dough from record sales because the industry has changed so much but most labels are doing that model where they know it’s all about the lead up to the record, and it’s those first 2 weeks to a month that you have to make those sales and after that, next! If you even get a month!

DP!: It must me hard for labels to work with bands at the moment if the record was finished a year ago, and you want to really want to get it out there and release it but the record label don’t. How long do you think they wanted to hold out for?
Chris: Well, in all fairness to the label, they’re just doing what they think is right from a marketing perspective. We understood it and we worked along with them on it. There was no arguments or anything, just ultimately, they would have liked to have it in the first quarter of next year, and we’d just been sitting on this for too long. We expressed that to them and we came to a compromise of December 11th and they were fine with that. We’re going to work this album as much as we can do this year whether we’re on the road or not, which I don’t think we’re going to be, my opinion, but we will do what we can in context of promoting an album but I’m already writing songs for the next album!

DP!: Matt Yonker has had quite a journey with the band over the years doing different things, how was it to have him as a full time drummer?
Chris: It was seamless. It was about as easy as it could be with a new drummer coming in after you’ve replaced a founding member of a band that’s been there for 26 years. It couldn’t have been easier. Matt’s been with us for 20 years. He started working with us selling T-shirts, he’s been our stage manager, been our drum tech, our guitar tech, our sound guy, our tour manager, he’s been out day to day manager and I’m sure there’s other things that he’s done. He has done everything, and he’s a great drummer. We were faced with having a vacancy in the drum position so it was like OK, here’s a pair of drumsticks, get behind the kit. That was really it. If he didn’t wanna do it, I’m not sure how long it would have taken to find somebody. I don’t know if at this point in our career if it would have been much more than a hired drummer. Try to have someone come into the fold of something that we’ve been doing for almost 30 years, if some kid joins the band and comes to our weekly band meeting and gives their opinion, they haven’t been there since day one, but Matt has pretty much, so it was a seamless transition.

DP!: Thanks so much for your time, Chris. One last question – what is the secret behind still being able to write catchy, joyful, exciting records like ‘Keep On Chasing’ after all these years?
Chris: We never grew up. Stay young and don’t walk past mirrors where you can see your face. You’ll always think you’re 18!

Less Than Jake‘s new album, ‘Silver Linings’, is out on December 11th via Pure Noise Records.

You can pre-order the album online now from the band’s webstore (here), iTunes (here), Amazon (here), and Google Play (here).

You can keep up-to-date with the band online over on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram