Over 15 years deep into their career, Less Than Jake recently released GNV FLA, their seventh studio album, and the first self-released album under their new label, Sleep It Off Records. The band's drummer and lyricist Vinnie Fiorello recently took some time to talk to Punknews interviewer Zack Shapiro about the writing process of the album and the liberating feeling of going back to DIY.
You said before you started recording GNV FLA that, as a band, you wanted to go back to an older sound. Which songs and records pulled you back and made you say, "That‚??s what we need to do again?"
I think that it wasn‚??t about an older song in particular. Last year we did six shows of all of our older records, a show a night, where we played every single song in order from that particular record. So I think by doing that it sort of reminds you of how you used to write songs and the approach and it was really a blast from the past. We learned 92 songs from our catalog. So I think by doing that it really gave us a view of how we did it before. And I think that, as a songwriter, you kind of forget some of the things that you‚??ve done in the past. I mean, I don‚??t listen to old Less Than Jake records. So I think by going back revisiting those older songs, [it] really set a good direction in writing new songs. We took everything in that we played over those six nights. We played 92 songs, pretty much our career‚??s worth of music. So I think by doing those shows it was a good fresh start, to start writing new songs. And you know, not necessarily in the vein of "older material" but in the vein of what Less Than Jake is. I think that a lot of people go "well they‚??re going back to their old sound." I don‚??t think that we necessarily went back to our old sound; it‚??s just Less Than Jake‚??s sound. It has ska elements to it, horns, pop punk, some more faster old Forbidden beat like Fat Wreck-style stuff. I think that‚??s more over-amplified Less Than Jake than it is a departure or a trip back to fucking memory lane.
In "Abandon Ship" you say "give me some more music. I‚??ll sit and read the lyrics like a bible, a gospel, a song-a-long." What songs or lyrics did you turn to for inspiration while writing GNV FLA?
There are three people that I always turn to, first among anything, if I‚??m looking for some inspiration: Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, and Elvis Costello. Lyrically I always go there, I think, that a lot of times they have a similar way of talking about what happens in a daily life of a normal person. It‚??s not necessarily talking about these fucking fantasy worlds about zombies and witches and "my dad and mom are on another planet." I always refer back to those three particular people when it comes to just singing about normal people with normal problems. I think that, as far as lyrically, I always go for that particular thing. I look for normal people having normal problems but then possibly here‚??s a solution or here‚??s the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. Most definitely those are the three that I always go to for the life raft.
How do you go about naming certain tracks like "Malachi Richter‚??s Liquor is Quicker" or "Handshake Meets Pokerface?"
"Malachi Richter" is a real story. Malachi Richter is the last person in the United States to self-immolate, which basically is, he lit himself on fire in protest to the Iraq War. And even though it has nothing really to do with the Iraq War, it has everything to do with being at the end of your rope and thinking that the only thing you can do is fucking light yourself on fire to end it all. So it was in honor of that person.
"Handshake Meets Pokerface," because when you describe day jobs or when you describe that forty-hour week it‚??s exactly what it is. You‚??re shaking someone‚??s hand and you‚??re smiling but that smile‚??s your poker face. There‚??s so much more going on beyond and behind that sort of mild smile and that handshake. "Handshake Meets Pokerface" means as you‚??re shaking someone‚??s hand you don‚??t really understand what‚??s going on behind that smile or behind that person that you‚??re meeting. And that has everything to do with that song. That song‚??s about my mom, who was a single mother and trying to support me and my brother in rough times. And her basically coming to the conclusion that her American dream is one hundred percent over and that she has other people to take care of. That‚??s a hard thing to actually come to grips with, that "I have to work because I have to take care of people" and that fun and all those other things are really never going to happen again because I have two people that I have to take care of. It‚??s heavy social commentary but weirdly enough I think a lot of the record has to do with the economics and social-ness of small towns across the United States and across a lot of Europe. I think that it sort of touches on that middle class but that middle class that‚??s shrinking because of how the economy is.
Was starting your own label and going through the entire album-making process yourself something that you thought you would be doing when you started Less Than Jake?
It was what we were doing when we started Less Than Jake. I mean if you really think about it‚??s just three sixty. When we first started Less Than Jake we put out or own records. We paid for everything that had to do with recording the record, marketing the record; we printed our own shirts, we booked our own tours. So, yeah, it‚??s something I envisioned because I never really thought that Less Than Jake was going to get out of that point. But it got to the point of having managers and booking agents and merch companies. It‚??s back to the same spirit but on a much bigger level then it was when we first started. I think it‚??s most definitely a three hundred sixty degree cycle that just happened to our band. It‚??s a cool time to be in a band, I‚??ll be honest with you, just because of that. There‚??s no longer any more red tape that you have to go through to get things done. Even on the indie-level there‚??s things that bands want to do but labels won‚??t do because of money or it‚??s just not in the repertoire of things they do for bands. So it‚??s a cool time to release the records ourselves especially because of how the music industry is right now. It‚??s a clusterfuck of three hundred and sixty degree deals and bands giving up their rights for everything. I think that in the wake of people giving away their freedoms to become the next big thing or to go onto a bigger label, in that wind, we shifted that to the one-eighty. We‚??re not giving anything to anyone, it‚??s all ours and it‚??s a cool fuckin‚?? feeling, man. It‚??s liberating.
Did the five of you grow closer as a band, more so during this record since it was one hundred percent Less Than Jake?
You know what? Not really. I mean, those times that we really grew close were the hardest times. It was Boarders & Boundaries because a friend of ours had passed away and it was a really trying time between Boarders & Boundaries. The producer was a very weird dude and a friend had passed. The weight was on my shoulders. It was a weird time and I think that on Boarders & Boundaries we became closer. We left Capitol and we went back to Fat Wreck Chords and it was a very weird transition and time for our band. It was then; now I think we‚??re all good friends. I spend more time with the guys in my band than I do with my own family. I know them better than my family at this point. It‚??s a cool vibe and was this record more fun to do? Absolutely. We wrote it between Roger‚??s house and the warehouse where we practice. Between those two places we wrote a record, we didn‚??t tell anyone really that we were going to record. We went in the studio, recorded a full record, talked to our distribution company and said when can it come out? They said the 24th [of June] and we said OK! We have a record that‚??s done, it‚??s called this and it‚??s going to be out then. There‚??s no pressure, no weird "it should be this or that," it was just kind of us recording. It was fun to do that. It was definitely mellow, it wasn‚??t tense or hectic at all. There was a certain amount of hard work to it but I think that ultimately it was a lot more fun and a lot more relaxed that the last two records at least.
Now that everything is in your hands, do you think that you‚??ll keep the same format of one album every two years or change it up a little?
I think we‚??ll change it up a bit. We‚??ve started talking about doing an EP when we come back from Europe, which we‚??re going to do in November. So I think that once that power is in your hands to do whatever you want to do then I foresee more EPs and more things like that than more accelerated release of records. Going to do some 7‚??‚?? records or 10‚??‚?? or going in to do an EP those are no brainers and kind of fun to do but we‚??ll probably wind up sticking on the two year plan of releasing records. I think now that we have the freedom to do and release what we want, you‚??ll see more of the collector-nerd stuff coming out.
What‚??s your favorite track off of the new record and why?
It‚??s hard. I‚??m gonna have to go for two things because they‚??re interconnected. The "City of Gainesville"-"State of Florida" those are my two favorite tracks on the record just because it showcases who Less Than Jake is on both of those tracks. You have the more laid back, reggae feel on The City of Gainesville and then it‚??s a more Forbidden beat, super-fast pop punk on The State of Florida. It combines a general idea into two separate songs but between those two separate songs it showcases really who the band is as far as songwriting and as far as style is concerned.
What‚??s one behind the scenes thing you can tell us about GNV FLA?
I‚??ll tell something probably no one would pick up on. There‚??s a Morse code that goes underneath the voice over before "Malachi Richter‚??s Liquor is Quicker" starts. And you‚??ll hear it kind of run underneath there. And basically what that Morse code says is, "We may lose hope but there‚??s always hope." But it‚??s Morse code underneath of his speech, which is Malachi Richter‚??s mission statement and underneath that is the Morse code of that light at the end of the tunnel. Even though things may seem ultra-desperate, it‚??s not hopeless. So that‚??s one secret.