Penning lyrics, books and running a record label doesn't give Less Than Jake's lyricist and drummer Vinnie Fiorello much time to slack off. But it does offer plenty of fodder for discussion. Punknews' Zack Zeigler recently spoke with Fiorello about his approach to being the boss at Paper+Plastick, why leaving Fueled by Ramen was his only choice, missteps that helped shape his band and current label's successes, his future as an author and what to expect from ska-punk mainstays LTJ in 2010.
Paper + Plastick launched in May 2008. Why did you start the label and what is your philosophy behind it?
Ultimately, I didnât believe in the bands we were signing at Fueled by Ramen and I wanted to do something that was a 180 from that. The thing was, at the time I left, Fueled by Ramen was a machine. There was Fall Out Boy, Gym Class Heroes, Panic at the Disco, and then there was a string of bands after that I didnât want to be involved with. With the fucking music industry in shambles, why not, sort of, go out on top, you know? And I wanted to do something with friends and musicians I respected that was more organic.
What are some of the elements that differ between the two labels?
Without getting too heavy handed, I believe the shelf life of a CD is waning, so I wanted to do a digital and vinyl focus that incorporated the art and artistry of the release instead of a faceless, traded MP3 file. I think vinyl is a good vehicle for art, and I miss the days of pouring over a thanks list or lyrics sheet. Without the thanks list, I think I would have missed out on half the bands I currently still love.
How difficult was it to walk away from Fueled by Ramen?
It wasnât making me happy, so I had to sever it, but it was hard. Thereâs a reason itâs called Fueled by Ramen, I was dirt-poor going to college, living with Chris [Demakes] and Roger [Manganelli] and putting the money I should have used for food toward putting out records and Ramen [noodles]. Itâs tough to walk away from something you named and that you believed in, but it came to the point where I couldnât stay.
But you got paid, right?
Whenever I grandstand like that there are people who bring that up. I did get paid. I put a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears, so I sold it when I left. I didnât just leave it on Warner Bros. doorstep and say, "Here you go. You can just have my baby."
How hands-on are you at Paper + Plastick?
I oversee everything. This year, there will be a lot of records, but I look at it this way, as long as I enjoy doing it, Iâll do it. And being in a band for a living with Less Than Jake, it gives me a lot of time to handle Paper + Plastick at this stage with the size of the label. Itâs a lot of work on some days, other days itâs no work at all.
Becoming the boss, was that easy transition for you?
You donât have to be a dick to make a logical decision. As long as you openly communicate about expectations, nobody has to slam their fist down. One of the things I decided early on with Paper + Plastick was that I didnât want it to be my way or the highway. It wasnât about giving me a whole bunch of things and then getting a small thing in return.
Did past battles with labels like Capitol and Warner Bros. help shape this mentality?
Of course. If you put yourself out there, sometimes youâll get the door shut on your face, and itâs been shut on my face quite a few fucking times. But I treat people how I want to be treated. Thatâs how I try to live, and itâs what I take into Paper + Plastick. If youâre being a dick, people will be dicks back. Itâs not fair to put younger bands in that situation, either. I donât want to create an, "us versus them" mentality.
So, mistakes youâve made or experiences youâve had helped you understand a management method that works?
Iâve fucked up more than my fair share and Iâve learned from that, if thatâs what you mean. Less Than Jake was a huge learning curve, as was Fueled By Ramen. But weâve been a band going on 17 years, so of course weâve had massive missteps. Mind you, I donât think they were ever crippling mistakes, but weâve fucked up before. Itâs human to fuck up. You just learn from them and take it as it comes.
Whatâs something business-wise youâve learned from your time with Less Than Jake?
We released a record on an independent because we were friends, and it drifted into another thing when we didnât get paid on the first part of it. That was a big lesson, "Just because youâre under the flag of âpunk rockâ or âindependentâ doesnât equate to being trustworthy."
Is the record youâre referring to Borders and Boundaries?
No, Fat Wreck Chords is great. They did exactly what they said they would, and thatâs awesome. Iâve always respected [Fat] Mikeâs honesty. We sent him Borders and Boundaries after we got out of Capital Records and he was like, "Well, itâs a good record, but itâs not your best." You never think someone will be as honest to your face and tell you itâs not your best record, especially the guy who is going to put it out. I respect the shit out of that. Iâve always taken that with me, and I tell bands exactly how I feel. There was a demo that came in recently and I told their manager, after he asked for my thoughts, "I think they need to rewrite some songs. Itâs not a record. Itâs almost a record and some songs are really good, but itâs not a full record." That honesty jars people sometimes. Theyâre expecting, "This record is the shit! Itâs the greatest thing since marshmallows." And sometimes itâs not.
Which bands on Paper + Plastick do you think people should be paying more attention to?
Without being too self-serving, I think every person who likes punk rock should listen to A Wilhelm Scream. Not only are they super-cool dudes, but theyâre amazing on their instruments and write fucking great songs. If you like melodic hardcore, weâre putting out a We Are the Union record in March, which people describe as Set Your Goals meets Less Than Jake. I think thatâs a fair description. Spanish Gamble is a melodic punk bank from Gainesville, my hometown, and theyâre cool as well. Cheap Girls are also a daily listen for me.
You wrote a book titled Sometimes Robots Like Being Robots. How difficult was the process and how much time did the idea take to come to fruition?
Theyâre about a half-dozen sites out that, for minimal pricing, will help you publish a quality book. Itâs pretty easy to do. My advice, anyone who has an inkling to ever write a book should put a pen to paper or fingers to keystrokes and go do it.
That said, we continued to write during Anthem - which is how B Is For B-Sides came about - and I started to jot down different stories while we were on planes or cabs while touring. After looking through what I wrote, there were probably seven or eight short stories about robots. So I grouped them together, put it away, found it again, rewrote some, wrote more and dove in. Iâd say itâs geared more toward young-adult, not young kids, because it involves deeper thought than the ball is red or the ball bounces against the wall.
How involved were you with the art in the book?
I sketched out what I wanted and attempted to do the art, but I couldnât make my hands do what was in my head. So I asked a friend of mine, Erik [Davidson], to take the ideas and sketches, and he knocked it out of the park.
Any other book projects on the horizon?
I have two going, and I donât know if theyâll ever see the light of day. One is kind of a tour journal, but itâs more short stories about people and places from being on tour. Itâs not a straight up "journal." The other is a book is a collection of the lyrics Iâve done throughout Less Than Jake. There will be explanations based on what the songs were about. Like "9th at Pine" was about a fight that Mike Park and I had broken up in the back of a club in Portland, called La Luna. Itâs a backstory that nobody would really know, but the song is based on that event. Iâm slowly getting those things together, but Iâm in no rush to get them done. Iâve even considered putting it online and posting a few pages at a time. Basically, just keep on adding to it until itâs done to let people see how the thought process comes on. I havenât decided yet, though.
I put out the vinyl version of the latest Rehasher record High Speed Access to My Brain]. I think Rog took a long time on recording it and it shows. If people arenât hip to Rehasher, they should take a listen if they like mid-90âs-Fat Wreck-punk-rock style. Some of the songs on there are great, man. Iâm stoked we could work together in that way outside of Less Than Jake.
Coffee Project just finished tracking their full length, and if you like the 10-inch youâll love the full length. It went from being a hobby to growing into its own. Paper + Plastick will put that out in the future, weâre not exactly sure when yet. But those guys, thatâs their outlet. Me being overly involved in that would be too much. People want to do things outside of the normal, which includes being in Less Than Jake, so I try not to dive into other peopleâs stuff.
Any Less Than Jake updates? Tour news? Tidbits? Anything?
Our intension is not to tour the United States until next year. Thatâs the longest weâve ever gone without touring the U.S., but weâre planning on going out of the country and doing some one-offs. Maybe some weekends in weird towns and writing some new songs.
Were you happy with GNV FLA?
Yeah, I was stoked, and people seemed to dig it. Of course, there were people that were like, "Thereâs so much more horns!" And yes, compared to In with the Out Crowd there was. But you canât duplicate earlier things, like a Losing Streak, because people will say, "It sounds just like Losing Streak." So, if we continue to do what we do and just be Less Than Jake then thereâs no real headache or bullshit involved.
Any hints on the direction youâre thinking about for the next LTJ record?
The last record we put together without outside interference. I think weâll continue in that headspace. Weâve talked about it briefly, throwing some surprises in there. And no, I donât mean a power ballad record, but some fun things to keep people who like our band interested and to keep ourselves interested as well.